An outside view of the Space Mountain attraction, in Marne la Vallee, east of Paris. Euro Disney plans to open a new ride every year to boost revenue.
updated 4/12/2005 5:52:02 PM ET 2005-04-12T21:52:02

Euro Disney unveiled a major revamp of its Space Mountain ride Wednesday, promising to take visitors to "the edge of the universe" just months after flat revenue and heavy debt took the company to the edge of bankruptcy.

Space Mountain Mission II, which opens to the public Saturday, sees the decade-old roller coaster upgraded with new wagons and a faster launch catapult for an even more stomach-wrenching start.

Gone are the old visuals and conscientiously French theme based on Jules Verne's novel "From the Earth to the Moon." Instead, the ride tours the solar system before hurtling out through asteroid showers to skim past supernovas and other astronomical phenomena, portrayed with high-definition video and a host of other new effects.

The launch of the Space Mountain upgrade - pledging to take riders "beyond the moon, to the edge of the universe" - comes only months after Euro Disney SCA was itself rescued from a financial black hole, thanks to a 1.7 billion euros ($2.2 billion) bailout by U.S. parent Walt Disney Co. and other creditors.

The deal, struck last September, deferred hundreds of millions of euros in debt repayments and royalties to Walt Disney and gave the go-ahead for a 253 million euros ($325 million) rights issue that the company recently completed.

The main Disneyland Park east of Paris has never pulled in the 16 million annual visitors promised at Euro Disney's 1989 stock market launch. Disneyland and Walt Disney Studios, a second park opened in 2002 on the same site, together counted 12.4 million heads last year.

That's twice the number of people that climbed the Eiffel tower, but apparently still not enough - Euro Disney posted a record 145 million euros ($188 million) loss for its fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2004.

Chief Executive Andre Lacroix has warned investors not to expect a return to profit for several years and remains coy about the number of visitors he is now targeting. He told The Associated Press on Wednesday that he hoped to see turnstile entries grow "beyond the 12.4 million" in 2005.

The company is also pursuing other strategies to boost profit, Lacroix said. "Attendance is important but it's also about driving the average spend per guest, driving the margin."

Euro Disney is pushing more flexible tickets as part of a marketing drive to encourage more people to stay at its Disneyland Resort hotels on site and spend more than one day in the parks.

Lacroix acknowledges that attracting more customers remains crucial if the company is to begin paying off its debt when the first deferrals expire in 2008, while still making a profit. The recent restructuring reduced the debt to 1.95 billion euros ($2.5 billion) from 2.1 billion euros ($2.7 billion).

That is why, armed with research showing that most first-time visitors plan to return, Euro Disney has decided to use almost all of the cash raised in its capital increase on opening a new ride every year.

Next year will see the launch of Buzz Lightyear's Laser Blast at the Disneyland park, with a new Toon Studios attraction to follow in 2007 and a Tower of Terror in 2008 at neighboring Walt Disney Studios.

Euro Disney sees as its core customer base the 122 million Europeans living within easy striking distance of its Paris resort. "The potential is there because out of the 122 million, slightly less than one-third have already come," Lacroix said.

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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