Why Disneyland Paris was almost built in Norfolk – and how wine saved it from ruin

Three decades can go by in a flash. Today (April 12) marks a precise 30 years since the opening of Disneyland Paris (disneylandparis.com) – the French-accented off-shoot of the American Dream that has become a bright dot on the Gallic map, 25 miles east of the capital. Its story is relatively well-known – an early period of underachievement followed by a transformation into one of Europe’s most popular tourist attractions. So here are 30 things you may not have known about this ugly-duckling-become-theme-park swan. 

1. It was first discussed in the Sixties

Back in 1966, in fact, when, flushed with the success of Disneyland – the first translation of the brand into a physical theme park, which opened in California in 1955 – Disney looked to expand into Europe. London, Frankfurt, Paris and Milan were all considered as possible locations. Ultimately, the company opted to keep its focus domestic, and its second park, Disney World, popped up on the outskirts of Orlando in the autumn of 1971.

2. It was nearly built in Alicante

When discussions for a European Disney park began seriously in the mid-Eighties, all roads looked to be leading to south-eastern Spain. The chosen site, near-coastal Pego in Alicante province, roughly midway between Valencia and Murcia, was hotly favoured right up to the point that it was discarded – due to concerns about the environmental impact on the nearby Marjal de Pego-Oliva marshland, an area of significant biodiversity.

3. Provence was also considered

A location near Toulon was also considered. It too was dismissed – because the bedrock was found to sit too shallowly beneath the potential site, making construction impractical.

4. It might even have been built in the UK

Britain was also mulled over as a possibility during Disney’s mid-Eighties pow-wows, but fell away from the process due to concerns that a suitably flat tranche of land was not available. Presumably no one had heard of Norfolk, Cambridgeshire or half the Midlands.

5. It was only the second Disney park outside the USA

For all the optimistic Sixties chit-chat about a European Disney, by the time the French version of all things Mickey Mouse was launched in 1992, the honour of hosting the first non-American park had already gone to Asia – Tokyo Disneyland opened in 1983.

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