Is The Walt Disney Studios Park a Disney Park?
Is The Walt Disney Studios Park a Disney Park? That’s a seemingly odd question given that it’s a park and it’s owned by Disney. Logic would thus dictate that it’s a Disney Park. However, the question this article poses is whether the Walt Disney Studios Park has the defining characteristics of a Disney theme park, and whether it’s appropriate to categorize it as such in the absence of such characteristics.
Like other contemporary theme parks that purport to be a “studios” park, the Walt Disney Studios Park in Paris is criticized for not being a working studio. It’s also not a working Disney theme park. The park was conceived of in the late 1990s as a quick fix idea for problems plaguing Disneyland Paris since even before its opening, and WDSP has since struggled to find an audience since opening in 2002. It is now widely regarded as the worst Disney theme park on the planet.
It hasn’t turned Disneyland Resort Paris into the multi-day “destination” resort necessary to fill the plethora of empty Disney hotel rooms at Disneyland Resort Paris, but rather has had its own problems that arguably overshadow those of Disneyland Paris. It has expanded and added attractions at a pretty decent clip since opening, and it is now seeing its most ambitious expansion: a “Streets of Paris” area with a Ratatouille E-Ticket dark ride (titled “Ratatouille: L’Aventure Totalement Toquée de Rémy”…yeah, we’ll just called it the Ratatouille dark ride here). Early speculation is comparing this to Mystic Manor and Pooh’s Hunny Hunt, flagship attractions at their respective parks that showcase the best of Walt Disney Imagineering.
No matter how good, the Ratatouille dark ride will not fix the Walt Disney Studios Park. I fully expect it to be a great attraction, but I don’t think any number of great attractions, on their own, can fix the Walt Disney Studios Park. The quality of the Walt Disney Studios Park was very disappointing to me, especially following two days in Disneyland Paris, which I found to be the most beautiful Disney Castle park in the world. Based upon my sharp criticism of the Walt Disney Studios Park in our Disneyland Paris Trip Report, it should come as no surprise that I am not a fan of the Walt Disney Studios Park. However, I didn’t really expand upon my views there, and with WDSP receiving some attention for the upcoming Ratatouille expansion, I thought this would be a good topic to cover.
I’ve received several questions about this park, most wondering if I’m exaggerating. That comes as no surprise. The attraction lineup at WDSP isn’t half bad. They have a version of Rock ‘N’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith and Tower of Terror, plus excellent unique attractions like AniMagique, CineMagique, and Crush’s Coaster. Actually, it’s not just these 5 attractions–arguably Stitch Live!, the whole of Toy Story Playland (I’m not a fan of it, but people seem to like it), and other attractions are good, too. On paper, it seems very comparable to Disney’s Hollywood Studios, with the three original attractions compensating for what’s missing from Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
I’m no fan of Disney’s Hollywood Studios, but these parks aren’t in the same league. In fact, they aren’t even playing the same sport. Literally. For all of Disney’s Hollywood Studios’ faults, it is a Disney theme park–emphasis on theme. Much of that theme has been eroded over the years and in many ways it’s thematically broken, but at its core, much of it still does work. By contrast, the Walt Disney Studios Park is not a theme park, it’s a collection of attractions.
Some people might say: “So what? Attractions are the core of the theme park experience.” To that I say SO EVERYTHING. Theme is the core of the theme park experience, with attractions being a critical element of that. A Disney theme park fails without both parts succeeding. If theme is not a primary concern, and you’re just interested in fun rides, plenty of amusement parks rival Disney (or do better, if you’re a thrills junkie) when it comes to assembling collections of rides. I have no intention of opening that particular can of worms right now, but I think this paragraph could be applied to other parks that are frequently compared to Disney’s theme parks. Successful theme parks aspire to be something more than collections of attractions. Even Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach do a significantly better job of this than the Walt Disney Studios Park.
Not many people defend the Walt Disney Studios Park, but when I’ve mentioned issues of theme elsewhere, its fans object. The most common counter-point is that it’s a studios park, and its design captures the feel of studios, which have a lot of big box soundstages and not much else. This is true, but I think it’s an awful argument. All it demonstrates is that real studios are dull places without much visual character. This itself begs the question: why closely design a park to the theme of “studio”? Success on execution of that theme is design failure.
To be fair, this argument is not unique to WDSP fans. Disney’s Animal Kingdom has a similar problem with fans of Dinorama, and its fans claim that it perfectly captures the feel of a tacky roadside carnival. The problem with this thinking is that the underlying assumption is that anything, so long as its thematic design is well-executed, is an appropriate theme for a Disney park. I personally do not believe this to be the case. I would hope that when the words “big box” and “tacky” are the first words that come to mind when describing a theme, people would have pause in assuming that theme is appropriate for a park. However, that doesn’t seem to be the case, so let’s take the example further.
