Why Disney’s New Shanghai Park Is Its Most Ambitious Yet

The Walt Disney Company seems to have spared no expense in building its sixth theme park which opened on June 16 2016 in Shanghai, China after a decade of planning and five years of construction. The $5.5-billion Shanghai Disneyland is a colossal 963-acre park three times larger than Hong Kong Disneyland and anchored by the tallest castle in any Disney theme park. The joint venture with China-based Shanghai Shendi Group, which owns 57% of the park, is the glitziest in a spate of entertainment firms rushing to establish themselves in the world’s most populous nation, one run by a regime that increasingly views entertainment as a vital component of its soft power.

The meticulously orchestrated opening was done in June 16, 2016.

As well as a massive financial investment, Disney’s new park relies on technology the company hopes will augment all its parks. Shanghai Disneyland was designed by Walt Disney Imagineering (WDI) using Building Information Modeling (BIM), a 3D model-based process of designing everything from the Steamboat Willie entrance fountain to Roarin Mountain. Imagineers—Disney’s term of art for its enginneers—were able to couple these 3D models with tablets on site, while using the latest virtual reality headsets and DISH (Digital Immersive Showroom) technology to share their progress.

According to Mark Mine, creative technology executive at WDI’s Creative Technology Studio, DISH allowed imagineers to work across locations from Shanghai to Glendale, California and Orlando. The large white rooms work with projectors and 3D glasses, allowing multiple people to experience rides, attractions, and hotel rooms before construction even began in 2011. “We link our DISH’s together, which is also very important because as an international company we can load up a model in Orlando and have people walk through it simultaneously in Shanghai,” Mine said. “It allows us to do reviews across multiple sites. And that’s something that we’re going to continue to push and develop.”

Disney’s first theme park in mainland China is divided into six lands: Fantasyland, Treasure Cove, Tomorrowland, Gardens of Imagination, Adventure Isle, and Mickey Avenue.

Towering 196.8 feet above Fantasyland is the park’s Enchanted Storybook Castle, which includes retail, dining, and theatrical spaces, as well as two attractions. It’s home to Once Upon a Time, an indoor, walk-through exhibit of all the Disney Princesses that blends dioramas with screens displaying classic Disney animation. The Voyage to the Crystal Grotto boat ride travels through Fantasyland and underneath the castle for its finale, which features music and animation from films such as The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Mulan, and Beauty and the Beast.


Fantasyland, the largest land in the park, is also home to the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train roller coaster, the Peter Pan’s Flight dark ride, and the Hundred Acre Wood with Winnie the Pooh dark ride (all of which are also in the Orlando Magic Kingdom). The outdoor, walk-through Alice in Wonderland Maze is home, no wonder, to characters such as the Cheshire Cat, the Red Queen, and others from the films set within a leafy labyrinth.