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The HKDL Source



History

Walt Disney planning the original DisneylandWalt Disney planning the original Disneyland

 

Construction | Opening and Reaction | Tomorrowland/it's a small world | The Future | Timeline | More History 

 

In 1955, Walt Disney entralled the world with the construction and opening of his Disneyland Park in Anaheim, California. Today, the original park is now a multi-park resort and there are parks and resorts in Florida, Tokyo and Paris. In August of 1998, Disney announced their intentions to build the fifth such resort around the world in Hong Kong.

 

On 2 November 1999, the Chief Executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government (The SAR Government), Mr Tung Chee Hwa, announced that Disney would be building a theme park and resort hotel complex on Hong Kong's Lantau Island. The project would be undertaken as a joint venture between The SAR Government and Disney under the banner of Hong Kong International Theme Parks Limited. The SAR Government has a 57% control of shares in the project, while Disney retains the other 43%. The projected cost of the park was around the $14.1 billion mark.

 

At this stage in the development, the then-Walt Disney Attractions Chairman, Judson Green, announced a spectacular park. Imagineers had designed Peter Pan and Little Mermaid attractions in Fantasyland. Adventureland would have been the place to visit a dinosaur archeological site and ride a jungle rollercoaster. More importantly, the original plans included a Toon Town and a Frontierland, the latter of which was to feature Haunted Mansion, river rapid rafts and the It's Tough to Be a Bug show (for some reason). As you will see, it became a smaller Disney world after all.  

 

Construction 

 

Before work on the actual park could commence, the appropriate land was needed for the site. Having already decided on Lantau Island, the SAR Government undertook a massive land reclamation project, extending the otherwise limited space they had for the park. The project gave the team an expandable 126 Hectares (310 acres) on which to place the park, hotels and recreation centre.

 

Phase I construction began on the actual resort in January 2003, with site preparation and appropriate infrastructure having been built in the interim. The infrastructure work was undertaken by The SAR Government, at a projected cost of $13.6 billion. The location for the contruction began on reclaimed land in Penny Bay, on Hong Kong's Lantau Island. It was also to be the shortest construction in the history of Disney theme parks.

 

Aerial view of Hong Kong Disneyland Construction Aerial view of Hong Kong Disneyland under construction

 

When Disneyland Paris, formerly EuroDisney, opened in 1992, there was a great deal of friction concerning the cultural values that Disney were placing in the middle of Europe. As a result, feng shui - being the ancient Chinese tradition of placement and arrangement of space to try and achieve a kind of harmony with the environment - was considered from the the very start of construction. For example, neither of the hotels have a level "four". The number four is considered unlucky in Chinese culture, as it closely resembles the word for "death".

 

By May 2004, when a second major press release was made available detailing the 'Facts and Figures' of the park, it was clear that some major changes had been made to the plan. Gone was any mention of Peter Pan, the Little Mermaid, dinosaurs and rollercoasters in the jungle. Indeed, gone altogether was any mention of Toon Town and Frontierland. A few months later, in September of the same year, a Castle Topping ceremony took place for Sleeping Beauty's Castle in Fantasyland. It was one of the smallest Sleeping Beauty Castles in the world. With a pre-opening reputation for a park that was being built on the cheap, Hong Kong Disneyland quickly gave the original concept of Autopia a greenlight. Unfortunately, this ride would not appear in the park until mid-2006, long after opening-day reactions had been made.

 

This first phase of the construction met with some additional controversey, especially when activists learned of plans to sell Shark Fin soup in parks (a decision that was later quashed). However, in addition to the park, a recreation area - surrounding the man-made Inspiration Lake, which doubles as an irrigation service to the Resort - was built, as well as an Esplanade and two Hotels with a total of 2100 rooms.  

 

Opening and Reaction

 

In midst of the original Disneyland's 50th Anniversary 'Happiest Celebration on Earth' events, Hong Hong Disneyland opened to the public. On 12 September 2005, Hong Kong Disneyland - Disney's fifth resort and eleventh park - opened its gates to the public. The opening featured a mix of Chinese traditional celebrations and Disney parades. Present at the gala opening were Donald Tsang, Chief Executive of the Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR Government); Zeng Qinghong, Vice-President of the People’s Republic of China; Michael D. Eisner, then-Walt Disney Company Chief Executive Officer; and Robert A. Iger, Walt Disney Company President, Chief Operating Officer and CEO-elect. (Iger is now the CEO of Walt Disney).

 

Opening Ceremony - 12 September, 2005 Opening Ceremony - 12th September, 2005

 

The general reaction to Hong Kong Disneyland was mixed to say the least. While the opening day was not quite the disaster that befell the original opening of Disneyland in 1955, there were problems. Chief amongst these were the size of the park and the problems with estimating the size of the crowds. This resulted in massive waits for the limited number of rides available, and food and beverage stands throughout the park.

 

Although Hong Kong Disneyland is the closest thing to an exact replica of the original park - especially Main Street - it opened with a mere 22 listed attractions (as opposed to 44 in Paris, 45 in Tokyo and Florida, and 65 in California, for example). Following the 2001 opening of Disney's California Adventure in Anaheim, perceived by many as a sub-standard 'mini-park', the smaller size of Hong Kong Disneyland was interpreted by several commentators as both a cost-cutting exercise by Disney and a sign of 'cookie-cutter' theme park design. Adding to this theory was the fact that only four of the usual six 'Lands' debuted with the park, with Frontierland and Mickey's Toon Town being the most notable absences. Indeed, only 100 of the mapped 300 acres was used at the time of its debut.

