Why Disney should buy Twitter


Following news this week that Disney is contemplating the acquisition of Twitter, many analysts have claimed they’re sceptical of such a deal, citing strategic, economic and philosophical differences between the two companies.

Simon Towner Creative Director OmnicoBy Simon Towner, Creative Director, Omnico

And at first glance it may indeed seem an odd pairing; like Mickey Mouse having Darth Vadar round for tea.  But from a future theme park visitor point-of-view, the acquisition could create new experiences across their resorts and ultimately improve footfall and revenue for the operator.

Currently Disney is the only media company rumoured to be interested in the social network; possibly bidding against Salesforce, Google, Microsoft, or even Apple if rumours are to be believed. Out of the group of bidders, it’s not too far-fetched to see the interest Disney has in a digital distribution channel. Traditional TV’s demise has long been touted, with people abandoning costly TV subscriptions in favour of online streaming across mobile devices. Disney’s portfolio already includes television networks ABC and ESPN, as well as content companies Pixar Animation Studios, Marvel Entertainment and Lucasfilm. Looking toward a digital future it’s a wise move to invest now in a distribution platform for its content.

However, what many of these publications and analysts have focused on is the content. What they’re forgetting to look at is Disney’s global footprint of theme parks and resorts.

In order to remain competitive, theme parks and resorts must invest in emerging technologies that will enhance the guest experience. They need to extend their collection of attractions into platforms for interactive storytelling experiences, Virtual and Augmented Reality are at the forefront with new experiences like “The Void” or Cedar Point’s app, The Battle for Cedar Point. In a virtual world, the sky is the limit, with no laws hindering development like physics and limitations on construction materials.

Earlier this year Pokemon Go became THE biggest craze across the world and fans were playing all over Disneyland and Walt Disney World. Its mix of interactivity, virtual, reality and social makes it the “NextGen” of themed experiences.

Disney’s Chief Executive Robert Iger hasn’t been shy in his believe that consumer’s use of mobile platforms to view media will grow in the future. “We are a big believer in using technology to reach new people,” he has said.

disneyland pokemon

Omnico Group has spent time researching visitor expectations of the theme park experience across the UK, US and China and it is very evident the younger generation in particular, are seeking a more immediate and interactive experience (research results will be published here on Blooloop in November).  The research explored the use of social media by park visitors before, during and after their trip, finding clearly the majority want to interact during their visit, share their experiences as they happen with friends and family, and receive targeted promotions and rewards based on their behaviours and spending patterns.

Interestingly Disney’s latest park to open, Shanghai Disney Resort, is relying solely on mobile rather than its well-known MagicBand wristbands. Visitors can use their mobile devices to enter the park, purchase merchandise and likely access rides and attractions. It’s predicted that China will become the first market where the majority of online travel purchases will be made on mobile devices. In Shanghai, Disney will use them to send direct alerts about park conditions and attractions to their visitors.

Iger has been quoted as saying that “Shanghai is a park that from a technological perspective is more advanced than anything we’ve ever built. The consumer will…use their mobile devices in far more advanced, compelling ways than any other place from a theme park perspective than we are today.”

Disney App

Ownership of the Twitter platform would enable Disney to leap ahead of its competition and elevate the social media experience for visitors at all stages of their engagement, from planning the trip, getting the most out of their vacation, and continuing the experience when they have left the resort. What’s more, by linking the social media platform with the quality and quantity of Disney digital content on their mobile app technology, Disney would be able to create the next generation theme-park experience, setting the bench-mark globally for others to follow.

How theme parks can leverage VR to solve capacity issues

The VOID VR experience

VR has been dubbed the future of theme parks. Creating a truly immersive experience for visitors; the thrill of the twists and turns of a roller coaster synchronised with a virtual view of an imaginary world. 

Simon Towner Creative Director OmnicoBy Simon Towner, Creative Director, Omnico

This is why many operators have upgraded their existing coasters with VR programming.  Merlin Entertainment and Six Flags lead the way, eg ‘Galactica’ at Alton Towers, Derren Brown’s ‘Ghost Train’ at Thorpe Park and nine rides across Six Flags’ US-based theme parks. However, while these have created a fresh new feel to an existing ride, are operators really making the most of this technology?

It’s been estimated that virtual reality and augmented reality will be worth US$30bn (£22.7bn) and US$90.8bn (£68.9bn) respectively by 2020. In 2016 alone, the global VR market has been predicted to be valued at US$970m (£735m).

‘The Void’, an immersive virtual reality theme park based in Utah, must be the most talked about of these experiences. It transports users to another world they can see, feel and interact with. It uses VR headsets powered by a supercomputer backpack to allow for untethered walking around these imaginary worlds. Moving podiums, fog machines and heat lamps give the VR world a physically convincing atmosphere. It’s sold as not just virtual reality, but ‘hyper reality’.

What’s particularly innovative about the company behind ‘The Void’ however, is its business plan to create entertainment centres around the world; small-scale versions of what it’s built in Utah.

