Disney's New Tokyo Sea-Themed Park Opens

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Walt Disney Co. on Tuesday drew about 30,000 people to its first marine-inspired theme park, Tokyo DisneySea.

About 15,000 people had lined up outside the park even before the gates opened, with some waiting through the night to be the first to check out Disney's ninth theme park, company officials said.

Park officials had expected as many as 50,000 customers on opening day and blamed the lower-than-anticipated turnout on a forecast of rainy weather.

Tokyo DisneySea is a sister park to the adjacent Tokyo Disneyland.

The expansion is part of a companywide plan to transform all of the Disney parks outside of Disney World in Orlando into destination resorts that draw visitors for several days. Burbank-based Disney is also building theme parks outside Paris and in Hong Kong.

The $2.8-billion attraction features 23 rides--including a storm simulator and a volcano-theme roller coaster--and a luxury hotel.

"Today, the Walt Disney Co. along with Oriental Land Co. mark an unforgettable moment in Disney history," Disney Chief Executive Michael Eisner said in a speech during opening festivities.

Unlike in the United States, where the slow economy has hurt business at major theme parks, including Disney's new California Adventure in Anaheim, the company is not expected to be squeezed by Japan's ongoing economic woes because of Disney's loyal following.

Several years of recession in Japan have not kept visitors from Tokyo Disneyland, which remains Disney's most visited theme park worldwide and produces a $100 million a year in licensing income for the company.

Disney expects its newest park to draw 10 million visitors a year.

Rival Universal Studios, which opened its first theme park in Osaka, Japan, in March, has been drawing about 1 million visitors a month, ahead of company projections.

Oriental Land Co. operates both of Disney's Japanese parks under a license with Disney.

The company financed the bulk of the project's cost, though Disney paid $10 million in design costs.

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Times wire services were used in compiling this report.

Photos of DisneySea's opening day and attractions are available at http://latimes.com/disneysea.

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