HONG KONG — As Mickey Mouse heads north from Hong Kong to Shanghai, he runs the risk of being followed by his Asian nemesis: Whiskers the Sea Lion.
Whiskers is the mascot of Ocean Park, a 32-year-old Hong Kong theme park that was widely expected to wither with the opening of Hong Kong Disneyland four years ago. But Ocean Park has unexpectedly thrived instead and is now reviewing requests for franchised theme parks from cities across Asia and the Middle East — including Shanghai, where the Walt Disney Co. has just obtained permission to open its next theme park.
Hong Kong Disneyland has stumbled repeatedly, starting as Disney’s smallest theme park and disastrously miscalculating the dates of the Chinese New Year during a promotion. Disney even took the unusual step of forgoing some fees at the theme park, a joint venture with the Hong Kong government, when attendance fell short of expectations. Ocean Park has emphasized its Hong Kong and Chinese ties and gained attendance even in the first year after Mickey Mouse arrived in Hong Kong, when it had budgeted for a 25 percent slump in visitors.
“I wasn’t really trying to kill the Mouse, but I think they didn’t really understand the culture and got it wrong,” said Allan Zeman, the 61-year-old chairman of Ocean Park, who has repeatedly grabbed the spotlight from Hong Kong Disneyland with stunts like d being shot out of a cannon.
Cities in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Malaysia and across China have asked Ocean Park to open theme parks, Mr. Zeman said. Ocean Park is less likely to consider Shanghai until after the new Disneyland has been built and its performance can be assessed, he added.
Overseas expansion of Ocean Park would also require the Hong Kong government to change an ordinance governing the park, which was built for the city by a local nonprofit group. The government is reviewing the ordinance.
Disney is already taking steps that suggest it has learned lessons from its experience in Hong Kong. The Shanghai theme park is slated to be enormous when it opens — 400 hectares, or 1,000 acres — instead of starting small and gradually adding one or two attractions a year, as Hong Kong Disneyland has done. The Shanghai park also has a somewhat less remote location than Hong Kong Disneyland — although neither can rival Ocean Park, a 10-minute drive from the Hong Kong business district.
A spokeswoman for Hong Kong Disneyland said that design work for the new Shanghai theme park, announced late Tuesday in Burbank, California, would probably be done separately from Hong Kong Disneyland. She declined to discuss competition with Ocean Park.
When Hong Kong Disneyland opened in September 2005, it had an image as the Wal-Mart of theme parks — the American Goliath that would put local competitors out of business.
But organizers of mainland Chinese tour groups complained that the park was expensive, while Hong Kong residents groused that the park was aimed mainly at very young children. It has only one fairly large roller coaster, Space Mountain, while Ocean Park has three and is building more; Hong Kong Disneyland does not have animal attractions like the dolphin shows at Ocean Park or its four giant pandas.
Hong Kong Disneyland’s most memorable miscue came when it failed to allow for the full length of the mainland’s Chinese New Year holiday five months after it opened and made it possible to use discount tickets on the last three days of the holiday. Faced with throngs of visitors who were flooding the park, Disney security guards shut the front gates so quickly to halt the flow that a very unhappy young child was separated from his family and passed by the crowd over the green spikes atop the gate. The scene replayed over and over on local television.
Ocean Park had 3.68 million visitors in 2004, the last full year before Hong Kong Disneyland opened, and 5.03 million last year. Hong Kong Disneyland does not report annual figures but said it had seen over 17 million visitors from its opening through the end of May 2009 — or an average of about 4.5 million visitors a year.
Ocean Park has stressed its combination of exhibits of pandas and other Chinese wildlife and more exciting rides than Hong Kong Disneyland’s.
National Geographic Kids magazine rated Ocean Park several years ago as the second “wildest” theme park outside the United States, trailing only a rival in Queensland, Australia.
“Ocean Park is more fun — Disneyland is more for kids,” said Frankie Tong as he admired the pandas at Ocean Park on Wednesday morning while celebrating his 38th birthday at the park with his wife, Mandy Ma. “Disneylands are more or less the same in places all over the world — Disney is more American.”
