Tuesday, January 8, 2008
Blue Sky Alert-Asia (Hong Kong): The Great Walls...
It's been a while since we discussed Disney's foray into the Forbidden Kingdom. A lot has happened since we last talked... and a lot has stayed the same. Dealing with Disney's first theme park in China is as frustrating as it is dealing with the government of China for American officials. There is a lot of mystery in this fortune cookie...
Shall we break the shell and see what awaits?
The next few years will be extremely interesting on Lantau Island. There is a lot of give and take going on behind the scenes as Disney and the Hong Kong government tries to expand and improve the park so that attendance gets a much needed boost. The Walt Disney Company has been negotiating behind the scenes for quite sometime now and those Imagineers in Glendale have been busy working on proposals for the park beyond "It's A Small World". Not everything they're pitching will make it into the park by 2010-12 timeframe, but a large amount of it will.
So where to begin?
The Hong Kong Disneyland Resort had a downturn in attendance as every Disney Geek/Fan knows. This isn't quite the disaster that some are making it out to be, but it shows the difficulty that the Walt Disney Company is having adapting its theme parks to a culture that isn't as fanatical about Disney as Americans or the uber-fanatical Japanese. It was to be expected that the second year of the park would have a drop in attendance given that the "newness" of HKDL was gone. But what Disney has discovered is even the Chinese know when you try to sell them a half-day park as a full-day park... they ain't gonna buy it. While most who come to this very detailed park like it, they can tell that it is far too small and doesn't have enough attractions to justify spending an entire day there. If you start early when the park opens, you can usually finish all the attractions and rides by two or three in the afternoon at the latest. That gives you an enormous amount of time to kill before bedtime.
Thank you, Michael Eisner.
Fortunately, there will be many new things over the next few years to entertain and engage the guest that purchase a ticket. Unfortunately, it won't all happen overnight which will anger many an impatient Disney Geek. Fear not...
The walls that separate the Mouse from Hong Kong's governing officials is finally being dismantled. Progress is coming, albeit slowly.
After-all, Rome wasn't built in a day... it actually took at least two weeks, didn't it?
I've noticed many fans have been rather vocal about the "attractions" that Disney recently announced which would open up around the debut of "It's A Small World" this summer. You shouldn't be. This isn't just a quick fix that the company is throwing in... well, ok... it is a quick fix, but not so much like you would think. These attractions(Muppet Mobile Lab, High School Musical Celebration, Nemo Submarine “Turtle Talk” and The Art of Animation) are being added to expand what is there to do in addition to the new ride that is opening up. Some fans think that these were being placed throughout the park as a replacement for big D and E-Tickets. This is not the case. Trust me, those things are coming, just not in 2008. These attractions are simply to expand the roster of things that will keep the guest in the park after they've ridden IASW several times. Remember the goal of theme parks here... keep the guest in as long as possible so as to take as much of their money as possible. Somewhere down the line, Eisner and Pressler lost their way and thought guest would come for just the Disney name and a lot of places to eat and shop at. This was the main failure of DCA... along with sparse or no theming at all in many areas and attractions.
The "Year of the Mouse" will be underway throughout 2008 and Disney hopes to give people more reason to come to the resort. There are negotiations behind the scenes that are winding down which will likely give this park a lavish expansion over the next four or five years. Both the Hong Kong government and the Disney company know that there has to be more attractions. They know what is needed... they've just been haggling over who pays for it. By the end of this summer everything should be wrapped up and both parties can get on with construction of the wonderful things that the Imagineers have been designing for this park.
That third hotel that was being planned is... well, it's still being planned, but it won't be built more likely till the beginning of the next decade, and then only if those clicks through the turnstiles pick up. The plans have drifted back and forth, but eventually the baseball field that resides in the area behind Adventureland in between the Hong Kong Disneyland Hotel and Disney's Hollywood Hotel will wind up getting a third sister hotel. But at this time the company is busy trying to fill the beds in the original two hotels. One proposal that has yet to be greenlit, but is very popular is the possibility of adding DVC units to the resort. There are some logistics that have to be overcome, but these units are something the Mouse would greatly like to have available once the park's expansion is completed.
Remember I said Disney was adding attractions to keep people in the resort? Well, another thing that is needed is the addition of a "Downtown Disney" type area. If the plans go forward, we can expect the areas around the Esplanade to start becoming more entertaining near the end of this decade. Construction of a DD type area should begin by the end of summer 2009 and the completion of which will likely happen around late 2010/early 2011. The plans should include shops, shows and other entertainment venues similar to what we've come to expect from Anaheim and Orlando Downtown Disney shopping districts as well as Tokyo Disney Resort's Downtown Disney-like Ikspiari.