 

The size of the park, and the restrictions on the number of guests the area could hold, became apparent during the park's first Chinese New Year celebrations in 2006. Hong Kong Disneyland underestimated the pull of crowds during the holidays, and many people with pre-sold tickets were being turned away from a capacity-full park. The problems with the park were widely reported, including sensational stories of guests being turned away from the gates and images of children being thrown over fences. Keen to rid themselves of the stigma of this public relations nightmare, and prevent further ticketing trouble, Hong Kong Disneyland has introduced 'special day' tickets as of April 2006. This strategy is outlined in our Tickets section.

 

Generally speaking, Hong Kong has remained a financial and critical success. Despite some initial problems with crowd dissatisfaction and lower-than-expected sales, the park has overcome its teething problems rather quickly, and has almost erased the stigma that hung around Disneyland Paris for years (and it didn't even have to change its name)! A combination of local and international tourist-targeted promotional acitivity - primarily to Asia-Pacific countries including South-East Asia and Australia - as well as ticketing strategies, holiday-themed activities, and a genuine attempt at meeting customer needs has resulted in increased ticket sales and a steady flow of people through the gates.

 

Tomorrowland and it's a small world

 

The first phase of HKDL's extension was completed in July 2006, with three new attractions being added to Tomorrowland: Autopia, a UFO Zone play area and Stitch Encounter, based on Disney's Lilo & Stitch. Autopia is the first all-electric version of the popular attraction, boasting a smoother ride, different sound effects and an alien landscape. These opened to kick off summer 2006 celebrations, Mickey's Summer Blast.

 

Early Tomorrowland concept artConcept art showing Tomorrowland when it opened

 

Disney has added the classic it's a small world attraction in April 2008, and featured a number of aspects unique to the park. For the first time, it's a small world contained  characters from classic Disney films, including Lilo & Stitch, Aladdin and Cinderalla. In Summer 2007, the park saw the opening of an Animation Academy on Main Street, along with a new summer parade called Mickey's WaterWorks. The former teaches kids of all ages to draw classic Disney characters.

 

Hong Kong Disneyland Expansion

 

As early as the day after the opening of the park, there has been talk of expansion. Given the smaller size of the park, and its close proximity to mainland China, it seems inevitable that Hong Kong Disneyland will expand in the near future. As mentioned, the original 1999 plans depicted a much larger Hong Kong Disneyland, complete with two additional lands and many more rides. In July 2009, Hong Kong Disneyland announced that it would finally be expanding its borders with three new themed areas. They are said to offer "more than 30 new experiences" increasing the number of rides and attractions in HKDL by 50%. Many of these will be unique to HKDL.

 

Grizzly Gulch, originally named Grizzly Trail, combines the classic elements of Frontierland with Disney's California Adventure. The centrepiece ride, Big Grizzly Mountain, runs all through the land and has been described by Disney as a cross between Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, California Screamin' and Expedition Everest. Sounds like a good pedigree to us! It will also feature Audio-Animatronic bears! Other attractions are said to include an old time Jail House; hands-on water features and geysers; the world's largest nugget of gold and a Wild West Saloon.

 

Mystic Point Model Mystic Point Model
(Click on the image to view it full-sized)

 

Mystic Point is the site of "mysterious forces and supernatural events in the heart of a dense, uncharted rain forest" according to legend (and the Disney press release). Mystic Manor comes alive thanks to a mischievous monkey and an enchanted box (a deadly combination), and guests are shown through the effects and features via a trackless ride system. Guests can also walk through a beautiful garden of relics and mythological figures and dine at the Explorers' Club.

 

Last but not least is Toy Story Land, a themed play area for kids based on Andy's toys from the Disney-Pixar Toy Story film series. Guest will be shrunk to the size of toys to take a ride in a remote-control car along a half-pipe track; get into a drop-style parachute that plunges from a 25m tall tower; hop on top of Slinky Dog rollercoaster as he chases his own tail and meet the characters of the films while enjoying snacks and merchandise.

 

Look for all of it to open in 2014!

 

Timeline

August 1998 Hong Kong Disneyland announced
2 November 1999 Disney and The SAR Government form Hong Kong International Theme Parks Limited and announce initial plans
10 December 1999 Official signing of agreement between Hong Kong SAR Government and The Walt Disney Company.
 Summer 2000 Land reclamation project for Hong Kong Disneyland site begins
 November 2002 Plans for the two Hotels are unveiled
January 2003 Ground is broken on Phase I Construction
 23 September 2004 Castle-topping ceremony
 25 April 2005 Disney Resort Line Train (MTR) in unveiled
1 August 2005 MTR service begins
15 August 2005 Inspiration Lake opens to public
12 September 2005 Hong Kong Disneyland opens to the public
3 January 2006 Hong Kong Disneyland introduces flexible date tickets
3 February 2006 Angry patrons storm sold-out park gates
13 July 2006 Tomorrowland expands with Autopia, UFO Zone and Stitch Encounter
12 September 2006 Hong Kong Disneyland celebrates its First Anniversary
29 September 2006 Hong Kong Disneyland sells its first Annual Passes
14 December 2006 Hong Kong Disneyland officially announces 2007/2008 launch of the Animation Academy; Mickey's WaterWorks Parade and It's A Small World
May/June 2007 Adventureland temporarily transformed into Pirate Land
Summer 2007 Mickey's WaterWorks and Animation Academy opens
Spring 2008 Art of Animation, Turtle Talk, Muppets Mobile Lab and High School Musical Live open
27 April 2008 it's a small world opens
By 2014 Hong Kong Disneyland to expand by 3 themed areas - Grizzly Gulch, Mystic Point and Toy Story Land

 

More history

 

  • Follow The Disneyland Story in-park on Main Street
  • Watch a virtual history of the park at the Official Site
  • Take a walk through The Disneyland That Never was in the Lost Lands