Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Hong Kong Disneyland Expansion Plan: What happened to "Glacier Bay" ?

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Last Tuesday the WDC announced officially the awaited expansion plan for Hong Kong Disneyland. The least i can say is that the announcement provoked mixed reactions. Most of you think that Grizzly Trail and Mystic Manor looks "interesting" but it seems that almost everybody - including me - think that Toy Story Playland doesn't have its place in a Magic Kingdom.

Now, let's think about all this objectively. As Honor Hunter of Blue Sky Disney explained it wisely yesterday we should not make our opinion only from the TSP rendering. I can admit that if we look at the rendering it may look not-that-great but i also trust WDI imagineers ability to create a good theming.

For me, and even if i think that Toy Story Playland will fit well at Paris WDS but that it's a mistake for HK Magic KIngdom, the problem was also somewhere else. When i looked at the expansion map, i could not stop thinking: "How the hell are they going to do the transition between the Toy Story Playland theme and Mystic point, the next land?". Imagineers can do miracles, okay, but in this case, frankly, i don't know how they will achieve a smooth, logical transition... And the more i was thinking about this, the more i had the feeling that something went wrong somewhere .

And it's at that point that i've received the email below from a HKDL super fan and Disney and more reader:

"Dear Alain,

it's never too late to save the HKDL's expansion project.

From today's HK newspaper, it tells that during the negotiation process, WDC required the HK Government to share all the costs of designing and planning, which includes the WDI's brainstorming for the rides and attractions. And HK Government refused to pay for that cost until finalized. From the same source, the abandon plan Glacier Bay was mentioned. The Government met Jay Rasulo in April, 2009, a month after HKDL fired WDI (if you remember those news), which means there is no one worked for the expansion plan at that time.

EDIT 7/3: In fact Disney NEVER intended to reduce production cost, they just wanted that the HKG could share the design cost! But HKG refused, and it seems that at that time Disney had already proposed 8 or 10 ideas to HKG. So Disney proposed the existing TSL plan after HKG banned Glacier Bay for the last time.

"Because the HK government did not willing to pay the designing cost and WDC needed to save those costs, WDS’s finished plan, the Toy Story Playland was given to the government when they asked WDC to give more ideas other than Glacier Bay.

More than that, according to the document of the plan, point 25 at page 5 ( it says that WDC will finalize the designing work for the expansion project after the agreement is approved by Legislative Council of Hong Kong at 8:30am 10th July 2009. (You may find that no timeline was given, because the deal has not made at this moment.) This means the designing work hasn't been finished yet. Everything still can be changed. Well, Even they won't cancel that Toy Story Land, at least, they can put more rides or a Toy Story Mania in that land.

So, buddy! Hong Kong Disneyland needs your help now! You can pass your idea to the following e-mail. That person below is responsible for the expansion project. More opinions they get, the higher possibility they will alter their plan. Please....HKDL needs your help! Toy Story land cannot locate in Magic Kingdom Style Park!! And we don’t want any more clones here!

Hong Kong Disneyland

Tasia Filippatos
Walt Disney Parks and Resorts


At first i thought: "Damn, the resistance is getting organized over there!" And then i saw these words: "Glacier Bay".

Glacier Bay? What is this? Was it this "snow-covered mountain" that rumors were talking about before the official announcement? So i asked this dear reader if he could send to me this HK newspaper article, just to try to understand what happened.

May be i'm not right in what will follow, so don't take my words for the truth, but here is my vision of this incredibly complicated HKDL case: The first thing we must keep in mind is that the Shanghaî Disneyland project is without any doubt the top priority project for the WDC. Alas, there is already a Disney theme park in China, and one which is not doing very well. Hong Kong do have a special status in China, but even if HK have its own government, it's part of China anyway and controlled by Beijing Central Government. The same Central Government who must give its final approval for Shanghaî Disneyland.

Also, there is no doubt that the opening of a huge Shanghaî Disneyland would be a problem for HKDL if nothing was done to improve the park. Everybody is aware of that, including the WDC and may be they had the feeling that the two cases were linked, in two words that they had to resolve the HKDL problem to help the SDL project to get its final approval. May be. Not sure, but i wouldn't be surprised if it happened like this, Chinese officials can be pretty good chess players...

