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Shanghai Disney officially opens: A peek inside

After five years of construction, $5.5 billion in spending and a month of testing to work out the kinks, Shanghai Disney Resort opened to the public just before noon, Shanghai time, on Thursday, June 16 (which was 9 p.m. Wednesday in Anaheim, home of the original Disney park). Shanghai Disneyland features six themed areas, and the resort contains two hotels, a shopping district and 99 acres of gardens, lakes and parkland. We’ll keep you updated throughout the week with new details and peeks inside the resort.

Tracking clues to Shanghai Disney’s hidden perk: a members-only Club 33

SHANGHAI — Opening its $5.5-billion resort in mainland China this week, Walt Disney Co. has been eager to share all manner of details about its Shanghai theme park — down to how many bok choy it expects to serve in the first year of operation (12 million, if you’re wondering).

But one thing Disney reps have not been keen to discuss is whether the resort has a Club 33, the members-only establishment for well-heeled and well-connected fans of the Mouse House.

Design documents for the theme park posted online three years ago revealed that significant elements of Chinese culture were being incorporated. The documents also posited that a less-than-egalitarian Club 33 would be located in the Shanghai resort, which is operated by a joint venture in which Disney holds a 43% stake and the state-owned Shanghai Shendi Group owns the rest.

Still, evidence was scant until this week, when the park formally opened its doors to the public Thursday.

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Rain doesn’t dampen the mood of opening day at Shanghai Disneyland

SHANGHAI — Under dark skies and light showers, Walt Disney Co. officially threw wide the gates of its most expensive international resort to mostly orderly crowds, creating a beachhead for the popular entertainment company in the most populous nation.

During a colorful opening ceremony attended by Chinese dignitaries, Disney Chairman and Chief Executive Bob Iger called the opening of the nearly 1,000-acre, $5.5-billion Shanghai Disney Resort “one of the proudest and most exciting moments in the history of the Walt Disney Company.”

Iger also read a letter from President Obama, who said the park “captures the promise” of the bilateral relationship between the U.S. and China.

To shine some sunlight on the day, senior Chinese official Wang Yang told Iger that the rain is an auspicious sign of dollars and renminbi to come.

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Waiting in Shanghai -- lines are a theme park constant

Dressing up for opening day

Long lines and umbrellas on opening day at Shanghai Disneyland

Beijing Bureau Chief Julie Makinen shrugs off the rain to give a glimpse of Shanghai Disney’s opening day festivities

Is the exclusive Club 33 coming to Shanghai Disney?

Club 33, a members-only club billed as “the most exclusive address in all of Disneyland,” has long been one of the Anaheim park’s most mysterious elements.

It is marked by a “33" sign next to the Blue Bayou Restaurant. Membership is exclusive and expensive -- with a waiting list that famously could take years to work through.

When Disney opened California Adventure at the Disneyland Resort, it introduced a second private club, called “1901" for the year Walt Disney was born. Access was granted only to members of Club 33.

Times Beijing Bureau Chief Julie Makinen spotted this at Shanghai Disney. Is it a secret doorway? An inside joke among Imagineers? Or, perhaps a third private club?

More faces of Shanghai Disney’s first visitors

Disney fans rush into the Shanghai park as the rain pours down

Walt Disney Co. CEO Bob Iger mingles with Shanghai Disneyland visitors

Disney CEO Bob Iger reads a letter from Pres. Obama at Shanghai Disney opening: park ‘captures the promise’ of US-China relationship

--Julie Makinen

@JulieMakLAT

Brooklyn Nets center Brook Lopez rode Tron Lightcycles ‘five or six times in a row’

At Shanghai Disney, there are fans and then there are superfans

The lines outside of Shanghai Disney on opening morning are remarkably quiet and orderly. Most of the visitors appear to be families -- lots of elderly people and small children -- with scattered corporate teams and bands of twentysomething superfans snapping selfies in front of a large, copper-colored Mickey Mouse fountain.

