You've probably read the live tweets I've posted during the What's New / What's Next fan event. Or the blog posts that Maxime and Guillaume have written, but I'd like to write one more post about this event, from my own point of view. The way I experienced it and how it made me feel as a long time fan. I'm probably missing out a few things so please forgive me for that.
Let's talk about the eat 'n' greet with Joe Schott. Joe is a long time Disney veteran who started his career at Walt Disney World as a Jungle Cruise skipper. He moved up the Disney ladder and eventually ended up at the Euro Disney Resort where he lived for six months in a Davy Crockett Ranch cabin. His job was to operate the steam trains that he sometimes had to circle the park all night long as a durability test. To keep him awake, he blew the whistle constantly, which kept the mayor of Chessy up all night as well. He moved to other Disney destinations over the past years, including Tokyo Disney Resort where he oversaw operations of both parks. In 2009 he became the Chief Operating Officer at Disneyland Paris.Refurbishments
A big part of the conversation was about refurbishments, obviously. It was made clear to Joe that one of the guys behind the Save Disneyland Paris petition was also joining for lunch, so there was a bit of "pressure" on him to explain things more and go beyond the "we painted Sleeping Beauty Castle last year" speech. And in my opinion, he passed the test. He was very open about a few things and talked very passionate about the parks, and especially Disneyland Park. To him, Disneyland Park is the most beautiful traditional Disney park and that it was his intention to bring it back up the standard the coming 5 years. Joe acknowledged that the park (these are not his exact words) is not looking as it's supposed to be, but they are working on it and that it's not something that can be done over a few years time, considering the way the park was handled the past years. He promised the park will be a far cry from what is today. And I really believe him. Why? There was something about the passion, the way he talked about The Auctioneer Audio-Animatronic, how he could say a few things about the Frontierland geysers and the Mark Twain, that will "NEVER be destroyed" (referring to a question about a rumoured disposal of the Mark Twain Riverboat). In fact, he said that if it were up to him, it would have been the Mark Twain that should have been rebuild first, not Molly Brown because it's an icon, found at the other parks too. But he did weigh in that refurbishing the Mark Twain was not a priority at the time, due to the low guest demand, but it will happen the coming years.
I picked up on that asking a question about the geysers, to which he confirmed they were no priority, considering they can only be operated a few months a year. They will never come back the way they used to be, however, something unique only Disney can pull of will take their place...
He broke the news that the temple of Péril will be completely levelled, only to be rebuild out of stone again (which is not the case now, since it was not supposed to be a permanent attraction), as well a complete replacement of the loop, which will be done by Intamin.
A very important thing he talked about was a new way of detecting and predicting when something needs a refurbishment. This is a grading system that is also being used at all the other Disney resorts around the world and is now finally making its way to Paris. The condition of, for example, a show element will be grated from A to D. It's his goal and vision to bring all the C's and D's up to the level of A and B, and this within 5 years time.Refinancing
According to Joe, one of the reasons why it took a long time to start a big project like major refurbishments or building new attractions, was because of the +/- 50 banks that had to approve these kind of projects. In fact, Ratatouille was shot down 3 times by the banks because their interest was getting their money back and did not like to see Euro Disney SCA spend it. But that's where The Walt Disney Company stepped in by paying out the banks, which gives Euro Disney more breathing space and more importantly for us, decisions can be made much, much faster. Christmas every few months
One of the bigger announcements he made was the for the refurbishment of the buildings on Town Square. After the Christmas Season we should see scaffolding go up so they can rip out all the wooden stuff and replace it with more durable materials that can stand the harsh Marne-la-Vallée weather. He said it was over with patching up things and that when they refurbish a building now, it should last for many years, not months like it's the case now. He confirmed the sad news that the interior of Town Square Photography will be ripped out to make way for a new shop, in which the products will be presented the same way as in World of Disney (and the upcoming Ratatouille shop).Updating "legacy" attractions
The legacy attractions (like Big Thunder Mountain) will be updated the coming 3+ years. Answering a question about the many down times there have been the past year at parks, he said there was a new procedure for Cast Members. When a ride operator notices something that looks off, he can shut down the attraction himself, while before the decision had to be taken by a team leader. However, that means that some Cast Members are very strict about this, he used the example of a cast member closing down an attraction because the phone in the queue wasn't working. He said they are gonna train CM's better so they can solve smaller issues themselves (in this case example using radios instead of phones as a backup) before closing down the attraction. They are also gonna update the safety system at the legacy attractions like Big Thunder Mountain, which currently takes an hour to restart when it has been shut down. Rock 'n' Roller Coaster avec Aerosmith is using such system and has a lot shorter down time because it can automatically restart when everything is cleared. Al these updates will be done with the cooperation of the original ride manufacturers like Vekoma. The Seasons
