Walt Disney Co. unveiled plans for a major expansion of its Hong Kong outpost. Almost overnight, Hong Kong
(Call it a case of unfortunate timing. Or maybe it was perfectly timed. In my Nov. 20 L.A. Times Travel cover story on Disney's Asian theme parks, I referred to Hong Kong Disneyland as the smallest theme park the company operates.)
None of this will take place overnight. Funding has yet to be approved (Hong Kong Disneyland is co-owned by the local government). The park will remain Disney's smallest for a few more years. But the proposed six-year, $1.4-billion project will add several significant new attractions to the park — and additional acreage.
The announcement comes on top of the planned opening of Iron Man Experience at Hong Kong Disneyland in January — the first Marvel-themed ride at any Disney park — and a third Disney resort, the 750-room Explorers Lodge, also opening in early 2017.
The new announcement calls for an Adventureland Show Place to arrive in 2018. Located adjacent to the park's Jungle Cruise, the addition will offer daytime entertainment and a stage show themed around "Moana," the new Disney animated movie opening stateside at Thanksgiving.
The park's hub, Sleeping Beauty Castle, will likely be engulfed by scaffolding some time next year. It will be plumped and stretched into service to create a larger centerpiece for the park to support shows and entertainment.
Although the castle in Hong Kong is virtually identical to the same-named feature in Anaheim's Disneyland, at 77 feet high it is dwarfed by the castles at Disneyland parks in Orlando, Paris, Tokyo and, especially, Shanghai.
In 2020, new land will be added behind Fantasyland based on Arendelle and the animated movie "Frozen." The announcement from Disney says only that this new section will include two new attractions, dining, shopping and entertainment.
Iron Man Experience opening in January is now revealed to be the first turn-style for a dedicated Marvel Super Heroes-themed land behind Tomorrowland. The existing Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters will receive a facelift in 2018 to incorporate Marvel characters into the shooter-style attraction. And much further down the road, in 2023, a Marvel thrill ride will open.
The proposed expansion is designed to shore up dwindling attendance numbers at the Hong Kong Disneyland Resort, which opened in 2005.
Attendance was down 9.3% in 2015, resulting in major layoffs for the resort earlier this year.
But factors beyond Disney's control have also contributed: Hong Kong's overall tourism was dented by pro-democracy protests last year, and a slowing economy for mainland China means fewer tourist dollars landing in Hong Kong.
With the arrival of Shanghai Disneyland last June, there may be a bit of theme park envy going around in Asia. The significantly larger Shanghai park cost at least $5.5 billion, and initial attendance numbers are estimated to be much higher than at the 11-year-old Hong Kong park. No sooner did Shanghai Disneyland open than plans were announced for new Toy Story-themed land to be added. And 1 square mile of land has been earmarked for additional expansion in Shanghai.
Some have speculated that the Shanghai park is siphoning off guests that would have otherwise visited the Hong Kong park.
On the other hand, if the U.S., with its population of 324 million, can support eight Disney theme parks — two in Anaheim and six in Orlando, Fla. (including two water parks) — surely China, with 1.4 billion people, can feed two.