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Shanghai Disneyland: What are the facts and rumors on Disney's latest resort?

Shanghai Disneyland concept art

In 2015, Disney is set to open its latest resort close to Shanghai in China. The multi-billion dollar project has been shrouded in secrecy, with Disney looking to protect its best ideas from being copied before the resort is up-and-running. However, details have begun to leak out in recent months - so what do we know about the planned Shanghai Disneyland theme park and the surrounding resort?

As with its previous overseas resorts in Tokyo, Paris and Hong Kong, Disney isn't going it alone on the Shanghai Disneyland project. Indeed, the resort is set to be majority-owned by the Chinese government, which will take a 57% stake. Given the lacklustre performance of nearby Hong Kong Disneyland, it's perhaps not surprising that Disney is looking to minimise its exposure - particularly with initial reports putting the construction budget for the Shanghai project at around $3.6 billion.

Given the astronomical costs involved, it's understandable that Disney's negotiations with the Chinese government have stretched out for over a decade. On the positive side, though, the company's Imagineers have had plenty of time to dream up original ideas for the sixth Disney resort. Let's take a look at what could be in store for visitors to Shanghai Disneyland, and when they might finally get a chance to experience it.

Location

Shanghai Disneyland concept art

Shanghai Disneyland will be Disney's first park on the Chinese mainland.

Shanghai Disneyland will initially occupy 286 acres of land in the Pudong area, making it 24 acres smaller than the region's other Disney resort in Hong Kong. The Shanghai resort had initially been expected to be nearly 3 times larger - sparking concern over how the Hong Kong park would be able to compete. However, it is likely that Disney will pursue a policy of gradual expansion in Shanghai, as it has at its other resorts around the world.

A new Metro line will be constructed to transport guests to and from the Shanghai Disney Resort when it opens. The 9.2 kilometer line is expected to cost over $600 million to construct, with work set to begin in September 2011. With two stops en-route, it will terminate at the underground Disneyland Station.

Opening date

Although neither Disney nor the Chinese government have confirmed a target opening date for Shanghai Disneyland, local reports have claimed that supporting facilities will be completed by June 2014, with the park itself due to open to the public in 2015. Full construction work is set to begin in May 2011, although work on key infrastructure such as access roads is already underway.

The government hopes that Shanghai Disneyland will attract between 7 and 10 million visitors every year, helping to develop the tourism industry in the Shanghai area. When supporting facilities are taken into account, the total cost to the Chinese government of the project will be greater than that of the recent World Expo, at some $9.8 billion.

The resort

Shanghai Disneyland concept art

The concept art for Shanghai Disneyland offers very little detail.
Image © Disney

Water is set to feature heavily in the Shanghai Disney Resort, as shown in the only concept art released to date (above). The entire resort will be surrounded by a 60-metre-wide river, which will be around 10 kilometres in length. In addition, a central lake is already under construction at a cost of some $41.5 million.

Although the concept art is intentionally vague, it appears that the lake will play a major role in the overall design and landscaping of the resort. In the bottom-right of the image, a boardwalk appears to run alongside it along with some brightly-lit structures (resembling pagodas or giant mushrooms) which may indicate the presence of a Downtown Disney-style nighttime entertainment district.

Shanghai Disneyland Park

At least for the first few years of its operation, the undoubted centerpiece of the Shanghai Disney Resort will be Shanghai Disneyland Park. Its name suggests that it will closely resemble the other "Magic Kingdom" parks around the world (Disneyland, the Magic Kingdom, Tokyo Disneyland, Disneyland Paris and Hong Kong Disneyland), adopting the traditional hub-and-spoke design with a central castle and a range of familiar sub-lands. However, both the concept art and recent rumors suggest that the Disney may break with this tradition and go for something completely different.

Shanghai Disneyland concept art with landmarks

A few landmarks are almost distinguishable in the concept art.
Image © Disney

With the Disneyland formula having proven so successful, why would Disney pursue something else in China? There are multiple potential drivers for this. Firstly, Hong Kong Disneyland is investing heavily in a major expansion, and the last thing it needs is a similar park competing with it for business. Secondly, many Chinese people have not had the same exposure to Disney culture as much of the rest of world, making reuse of traditional Disneyland attractions less attractive and the incorporation of elements of Chinese culture more likely.