One of the first decisions he took when he was just appointed as Chief Operating Officer, was "cancelling" the Halloween Season as it was in 2008. (Meaning, he killed off the Pumpkin Men, the Pink Witches, etc.) He said it wasn't a popular decision, as guests were disappointed by the lack of decorations and entertainment. Partly due to the financial situation at that time (before the TWDC debt take-over), there was not enough budget to bring a full fetch Halloween season. He envisioned a Halloween (and Christmas) Season that would grow bigger every year. A result that we can now experience with much better Halloween and Christmas decorations. He promised the cavalcades will get bigger until they are a full grown parade on their own. And a real Walt Disney Studios Park Christmas possibly starting next year.Entertainment
A popular tweet I'd send out on Thursday was about Tarzan - La Rencontre. Now let me clear something out. Someone asked a question about live entertainment and big shows in the parks. In a nutshell it came down that the budget constrains made them cancel shows like Tarzan - La Rencontre. He compared it to Disney Dreams that over 20% of the Disneyland Paris visitors will be able to see throughout the year, while Tarzan - La Rencontre only hits the 6% mark. So in his opinion it made more sense to spend the money on Disney Dreams, than on a show that will affect less guests. However, he reassured that those 6% were also important and that's why they are working on bringing back these kind of shows. When someone asked if Tarzan would return, he said it will, eventually, since he's a fan of the show himself.
Disney Dreams is something he's very proud of, so I asked if they could ever top that kind of show. He smiled and said they started working on the 25th Anniversary...Magic Bands
Someone asked a question about Walt Disney World's Magic Bands (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Disney_MagicBands
) coming to Disneyland Paris. At first he seemed reluctant to answer, but eventually said that some of the technology might end up within a few years at Disneyland Paris, because it's easy to pick up some of the great things that work well at the other resorts.Marvel and Star Wars
One of the things Joe mentioned a few times, was entertainment (attractions) based on the Disney assets, and he did mention the "new" assets a few times (Marvel and Star Wars). He wouldn't go into detail, but he did say that if they do a Marvel attraction, it shouldn't be a patch, but it should fit in a whole environment. (Though Blockbuster Cafe seems to be a patch at the moment to me...)Armageddon
Joe isn't a fan of Armageddon - Les Effets Speciaux, and he made that clear a few times. He said something like "that we shouldn't build attractions based on movies that people forget after a short time, like Armageddon". However, he said that replacing current attraction did not make sense at the moment, because the park needs to expand and increase capacity.Single Riders
A single riders line will be added every year, starting next year with Crush's Coaster (and Ratatouille), which will get an all new entrance!Moteurs... Action! Stunt Show Spectacular
Andy from DLP.info asked what happened to the Stunt Show. Joe explained that they had been having some "technical challenges" (probably safety issues) and that the current cast are nearly all the same guys who worked the show back in 2002, so they had to evolve the show with their age and make adjustments. He reassured us that the show will go back to normal the coming months. Disney Village
For Disney Village they have an outline, but are still doing studies about what direction they want to go to. But the parks are Joe's priority right now.Hotels
There are ideas for a new budget hotel, but the priority is to refurbish and "retheme" all the current hotels. With the presence of the partner hotels on site, I agree that a new hotel should not be a priority. Bringing the current hotels up to the Disney standards is far more important.Food
He brought up food himself in reference to the petition. There have been numerous investments in the kitchens of especially the fast food restaurants like a new type of fryer that prevents operators from getting burned by steam. They are also currently looking into a new type of beer system invented by Carlsberg. They have also been working on a timing system that will allow the counter service restaurants to serve hotter food then before.Joe conclude with the Angus burger at Cowboy Cookout Barbecue being the best hamburger you can get at any Disney Park around the world.
The 20th Anniversary wine has been selling very well and they were more than pleased with the number of bottles sold. In fact, they are now looking at an upscale Disneyland Paris branded Chablis. Please be patient
To conclude, Joe asked for our patience, because although there might not have been visible changes in the park lately, it doesn't mean major works are happening. He said that currently all the air conditioning systems were being replaced around the resort, a first since it opened. There have been many refurbishments backstage as well, which were very needed. These are important investments in the Cast Members, because they want to see happy Cast Members in the parks. My conclusion
For me as a fan I exited The Steakhouse satisfied. Not only because the vegetarian dish was excellent, but also because I felt reassured that Joe Schott really knows which direction he's going, and in my opinion it's the right one. It's one of Disney quality, great entertainment and the greatest destination in Europe. Let's hope he was right about "Christmas every few months" for the coming five years and by then "our" park will look beyond explicit once gain. Let's wait and see?!