But Disneyland continues to enthrall the very young. Sam Wong, a 40-year-old civil servant, took his 5-year-old son, Keith, to Ocean Park because he thought it would be educational. Keith Wong said he would rather go to Disneyland, adding wistfully, “Disney has Mickey Mouse.”
Interesting, Ocean Park looks like it is a pretty good park, and hopefully these new parks get built. Although, I don't think China needs any new parks at the moment, but the other possible locations sound like they could be good.
Ocean Park has sent us a new press release about its involvement in the 2010 Expo, including details about its 3D display which will show images of its many attractions and animals.
To celebrate the upcoming Expo 2010 Shanghai China and support Destination Month at the Expo’s Hong Kong Pavilion, Ocean Park will launch a distinctive 3D display at Xintiandi, Shanghai from 31 May to 15 June to showcase the Park’s latest attractions and diverse animal repertoire. The Park is very pleased to join hands with Hong Kong Tourism Board to showcase Hong Kong’s appeal as a premium destination for visitors from around the world.
Apart from the display, Ocean Park will also host an exciting mascots show from 11-13 June at the same venue to give visitors an opportunity to meet popular Park mascots like Whiskers, Redd and Later Gator.
‘We are proud to play a part in Expo 2010 to help promote Hong Kong as an exciting place to be for visitors from Mainland China and abroad. Mainland visitors represent a significant market for Ocean Park and account for 45 per cent of Ocean Park’s attendance. We will continue to promote Ocean Park in the Mainland market and hopefully the Expo will serve as a platform for more people to know about us,’ said Tom Mehrmann, Chief Executive of Ocean Park.
He continued, ‘Ocean Park’s HK$5.55 billion Master Redevelopment Plan (MRP) is now fully under way. Amazing Asian Animals and Ocean Express were two latest attractions which opened last year and looking ahead, we will launch a host of exciting attractions and themed areas such as Chinese Sturgeon Aquarium – Yangtze Exploration and Aqua City to give our guests plenty of reasons to come back again and again!’
Change the scheme, Alter the mood! Electrify the boys and girls if you would be so kind!
Sarner has sent us a new press release about Ocean Park's Funnicular and its latest achievement.
Internationally renowned theme park design company, Sarner, was responsible for the creative and technical implementation of Ocean Express, the first and only themed funicular ride in the world. Ocean Express is not just a ride, it’s a fully immersive show that has already captivated and entertained 3 million visitors whilst transporting them from the Waterfront to the Summit at Hong Kong’s Ocean Park. Sarner’s imaginative and creative execution of visuals and technology makes this simple method of transportation more than just a way to travel around the park and leaves visitors wanting more.
Once guests embark the submarine-like carriages, they are ‘transported’ below sea level and fully ‘submerged’ deep into the Ocean thanks to beautiful underwater visuals and cleverly created programming from Sarner’s technical team who made use of sophisticated audiovisual technology, animation and surround audio effects. The mesmerising visuals are viewed on 42 ceiling mounted Samsung LCD screens which look like windows into a colourful and true-to-life underwater world.
Although the passengers feel that they are underwater, in reality, the funicular train travels through a tunnel that is just under one mile long and was created by digging through rock and excavating over 71,000 square metres of earth. It has been built to transport up to 5000 people per hour in each direction and travels between the Park’s two main lands in under 3 minutes. This is in total contrast to the current cable car ride, which takes 12 minutes and offers scenic views from a great height. The journey between the two lands is not passable by foot so, until now, visitors were only able to get to the Summit of Ocean Park by scaling the great heights of the cable car.
Ocean Park Chief Executive, Mr Tom Mehrmann comments, “This underwater adventure is a valued addition at Ocean Park. With visitor numbers expected to reach 7 million by 2017, we realised that the capacity of our current cable car system would be inadequate and we required an alternative route for visitors. Sarner’s creativity has enabled us to offer a truly unforgettable ride.” Ross Magri, Sarner’s Managing Director, adds, “The brief from Ocean Park was for us to bring the ride to life and the theme of the Ocean works as a juxtaposition to the scenic views of the cable car ride which runs simultaneously. For us, the key was to ensure that the magic of the day continued through every aspect of a visit to Ocean Park and we feel honoured that so many visitors to the park are using this new and exciting way to travel to the Summit.”
