Theme Park Central

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Archive for the month “April, 2011”

Tokyo Disneyland Reopens After Earthquake

Early Friday, 10,000 people waited at the gates of Tokyo Disneyland, ready for the reopening of the theme park that had shut down five weeks ago in the wake of Japan’s devastating earthquake.

The unprecedented closure of Disneyland, which normally is open 365 days a year and is one of the world’s most successful parks, symbolized the sense of sadness and self-restraint that enveloped Japan following the quake. The 34-day closure cost the theme park dearly: Nomura Securities estimated it would dent the operating profits of Oriental Land Co., Disneyland’s operator in Japan, by a total of ¥20.4 billion ($245 million). Shares of the company have tumbled 17% since March 11.

But at a time when most people in Japan are exhausted from living with daily aftershocks that rattle their homes and offices, worried about radiation levels in the air, and suffering rolling electrical blackouts, the reopening of Tokyo Disneyland served as the perfect escape for some.

“I just want to forget about everything,” said Sayaka Shimura, 25, carrying a Mickey Mouse tote bag, with various Disney charms dangling off her cellphone. “I go to Disneyland two to three times a month and I took the day off work today so I could go. I am so excited.”

It is young women like Ms. Shimura that drive the success of Tokyo Disneyland, which opened in 1983 as the first Disney franchise outside the U.S. In a graying society with one of the lowest fertility rates in the world, adults at this theme park are more plentiful than children: 70.8% of its visitors in the year ended March 2010 were adults over the age of 18. In the same year, females made up 71% of the 25.4 million visitors. The vast majority of its visitors are from Tokyo and nearby cities and the park relies on “repeaters,” or visitors who come multiple times a month.

“I love the mood here and I visit three to four times a month,” says 25-year-old Yumiko Sato, waiting in line to have her picture taken with Mickey Mouse. “It hasn’t changed at all. I was worried it might be different after being closed for so long.”

By 10:15 a.m., fans had taken seats around the perimeter of Cinderella’s Palace, waiting for the brand-new attraction to begin: the Easter Wonderland Parade. Clapping their hands in unison, fans squealed in delight as dancers shimmied past in bright Easter egg costumes and Mickey Mouse made an appearance, waving as if he were a presidential candidate.

The operations of Tokyo Disneyland have a huge economic ripple effect on its neighboring towns and hotels in the area. The Sheraton Grande Tokyo Bay Hotel, which sits on the perimeter of Tokyo Disneyland, has been nearly empty since the theme park closed.

“Emotionally and psychologically, the idea of going on a vacation so quickly after an event like this just doesn’t feel like the right decision. We certainly went through that in the U.S. after 9/11,” said Matthew Avril, president of Sheraton Grande operator Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide. “That process has to run its course…people do begin to move forward in their life. The country will move forward with the recovery efforts and as part of that, people then begin to incorporate other activities into their life again.”

The theme park will raise ticket prices to ¥6,200 ($75) on April 23, from a ¥5,800 ($70) standard ticket, and analysts are optimistic that visitors will return to the park, the vast majority of whom are Japanese: less than 3% of its visitors in the year ending March 2010 were foreigners, according to the company.

Ayako Kato, 23, said she visits Tokyo Disneyland eight times a month. “I had to come back today,” she said, accompanied by her boyfriend. “Here, I can forget about things.”


Disney Breaks Ground in Shanghai

Walt Disney Co. executives and their Shanghai partners broke ground Friday for a long-sought theme park that will feature the world’s biggest “Magic Kingdom” castle, and ambitions to match.

The $3.7 billion park in Shanghai’s southeastern suburbs is meant to serve as a brand-building cornerstone, luring legions of newly affluent Chinese with world-class facilities that will be “authentically Disney, but distinctly Chinese,” according to Disney CEO Bob Iger.

“Today is the culmination of many years of hard work, dedication and partnership,” Iger said. “This is a defining moment in our company’s history.”