“I don’t know much about the park, but I think my kid’s really going to love it,” said Summer Jiang, 32, a Shanghai resident visiting the park with her 1-year-old son. “I used to love Disney, maybe in my early 20s. But now I’m too old.”

The Shanghai Disney launch has brought together a rare breed of Chinese citizen: the Disney superfan.

Claudia Wu, 30, an employee at an American law firm in Shanghai (second from left in the tweeted photo below), came to the opening with three other fans that she met via Weibo, China’s version of Twitter. “When we watch Disney movies it makes us really happy,” she said.

The Captain Jack stunt show plays well in Mandarin

Among the other attractions at Shanghai Disney’s Treasure Cove is the “Eye of the Storm: Captain Jack’s Stunt Spectacular” at the El Teatro Fandango, the playhouse for the pirate village. The show is unique to Shanghai Disneyland.

The crowd lines up for Shanghai Disneyland

How the Shanghai Disney version of Pirates of the Caribbean works

The original Pirates of the Caribbean attraction in Disneyland in Anaheim opened in 1967 and was the last attraction whose construction was overseen by Walt Disney before he died.

Nearly 50 years later, the latest version of the ride, officially opening to the public at Shanghai Disneyland, includes many advances that won’t be found in the original.

The new ride, Pirates of the Caribbean: Battle of the Sunken Treasure, will feature boats that can spin, travel sideways and backward, and “react smartly to their position” to create a more individualized experience.

In this video, Disney fans rely on patent records and overhead images to try to uncover the technology behind the magic.

How Chinese is Shanghai Disney?

With its giant Starbucks, Cheesecake Factory and Wolfgang Puck restaurant, you might for a minute mistake the new Shanghai Disney Resort for theme parks in Anaheim or Orlando, Fla.

A marching band walks by playing “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah,” then Pharrell Williams’ “Happy,” along with a snippet of “When the Saints Go Marching In.”

But little differences gradually come to light: Squat toilets? Check. “The Lion King” in Mandarin (with no English subtitles)? Check. Eel over rice and Peking duck pizza for lunch? Check and check.

So just how Chinese is Shanghai Disney?

That’s been the $5.5-billion question for Disney fans around the globe as the Burbank-based entertainment giant opens its first park in mainland China in close cooperation with state-run Chinese investment companies and Communist Party officials.

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Video: A flyover view of Shanghai Disney

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The Walt Disney Co. offers an aerial view of the new $5.5-billion resort in Shanghai, China.

Shanghai Disney opens Thursday -- a massive, nearly 1,000-acre resort that is expected to draw up to 10 million visitors per year. Here is a taste of what those visitors will see when they get to the park.

Is there enough Chinese demand for a double dose of Disney in Shanghai and Hong Kong?

(EPA)

Will the opening of Shanghai Disney suck the wind out of the sails of Hong Kong Disneyland or push more mainland Chinese to visit the new resort?

That’s the multimillion-dollar question facing Hong Kong government officials and Disney executives as the theme park giant prepares to open its Shanghai resort on June 16.

Attendance at Hong Kong Disneyland dropped sharply in the 12 months ending September 2015, the park has said, falling to 6.8 million from a record high of 7.5 million in 2014. Hotel occupancy declined to 80% from 93%. The facility — which is 52% owned by Hong Kong’s government and 48% by Disney — reported a loss of about $20 million.

Disney representatives say the market is large enough to support multiple parks.

“From the beginning, our strategy was to create two complementary parks that have their own distinct experiences,” Disney spokeswoman Angela Bliss said. “The U.S. supports two Disney resort destinations, with six theme parks, and the population is relatively smaller than China’s.”

-- Violet Law and Julie Makinen

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The Tron roller coaster is one of a kind

On Shanghai Disneyland’s Tron ride, an exhilarating roller coaster in the park’s Futureland area, riders race headlong into dark tunnels interspersed with shows of red, blue and yellow lights.

The ride, inspired by the 1982 movie, is the first of its kind in a Disney park and is expected to be Shanghai Disneyland’s most popular attraction.