Let’s say I dream up this ambitious idea for a land themed to a landfill. Landfillorama will have great attractions such as the “Garbage Mountain Coaster,” where riders race down mountain sides of carefully detailed garbage (complete with 53 Hidden Mickeys strategically placed through the garbage), and an excellent 3D game utilizing the Toy Story Mania technology to find and shoot items that should be recycled (be careful not to shoot the friendly raccoon munching on trash–that’ll cost you 100 points!). Fun competition plus a message of conservation–what’s not to love? Tons of design effort will go into the land, and it will even have authentic pungent odors pumped through the land, and a roaming band of A Capella entertainers called “Give Us a Five or a Dime,” who sing classic panhandling tunes (in keeping with theme, these artists will only shower once weekly). It will be totally on point, and don’t worry, there will be an incredible backstory explaining just what went terribly wrong causing this landfill to inexplicably emerge where it is. It will be so well-themed that you will literally be able to immerse yourself in the garbage.
Even if perfectly done, would that be an acceptable land for a theme park? (I know it sounds super rad, but the answer to that question should be “no.”) The same goes for a studio theme that is overly faithful to its source material. Knowing this, the designers of the Disney-MGM Studios got this right when they originally designed the park. Soundstages were present, but were dotted throughout a park that included a lot of other placemaking and design elements related to Hollywood generally, rather than to the specific location of a studio.
Under close inspection, the theme of the Disney-MGM Studios actually fell apart. It had the working studio and the soundstages to give it the feel of a studio, but elements like Hollywood Boulevard, Echo Lake, and (later) Sunset Boulevard, were actually incongruous with the overarching studio theme. Yet they passed the smell test and actually enhanced the park because they embodied the spirit of filmmaking, and for most guests, that was what mattered. Theme parks require an inherent amount of suspending disbelief, and many elements work on a level of “feeling right,” despite not standing up to intense intellectual scrutiny. Some things work (e.g., a Skyway bucket passing through the Matterhorn) but make very little sense. This is one reason why being a theme park designer is such a difficult proposition: it’s just as much a matter of good instinct and a finger on the pulse of what feels right as it is about an analytic and intellectual understanding of design.
More succinctly put, a high prevalence of generic looking soundstages is not a good design choice, even if it does make the park more closely resemble a studio. That doesn’t feel right in terms of what makes a good theme park. The Walt Disney Studios Park needs to drop the pretense that it’s somehow a “studio.” This leads into the next point, which is related to the first, and the second biggest problem of the Walt Disney Studios Park. Studio 1 is not an appropriate “opening act” to the theme park. Again, the counter-point here is that it’s on-theme, and sets the tone for the park. Unfortunately, I think it sets a poor tone for the park. It would be a neat idea for multiple dining options under one roof in the back corner of the park, but the tone it sets is not a good one. Instead of embracing the tone found in every single other Disney park where design is used to create an illusion of some grand concept, here illusion is exposed, front and center as cut-out props, cameras, and false fronts are on full display. It’s like “Bizarro Hollywood Boulevard,” where everything is made of plywood and none of the buildings are real.
The soundstage idea is neat in theory as it puts a roof over guests’ heads to shelter them from the elements, but execution is terrible, and it’s only a good idea in theory (Arcades, by contrast, are a good idea in actuality). Besides just looking cheap and tacky, it immediately raises the curtain and takes guests back stage, rather than setting a stage and introducing guests to the park in an awe-inspiring manor. There is no wienie drawing them further into the park, it’s just a cheap pass through what feels like a mall food court with some slap-shod “in the movies” decorations thrown in for good measure. It is to Hollywood Boulevard at Disney’s Hollywood Studios what the Art of Animation Cars section is to Cars Land–and that’s being harsh on the Art of Animation Resort. If the Walt Disney Studios Park is ever to succeed as a Disney theme park, Studio 1 needs the Disney California Adventure treatment. The look of WDSP’s opening act should match the courtyard before Studio 1, which is a pretty nice area.
My third major concern is general design and landscaping. The design and layout really leave something to be desired. Honestly, I’m not sure if this is even something that can be fixed. Reworking pathways and adding a compelling icon (some specific free advice: the Partners statue set against the false street fronts simply does not work) may not even be possible. What would be possible is adding some water features and gradation to the park. At present, it feels like it could have been installed on an old parking lot. To my knowledge, there are no lakes or ponds in the park, nor is there much of anything in the way of landscaping. It’s just flat paved land. Water and gradation aren’t things that are quantified on other theme parks’ guest satisfaction surveys, but they give parks kinetic energy and are a big part of what separates theme parks from amusement parks. These attributes engage guests and add to the experience, even if most guests don’t notice or can’t articulate why. This is part of the reason why people prefer actual parks to a collection of rides set up at the edge of Wal-Mart parking lots (beyond just the general shady feel of the latter).
