24 October 2016
Japanese visitors in front of the Sleeping Beauty Castle at Hong Kong Disneyland. The local park is set to lure more local and overseas pleasure-seekers with new Star Wars and Iron Man-themed offerings. Photo: Bloomberg
Japanese visitors in front of the Sleeping Beauty Castle at Hong Kong Disneyland. The local park is set to lure more local and overseas pleasure-seekers with new Star Wars and Iron Man-themed offerings. Photo: Bloomberg

Shanghai Disney opens: now is the best time to visit HK resort

While Shanghai Disneyland rolls out its red carpet, its older peer in Hong Kong is shedding staff.

When the Shanghai theme park opened last month, tickets were snapped up almost instantly, all to the embarrassment of its Hong Kong counterpart, which announced large-scale layoffs at almost the same time after it sank into the red again – a net loss of HK$148 million in 2015 – amid dwindling admissions.

The 963-acre park in Shanghai, Disney’s sixth worldwide and roughly three times the size of the one in Hong Kong, has seen almost a million visitors passed through its gates since its test runs.

Its target market comprises some 330 million Chinese who live within a three-hour train or car trip around the Magic Kingdom.

That includes Shanghai and the neighboring affluent provinces of Zhejiang and Jiangsu.

Its annual admission for the first year is tipped at 12 million.

The Hong Kong park, by comparison, saw 700,000 fewer visitors last year, from 7.5 million in 2014.

Shanghai experience: not that magical  

But Shanghai can’t just be sitting pretty. Feedback from the first batch of visitors is not totally amusing.

For instance, how would you feel paying 80 yuan (US$12) for a beef burger that is no tastier than a 20-yuan Big Mac?

Such pricing is considered a rip-off in Hong Kong and all the more so in China where per capita income is much lower.

A bowl of popcorn fetches 95 yuan while a set meal consisting of appetizers, the main course and desserts inside the Cinderella Castle’s Royal Banquet Hall comes with a price tag of 400 yuan.

A three-in-one supreme meal coupon at the Hong Kong park covering lunch, dinner and snack costs HK$238.

And how would you like to be caught up in the swirl of long lines in Shanghai’s scorching summer? You need to wait for 90 minutes for some popular rides. Just don’t forget your sunscreen lotion.

And don’t be surprised by the long queues outside toilets: the vast Shanghai park only have 15 such facilities.

Based on the estimated number of visitors, there will be about 4,500 people using each toilet each day, according to media reports.

A word of caution: these are all squat toilets.

Prepare yourself for somewhat whimsical combinations at the Shanghai park, like Monkey King from the Journey to the West appearing on the same stage with Snow White, the 12 Chinese zodiac animals, The Lion King in Mandarin or Donald Duck playing tai chi.

Hong Kong resort becoming a genuine fairyland 

Now that the mainlanders have their own Sleeping Beauty Castle, Mickey House and Tarzan Tree House, the Hong Kong theme park is losing visitors from across the border, which may mean less ticket sales but also less crowded spaces, cleaner restrooms and no more scenes of kids answering the call of nature right in the streets.

Then, what a fairyland it is.

Hong Kong Disneyland managers will have to shift their focus back to pampering locals and quality overseas tourists.

Since the Hong Kong government owns 57 percent of the park and has spent HK$26.6 billion for its expansion and supporting infrastructure, Hong Kong Disneyland is supposed to serve the city and its people first and foremost.

Walt Disney has modified its recipe for the Shanghai project to feed into the taste and aesthetics of mainland spenders, though some feel the intrusion of Chinese elements may have blighted the experience.

Savvy consumers may find it not worthwhile to have a second visit after the novelty fizzles out. Naturally, those who favor some genuine Disney vibes can go to Hong Kong.

The local park continues to introduce new initiatives, with the latest one being Star Wars-themed offerings, Tomorrowland Takeover, with a Space Mountain roller-coaster ride with R2-D2 and stormroopers into the Hyperspace Mountain and Jedi Training Academy.

Ride system tests are also underway at Marvel’s Iron Man Experience, the first Marvel ride-through attraction at a Disney Park.

Before the end of the year, Tony Stark, the iron-clad superhero, will take guests for an epic adventure through Hong Kong streets as he brings the Stark Expo to the city, while battling aliens from the evil forces of Hydra.

The Hong Kong government is also said to be in discussion with Walt Disney on a 60-hectare Phase 2 development of the resort.

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Toilets at Shanghai Disney are often dirty as more than 4,500 people are using each of them per day. Some parents allow their kids to do it in the bushes. Photos: Internet

Visitors walk past the arch leading to Hong Kong Disneyland Resort. Photo: Bloomberg

Visitors always crowd the 126-hectare Hong Kong Disneyland during major public holidays. Customer experience may improve with fewer visitors from the mainland and shorter queues. Photo: Bloomberg

An employee holds balloons in front of the Sleeping Beauty Castle illuminated at night prior to the "Disney Paint the Night" parade at Hong Kong Disneyland. Photo: Bloomberg

EJ Insight writer

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