Shanghai Disney Resort ready for magical opening
Opening Thursday, the resort features a boat ride based on the "Pirates of the Caribbean", a show from the mega-hit "Frozen" and a "Star Wars" attraction.
The Magic Kingdom comes to the Middle Kingdom this week when Disney opens its first theme park in mainland China, betting the growing middle class will spend big on leisure despite a slowing economy.
The $5.5 billion resort, which opens Thursday, features the world's biggest Disney castle, its blue-topped spires rising above land once occupied by farms and small factories on the outskirts of commercial hub Shanghai.
Disney is seeking to attract crowds with a boat ride based on the "Pirates of the Caribbean", a show from the mega-hit "Frozen" and a "Star Wars" attraction populated by characters from the science-fiction saga among the draws featuring the company's beloved movies.
The project broke ground in April 2011, with Disney chairman and chief executive Bob Iger telling reporters it would be a "significant milestone" in the company's history.
But the opening comes as China's economic growth has dropped to its weakest level in a quarter of a century, a disappointing end to decades of double-digit growth spurred by government infrastructure spending.
Nevertheless, Disney is hoping weak economic indicators will not stop China's burgeoning middle class from descending on Shanghai Disney Resort in droves, a bet backed by a Chinese government push to increase domestic consumption.
Early indications are good. At least a million people had already visited the resort area -- which includes a shopping and entertainment zone accessible without tickets -- before opening day, a local official said.
Disney calculates there are 330 million people living within a three-hour journey of Shanghai -- many, it reckons, are potential visitors prepared to pay either the peak period entrance fee of 499 yuan ($76), or the 370 yuan ($56) at other times.
But, say observers, in a country where the average disposable income is just $278 a month, that might prove a little bit rich for some.
"Some people with average incomes may find Disney too expensive," Professor He Jianmin of the Shanghai University of Finance and Economics told AFP, adding that Disney needs to attract people with higher earnings living in the country's booming eastern region.
"The Shanghai park has the potential to become one of the world's most profitable Disney parks," he said.
Theme parks are sprouting all over China from all manner of companies, even from Italian sports car makers Ferrari.