Mickey finds a place in French life

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The Independent Online
After almost five years of warily getting to know each other, the French and Mickey Mouse are finally reaching an accommodation. If it is not exactly true love, at least the relationship is proving lucrative all round.

It was announced yesterday that Disneyland Paris, once described by the Paris intelligentsia as a "cultural Chernobyl" and doomed to a loss- making future in the marshes of the Marne, is now the biggest "paid for" tourist attraction in France. With 11.3 million visitors it receives twice as many visitors as the Eiffel Tower and three times as many as the Louvre.

Its hotels, moreover, with names such as New York, Davy Crockett and Sequoia lodge, which grate as roughly as ever on the French consciousness, enjoyed an occupancy rate last year of 64 per cent, which was higher than the rate in central Paris. The figures come not from Disney, but from a survey commissioned by the local Seine et Marne region.

There are caveats: you can see the Eiffel Tower without paying to go to the top, and visit at least the precincts of the Louvre without paying, but everyone who goes to Disneyland must pay. The occupancy rate of central Paris hotels in 1995 was depressed by the terrorist bombing campaign.

The publication of the route for next year's Tour de France cycle race, however, provides clinching evidence that Disneyland Paris, which abandoned its "Eurodisney" nomenclature two years ago, has found a place in French life. Anything more quintessentially French than the tour would be hard to find, but next year's penultimate stage, following three weeks and 4,000km of racing, will be held in Mickey's kingdom.

There will be time-trials against the Disneyland backdrop. The cyclists will be accommodated in the Disney hotels, and will set off next morning for the prestigious final leg into Paris and the sprint finish at the Champs Elysees.

The tour has passed through Disneyland once before, in 1994, but this is the first time that a full stage has been held there, and hosting the start of the final day is a signal honour.

Needless to say, such honours do not come free. According to the tour organisers, there is a standard cost of 650,000 francs (pounds 81,250) for hosting a stage. The advertising benefits that Disneyland can expect from several hours of live television coverage, however, are likely to make the price worth paying.

Alas for indigenous French culture, the Asterix theme-park north of Paris has never even had the Tour de France pass by its home-grown warrior heroes. "Unfortunately, we don't have the means," a spokeswoman said. "It would be very advantageous to us, but we just can't afford it."