SHANGHAI — Seven years after its approval by the government, Shanghai Disneyland finally opened its doors Thursday — but only after a dedication ceremony delayed the usual morning opening time until noon. But some people obviously couldn’t bear the anticipation any longer: By 8 a.m. there were crowds of people in line outside the gates, many already wearing Mickey — or Minnie — Mouse ears.
“My son woke up at 6 o'clock this morning. He couldn’t sleep! He’s been waiting for this for months,” the mother of a 7-year-old boy said.
Some visitors had traveled from other parts of China for the occasion:
“We’re from Xian,” said three friends in their early 20s who had flown in for the opening, and were busy taking pictures outside the park. “We love Mickey. We had to be here.”
“It’s worth waiting,” said another young woman who had traveled from southern China with her boyfriend. “There are so many people. We don’t want to miss our chance to get on the rides.”
News of long lines during a trial opening period traveled fast, and when Disney decided to throw open the gates some 30 minutes early, many of those at the front of the line, some sporting brightly colored capes against a sudden rain shower, sprinted up Mickey Avenue toward the rides. Some looked slightly astonished finally to be inside, and to find themselves face to face with the giant Enchanted Storybook Castle, the largest of its kind in the world.
“I’ve been looking forward to this for a long time,” said a Shanghai man in his 70s, who had come with his wife, their daughter and her family. “I’ve heard so much about it — I think it’s going to be really fascinating. I’m very excited.”
There has been much debate on Chinese social media about the ticket prices, some $76 for adults during the opening period and at peak times of year — but the elderly man said he thought the prices were acceptable:
“We got a senior citizens’ discount — we can cope with the cost,” he said.
And while the prices could represent several days’, or even a weeks’, wages for some ordinary Chinese people, the middle-class urban citizens Disney is counting on seemed unfazed:
“We’ve been to Tokyo and Hong Kong Disneyland. The prices here are lower. We think it’s reasonable — and worth it!” said one well-traveled Shanghai family.
Others had scraped together the money to come:
“We got two-day tickets for 900 yuan ,” ($137) said a couple from southern Hunan province. “It is quite expensive — and we didn’t stay in the Disney hotel, because that was more than 1,000 yuan,” said Weng Tianyang , a third-year university student. But she said the investment had been worth it:
“I’ve been to other theme parks in China — but this is much better. We went on the TRON Lightcycle ride. It was terrifying!”
The ride, a high-speed rollercoaster, typifies Disney’s pledge to make Shanghai Disneyland its most modern park yet, to cater to the high-tech tastes of young Chinese consumers.
And Weng said she had been impressed by another of Disney’s core values:
“The atmosphere here is really good — especially their service mentality: The staff are always smiling, so it makes you feel very happy — and they’re very dedicated and helpful.”
Certainly the Mickey Mouse hands were waving feverishly as staff tried to live up to Disney CEO Bob Iger’s pledge to make Chinese visitors feel “comfortable” at Disneyland.
Even some wealthier Chinese veterans of Disney theme parks were impressed:
“We’ve been to Hong Kong Disneyland, but this is newer, bigger, they’ve done it very well, with lots of modern technology,” said a middle-age man. He said his 9-year-old daughter had been particularly impressed by Pirates of the Caribbean — Battle for The Sunken Treasure, an immersive ride, featuring high resolution images on a vast screen, as well as animatronics and other special effects.
A 10-year-old girl who had grown up in Canada before her family moved back to Shanghai was even more adamant:
“I’ve been to all the Disneylands ,” she said, “but I think this one is the best. It looks cooler — and it has a lot of things that other Disneys don’t have.”
Some people were disappointed about the lines, however. Student Weng said Soaring Over the Horizon, a popular ride featuring high-definition images of famous global sights filmed from the air, had been booked out for the day by the time she got there — though she planned to try again the next day. The Fast Passes that help people avoid long lines by booking a fixed time for some rides had also run out by the time she arrived, she said.
And some parents with young children found the waiting tough:
“We didn’t really go on much. The lines were so long,” said a mother who had only managed to take her son on a few rides.
But others said it was hardly surprising: “There are lines at themes parks everywhere in the world — it’s just normal,” said Iris, a Shanghai housewife in her early 30s. She had previously taken her two children to Disneyland in Tokyo and Hong Kong, but she said this lived up to their standards.
“It’s very good here. The environment is really beautiful,” she said. She and her small daughter had particularly enjoyed the Soaring ride, she added.
Some observes have suggested Disney will face a particular challenge to keep its attractions up to date in China where fashions are seen to change particularly fast, especially among young consumers.
“I think a lot of people will come at the beginning,” said Conan, a man in his 30s, who had come from Changzhou in neighboring Jiangsu province with his 2-year old son. “But I don’t think you can predict how successful it will be over time. Chinese people like to follow the latest fashions — once the fashion passes they may not come again.” In his home town he added, there were several theme parks, including a well-known “dinosaur park.” “They’re not so big, but they have some similar rides, and the whole experience is much cheaper,” he added.
But others said Disney had little cause for concern.
“People will definitely come,” said two young Shanghai university students who went by the English names Eric and Catherine. “There are so many people in China — it won’t go out of fashion fast!”
And even some international visitors said they believed this Disneyland would have no trouble competing. Trish Jordan was visiting from Pennsylvania with her husband and daughter, who had recently completed a trip to Disneyland in California.
“We’ve been to the original Disneyland, and Disneyworld [in Florida] in the past few months,” she said. “But this is absolutely amazing! The technology is phenomenal and state of the art — the rides are incredible."
Jordan, who said she and her family had come to China especially to see the park, on their first ever trip outside the U.S., added that she had no regrets about making the journey.
“The castle is unbelievable. It’s so big, really beautiful. It takes your breath away. When we walked in, I actually cried — it’s just something about Disney that rattles your soul a little and makes you remember what it’s like to be a kid,” she said.
It’s the kind of moment Disney CEO Iger — who pledged at the opening to “inspire wonder and create joy for the people of China and the whole world” — will be hoping will be repeated for many Chinese families, in order to unleash what he calls China’s “incredible market potential,” and help Disney recoup some of the $3 billion it has invested to make its China dream come true.