Finally Recovering From Sept. 11 Downturn, Disney Looks to 'Happiest Celebration'

ORLANDO, Fla., May 5, 2005 When Walt Disney traveled across the United States in the early 1950s to meet with amusement park operators and discuss his plans for a theme park based on his characters, they called him goofy, dopey and a whole lot worse.

"No one in the amusement business really thought Disneyland had a chance," said Dennis Spiegel of International Theme Park Services, which works with parks in 40 countries.

They thought Disney was this Hollywood entertainer drunk on the success of his cartoons and movies," Spiegel said. "The word 'theme park' didn't even exist."

Today, as Disney (the parent company of ABC News) launches "The Happiest Celebration on Earth," it's abundantly clear that the company founder invented an industry that revolutionized family entertainment. But as Disney prepares to open its 11th park (in Hong Kong), and with competition from existing parks growing, Disneyland's 50th anniversary comes along with tremendous challenges and the success of the company's theme parks are critical to its overall future.

"Here is where our characters live and our stories come to life," said Robert Iger, Disney's CEO-elect, at a presentation introducing a new wave of attractions and family-focused vacation plans to an auditorium with more than 500 reporters.
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