This project was particularly challenging due to the limited space within the funicular for the AV technology and also because of the very strict rules covering fire regulations;
Each of the 42 Samsung screens had to be custom manufactured to fit within the 72mm roof of the funicular as off-the-shelf LCD or plasma screens were far too big;
Power loads were a key concern so all the equipment and lighting was selected for its low power consumption and low maintenance. The brains behind the system is an AVStumpfl SC Master controller together with a number of solid state video players and control interfaces;
The sound system uses Audica speakers driven via Peavey amplifiers and BSS DSP processors allowing the desired audio immersive effects to compliment the lighting and visual effects;
The AVStumpfl SC Master connects directly to the Funicular drive electronics so the position and status of the train can be monitored and the effect synchronised to the position of the train;
The AV technology is totally automated and only requires to be switched on at the start of the day.
Change the scheme, Alter the mood! Electrify the boys and girls if you would be so kind!
I had some time to kill this afternoon before my flight, so I met up with a local friend and we headed for Ocean Park. We actually debated between Ocean Park and heading across the border to Happy Valley in Shenzhen, since neither of us had been there before, but ultimately decided that it wasn't worth the risk of getting caught in rush hour congestion in the Lo Wu immigration queues -- if only the frequent visitor e-Channel scheme would be extended to the land crossings!
As some of you might be aware, Ocean Park is currently in the middle of a massive renovation and expansions programme. Since the last Ocean Park trip report was posted, the Ocean Express, a nicely-themed underground funicular system, has been opened to provide an alternative to the cable car for getting from one half of the park to the other. Here's a (rather unfortunately poor quality) photo of the inside of one of the vehicles used:
The other completed renovations are probably of relatively limited interest to anyone here, since they are all related to the animal side of the park. We didn't have time to visit most of them, but did stop by the recently-opened Yangtze River Sturgeon Experience, which was interesting but somewhat underwhelming. Supposedly, by 2012, the new "Polar Adventure" area will be finished and will include the "Arctic Blast Ride," which appears to be some type of coaster from the mockup sketches.
I was surprised to see that the Dragon had gotten a rather interesting new paint job since my last visit:
The new colour scheme can also be seen in the distance in this photo:
I'm not sure if anything else actually changed, but somehow it seemed just a little bit less painful than it used to be. That's probably just an illusion, though.
The view from the cable car out over the South China Sea is still as awe-inspiring as ever:
And the Mine Train continues to provide what must be one of the best views from any coaster:
The log flume, while entirely routine, is a nice way to cool off after standing around in the 35° heat for hours on end:
And finally, just to remind everyone that there's more to HK than theme parks: the HK Island skyline viewed from Kowloon side, and the Tian Tan Buddha on Lantau.
Cool TR. Yeah, I've always heard that Dragon is a pretty rough coaster, but at least they made it look nice. But I've always been fascinated by that Mine Train coaster. Not only would it give the fantastic views that you described, but it also looks like it would give some decent air.
The rendition of Arctic Blast is pretty cool as well. I'm shocked I haven't heard more about that coaster.
Also, the park didn't look overly crowded. Did it still have decent crowds? I'm just wondering because I know that the park had been concerned that the new Disney park would significantly cut into their business.
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Canobie Coaster wrote:Also, the park didn't look overly crowded. Did it still have decent crowds? I'm just wondering because I know that the park had been concerned that the new Disney park would significantly cut into their business.
It was actually a good bit more crowded than it has been the last few times I went; I just tend to try taking pictures in a way that doesn't focus on crowds. We had to wait about 45 minutes to an hour for each of the coasters and the log flume during the afternoon and early evening. By an hour or so before closing things had cleared out a bit and we were actually able to ride Mine Train as a walk-on on our way back to the bus stop.
I think that Hong Kong Disneyland is one of the factors behind the expansion and renovation programme that Ocean Park is undertaking, but overall, I'd say that Disney doesn't really seem to have hurt business too much, at least among HK locals.
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