What else does the Walt Disney Studios Park need to do succeed as a Disney theme park? That’s it. You’ll notice I didn’t mention any attractions. While every theme park fan always wants more attractions (myself included), I don’t think that’s WDSP’s biggest concern. It definitely needs more, but the thematic design quality issues are more pressing. Unfortunately, the things I’ve listed here are not exactly marketable improvements. While the Ratatouille dark ride can be successfully marketed and can easily be quantified in terms of its effect on attendance, you can’t exactly market, “AWESOME NEW PLACEMAKING AND BETTER THEMATIC DESIGN!!1!!!”
These things are just as important in the long term as the impact guest satisfaction, spending, word of mouth, etc., but the connection is much more difficult to quantify. My assumption is that it’s difficult for designers to get a greenlight on expending large sums of money on “expansions” that revolve around these types of changes (likely why Buena Vista Street was rolled into an expansion that included Cars Land…even though I think Buena Vista Street transformed the park more, Cars Land is what is marketed). This seems like a big hurdle for WDSP to overcome, as it seems like its initial choices in building the park were made by non-creatives on the basis of only things that could be easily quantified in an effort to keep costs down. Since that approach clearly has not worked, perhaps it’s time to revisit the Walt Disney Studios Park. Let the creatives do their jobs in making a fully realized theme park that is worthy of having “Walt Disney” in its name.
To learn more about Disneyland Resort Paris, check out our Disneyland Paris Trip Planning Guide.
Regardless of whether you’ve been or just seen photos, what do you think of the Walt Disney Studios Park in Paris? Does it look like a Disney theme park to you, or do you agree that serious design fixes are needed to turn this into a park worthy of Walt’s name? Please share your thoughts in the comments!
There’s a lot one has to agree with in your critique… it’s certainly the weakest park thematically. And I totally agree with how important theme is – I would be delighted to spend a day walking around almost any other park even if every single attraction and was closed.
Walt Disney Studios is emphatically not one of those parks. I couldn’t spend a day (or even an hour) walking around it and soaking up the atmosphere in the way I can elsewhere. But that doesn’t take away from the fact it is a park filled with, by any measure, world class attractions.
I guess the main point I take issue with is your suggestion that Disneyland Paris would be stronger without WDS altogether. But where would you have squeezed in Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, Tower Of Terror or the Backlot Tour? Or, indeed, the new Ratatouille attraction which is definitively based on a film (not Disney animation in the classical sense)? They emphatically don’t fit the theme of the Magic Kingdom. Surely it’s better that Europeans have those attractions to enjoy (remember many of DLRP’s target audience won’t visit further afield) in admittedly half-baked surroundings, than not at all? It’s not like the attractions themselves are being compromised: the “London” section of the backlot is pretty detailed and impressive, and there are lots of little details to look at in the interior queue sections for RnRC/ToT/CC (remember that ToT gives you a fantastic view into the Disneyland park!).
As a (relative!) local to the park, my touring style is to relax and enjoy the ambience of the Disneyland park, and cross to WDS with a “checklist”. That may change when I experience the Ratatouille section, but as it stood at the time of your report, the entrance is good, and when you’re rushing around with a list of things to do, you can choose not to focus on the disappointing theming.
Very good points, and if you view WDSP as a quick stop for a checklist of attractions, it’s perfectly fine. I just wish it would aspire for more than that.
I just returned from visiting the Disneyland Paris Resort, and I couldn’t agree more. The whole place just seemed thrown together as a way to get Paris certain E Tickets that wouldn’t fit thematically into the flagship park. There is no real flow to the park, and the E Tickets in general don’t really fit into the theme anyway. If the park is supposed to resemble a studio, then Tower of Terror and, to a lesser extent, Rock N Roller Coaster do not fit into that theme.
The question I have is how do you even fix it? The park is so crammed together that I can’t see any way to add any really structure and themed areas to the park without tearing out major attractions, which they aren’t going to do. I mean, is there any way to make sense of the Partners Statue, TOT, and a fake Hollywood backdrop all being in the same shot? I can’t think of a way to fix the visual inconsistencies without almost flattening the park. I honestly just see them either closing it down eventually or leaving it essentially the way it is, just adding new attractions every few years to get people to come back.
I’m really impressed you lasted 3-4 hours in the park. During my trip we were in and out of the park in literally half an hour. Just the amount of time it took to check out Toy Story Playland, consider Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, and find the exit. Fortunately the whole park is a concrete slab with a few buildings in it, rather than a quilt of paths, foliage, scenery, water, bridges, weenies, and structures, so it is very easy to escape!