Then, two years ago, the negotiation began, each camp trying to get the best deal. As i've said previously, Chinese can be incredibly tough negotiators and, although many different projects were proposed to them by the WDC, what happened finally is that the Chinese never give up. May be because they thought that HKDL problem was not their fault and they didn't have to pay for mistakes originally created by the WDC when Michael Eisner was still CEO...or more simply because they didn't want to put any more money.

Then in March, Jay Rasulo played what was probably his last card: the clash. The WDC announced that all imagineers working on HKDL expansion were removed and asked to come back to the U.S. Of course the Chinese officials didn't like it, and it was time for the WDC to calm down the situation and to do a proposal which will give to the Chinese the feeling that they won the game and even more important in China, that they save the face.

After all, the WDC is okay to create unique attractions for HKDL, to pay for them, and as they say in the very interesting PDF file: "To advance and protect the interest of HKD, Government has sought and secured TWDC’s assurance that “Grizzly Trail” and “Mystic Point” will be exclusive to HKD amongst Disney theme parks worldwide and “Toy Story Land” will be exclusive amongst Disney theme parks within the Asian region at the time of their respective opening."

Unique attractions? Let's have a closer look at that: Big Grizzly Mountain Coaster is a mix of the Expedition Everest track with a shape inspired by the one of Grizzly River Rapids mountain, all this with a Frontierland theme. And Mystic Manor have a DLP Phantom Manor re-designed look mixed apparently with a theme coming from the TDS TOT. But Mystic Manor will also have "a trackless ride system which enables vehicles to move “freely” about the attraction as the story unfolds", and i agree that the use of this technology instead of the usual omni-mover is really exciting. Always at Mystic point, the Adventurer's Club Restaurant where i wouldn't be surprised if we found there many artifacts coming from the beloved and now closed Adventurer's Club in Downtown Disney - a possibility which already infuriates WDW fans...

So, yes, objectively, Big Grizzly Mountain Coaster and Mystic Manor will really be HKDL exclusive attractions, but i can't stop thinking that the WDC has been smart and really well played its game with these two "exclusive" attractions.

And then there is Toy Story Playland. If the HK article is right, it seems that this third land was not part of the expansion project three months ago. Instead, another land called "Glacier Bay" was envisioned. According to the HK newspaper article Glacier Bay was replaced almost at the last minute by TSP when Chinese refused to pay the designing cost, and apparently didn't like too the Glacier Bay concept - the HKG thought it wasn't suitable for Hong Kong or Asia market. So, the WDC introduced Toy Story Playland as a replacement of Glacier Bay - after all TSP cost is around 30M $, a not-too-expensive cost for a new land with three attractions and the release of the three Toy Story movies next year will make a great publicity for the land and the Toy Story characters. Also, they can build TSP very quickly and have it ready for probably next year.

So, what happened to "Glacier Bay"? What would have been its theming and attractions? From what one of my HK correspondent have heard about it, "Glacier Bay theme had something like a scientists base... You would have take a train to go the laboratory, which goes from the outdoor area to an indoor air-controlled area to simulate the north pole. There will even be real snow flake in some scenes when the train pass by. The "U-shape" TSP half-pipe coaster was still there, but with a theming as skiing... The base of the mountain was very huge and it would have been the very first indoor land that Disney has ever built in a Disney theme park. It seems that one of the other reasons why the HK government banned this theme is that Ocean Park - Hong Kong first theme park - will use a similar theme with roller coaster, which was announced a year ago."

Mind you, there is also another HKDL project that HK government supposedly didn't like the theme, and it's the famous Pirates of Caribbean land. There, it's really a pity, as it would have been great. The Pirates of Caribbean attraction would have been more themed on the Jack Sparrow movies, with a kind of "Splash Mountain" fall at the end, simulating the "At World's end" scene when they search Jack Sparrow to the end of the world and drop from the huge waterfall. Also included in that land was a pirate-themed Haunted Mansion, and may be even a Fantasmic! show. No need to say that the cost of this land was of course very high.

Will this POTC land come later at HKDL? I wouldn't count on it. Or may be at Shanghaî Disneyland? When i will have the answer to these questions, i will let you know.