After more than a decade of haggling, Shanghai’s communist leaders seemed equally enthusiastic about the project, which will serve as an anchor for an “international tourism resort zone” with hotels and other lentertainment areas. The park will be Disney’s fourth theme park outside the U.S., after Paris, Tokyo and Hong Kong.

“Disney is a classic urban entertainment brand,” Han Zheng, the mayor of Shanghai. “This project will help improve Shanghai’s profile as a world-famous tourism destination.”

The project is a new showcase for this city of 22 million, whose aspirations as a tourism destination were fortified by the 2010 World Expo. It drew a record 72 million visitors during its six-month run, almost all of them Chinese tourists.

Both sides are presumably hoping the park will prove more successful than Hong Kong Disneyland, which has struggled to remain profitable though it reports increasing popularity with visitors from the mainland, who account for more than 40 percent of total attendance.

Initial plans call for the Shanghai park, at 225 acres to be even smaller than the 310-acre one in Hong Kong, which is now undergoing expansion by about a quarter.

But the surrounding resort area in Shanghai, at 963 acres will be more than twice the size of the Disney resort in Hong Kong, making comparisons of size between the two venues difficult, said Tom Staggs, chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, calling it “apples and oranges.”

“Any park that we build is designed to grow over time,” Staggs said, citing Walt Disney’s line that his parks were “never finished.”

“It’s clear there is plenty of room for growth here,” Iger said.

The Shanghai park will have lots of advantages going for it, including the general lack of historic attractions in the region, which is home to more than 300 million people all looking for ways to spend their growing incomes and leisure time.

Details of the park’s design are still being worked out, but plans call for it to feature Disney’s biggest castle, an “attraction unto itself,” a spacious green area, a lake and plenty of space for anticipated huge crowds, Iger said.

“When people walk into Disneyland here, we want them to say, ‘Wow! Look at that big castle,’” he said.

Disney is taking a 43 percent equity stake in two joint ventures set up to build and operate the project, with a company owned by a consortium of government-backed local companies taking the majority 57 percent. But Disney will hold a 70 percent stake in a joint venture management company that will run the park.

“We come in as the creative partner,” said Staggs.

Discussions on the project have been simmering for a decade, as local officials visited and studied other Disney theme parks. But there was no sign of reluctance to move ahead at Friday’s groundbreaking event, held inside a huge tent ringed by ribbon-festooned backhoes and crisply uniformed security guards who snapped to attention as buses of dignitaries passed by.

Residents were long ago moved off farmland in the once-rural area of Chuansha, near the city’s Pudong International Airport, to make way for the park.

While Disney executives generally speak of a five-year time span before the park opens, Shanghai authorities, who marshaled massive amounts of money and labor to expand subways, roads and other infrastructure ahead of the Expo, were speaking of a four-year wait.

“We expect to work well together to meet construction deadlines,” Han said. “Let us pray for the successful completion of the Disney resort in four years’ time,” he said.

Asked about the apparent difference, Iger and Staggs acknowledged the Shanghai side was eager to get rolling.

“There was a certain desire for instant gratification,” Iger said, explaining that the Disney side took care to emphasize the need to “build it right first.”

“They clearly got that,” he added.


Theme Park Closed, Toddler Dies on Roller Coaster

Tragic circumstances involving the death of a three-year-old at the Go Bananas Theme Park in Norridge, near Chicago, Illinois, USA yesterday saw the popular  amusement park being closed by police investigators until further notice.

The little boy, Jayson Dansby, sustained fatal injuries at approximately 5pm on Saturday evening by falling out of the children’s Python Pit roller coaster ride after he somehow managed to wriggle himself free of the rides safety bar to stand-up.

Tragically he lost his balance and fell backwards, hitting his head before falling 10ft to the floor.

His parents who witnessed the terrible events ran to help their son who was declared dead at the scene and police described them quite understandibly as, “inconsolable.”

Investigators are now looking to discover just how the little boy managed to free himself from the safety bar and if indeed he was tall enough to be permitted to ride on the Python Pit roller coaster at the Go Bananas theme park.


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