The reviews so far have been glowing and many Disney fans have been clamoring on online chat sites for Disney to recreate the attraction in other parks. No word yet if Disney plans to follow through on that idea.

Rain, rain go away

$30,000 painting, anyone?

Charm bracelets with 14k gold elements, $2,700 mouse ears: Shanghai Disney tries to woo fans with merchandise

For Disney’s bottom line, it’s not just important for guests to walk through the gates of their theme parks, but to spend money once inside -- and the company’s newest property in Shanghai is no exception.

As the Burbank-based entertainment giant gets ready to formally open the gates to its first park in mainland China on Thursday, it has stacked the shelves of its many shops throughout the resort with thousands of items it hopes will prove irresistible to China’s growing urban middle class, from classic plush animals and character T-shirts to special items designed with the Chinese consumer in mind.

For the Disney fans with renminbi to burn, there are mouse ears with Swarovski crystals going for $2,700 (limit two per guest) and Disney-themed Pandora brand charm bracelets with 14k gold elements that retail for over $2,900 (again, limit two per guest). Pampered princesses (or in fact, their parents) can fork out up to $455 to get their hair and manicures done and be photographed in the gown of their favorite Disney heroine, then have the entire afternoon documented in a custom-printed storybook that comes packaged in a small pink valise.

Mickey enthusiasts on more of a budget might opt to take home some Disney princess-themed plastic chopsticks (set of four, $15.20); a red tea pot and cup set with a Mickey motif formed by stylized Chinese clouds ($55) or a vinegar dish set (again, with a Mickey style, $19).

A special line of “vintage Shanghai” items harks back to the Art Deco era in the city (the company likes to remind customers that Disney brought “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” to play in Shanghai in the 1930s). There are candy boxes shaped like vintage Chinese lunch boxes, journals with vintage-looking embossing and a doll dressed in 1920s-era fashion. A special vintage set of Mickey Mouse ears, topped with a blue Chinese li mao hat, goes for $24.

And that’s not even to mention all the “grand opening” merchandise – T-shirts, bags, blankets, champagne glasses and other items.

Jeffrey Towson, a professor at Peking University and author of “The 1 Hour China Consumer Book,” said Disney’s ultimate aim in China is not to become a massive theme park operator on the mainland but to stoke interest in its entertainment offerings and consumer products.

“Disney’s objective in China is really not to open theme parks. Ultimately, they are ultimately not a theme park company; they’re an entertainment company,” he said. “Their objective is for people to love their movies and their characters, and that plays out against movies, TV shows, merchandise and consumer products.”

“The question is, do they want to make a ton of money off the theme park, or do they see it as a beach head in the Chinese market?” he asked, noting that the deal terms in Shanghai gave much more of an ownership and control stake to the government than have Disney’s developments in, say, Hong Kong or Paris. “I think it’s more of the latter. I think what they are after in the Chinese market is to be the uber children’s entertainment company.”

It took 100,000 people to build Shanghai Disneyland

A part of the Pirates of the Caribbean-themed ride.
(Jonathan Kaiman / Los Angeles Times)

Building Shanghai Disneyland involved about 100,000 individuals, according to Luc Mayrand, an Executive Creative Director at Walt Disney Imagineering and one of the creative forces behind the park’s Pirates of the Caribbean-themed ride.

“In general, this took 100,000 people to build this, to make it from start to finish,” Mayrand said. “In our team, [there were] probably about 500 at the center of it. And various times, just on this land, there might have been up to 2,000 workers on a single day.”

“That would include everybody -- all the consultants, all the Imagineers, all the workers, all of the various different departments of the company. “

“The largest portion of the team was Chinese,” he added.

FOR THE RECORD: An earlier version of this post said that it took 100,000 people to make the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction. It took about 100,000 people to build the entire Shanghai Disneyland park.

Yes, you can be a princess too -- for a price

How Disney tried to make the Enchanted Storybook Castle ‘distinctly Chinese’

(AFP / Getty Images)

The centerpiece of Disney’s new Shanghai theme park is the largest Disneyland castle ever built, an edifice of turrets and spires visible from most corners of the park.

