Welcome to 2007, two years after Hong Kong Disneyland opened. The resort through 2006 saw 5.2 million guests through its gates and opened Autopia, Stitch Encounter and, the noteable a splash pad in Tomorrowland. Since opening, amongst mixed reviews and operational changeovers, the resort is also experiencing some rather troublesome growing pains. Attendance was showing a 1 million person slump in new visitors by the end of 2007. It was still proving to be very difficult to drive the city crowds into the park. Hong Kong Disneyland was on the decline.
In the background, Bob Iger had recently taken over from Michael Eisner as the CEO of the Walt Disney company leaving a question to be answered: “What should be done with Hong Kong Disneyland?”
It took 4 years for the public to get an answer. In 2009 Disney announced three new lands coming to the park. After an era of empty promises by Disney, these lands would actually come to fruition as Mystic Point, Grizzly Trail and Toy Story Land, all which still operate today.
But 4 years is a long time to expand on a resort which desperately required something, anything new. Well, Disney had plans for some rather different lands from what we ultimately got. One familiar and one concept completely different to anything tried before. So let’s jump back a couple of years, to shortly after Hong Kong Disneyland’s opening. For ReviewTyme I’m Dominic. And these are cancelled lands of Hong Kong Disneyland.
Back To Opening.
From opening Disney knew it was time to start expanding on what was being offered and started to generate hype for the future from the beginning. Autopia was already in the works at the opening of the park, slated for a 2006 opening and would provide a buffer for perhaps the next year, but the park needed more than one extra attraction. It needed lands. Hong Kong Disneyland was master-planned from the beginning, built with expansion in mind, it was only a matter of time before the empty plots of lands surrounding the park would be filled with Disney magic.
Walt Disney Imagineering got to work. More specifically, Tim Delaney got to work. Delaney was a prominent figure in the direction and design of Hong Kong Disneyland. His role was Creative Director, Producer & Field Art Director of Tomorrowland meaning that essentially one-fourth of the park was his to command.
You can see from his repertoire that Tim Delaney was the best man for the job. He held the same role overseeing Discoveryland at Disneyland Paris and many people comment on this being the best realisation of a ‘Tomorrowland’ in the world.
With his work finished on Tomorrowland at Hong Kong, it was time for another project. Hong Kong Disneyland was discovering that being just north of the equator and consistently hot and humid, it needed a way of cooling guests down. It was also realised that it needed more space to explore, considering that a quick 10-minute walk would pretty much reveal all of the parks.
Disney already had a repertoire of rides and lands that fit this description, but rather than just copy any of these, Delaney wanted to go a couple steps further and really put the Hong Kong Disneyland Resort on the map.
His solution to these problems was Pirate’s Land. This land served as an extension to Adventureland; placed over the other side of the train tracks in the expansion plot which is now populated by Mystic Point and Grizzly Trail.
Thematically the land was to be very reminiscent of the Pirates area at Disneyland Paris, featuring a small Caribbean town and bay with a pirate ship floating in the centre of a lagoon. The centrepiece of the land would be a large flume ride themed to the Pirates of the Caribbean film. The final drop of this attraction would have guests soaring down a waterfall, out of a skull-shaped rock and crashing through a capsized boat. (This may be the coolest ride description in Disney history). And rumours had it that the land would also include a pirate-themed Haunted Mansion and brand new version of Fantasmic.
Pirate Land’s Problem.
There was a problem though, Delaney wanted $750 million USD from then Head of Resorts & Parks Jay Rasulo to pursue the project. He also needed to get the Hong Kong Disneyland executives and government on-board, considering they had a share in the park. Needless to say, they said no, which is kind of understandable when you realise this is almost half of what it cost to originally build the entire resort.
From what I can find, there’s no official reason behind the outright rejection of the idea, but research suggests that having a land glorifying the activities of pirates would be troublesome considering where Hong Kongs geographical location. Between 1995 and 2013, 41% of the world’s pirate activities occurred in South East Asia, an area rather close to Hong Kong and part of their marketing target. Whilst we have fun thinking about the romanticised ideas of pirates, there are people who are experiencing modern day pirates as a reality of their work and this may very well be the reason why Hong Kong Disneyland still doesn’t have a Pirates attraction.
Whilst Tim Delaney was busy working on Pirates Land, Favilli Studio located in California was preparing concepts for another land which was also a planned part of the expansions for Hong Kong Disneyland.