We even waited in line for Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster for 5 minutes, before realizing we were standing in a dump when we could be in one of the most beautiful theme parks on the planet.
I thought the French had good taste until I saw them embracing the tacky Hollywood glitz and glamour theme.
Amazing how literally the only water feature in the park is the small fountain in the entry plaza. And that’s barely inside the park. The gardens outside the park in front of Disneyland are more beautiful than what’s inside the park. That’s just wrong.
The only real way to make the park is completely reworking the layout. That means demolishing pretty much every structure except TOT, the new rat dark ride, and I guess Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster and Crushes Coaster to be efficient. Then just design a new park around those initial conditions. You could even have the entrance in a different spot or curve the entry funnel so you have space for an actual icon.
TBH, even the entry area, which I agree is the most beautiful part of the park, sill reminds me of a generic shopping mall (The Spectrum in Irvine specifically).
Basically, this article’s title is dead on accurate. WDS is no theme park. It’s Disney’s only amusement park. The themeless theme park.
In defense of French taste, I’m fairly certain the Americans were mostly behind this park, not the French.
Yes… it was all said tongue in cheek. That impression stems mainly from the fact that it was more crowded than DLP, and its online reviews are superior.
Another excellent article…always love reading your thought/reviews and photo reports.
Sadly it stopped being a studios a few years ago, though (like DHS) it did start out as a (small) working studios.
In your first paragraph ‘The park was built in the late 1990s as a quick fix idea for problems plaguing Disneyland Paris’ the park was actually built because of political reasons imbedded into the original contract with the French Government (though it was believed it could also help DLP’s resort attendance).
Even though the media portrayed DLP’s hotels (& attendance) as failures, this simply was not the case; since the construction of WDS hotel occupancy rates have been consistently higher than Paris Luxury and mid-range hotels. For example (%occupancy rates):
2008 DLP 90.9; Paris 77.0
2009 DLP 87.3; Paris 65.0
DLP hotel occupancy rates have consistently (from 2000 onwards) been between 82.9 and 90.9. These figures are higher than hotels @ Hong Kong Disneyland, Disneyland and WDW.
Only recently have hotel occupancy rates dipped in DLP because mainly of the economic situation of the EU, especially the situation UK & Spain are affecting DLP.
I wholeheartedly agree that WDS needs investment, (which it will get). There will be an estimated €8 billion more private investment into DLP (including Val D’Europe) by 2030. Though already WDS is the second most popular ‘theme park’ in Europe with 4.8 million attendance last year ahead of Europa Park by approx. 200,000 (though WDS will be helped by its geographical location, next to DLP). There are some economists that believe that the Europe’s mass themed entertainment market is a similar structure to a natural monopoly system at the moment, therefore it is unlikely that another Disneylandesque theme park would flourish…however, admittedly not enough research has been undertaken to determine if this would be the case!
Hope you don’t mind the added info above, I just figured you are always looking to find out more about DLP.
Anyways, another stunning article, loved reading it. Keep up the brilliant work, I always check your site once a day to see if there are new articles! Are you planning to venture to Hong Kong anytime soon, or waiting to do the 2 Disney China parks in one go in 2016!?
All the best.
Excellent comment, thanks! I always enjoy learning more, so this was great to read (even if it pointed out some errors in my original article).
I have to admit that I’m shocked by those occupancy rates. I expected them to be significantly lower. Do you by chance know the average nightly rate? I ask because I have noticed some significant discounting at the DLRP hotels. I haven’t followed DLRP long enough to know if my experience is the norm or not, but I’m wondering whether the higher occupancy rate can be partially explained by lower than expected nightly rates? Put differently, are these rates higher because DLRP has used discounting to lure guests? (Sort of like what happens with “Free Dining” at Walt Disney World.)
We noticed that there were a lot of new-ish looking businesses in Val D’Europe, and certainly a lot more room for growth. I wonder what impact this will have on Disneyland Paris? On the one hand, growth of the right kind would be great for DLRP. On the other hand, if it’s primarily hotels and restaurants, it seems it could have the converse effect!
We’ll be doing Hong Kong before Shanghai opens. The goal is to be there for the opening day of Shanghai, but we’ll see…still a few years to go for that. Things could change!
What I’m not a fan of is the terrible lack of thematic isolation present in the Walt Disney Studios Park. As we all know, for any theme park to truly succeed, the themed areas which it encompasses must not overflow or intrude into neighbouring themes, or the story of both themes will be jeopardised. The Disney Imagineers always make every effort to ensure that any view that a guest has of a themed area which contrasts the one they are currently immersed is manipulated in such a way that it becomes logically credible in the area the guest is currently experiencing. The most notable example of this exists at Walt Disney World, where the upper part of Tower of Terror was designed to blend in with the buildings of the Morrocco Pavilion in Epcot’s World Showcase, as the Tower can be seen behind the pavilion when observed from some areas of the park.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to me that the same efforts have been made with the varying themes in WDSP. Whilst I hold the rare opinion that one or two (emphasis on the only one or two) parts of the park are pure Disney genius, it really is how you describe it- a collection of attractions. Good attractions, yes. But the way they all combine to make the overall park is disjointed, illogical and much less ubiquitous than it should be.
