Disney's under-construction theme park in China has been shrouded in mystery. But we now have dozens of pieces of concept artwork for Shanghai Disneyland, as well as a good idea of what attractions will be featured.
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.
Although neither Disney nor the Chinese government have confirmed a final opening date for Shanghai Disneyland, reports have claimed that supporting facilities will be completed by June 2014, with the park itself due to open to the public in late 2015. Full construction work began in May 2011.
The government hopes that Shanghai Disneyland will attract between 7 and 10 million visitors every year (although it has been claimed that these figures could be as high as 15 million), 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.
Water is set to feature heavily in the Shanghai Disney Resort, as shown in the concept art 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 has been constructed 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, which indicate the presence of a Downtown Disney-style nighttime entertainment district. At least two hotels, and possibly as many as four, are expected to open alongside the theme park.
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, there will also be some significant differences between the Chinese park and the existing parks.
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.
Entrance and Gardens of Imagination
Shanghai Disneyland will not feature its own version of Main Street, USA. Instead, it will host a garden area in front of its iconic central castle. Part of this will be dubbed "The Garden of the Twelve Friends", replacing the traditional hub. Sponsored by the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, it will combine Disney characters and ornate mosaics to represent the twleve Chinese Zodiac characters. It will span 11 acres, and boast rows of peach trees.
Seemingly visible in the artwork for the Gardens of the Twelve friends are a carousel and a clone of Dumbo the Flying Elephant, as well as a large theater building.
Enchanted Storybook Castle
Enchanted Storybook Castle will be the largest castle built at any Disney park to date, and will house a walkthrough attraction, Once Upon a Time Adventure, that tells a story featuring Disney princesses. Guests will be able to explore the castle via an elaborate archway, which leads to a winding staircase to the top. A boat ride will also be incorporated into the plans.
Expect Disney to launch a spectacular fireworks display above the castle every night in a country that loves its pyrotechnics displays.
Rides and attractions
We don't have a confirmed attraction list for Shanghai Disneyland as yet. However, details have leaked out of several major rides over the last couple of years, and we also have some concept artwork showing off various attracions. Finally, an unconfirmed ride line-up was posted to the WDWMagic forums recently.
Let's take a look at what is currently predicted to be on offer at the park, bearing in mind that things could change between now and the opening day.
- Roaring Rapids - rumored to be a dinosaur-themed rapid ride.
- Soarin' Over the Horizon - a new version of Soarin', featuring a film taking in scenes across the globe. Due to be installed at Epcot and Disney California Adventure, too.
- Enchanted Storybook Castle - the iconic castle.
- Evergreen Playhouse - a child-friendly play area.
- Hunny Pot Spin - a teacups-style Winnie the Pooh ride.
- Peter Pan's Flight - a clone of the Disneyland classic.
- Seven Dwarfs Mine Train - a clone of the under-construction coaster at Disney's Magic Kingdom.
- The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh - a version of the classic Disney dark ride.
- Alice in Wonderland Maze - a walkthrough attraction.
- "Once Upon a Time" Adventure - a walkthrough in the castle.
- Dumbo the Flying Elephant - the spinning flat ride is on it way to Shanghai.
- Fantasia Carousel - a traditional merry-go-round.
- Gardens of Imagination - replaces the Magic Kingdom's hub.
Main entrance portal:
- Walt Disney Theatre - in some artwork, this appears to be styled on the Carthay Circle Theater.
- Jet Packs - probably a flat ride.
- Tron Lightcycles Power Run - the long-awaited tron-themed thrill ride.
- Intergalactic Imports - to be confirmed.
- Stitch Encounter - a clone of the interactive Stitch Live! attraction at Walt Disney Studios, Paris.
Toy Story Land:
- Rex's Racers - to be confirmed.
- Slinky Dog Spin - a clone of the flat ride at Hong Kong Disneyland and Walt Disney Studios, Paris.
- Woody's Roundup - a live show.
- Explorer Canoes - a canoe ride on the water,
- Pirates of the Caribbean: Battle for the Sunken Treasure - believed to be a revival of a concept for Hong Kong Disneyland that was never built. This would be based around the movie series, rather than the the original attraction at California's Disneyland, and feature a Splash Mountain-style drop.
A Disney job posting revealed in 2011 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?
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.
Having seen the early 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.