Disney spokespeople have repeatedly emphasized the Enchanted Storybook Castle’s Chinese elements, in keeping with the company’s vow to build a park that’s “authentically Disney, distinctly Chinese.”

Yet in person, the castle looks and feels, well, mostly Disney. Outside, it is similar in appearance to those in California and Florida. Inside are murals depicting Disney cartoons -- “Frozen,” “Tangled,” “Brave” -- a restaurant called Royal Banquet Hall, and part of a ride called the Voyage to the Crystal Grotto. (Notably, the decorations primarily showcase recent Disney princesses, rather than Snow White, Cinderella and other princesses of old).

“It was a pretty extensive research process, as you can imagine, because of being faced with building the largest and most complicated, arguably one of the most important castles we’ve ever built,” said Ali Rubenstein, executive producer and creative director of the castle.

She said the castle was the result of a “long process” researching traditional European castles, Disney castles and then thinking about how to make it “distinctly Chinese.”

“It’s not about a single part or piece, it’s about all of it blending together,” she said. “Aside from the finials -- one of them has a peony, the flower of China, with a burst of Disney stars below it signifying the partnership between Disney and China, and another finial that had peonies and magnolias and Chinese clouds and other design elements.

“There’s a jade carving of the castle ... there are some jade columns around the castle, architectural details,” Rubenstein said. “And there are also the gargoyles on the castle, and that’s a very traditional European piece of architecture, but we used the Chinese zodiac as inspiration for the gargoyles.”

Here’s what you can eat at Shanghai Disney

Walking around Shanghai Disney, it’s easy to overlook many of the little “Chinese elements” that park designers have added in a nod to local culture. But when you pop into one of the restaurants, it’s clear you’re not in Anaheim or Orlando.

At the Toy Story Hotel, there’s dim sum for breakfast and a bank of hot water dispensers -- to brew tea, or just drink straight like the locals do. If you’re having lunch at Fantasyland, options include Peking duck pizza (in the shape of Mickey Mouse’s head), eel over rice, and seafood with noodles. Lunch runs about $10 to $15.

Only 10% of the food in the park is “Western,” while 20% is Asian and 70% is Chinese, Disney says. (It’s not clear if Peking duck pizza counts as Chinese, Western or something else.)

One of the fanciest options is the Royal Banquet Hall in the Enchanted Storybook Castle, which serves a set menu of Western dishes including crab cake with mango, a chef salad, lamb pot roast and pumpkin and chicken stew. Dessert is chocolate heavy with a Cinderella’s chocolate slipper, an Elsa’s white chocolate dome and something called Prince Charming’s chocolate trio among the options.

The meal runs about $55 for adults and $40 for kids and includes a photo with a Disney princess. A 12-seat Mulan Hall offers private seating.

High food prices in the park have been a chief beef of patrons who have visited during trial runs. But Disney says it deliberately chose to go more upscale with food in the park, and notes that guests may bring in their own “commercially packaged” food and enjoy it on one of the picnic lawns.

Disney’s popular ‘Soaring’ ride gets a Shanghai reboot

One of Disney’s most popular attractions at Anaheim’s California Adventure is the simulated hang-gliding ride over the Golden State’s iconic destinations -- Yosemite National Park, Malibu and the Napa Valley.

It’s been reimagined and expanded for Shanghai Disneyland as Soaring over the Horizon with visits to destinations around the world.

Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate’s life for me

Bob Iger: Shanghai Disney could expand ‘sooner rather than later’

Kicking off the final 24 hours of previews and trial runs before formally opening the gates of Shanghai Disney Resort, Disney CEO Bob Iger said Wednesday the company is thinking of expanding “sooner rather than later.”

A $5.5-billion project co-owned by a state-owned investment group, Shanghai Disney is already the largest overseas investment for Burbank-based Disney. But there is a further 7 square kilometers of adjacent land to add more attractions or even separate parks, Iger noted. “We are already thinking of what to do next.”

