China / China

Trial opening draws crowds to Shanghai Disneyland

(China Daily Europe) Updated: 2016-05-15 15:01

Shop, restaurants, sculptures and artificial lake offer a sneak preview of the wonders that will unfold in June

Still a month away from its official opening, The Walt Disney Co's theme park resort in Shanghai is already a popular destination attracting thousands of Chinese.

Disney has begun trial operations for the park - its sixth worldwide and first in the Chinese mainland.

Trial opening draws crowds to Shanghai Disneyland

Children show off souvenirs bought at the Disney store, the biggest park-operated retail shop in Asia, in Shanghai. Yang Yi / For China Daily

Since the metro station for the Disney grounds opened several weeks ago in Shanghai's Pudong district, the area has become a popular destination ahead of the resort's June 16 debut. The world's largest entertainment company is banking on 330 million Chinese living within three hours of the site to pay for visits to the $5.5 billion resort, famous for its iconic castle and themed rides.

China's government, in turn, is relying on increased consumer spending to boost an economy growing at the slowest pace in 25 years.

"I remember watching Mickey Mouse cartoons when I was young, so it's exciting to see Disneyland for real," says Wang Yidan, a 30-year-old technician who bought a Mickey Mouse hat for 99 yuan ($15; 13 euros) at the World of Disney store for his daughter. "It's done up quite intricately, and it's something different to bring her to compared with the parks and zoos elsewhere in China."

The theme park is expected to attract 15 million visitors a year in the short term and raise demand for travel in Shanghai, China International Capital Corp analysts wrote in a research note.

That should help boost earnings of transport operators such as Spring Airlines Co, Shanghai International Airport Co, and Jiangsu Expressway Co, the analysts say.

An estimated 30,000 visitors were at the Chinese resort on May 9, while 10,000 employees, their relatives and other invited guests were allowed into the theme park for its trial run on May 8, Shanghai Daily reported without citing sources.

Over the weekend, visitors posed for photos among well-tended lawns and shrubs and crowded along the strip known as Disneytown, with rows of shops and restaurants including a Samsonite outlet and an eatery run by celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck.

Among the crowds, some held tickets to enter the 389-hectare park and try out rides as part of Shanghai Disney's six-week trial run. Participants were limited to the resort's employees, partners and stakeholders.

Ride operator Kevin Chang, 26, took his wife and parents with him on May 8. The couple wore costume hats - a blue, big-eared Stitch from Disney's Lilo & Stitch franchise and Minnie Mouse - for the big occasion.

"I operate the Tron ride, which is the scariest in the whole park, so it's going to be fun to take it with my wife and family," he says.

Disney CEO Robert Iger has called the Shanghai project the company's greatest opportunity since Walt Disney bought land in Florida in the 1960s to build the theme park there. The Shanghai resort boasts two hotels and the largest Disney castle.

Iger met with Chinese President Xi Jinping on May 5 in Beijing. Xi cited Disney as an example of expanded cooperation between US and Chinese companies.

Consumption among upper-middle-class and affluent households in China is increasing at 17 percent a year and will account for $1.5 trillion in incremental spending by 2020, according to Boston Consulting Group Inc. It says the country's growing middle class and young Chinese will be a driving force for consumption growth.

Outside Disney's theme park in Shanghai, many in the crowd were elderly Chinese. Many of them chose to munch on their own snacks on public benches.

Shanghai retiree Liang Zhen, 85, says while she came for the novelty factor, she prefers the city's museums and parks to the Disney grounds. "Most of us are here just to take a look because it's something fresh."

For 78-year-old retiree Wang Xingmiao, the visit gives him a glimpse of the United States. "It opens the eyes of old and young people to see something like this," says Wang, who traveled an hour on the subway to get to the park.


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