EDIT 7/2: Talking about Shanghaî Disneyland, Laughing reports that Bob Weis, executive vice president, creative, Walt Disney Imagineering, will be the creative lead for the in-development Shanghai Disneyland Resort, Weis will lead all creative and master planning activities for the Shanghai park, including hotels, retail, dining and entertainment development. Bob Weis is brilliant, so this is an excellent news for SDL.

Picture and Artwork: copyright Disney

Michael Crawford of Progress City USA wrote another interesting article about HKDL, you can read it HERE

Leave a comment or discuss this article on D&M english forum on Mice Chat


Gilad said...

Alain, it was a fascinating article!
I really loved all the politic asspect surrounding the HK Disney park expansion.
It's really ashame what they have done to that park : first it was too small, than the small expansion,recycling attractions and calling it "exclusive", the lame Toy Story land, cancelling Glacier Bay and the peak of all the faults - cancelling POTC land!!
Somebody in Disney needs to do something with the management of that park because it's going the wrong way.
Disney fans are entitled to more than a limping MK park, and the reason I'm so annoyed is that I know and believe that Disney can do better than that.

Anonymous said...

"i've said previously, Chinese can be incredibly tough negotiators" - believe me, this is *nothing* compared to what is going to happen in Shanghai. It´s astonishing that they negotiate at all with Disney about the Shanghai project - wouldn´t it be easier for the Chinese to use their Standard Operating Procedure and simply copy an existing Disney park...?

Anonymous said...

It's too little too late, but better than none.

Ryan said...

Who cares if Toy Story Land isn't unique? There's plenty of room next to it to add a Toy Story (Midway) Mania ride, and it compliments the other rides they're adding anyway. It's a good, well-rounded expansion, and it's something that's marketable, and will sell toys. Plus, the Toy Story rides are really something that you can see what you get ahead of time (it's not in a show building), so that may add to it's appeal.

Just because it's not another expensive E-Ticket, doesn't mean this stuff isn't worthy.

Gilad said...

I think that building a land made of a movie is stupid.
You don't see "Dumbo" land or "High School Musical" land (thanks god..) or "the little Mermaid" get the point.
Toy Story land doesn't have enough depth to carry an entire land, an attraction maybe but not a land.

Anonymous said...

um actually little mermaid land at tokyo disneysea? the one of the most hailed themeparks built ever? I do agree thought that toy story land is a terrible idea along with "carsland"

SamLand said...

Can you tell us more about the threat of a casino proposed by the Chinese government?

Alain Littaye said...

There is no threat of a casino for Shanghaî Disneyland. Shanghai officials asked if it would be possible to have a casino at SDL and the WDC says no, There is no casinos in any Disney resort in the world, and there won't be one in SDL, that's all.

SamLand said...

I'm sorry. I was referring to HKDL with regards to the casino.

rlcoolastic said...

so the HKDL imagineers need our help to think of an idea to change toy story land? please answer

robbieM said...

In my POV these additions are quite good but only go part of the way to fixing HKDL. Grizzly Mountain and Mystic manor go some way to addressing the lack of big e ticket rides but Disney appear to have built entire lands to house only one ride. What’s needed are some more smaller C & D ticket attractions in these areas to compliment the big attractions or we’ll end up with a ‘Future world’ type MK with big ride pavilions and little else. Remember DLP expanded with small and large attractions in its early years.

Toy Story Land while an odd fit for a magic Kingdom could work as a general ‘Lilliput’ style land (remember this was an early proposal for Disneyland). And can be obviously expanded with TSMM as a next phase project.

How about adding some more smaller rides to the mix like Casey Jnr, Storybook land (as per DLP) and some more smaller dark rides to complement the announced expansions, what about a Country Bear show in the Grizzly area, or a new version of the Mexico ride from Epcot, a Tiki Room at Mystic Point or a Peter Pan’s Flight in Fantasyland.

Outside the park the resort also needs other things to do they should add a downtown Disney ASAP as not only would this help to make the area feel like a full resort but it will also bring in much needed income from people leaving the park as well as third party leases.

Anonymous said...

I couldn´t care less about what happens at HKDL - as far as I´m concerned, they could shut the place down - who cares what´s going on in China?

Anonymous said...

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