Favilli Studio was founded by Andrea Favilli, a multi-disciplinary designer based in California. Favilli spent 5 years as a Senior Concept Designer for Walt Disney Imagineering between 1987 and 1992 working alongside Ken Anderson, Claude Coast, Herb Ryman and Robert Jani. He contributed to many projects around the world and in 1989 received the Disney Legends award for his work. Shortly after leaving Disney in 1992, he would go on to create his own studio who would continue to work alongside Disney on several projects including Port Discovery at Tokyo DisneySea and Sunset Boulevard at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Orlando.
Interestingly, the Studio also created the concepts for Disneyland Dubai that you see appear around the internet, but a project portfolio shows that this was commissioned by a company other than Disney. The story of Disneyland Dubai is probably best left to another video.
Based on research, overlaying conceptual designs with the existing park layout and just the general timeline, I’ve come to the conclusion that Favilli Studio was working on a land that was meant to come alongside Mystic Point and Grizzly Trail in the plot, which is currently occupied by the decidedly underwhelming compared to the other two expansions, Toy Story Land.
This was Glacier Bay. Located possibly where Toy Story Land is now, According to the Favilli website:
“Favilli Studio developed the story, planning and designs for this phase-two expansion of Hon[g] Kong Disneyland—an arctic outpost filled with an array of cold weather activities. Guests can jet-ski through an iceberg-filled glacial lake, grab a sled and slide down a massive snow hill and ride an icy roller-coaster deep into the interior massive ice cavern of Glacier Peak—a research base for studying glacial formations and life forms where they are treated to a variety of interactive games and show experiences.”
This land would have made an excellent addition to the Hong Kong Disneyland lineup and the fantastical elements would have fit the same atmosphere as Grizzly Trail and Mystic Point. It would have allowed Hong Kong to further develop its unique personality and make it stand out from the other parks around the world. Considering that Hong Kong struggled with identity at opening, Toy Story Land only continued the idea of a ‘copy paste’ park considering that it was originally designed for Walt Disney Studios in Paris. Toy Story Land just feels out of place in a Magic Kingdom style park. It lacks the ‘imagination’ that Disneyland is all about.
Some argue that this was a standalone project, to be either added before or after Mystic or Grizzly. The location of the land in the upper left expansion plot of the park and the overall conceptual design suggests that this could have never been a standalone project. That plot is too far out of the way for the land’s layout, considering that almost all other Disney ‘one-way’ lands are either very sprawling or spoke out towards the end with Glacier Bay featuring neither.
Glacier Bay’s Problem.
So with this in mind why didn’t Glacier Bay go ahead? This one is harder to figure out, but I’d imagine it ultimately comes down to cost. Grizzly Trail, Mystic Point and Toy Story Land all cost $500 million USD combined to build. It also allowed them to segregate the projects and work on them individually, increasing turn around times but also allowing them to scrap a project individually if necessary without disrupting the other lands.
I believe that what we ended up getting with Mystic Point and Grizzly Trail was a good consolation to these background projects, even if it did require extra ‘padding’ with Toy Story Land. Whilst Pirate Land would have made an amazing expansion, it wouldn’t have helped with Hong Kong Disneyland’s global presence in the long run considering that in modern times there are already two other complete pirate lands in Shanghai and Paris. For the attractions, we still don’t have anything to replace the log flume, but the pirate theme Haunted Mansion is now replaced with Mystic Manor and Fantasmic will hopefully get a new unique reiteration with the launch of the new Castle and show area currently in the works.
Speaking of the current expansions, Glacier Bay in essence has been replaced by Frozen Land. I’m not a huge fan of movie based lands mostly because with time, opinions and trends change and they limit creativity. Lands should be able to develop with the guests that visit, instead of forcing them to immerse themselves in a world that may no longer be relevant.
Walt had the opportunity to have Snow White Land, Sleeping Beauty Land, and Alice in Wonderland Land. But he didn’t, because he knew that a land should be a template in which his projects can expand on. Why not instead of Frozen Land, have Glacier Bay with Elsa’s Ice Castle on the mountain and a ride beneath that? That way, you can still expand on the land without it being locked in to Frozen.
Other than my minor qualms, the expansions that are on the way will benefit Hong Kong Disneyland immensely. The new castle is a step in the right direction to giving the park it’s unique personality it’s been desperately grasping for, the additional lands and attractions will start to make Hong Kong feel like a real multi-day resort and ultimately that’s what Disney is aiming for. More days equals more money spent in the parks. Whilst history gives a glimpse into what might have been, sometimes it’s good to be grateful for what we have. Because Disney can always decide to take the easy road just add more Toy Story Lands.