Once this place is up and running, guest should have plenty of areas to shop and eat and be entertained without having to enter the park. Of course, when they are through walking around the Resort and shopping they will have to enter the park, right?
The negotiations with the Hong Kong government should be concluded by summer. The main sticking point has always been how much the Walt Disney Company would contribute. Both parties know they have to expand the Park, it's simply a matter of coming to terms with what the Mouse will agree to fork over. We've already seen some of that in Disney agreeing to forgo royalties for a couple years. This and several other items are still being worked through but by the time Small World opens there should be a clearer picture...
Most of the public may not see it, but those behind the scenes will know what's going on. Keep an eye out in early 2009. That'll most likely be when the Mouse and Hong Kong officials give an announcement like the one given for DCA last October. It will be touted as a grand expansion, and it'll be just that.
The plan originally was to have each ride come a year after the other, but as of right now the idea is to start preliminary work on all of them. This will be to generate excitement for the expansion. They may still open at separate times over three to four years, but construction will begin on the entire area if the plans continue as scheduled.
They? What are they?
Pirates of course... but right now it's up in the air as to wether it or Haunted Mansion will come first. Both of these rides are scheduled to start construction by sometime late 2009. The Pirates of the Caribbean attraction that opens in Hong Kong will bare less of a resemblance to the Anaheim ride than the blockbuster film. Several key elements will come from the feature with classic Marc Davis elements sprinkled throughout the ride. More of a focus will be on Jack Sparrow and the exploits of the trilogy. The town being plundered by the pirates will likely involve real fire in the attraction unlike the other rides around the world that rely on colored lights, wind blowers and lit sheets. The large drop that comes on the ride will feel more reminiscent of Splash Mountain that Pirates, but it's shaping up to be a really detailed experience. In fact, the entire area will almost be like a new Pirate land unto itself. The way that "Lost River Delta" in TDS is basically an Indiana Jones land, this area will essentially be a Jack Sparrow/Pirates land. It'll almost be like walking into the movie, really. The Haunted Mansion will be closer in style to the Disneyland original its Florida cousin. There will be elements of Pirate influence in the design and several layers of the Adventureland theme will take hold around the design and the storyline... should what I've seen make it into the final design. The land in that large area next to Adventureland should start to be moved by late next year. As well as these obvious two attractions, another ride that will likely be an E-Ticket or at least a plussed D-Ticket will also be headed for construction. It will be a roller coaster clone, modified of course, from the Raging Spirit ride in Tokyo. All the area is supposed to be themed to lavishly fit the Asian/African style areas of Adventureland and the rides and attractions will be themed in this style as well. There are at least one, maybe two more D-Tickets being planned. The area around the Pirates ride will have several C-Tickets to compliment it with more atmosphere. What kind of area will this be? If you want to see the kind of area this will be, the closest thing that will compare to it is the "Fortress Explorations" attraction over at Tokyo DisneySEA. It won't be exact, but check out what this place looks like and you'll be able to grasp the idea Imagineers have for this area. There was even a little talk about splitting the area off, partitioning it, so to speak and calling one part of it "Frontierland" or "Westernland" and having the other part be considered the extension of Adventureland, but as of now that has been shelved. There are still plans to possibly add that land someday, but as of now it is not in the current five year plan.
There was talk of adding a Mickey's Toon Town area, but my Bothans think that this will have to come later, like DCA, there is only so much money to go around during this phase. This doesn't mean the park will have nothing else planned for the remaining few years, but Adventureland will take up the majority of new offerings until early in the next decade. There is at least one more new parade that is planned for introduction near the end of the decade.
So what do we have to look forward to?
Well, by the end of this decade the Hong Kong park will not be so small. The elements that Eisner left out will be in place, slightly different and possibly in different locations, but they'll be there. Many of us have questioned the reason they weren't included in the first place. The addition of another 300 million dollars worth of attractions could have cost a lost less than the publicity headache the Mouse has got over this park. While Eisner didn't skimp on detail and theming like he did on DCA, he did pull back in scope and constructed a park that needed at least two more E-Tickets when it opened. Come the end of the decade it will have those rides... and a few others. Hong Kong Disneyland will be a very nice park in a few years. It'll also have a few variations from the state parks and the Tokyo one so that it will give Disney Geeks a reason to visit the latest magic kingdom for the uniqueness it has as a Disney park. Have patience friends...
The bumpy ride will start to be much smoother by the end of this year.
Patience is a blessing.
I'll try and have another Blue Sky Alert for Anaheim up by early February, time permitting.