The sole time I have visited the park was in 2005, and even then, as a curious seven year old who couldn’t get enough of theme parks (and still adores them) I found myself confused about how a magic carpet themed ride belonged in a Hollywood Studio. I found myself similarly confused with pretty much the remainder of the parks offerings, which were SIGNIFICANTLY lesser in 2005. Back then there was notably no Toy Story, no Crush, and no Tower of Terror. There was no continuity in the park’s theming, and I found it to be a shocking juxtaposition of the awe-inspiring and most importantly immersive experiences I’d had at Disneyland Parc just a day before.
Even worse is the lack of the park’s isolation from the outside world, something that is absolutely fundamental for Disney Parks. The fact that the park backs onto a field is totally fine, the fact that it’s a field means there’s nothing much there to do anything that may lessen the park’s immersion. The thing that I dislike is the fact that this field, and the road and hotels beyond, is apparently clearly visible from parts of the seating for Lights, Motors, Action. Surely this shouldn’t be allowed in a DISNEY theme park?
I also strongly disliked the amount of concrete used in the park. I found large expanses of it to be really dull, with no distinctive or immersive theming at all present. Crowd management was also really horrendous. The attractions, however, were incredible. Animagique remains one of the best shows I have ever seen, and the Tram Tour was remarkably realistic.
I hate to criticise Disney, because I love the company and everything it does, but I really find myself disappointed with WDSP. It saddens me that the park was reportably thrown together cheaply, but I have faith in Disney that they will recognise the park’s many flaws and do everything they can to remedy them in order to make the experience better for their guests. I really hope they do 🙂
Great points. Immersion is something I hadn’t even considered.
One question, with regard to this quote, what are you referencing: “Whilst I hold the rare opinion that one or two (emphasis on the only one or two) parts of the park are pure Disney genius”
I stayed almost a week at Disneyland Hotel in Paris last December with my wife and 17 year old son and it was a shock when we visited Walt Disney Studios Park… The Disneyland Paris park is, in my opinion, the most beautiful and detailed Disneyland in the world, and I does not deserve to have a ‘sister park’ so poor and so ‘frankenstein’… Tne entrance plaza is really beautiful – some details are so Buena Vista Street! – but, God, what is Studio 1???? And the absence ot trees and lakes crates a really souless park… We stayed just a single morning there… and came back to Disneyland Park! 🙂
I think the beauty of Disneyland Paris makes going to WDSP so sharp of a contrast. Maybe if DCA 1.0 were the first gate, WDSP wouldn’t catch so much flak!
It looks like in Italy near Rome they are building a Studios theme park like the WDSP should have been.
CinecittÃ¡ World will open next year in a place used to be a real Studio. So they have plenty of Soundstages that they are reusing to host indoor attractions, but looking at the masterplan and pictures of the construction site, they are creating themed areas for a number of movies genres (the main street will be themed as a Spaghetti Western movie, Sci-fi, adventure…).
So I think it will feel like the movies erupted from the Soundstages and you’ll leave inside the stories, not inside where the movies where filmed.
We’ll see if the park will live up with expectations (considering the budget differences with a Disney Park).
Very interesting! Here’s more info for those who are curious: http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/italys-oft-delayed-cinecitta-world-635410
$700m actually isn’t too bad when it’s a non-Disney project. The park could be very good for that amount if the money is well-spent!
I started thinking before I read the article and my thoughts were – awful park entrance, no weenie, no water/kinetic energy/ good attractions just sort of thrown down anywhere there was space…. And you hit all of them.
The annoying thing is I felt this park had so much potential. I have only been once and it was soon after RnRC opened, and I admit I went back for a few hours (3 day stay), but ONLY because I wanted to go on ToT and RnRC and perhaps see Cinemagique again.
Sadly, apart from painting it up with Ratatouille, the park seems to have been completely forgotten about.
Lets hope Remy’s ride is popular and acts as a catalyst for improvements, and not a pointer (which happens so often) that people are attending, so it must be ok!
I really appreciate the time and thought you put into each and every one of your posts. Your insight is really thought out and presented well. Even though you are not an architect, you understand the importance of sense of place and the importance those decisions make.