More than 500,000 people have visited the theme park since trial operations began in late April, Iger said. Information about the park -- and lines stretching to three hours in some cases -- has spread rapidly via social media, creating “interesting issues” and “a little pressure on demand,” Iger acknowledged. But he pledged that the park was working to resolve some of the kinks discovered in the trial phase.

Chinese authorities are sensitive about embracing large amounts of “Western culture” and since beginning construction in 2011, Disney has sought to emphasize that this park, more than previous resorts in Tokyo, Hong Kong and Paris, would have a distinct local flavor.

Calling Disney an “invited guest” of the Chinese government, Iger said the project needed to show “great respect” for Chinese people and culture. And it needed to incorporate the latest technology and most advanced design the company could offer. The park includes the largest castle of any Disney resort, along with a high-tech Pirates of the Caribbean attraction and a Tron-themed roller coaster unlike any others at Disney parks. Familiar elements from other parks like Space Mountain and Main Street U.S.A. are not present in Shanghai.

‘The Lion King’ debuts at Shanghai Disneyland -- with a Chinese twist

The first Mandarin-language production of “The Lion King” premiered Tuesday night at Shanghai Disneyland, part of a series of events scheduled before the park’s grand opening Thursday.

Tuesday’s performance was close in content to the original Broadway production, which premiered in 1997, but also featured an assortment of distinctly Chinese elements, including a Peking Opera musical number and shadow puppet lions and giraffes.

Broadway producers have long coveted the Chinese market for its 1.4-billion-strong population and rapidly expanding consumer class.

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Rain may dampen opening of Shanghai Disney Resort

Julie Makinen

How much do you know about Disney’s newest theme park? Here’s a quiz

As Disney prepares to officially open its first theme park in mainland China on Thursday, hundreds of members of the press and VIP guests descended upon the company’s Shanghai resort Tuesday for final previews of the massive $5.5-billion complex.

Disney isn’t saying how many guests it expects to entertain in the first year, though outside analysts have put the number at 10 million to 12 million, with up to 30 million a year if Disney expands onto adjoining parcels. Capturing the vast nature of the Shanghai park -- Disney’s largest investment to date outside of the United States -- is hard to do in both words and pictures, but the Mouse House’s masters of publicity have prepared a raft of statistics that aim to illustrate just how huge the development is.

Take our quiz to see if you’ve got a grasp on the dimensions of Disney’s newest theme park.

1. How many typical 18-hole golf courses could fit into Shanghai Disney Resort, which covers 963 acres?

a. Eight

b. Eighteen

c. Eighty

d. Eight hundred

2. How many shrubs and groundcover plants have been used in landscaping the resort?

a. 24,000

b. 240,000

c. 2.4 million

d. 240 million

3. How many million heads of the Chinese vegetable bok choy does Disney plan to serve in the first year of operations?

a. 120,000

b. 1.2 million

c. 12 million

d. 120 million

4. Disney sees a rich opportunity to target China’s exploding group of middle-class consumers. How many different Disney branded merchandise items will be on sale at the resort on opening day?

a. 700

b. 7,000

c. 70,000

d. 700,000

5. How many workers will Shanghai Disney employ on opening day?

a. 5,000

b. 10,000

c. 15,000

d. 20,000

6. How many metric tons of structural steel were used for the construction of Shanghai Disney Resort?

a. 7,200

b. 72,000

c. 720,000

d. 7.2 million

7. One of the most anticipated attractions at Shanghai Disney is Pirates of the Caribbean: Battle for the Sunken Treasure, the most advanced version of the classic Disney ride. How many square feet does the attraction cover?

a. 17,500

b. 175,000

c. 1.75 million

d. 17.5 million

8. How many people live within a three-hour train or car ride of Shanghai Disney Resort?

a. 3 million

b. 13 million

c. 33 million

d. 330 million

Answers:

1. A, Eight.

2. C, 2.4 million

3. C, 12 million

4. B, 7,000

5. B, 10,000

6. B, 72,000

7. B, 175,000

8. D, 330 million

First impressions of Shanghai Disneyland in 11 videos

For those of you not planning a trip to China for the grand opening of Shanghai Disneyland, join us as we take a virtual tour via online videos of the “soft opening” of the new theme park.

