The opening of any Attraction, Resort, or Them Park – even an envelope – with the Disney name on it is an event. In 1992 I was a part of the biggest event going, the opening of EuroDisney. For the sake of posterity I am trying to record the events as I remember them. Bear in mind that this is written with a scary 17 year delay so please excuse any errors or omissions.
I interviewed for my dream job with Disney in a hotel suite in a cold rainy Manchester in February 1992. The hotel lobby was full to capacity with bright eyed kids looking for a job with Mickey Mouse. Clipboards were in every hand, forms being filled, returned and checked. Then it was off for a face to face interview with an American manager imported for the purpose. The demand was such that they were interviewing three candidates at a time. To cut a long story down to size I left the Manchester Airport Hilton with a contract in my hand… I was going to Paris for the summer as a Chef!
I arrived in Paris a month later – a month spent cramming to speak French other that the bit I learned from the Patti Labelle song – so I left the airport and headed for the address I’d been given for Disney’s not quite Paris office. They had set up temporary headquarters in a town called Noisey-le-Grande, roughly half way between Paris and the new resort. Before Disney rolled into town Noisey’s big claim to fame was that it was used by Terry Gilliam for the exterior shots for his film Brazil .
On the train out I’d met a couple of other Brits who guided me out to the office, I’ll be eternally grateful to Phillip and Laura for getting me there. All there was a curious lack of signage to the office, but that would become more obvious later.
Having ‘checked in’ with the management team I got my first real shock the promised housing wasn’t available – not just unavailable but not built in fact. But not to worry we’d be checked into a hotel for a couple of nights.
Anyone familiar with the ‘City of Light’ will tell you that Paris is a beautiful city, full of art, culture and wonder. What many don’t mention is the darker side. The group of young Cast Members who left the housing office that day were mini-bussed to the other side of the tracks – Aubervilliers-la-Courneuve. The area was colloquially know as the Bronx. There we were thirty or so kids from around the world living in a Hotel Ibis in one of those areas of town.
On arrival we were warned by the French Cast Members to watch out, so we spent a nervous first few days between arriving in France and starting work looking over our shoulders. Eventually we started to get used to the place, two Irish guys from down the hall found a friendly local bar and we made a few friends in the area. Abas the barman spoke a little English and the bar served an acceptable beer, life was looking up.
Living and now working in Paris was a blast. The small hotel I was living in was a microcosm of all that was EuroDisney in the early days. A couple of dozen nationalities, lots of bravado, and lots of secretly worried kids away from home for the first time. A friend later said that we all seemed to be ‘running away from something’ in those early days – boredom and the fear of turning into the kind of people who spent there whole lives living in the same postal code as their parents seemed to be a common theme.
The sometimes intense environment in that hotel made for pretty tough living at times, the clash of cultures and egos lead to a lot of butting of heads but it also bore many lasting friendships. Daniel, who stole my place at the bar one night is still one of my best friends even after almost two decades have flown by.
Getting to and from the hotel to the new resort was another real challenge. For us it was a two hour commute each way – the walk to the station, the infamous RER-B changing at Chatalet les Halles (an interesting place in those days) then the RER-A to Torcy, then a thirty minute bus trip to the main costuming building… and if you didn’t work in the parks you’d then have to hoof it across the Resort to your location. Thankfully as well as the resort opening on April 12th 1992 so did the extension of the RER-A right to the main gate – Hotel to costuming in under two hours - Yeah!
It was about this time a few of us, realising perhaps this wasn’t quite the dream we thought it would be started putting new, toung in cheak lyrics to the Twelve days of Christmas song, as I remember it went…
On the first day of Disney, Mickey said to me, “The Hotel is temporary”.
On the second day of Disney, Mickey said to me, “We pay good rates”.
On the third day of Disney, Mickey said to me, “You won’t need much French”.
The first week was spent happily spent exploring Paris with a fixed budget of 50FF (around £5 - $8 US) per day. Soon though March 5th 1992 rolled around – my first real day of being a Disney employee – a Cast Member!
At nine am we were shown into what is now the central reservations building and seated in an area that ironically became my office on my last day working for the Mouse. We spent three days there and in other locations around the resort learning the correct way to point, the names of the seven dwarves, and those Golden Keys to Disney Service. I must have stood in front of a dozen of these sessions and introduced myself – ‘Hi my name is Tim and before Disney I…’
Finally on my fifth Disney Day I entered my restaurant – The Explorers Club in Adventureland.
The next month was a blur. The Explorers club was one of five table service restaurants in the Magic Kingdom. I just loved it! The themeing was top drawer, the detail was excellent and the menu was great. The Club was situated on the border of Frontierland and Adventureland and was themed as a gentleman’s club for the adventurous world traveller of the nineteenth centaury. The Club also had it’s own dedicated musician. A ukulele playing, pith helmet wearing Brit Called Theo. How he got away with some of the more “choice” music hall songs he sang I will never know, but his larger than life excentricity added to the show. Best of all though was I got to be the assistant pastry chef! And that job had it’s perks…
As I mentioned earlier, Disney housing hadn’t been ready in time for the arrival of many of the Cast Members and when it did open there was a strict hierarchy of who got offered a place first, but as a chef working long shifts I qualified! April 10th 1992 I moved in to Appt 4613 – La Boiserie.
So was "La Boiserie" (DLP’s version of Vista Way)" like the famouse Cast Village of Kellerman's in Dirty Dancing ? Well it had it's moments. Take 800 kids from around the world, house them four to an apartment, remove parental and social controls then ignite the blue touch paper!
La Boiserie is Disneyland Resort Paris' largest communal housing project. When I moved in, in 1992 the place partied pretty hard. The residence lacked the central dance hall of Kellerman's and so the individual apartments bore the brunt of the parties. Some were trashed others were just plane infamous.
Ad hock, spur of the moment parties would spring up, cases of cheap Belgian beer would appear and mayhem ensued! Most of the time though these fiestas were good natured, sociable affairs with no trouble at all.
The reason I had been bumped ahead of many of my colleges was I was working the VIP opening night party on April 11th, The explorers club was providing the staffing for the Back Stage buffet for the VIP’s and their families. Nothing like serving Tina Turner, Cher and Jean-Claude van Dam on your first real shift in a new job! The night was fun, if hectic, and to be honest I don’t really remember too much of it.
I sneaked in to the park through the backstage area on opening day itself. The day was hectic, buzzing with that feeling of organised panic of any new project. The Resorts first months continued to be hectic, despite all those stories about EuroDisney tanking from day one. That first summer the park had to close its ticket sales to paying Guests repeatedly. One infamous day I remember we had 90.000 Guests through the gates.
Bearing in mind all that was going on in Europe that summer I still think we did a wonderful job that summer. On one knew if the Olympics in Barcelona and the Seville Expo would bring in more Guests or be an alternative draw. As always plan for the worst but hope for the best.
The camaraderie was wonderful. These were some of the best days I ever spent working for a living. Okay, the money was poor, the commute was a pain and I still didn’t understand what people outside of my little circle were saying but it was magical.
I am not a journalist or a writer of any real sort but I wanted to get some of these things off my chest and into your mind. I would invite you to comment if you feel you’d like to, and if you have a story to tell, let me know.
How young I was, and so long ago...