WDS will forever be plagued, no matter what gets added in the future. WDS has a really weak foundation. Unlike DHS, which had strong areas and a layout from inception, there is nothing about WDS worth remembering. From my understanding WDS was needed to be built by 2002 as part of the original contract. However, if they really needed it I would rather have seen a park with a strong foundation built which could be added on to as money allowed. When DHS opened there was only 1 ride, two shows, and the tram tour. WDS should have opened with fewer attractions and instead put that money into making a visually interesting entrance and first land.
Even as they expand the park, the designers continue to make horrible decisions. Why is TOT placed directly in the center of the park, where an icon could be? Placing the tower there severely limits the possibility of a proper entrance like you mentioned being built. With Toy Story Playland, even though it is the best themed area in the park, what does this have to do with a movie studio? Same with Crush’s Coaster? I get they are trying to make it into a “toon studio” but I never really thought of the Pixar films as being “toons”. And if I imagined a “toon studio” I would have imagined something more along the lines of Toontown at Disneyland rather than boxes with murals of the characters. I could go on and on about WDS and its faults.
Tower of Terror’s placement is the real head-scratcher for me. I think that really doomed any possibility of going back and fixing the design (although what they did converting Sunshine Plaza to Buena Vista Street still shocks me).
The studios parks (and this includes DCA) are dumping grounds for things that don’t think elsewhere. I think Disney would be wise in shoehorning in attractions as appropriate, and just letting others slide when it comes to how they work with the theme. DCA and DHS have the same problems in this regard, but they are less noticeable because there aren’t the same overall design issues there.
This is a well written article and it brings home why you consider this to be so much worse than DHS (in your original trip report post, I think I commented that he attraction line-up looks the same to slightly better.)
Your comments on Lanfillorama reminds me of why I don’t have much interest in Universal in Florida. Although Universal seems to be doing a lot of great thing and investing heavily, which I applaud, there are areas like Springfield which is an environment I have somewhere below zero interest in exploring, even if it is well done. Seuss Lagoon and Toon landing are similar for me. The only WDW-comparable area was Mickey’s Toontown Fair, which is now a part of the past on the east coast.
Hopefully Disney will invest in this park to bring it up to par. It’s interesting, because I adore Disney parks and find them to be places that evoke feelings of joy and contentment. There are no other “theme” parks that I enjoy going to, in fact, I actually despise taking trips to six flags and even universal studios isn’t all that appealing to me.
Example: Six Flags Great Adventure has a “batman” roller coaster. The queue is themed to be based on the streets of rundown gotham. This translates to- metal chain link fences, faux barbed wire, and a dirty metal tube that you traverse through that is hot and claustrophobic. It evokes the feeling of walking through a drainage ditch in east L.A. It’s a disgrace. They also have an attraction that tries to rip off the haunted mansion, and it’s the saddest most pathetic thing you’ll ever experience in your life.
Disney Theme Parks cannot and should not try to compete solely on attractions and shows, no matter how great they may be. It’s the atmosphere and the high quality theme that make them to be somewhere that millions of people will save for years to visit. I’m glad I’ve never visited Disney Studios. There are certain locations in Hollywood Studios that I feel leave a lot to be desired, so I can only imagine how lame Disney Studios must be.
I have a difficult time considering the Six Flags parks as theme parks. I don’t doubt that they self-describe as that, but marketing the parks as “theme” parks is probably preferable to marketing them as “amusement” parks. What’s found at those parks is largely decorations, not thematic design. To some, that might be a distinction without a difference, but I think it’s significant. An exposed coaster that has some crap in its line is not a themed attraction nor by its very nature can it be in a themed environment.
Six Flags, like Cedar Point and others, are better described as amusement parks, in my opinion.
Great points here – I’ve always said that an authentic execution of an ugly, industrial studio or a tacky carnival do not make those fun, appealing, or Disney theme park appropriate environments; and I love your landfill analogy to explain that.
To your point about DHS, I think it’s very relevant to remember that when DHS first opened (as Disney-MGM Studios), all of the behind the scenes, unthemed, soundstage areas were actually off limits to guest foot traffic – the only way you could get back there was if you were on the tram tour, the purpose of which was to show you a real, functional studio in operation. To the original designers of MGM, those areas were not part of the theme park of MGM, but were utilitarian spaces to be used for making movies which guests would only see if they were on an attraction that was explicitly taking them behind the scenes. The original theme park footprint of MGM was essentially just Hollywood Blvd. and the Echo Lake area – the “backstage” area was only opened up to guests after it was realized that the park did not have nearly enough capacity to meet demand, and Sunset Blvd. was not large enough or opening soon enough to handle the crowds the park was getting. Since a picture is worth a thousand words, here’s an opening day map c/o Progress City, U.S.A.
All that to say, even at DHS, the ugly big box buildings were not originally intended to be “part of the show” or the theme park proper. The fact that this is now considered “acceptable design” for a theme park is very unfortunate, IMHO.