Disney allowed select visitors to test out the rides, shows and attractions so the employees could prepare for the initial rush of tourists when the park officially opens Thursday.

A couple of the rides — Pirates of the Caribbean: Battle for the Sunken Treasure and Tron Lightcycle Power Run — are jaw-droppingly beautiful and could set new standards for theme park attractions. A few other rides — Peter Pan’s Flight and Soaring Over the Horizon — offer new twists on old favorites.

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Everything you need to know about Shanghai Disneyland

(Disney)

The $5.5-billion Shanghai Disneyland will blend a traditional Magic Kingdom-style theme park with attractions based on recent Disney and Pixar films more familiar to the Chinese audience.

Lacking familiar staples such as Space Mountain, It’s a Small World and Star Tours, the China park will feature a number of firsts including a Tron roller coaster and an entire land dedicated to the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise.

Disney stumbled with the launches of the under-budgeted and undersized California Adventure in 2001 and Hong Kong Disneyland in 2005. Since ground was broken in 2011, the scope and cost of the Shanghai project has continued to grow as Disney strives to build a distinctly Chinese park that quiets the critics and buoys the faithful.

Co-owned by the Chinese government and operated by Disney, the park is expected to draw from about 330 million people living within a three-hour drive or train ride from Shanghai when it officially opens June 16.

Join us as we take a land-by-land look at all the rides, attractions and shows planned for Shanghai Disneyland.

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Disney hopes experience will help it avoid stumbles in opening Shanghai resort

Even before Walt Disney Co. opened Euro Disneyland outside Paris in 1992, French intellectuals called the park a “cultural Chernobyl,” workers protested the Disney dress code and neighbors complained that the park’s train whistles provoked their dogs to bark and geese to honk.

But Paris came to embrace its new neighbor, and now the park attracts 10.4 million people a year, more than the number of visitors to the Louvre museum or the Eiffel Tower.

On June 16, Disney will open its biggest and most expensive international resort — a nearly 1,000-acre, $5.5-billion development in Shanghai — and company executives know the challenges of trying to take the Disney magic abroad. An opening-day misstep or cultural faux pas at the Shanghai Disney resort could dent Disney’s hugely popular brand.

But if the risks are high, so are the rewards.

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Opening ceremony of Shanghai will be televised

Fireworks set off around the Enchanted Storybook Castle at Shanghai Disneyland in Shanghai, China on May 25.
(EPA)

You don’t need to be in Shanghai, China, to witness the opening ceremony of the Walt Disney Co.'s newest and biggest international theme park.

The opening ceremony for the $5.5-billion Shanghai Disney Resort will be televised live Thursday evening (8 p.m. Pacific Time) on the Disney Channel, Disney Junior and Disney XD, as well as the apps for those channels. It will also air Friday (10 p.m. Pacific Time) on Freeform.

The opening of the nearly 1,000-acre resort is expected to draw huge crowds as Disney takes aim at attracting the surging Chinese upper middle class, whose numbers are expected to double to 100 million by 2020.

The opening-day ceremony will feature a concert performed at the Enchanted Storybook Castle stage as well as appearances by Chinese celebrities, Walt Disney chief executive Bob Iger and Mickey Mouse, among others.

Disney’s new theme park in Shanghai may be the capstone to CEO Robert Iger’s career

Robert Iger first set foot on the site in China that would become a Walt Disney Co. theme park 17 years ago.

Back then, the 963-acre site was mostly agricultural land, but now it has been transformed into Shanghai Disney Resort, a $5.5-billion project that has become an important symbol of Disney’s ambitions in the world’s most populous country.

“It’s kind of hard to believe we’ve been involved so long,” said Iger at the MoffettNathanson Media and Communications Summit in May.

The development, which opens June 16, means a lot to Disney’s chief, who became CEO in 2005 and is expected to depart the company when his contract expires in 2018. And the stakes couldn’t be higher.

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