Marvel, Frozen, and Castle Expansion at Hong Kong Disneyland

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Disney just confirmed that Hong Kong Disneyland is slated to receive a massive, multi-year expansion between now and 2023, which will include the replacement of Sleeping Beauty Castle, plus a Frozen land and Marvel land and is projected to cost $1.4 billion. (May 4, 2017 UPDATE: Hong Kong’s government has approved funding for the proposal, and the project should begin in early 2018.)

Most of what follows in this section is mostly mindless copy and paste action from the Hong Kong Disneyland press release, so skip down to “My Reaction” if you’ve already read the details…and actually care what I have to say on the matter. First up is the centerpiece of the park and the gateway to Fantasyland, Sleeping Beauty Castle, which will be transformed into something larger, creating a better backdrop for mixed media daytime and nighttime spectaculars.

Next is that a fully-fledged Marvel Universe will be built around Iron Man Experience (which opens in early 2017). Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters will be reimagined into a Marvel Universe shooter attraction. Additionally, another thrill ride attraction dedicated to one of the most popular Marvel franchises will be added; this land will be built in phases.

A new “Frozen” themed area where the kingdom of Arendelle will come to life. Guests will enjoy two new attractions and be immersed in Arendelle with uniquely themed dining, shopping, and entertainment. This area will include multiple facades and backdrops, and looks a lot like the Arendelle port previously announced for Tokyo DisneySea.

Adventureland Show Place will invite guests to “Moana’s Village Festival” through a series of daytime entertainment offerings anchored around a lively stage show in a new interactive entertainment environment. Moana will also be meeting in Adventureland.

Hong Kong Disneyland’s two shareholders – The Walt Disney Company and the Hong Kong SAR Government – have agreed on the development plans, subject to funding approval by the TWDC’s Board of Directors and HKSAR’s Legislative Council for their respective share of investment.

My Reaction

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Let’s start with the conversion of Sleeping Beauty Castle. And, based on the concept art, this is very much a conversion of the existing castle (the base looks the same) and not a complete replacement.

My thoughts on this are mixed. For purely selfish reasons, I would have liked Sleeping Beauty Castle to stay. While I think it was a poor idea to clone so much of Disneyland when constructing HKDL in the first place, the park has since come into its own with recent additions, and now held its place as the “quaint park” that was almost more Disneyland than Walt Disney’s original. I liked that about Hong Kong Disneyland.

On the other hand, Hong Kong Disneyland has lost guests, particularly the lucrative demographic of nouveau riche mainland Chinese, to Shanghai Disneyland. Enchanted Storybook Castle is a reflection of Chinese predilections as much as it is a design of Imagineering, and it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if guest surveys have revealed that Hong Kong Disneyland could perform better with a more ostentatious castle.

HK Castle Front Elevation-end of day-

Beyond that, this new castle would serve a functional purpose in terms of being a canvas for nighttime (and, apparently, daytime?) spectaculars that are heavy on projections. The other parks with larger castles have demonstrated how this can be done, and it certainly makes sense to bring such highly popular nighttime entertainment to Hong Kong.

In terms of design, the style looks like a bit of a hodgepodge to me, but that’s probably the natural consequence of building a new castle on an existing one. I do wish a singular, cohesive style were chosen instead of having this be another “every story’s castle” but who knows, maybe the finished product will look better than the concept art? I’m willing to take a ‘wait and see’ approach on this one.

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Next up is Marvel Land. The original ‘Sci-Fi City’ style of Tomorrowland was pretty cool, but that was too light on attractions. Star Wars and Marvel haven’t been perfect fits in that, but the looser concept has made them acceptable. This Marvel area looks sort of space port-ish, so I suppose that could work. I do think it’s good to have a vision for this area, as otherwise I suspect Tomorrowland would’ve been slowly absorbed, piecemeal by disparate science fiction franchises.

If ride footage is any indication, Iron Man Experience looks fairly awful. Hopefully the rest of this land deviates from that in quality. From what I understand, the new thrill ride here will be a lavish E-Ticket, which certainly has potential. I view the conversion from Buzz Lightyear’s blaster game to a Marvel blaster game to be a lateral one at worst. This attraction has somehow found itself cloned virtually everywhere, as if it’s some Pirates of the Caribbean caliber masterpiece (it actually exists in more places than POTC and Haunted Mansion).

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Finally, we have the Arendelle/Frozen expansion. This one looks like the true gem of the expansion, with beautiful environments to explore, and an actual mountain that could look beautiful against the backdrop of real mountains (albeit subtropical ones).

My biggest question here is whether this means the similar port for Tokyo DisneySea has been permanently shelved? It was already delayed once due to rising construction costs associated with the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, but OLC reps went on record to say it was still going forward.

Typically, there are regional exclusivity agreements in place among the Asia parks with high profile expansion that specify a term of years (say, 5) before a clone or near-clone can open elsewhere. If this Frozen land opens in 2020, that means Tokyo DisneySea would likely be waiting until at least 2025 to open theirs. That is, unless the OLC and HKSAR have waived exclusivity requirements. (And they very well might–Tokyo and Hong Kong are largely drawing from different pools of guests.)

One of the attractions for this is a Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree clone, except with sleds instead of Maters (here’s hoping Santa Mater at least makes in an appearance in the queue–THEME BE DAMNED). People like this attraction at DCA and it’s a cheap build–I’m okay with it if it means more money is allocated towards an E-Ticket.

That’s the big question mark about the Frozen land at Hong Kong Disneyland. Will the other attraction be a lavish E-Ticket? A trackless dark ride was one of the concepts rumored for the Tokyo DisneySea version of this land, and I hope it has found its way to this expansion. Hong Kong Disneyland could definitely use more in the way of Fantasyland-style attractions.

It is interesting that this is all being announced before the funding approval has been granted by the Board of Directors and Hong Kong government. Both parties have, recently, been very hands-on with park additions, and I could see these plans being altered significantly before getting the financial greenlight. (It’s almost as if one wanted to force the other’s hand by releasing the info to the public now…)

Overall, I guess you could say I’m cautiously optimistic about these plans. While I would love to see Hong Kong Disneyland remain the quaint, peaceful park, that’s completely unrealistic. The concept art for the castle does have me worried a bit, but the rest of the plans hold a good deal of promise. The park has been hemorrhaging guests this year, and staying on the current trajectory–particularly while nearly doubling their room inventory–was simply not viable. This plan is demonstrative of TWDC’s and HKSAR’s dedication to the park as a going concern. It’s definitely good to see that Hong Kong Disneyland hasn’t simply been forgotten now that Shanghai Disneyland is open. Based on these plans, it also seems likely that Disney will expand both HKDL and SDL in ways that keep each park distinct, so regional guests feel compelled to visit both. While we are certainly not the target audience for these parks, we are unintended beneficiaries of this philosophy. Even if you don’t have any interest in the Asia parks, this also might function as a window into what Disneyland Resort will build in the decade after Star Wars Land. What do you think?


15 Responses to “Marvel, Frozen, and Castle Expansion at Hong Kong Disneyland”
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