Totally forgot about that with regard to the Disney-MGM Studios. As far as how the park is now, I’d definitely prefer no soundstages as part of the design, but they’re still not nearly as egregious there.
I do disagree with you in regards to Dinorama. The story of Dinoland USA is very extensive and Dinorama fits into our conceptions of what dinosaurs mean to us. You should look into it. It basically involves college students from the Dino Institute who were bored by the scientific preception of dinosaurs so they wanted to sells dinosaurs in a marketable way. Portraying dinosaurs as cartoon characters or side road attractions is a HUGE part of Americana. Route 66 was filled with these types of attractions.
Im not saying its a sophisiticated theme like World Showcase or Buena Vista Street, but there is as much attention to detail in Dinorama as there is in the lands and areas I mentioned above
I’m aware of Dinorama’s backstory. In fact, this line regarding Landfillorama (as it will be known): “don’t worry, there will be an incredible backstory explaining just what went terribly wrong causing this landfill to inexplicably emerge where it is” was a shot at Dinorama (as well as a tongue in cheek jab at the common ‘something has gone terribly wrong’ Disney park storytelling device).
Dinorama’s backstory is lipstick on a pig. No amount of explaining, story, or details can make a land that looks like that fit into a Disney theme park, in my opinion.
While I still disagree a little bit, I see your point.
I do want to say this article is still well done. (I even like the Pulp Fiction reference, “They aren’t even the same sport”)
I’ve really enjoyed all of your articles. Keep up the great work.
The missus and I got to visit Disneyland Paris on our honeymoon 3 years ago. Unfortunately we only had one day for both parks but we got to do everything since it was a somewhat light attendance day. We started at the Studios and while we liked the sound stage entrance (mainly because it was such a change from every other Disney park) it didn’t necessarily wow us.
The remainder of the park, in terms of landscaping and design, were also a let down. Walking around the park felt like we were stuck walking in the Sounds Dangerous and American Idol portion of MGM Studios (I refuse to call it by its new name since I grew up with it being MGM). It was dull and boring. The rides were enjoyable, Crush’s Coaster is fantastic and I wish it would be imported stateside (perhaps instead of a Carsland replica)but the time spent walking to the rides does need an improvement.
I think we spent about 3-4 hours total in the Walt Disney Studios Park, and multiple days in Disneyland Paris. If we were going back this year, I don’t think we’d go to WDSP at all.
Once Ratatouille opens, it’ll be worth doing again. I really hope that towards the end of the Ratatouille expansion, they opt to do some park-wide placemaking. This is a great chance to have a “Grand Reopening” of that park a la DCA. I think it’s probably too late for something as ambitious as what DCA had (talk about a missed opportunity), but here’s hoping they do something more.
I have to agree with pretty much everything you’ve said here, the Park leaves you with an incredible feeling of anticlimax as you wander round, there’s no feeling of being submerged in the action / atmosphere. I’m not a huge fan of DHS but in comparison it leaves the Paris offering gasping in the dust. You’re right too, it’s not the attractions themselves, although let’s be honest they could do with a bit more theming round and about them, it’s the spaces in between which are ugly to say the least. Couple that to visiting on a cold, damp day when most of the food stands are shut and it doesn’t exactly invite you to stay. I can put up with the weather if there’s plenty to see that’s pleasing to the eye and makes for good photography but when everything looks like it just dropped from the sky, why linger?
They’re still putting money into the park so hopefully they’ll eventually realise that a little remodelling wouldn’t go amiss. Parc Disneyland next door is such a lovely contrast and at the end of the day it’s all about making money so maybe someone will get the hint eventually.
I think your last sentence sums it up. Hopefully a long-term lesson has been learned with WDSP–it was built on the cheap and has done awful numbers since, despite more money being dumped into it to improve it. Do things right the first time and maybe the overall cost would be lower and you wouldn’t have to erase a negative image that a park may develop from being done on the cheap initially…
“Awful numbers”. Are they really? Let’s have a look…
Looking at the 2012 attendance figures, Walt Disney Studios Park comes in 20th worldwide. Yes, it’s the lowest of the Disney parks (one of them has to be, naturally), but the fact it’s 20th of all the theme parks in the world (and has been for the last three years) and on top of that is the second most visited theme park in Europe (again, it has been for the last three years, and was 8th in 2009) doesn’t exactly scream “awful”.
In fact the attendance in both parks at Disneyland Resort Paris is rising at the same rate. In 2012, attendance was up just under 2%, in 2011 it was up almost 5%. In 2010 attendance fell by 2.6% although attendance at Disneyland Park also fell by the same amount, so that wasn’t down to Walt Disney Studios Park itself and was more of a resort-wide thing. In 2009, the park wasn’t in the top 25 worldwide, and was eighth in Europe having had its attendance rise by 1.6% compared to Disneyland Park’s 0.6% increase. So despite your claims that it’s producing “awful numbers”, it’s actually been increasing over time (with the exception of 2010 as noted above).