While it may not feature the traditional line-up of Frontierland, Adventureland, Fantasyland and Tomorrowland, Shanghai Disneyland will almost certainly retain the classic hub-and-spoke design that is employed by all Disney parks. However, whereas as guests normally enter Disneyland parks via Main Street, USA, it is strongly rumored that the front entrance to Shanghai Disneyland will be very different indeed - even if no-one is sure exactly what will replace it.

Some traditional Disneyland elements do look set to be carried over to Shanghai. The concept art points appears to show a traditional Disney castle towards the rear of the park, suggesting that at least some sort of Fantasyland-style area will be in place. And as usual, a mock mountain appears to be part of the plans, along with plenty of water features as seen in existing Frontierland areas.

Incredible Hulk rollercoaster

Universal's Islands of Adventure is currently the only park using Marvel characters.

Though there is little evidence for this in the concept art, Disney's $4 billion acquisition of Marvel in 2009 has led to speculation that new lands (or even whole parks) based on Marvel comic book characters could be on their way to its overseas parks. While there are restrictions on Disney's use of the characters in the US due to a pre-existing licensing deal with rival Universal, there is seemingly nothing preventing their use in the clean-sheet environment of Shanghai.

Plans for Shanghai Disneyland are still at an early stage, and reading too much into a single piece of concept art would be naive. It's worth noting that Disney develops all sorts of concepts for its park - at one stage, it was proposed that the castle for Disneyland Paris be located in Tomorrowland, rather than Fantasyland. Though the presence of Hong Kong Disneyland complicates things, a u-turn back to a traditional Magic Kingdom layout cannot be ruled out at this point.

Rides and attractions

With details of the overall park layout scarce, gleaning information on individual attractions that might form part of Shanghai Disneyland is even more difficult. However, the concept art does at least offer some clues.

The most obvious of these is the large mountain on the right-hand-side of the image. Although this could be a version of the Expedition Everest rollercoaster at Walt Disney World's Animal Kingdom, it appears to feature a Splash Mountain-style water drop. This had led to speculation from Disney and More that Disney might revive a version of Pirates of the Caribbean that was designed for Hong Kong Disneyland (but never built). This would be based around the movie series, rather than the the original attraction at California's Disneyland.

Screamscape reports that the Hong Kong Disneyland version of Pirates would have been accompanied by a Pirates-themed Haunted Mansion ride, located in a Louisiana-style swamp. However, these plans were rejected and it is by no means certain that the Pirates land has been revived for the Shanghai park.

At least one form of traditional Disneyland entertainment does seem certain to make its way to Shanghai Disneyland. The concept art shows fireworks exploding above the castle, and with the massive popularity of fireworks in China it is very likely that a large-scale nightly fireworks display will be part of the park's schedule.

Resort hotels

A recent Disney job posting revealed that at least two on-site hotels are in the works for the Shanghai Disney Resort. These are likely to open alongside Shanghai Disneyland as part of the first phase of construction, with additional hotels being added in the following years.

Disney typically constructs heavily-themed resort hotels, such as the Animal Kingdom lodge at Walt Disney World. No details have been released to date on the themes that might be chosen for the new hotels in Shanghai.

Expansion - two more theme parks?

Epcot lake image

A version of Epcot would be likely to have strong appeal in the Chinese market.

The long-term plans for the Shanghai Disney Resort will see three theme parks constructed in total, according to city officials. Options under consideration for the two additional parks include versions of Walt Disney World's Epcot and Animal Kingdom. Epcot's "World's Fair"-style theme may be seen as a good fit with the Chinese market following the success of World Expo 2010, held in Shanghai.

Our thoughts

We have to admit, we found it difficult to be excited following the original announcement of Shanghai Disneyland. Admittedly, this is partly because it is so far away (in both time and distance) - but also because, frankly, we were a little skeptical that the world really needed another park modelled on the original Disneyland.

However, having seen the initial concept art and heard the rumors surrounding Shanghai Disneyland, we're now very intrigued. If Disney really does opt to break the mould and build something original at its new resort, it'll be fascinating to see what its array of talented Imagineers can create. At the very least, we hope we'll see a Disneyland Paris-style merging of local design with classic Disney fare.

Disney is expected to perform an official unveiling of the Shanghai Disneyland project in April 2011, at which it may (or may not) reveal some additional details. Stay tuned to Theme Park Tourist for all the confirmed information as it emerges.


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