Looking further into the figures, it actually follows the same trend as the other Disney resorts. Disney California Adventure gets (roughly) just under half the number of visitors that visit Disneyland. Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Disney’s Animal Kingdom get (again, roughly) just under half the number of visitors that visit Magic Kingdom (Epcot gets slightly more, but it’s still just over half). Walt Disney Studios Park gets (yet again, roughly) just under half the number of visitors that Disneyland Park gets. The only exception to this is Tokyo Disney Resort, where both parks get a somewhat similar of visitors.
So, awful numbers? Well if rising attendance figures in line with the rest of the resort, being the second most visited theme park in Europe and in the worldwide top 25 for the last three years and following the same basic trend as other Disney resorts (with the exception of Tokyo) for attendance in the not-Disneyland-style parks is anything to go by, it’s not awful at all, but actually doing quite well. Yes, it’s not the same sort of numbers you see at WDW, but it’s never going to be, and I’m fairly sure nobody expects it to be.
Yes, the park has its problems. Nobody’s pretending it hasn’t. No the new Ratatouille attraction isn’t going to magically solve them overnight – I don’t think anybody’s actually claiming it will. But having visited the park multiple times over the years (rather than basing my opinion of the park on a single “3-4 hour” visit), it’s absolutely clear that it certainly is getting better, and certainly isn’t the awful heap of fail you seem to be trying to make it out to be in the article. No, it’s not as big or shiny or popular as the other Disney parks, but that doesn’t make it any less a Disney park (but why let facts get in the way of a good headline).
I think we all know that Disneyland Resort Paris as a whole has its issues. It doesn’t have the money that other resorts have to throw around. The park was built to a budget, and yes that left it with a pile of problems – a lot of which still linger – but then, so was Disney California Adventure. The difference there is that their resort had the money to throw at it for the huge overhaul it’s had over the last few years. Disneyland Resort Paris hasn’t got that luxury right now. Will it get better? Yes. Is it going to happen overnight? No. At the end of the day, despite the fact you personally don’t like it, its attractions or its style, it’s still the second most popular theme park in Europe (second, of course, only to its next door neighbour, Disneyland Park). Hardly a failure, really, when you consider some of the other theme parks it’s performing better than. It might not be the prettiest park in the world, but it works – and it’s only getting better as time goes by.
Of course, Paris’ resort isn’t the only one to have problems with maintenance/etc. There’s plenty of things at the other resorts that could be better, but aren’t. Shall we start with the multiple bits of Epcot that’re sitting largely disused (Odyssey, Wonders of Life, Upstairs at Imagination)? Or the huge number of effects and animatronics in attractions around WDW that don’t work and haven’t for years?
Oh and as a side note, on the point of the “real working studio” thing, technically it was when it opened, since France’s Disney Channel used the building that now houses Stitch Live! and Disney Junior as one of their broadcast studios during the park’s first 5 years, which by your own logic actually makes it more of a studios park than Universal’s studio parks in Japan and Singapore – and certainly more of a studio park than the Hollywood Pictures Backlot area of Disney California Adventure.
By several million visitors, WDSP is quantitatively the worst-performing Disney second gate. Once DCA has a full year of Cars Land stats under its belt, that gap will grow. You make some good points, but this article isn’t about the numbers–it’s about design. Slapping the “Disney” name on anything (no matter the quality), guarantees it a certain amount of success.
I’m not denying that there aren’t problems with any of the parks you’ve listed (DCA, DHS, and Epcot–or other parks for that matter). Rather than focusing on numbers or some other tangential point I might have made, I’d be curious to hear you counter the actual point of this article, which is that it fails as a well-designed Disney theme park.
I went to Disneyland Paris in 2006, so it was before some of the new attractions. Still, I can identify with exactly what you’re saying. It’s like they just dropped a bunch of attractions into nothing. We wasted too much time there since we only had one day in both parks. It seems even worse when compared to the gorgeous main park.
The layout is a big issue. We went to RnR Coaster first, then had to completely back track to the rest of the park. That’s okay when you’re in a relaxing setting, but this is just concrete and buildings. A good counter point is the DCA renovation. Cars Land draws the crowds, but a big plus is the entrance changes. That sets the mood for the park.
We also had my worst theme park food experience at the counter service eatery right by the studios entrance in Paris. We were trying to save money and ate fast food, and it was just awful. That didn’t help with the experience, especially since it was still very pricey for a burger and fries.
I’d love to go back to DLP in the future. If we get there, we’ll spend even less time at the Studios. We’ll hit a few attractions and get right out of there.