The first of these was a tie-up with Madame Tussauds Wax Museum in Times Square, New York, with the latest Ghostbusters film. Visitors were able to move through a virtual exploration of the films props, costumes, locations and vehicles. Visitors were also able to take part in a ghost hunt of their own, saving New York City from a paranormal villain.

The VOID Ghostbuster VR at Madame Tussauds NY

The founders behind ‘The Void’ have developed an intriguing strategy that extends beyond the boundaries of a park. For many in the industry one of the key challenges they’re tackling is capacity and the need to prevent long queues and disappointment. So while new VR rides are driving bigger crowds and an increase in profits, they’re also compounding the capacity issue.

By diversifying across multiple locations ‘The Void’ is increasing its reach, allowing visitors to experience the concept before visiting the real thing.

The VOID hyperreality destination concept

Landmark Entertainment, whose rides and entertainment attractions can be found in Universal Studios Hollywood, Paramount Parks and a number of Las Vegas hotels, has captured this entirely. One of its first VR projects, called L.I.V.E Centers, is to build experiences in shopping malls in China. Consumers will be able to visit virtual zoos, aquariums and museums through VR goggles, all from the shopping centre itself.
What theme park operators should take from this approach is a way to solve their capacity issue. By setting up VR experiences in shopping malls, consumers could experience the VR rides and then book a timeslot on the real thing, or even their entire holiday from that pop-up VR experience. It will enable theme parks to reach more people, enticing them to the park by experiencing a snippet of their rides. And it is a mutual partnership, for the shopping mall landlords will see higher footfall and their spaces becoming a family destination centre, driving their revenue.

L.I.V.E. Center VR Landmark

Theme parks have already invested in technology to enable pre-booking and pre-ordering on their mobile apps and park kiosks. But this takes the experience to the next level by capturing bookings, scheduling timeslots and ordering ahead; all from a new VR destination.

In the future, as the cost of VR headsets lowers enabling consumers to enjoy experiences at home, theme parks will be able to advertise in-VR showcasing a glimpse of ‘The Void’ for example, offering incentives to experience the real thing in Utah.

VR shouldn’t be a park-only experience, nor should it be a standalone shopping mall extra. By marrying these approaches theme park operators will be able to increase visitors, but help control the capacity through-out the year. While shopping mall operators can create something new from their estates rather than simply a ‘house of brands’.

Images: The Void and Landmark Entertainment

On Theme Parks and Dwell Time

ECA2 Lake of Illusions Happy Valley Shanghai

Any Marketing Manager knows it takes a lot of time and effort to attract new guests to theme parks and attractions. An alternative option is to increase revenue from those visitors who are already in attendance, after all they are champions of the brand and have chosen to spend the day at the park.

One way to do this is by increasing the guest’s length of stay: time equals money!

There are many ways to do this, to suit a variety of budgets. One relatively cheap way to increase guest’s visit time is to simply increase the hours of operation.

Disneyland Resort Plaque

If the guest thinks the park has enough value to stay for longer they will – there will be theme park nuts like me that follow the ‘FILO’ mentality – “First In, Last Out”. However the park has to look the part at night – updated LEDs and architectural lighting can give the park a completely different feel in those extended hours.

Rollercoaster Restaurant Alton Towers

Of course, the guest visit could be lengthened by entering the park earlier, something Disney has always done well with its Extra Magic Hours for resort guests. By only opening some rides the park is able to control the flow of guests to a greater extent, and add value to its resort package as well.

With longer days, the food and beverage options at the park might need to be increased to rejuvenate tired guests, as well as attract locals with season passes into the park at night time. A fun example of this is Alton Tower’s new Rollercoaster Restaurant where food is ordered on iPads and delivered to your table – via rollercoaster – to your plate.

Adding shows and parades also increases a park’s offering for guests at night. Video Mapping has become a staple, we saw this at the Shanghai Disneyland Opening last month where the main evening show relies heavily on mapping characters and films onto the castle with supportive fireworks, lights and music to create the popular show for guests in the evening.

Shanghai Disneyland Castle Night Show

Bespoke night time spectaculars like ECA2’s latest Lake of Illusions at Shanghai Happy Valley, show how parks are treating a new show with the same importance – and budget- as a high end coaster. The €18 million bespoke show uses the latest technology – including newly invented SpyroscreenTM Jets to blend Chinese culture with lasers, lights, water and music.

Spyroscreen Jets ECA2

Creating a resort around a park is the ultimate way of increasing guest spend, to not only a few hours longer, but to introduce multi-day tickets. Shanghai Happy Valley has begun construction on three ‘European Town’ hotels which will be completed by 2018, and the Lake of Illusions show will offer the hotel guests evening entertainment.

Glamping at Warwick Castle Merlin Entertainments

Resorts are something Merlin Entertainments does particularly well for its stand-alone attractions, such as Alton Tower’s Splash Landing Hotel and Waterpark, Thorpe Park’s cabin-style Shark Hotel, and even Glamping tepees at Warwick Castle. The trend can be seen across the world, with Michael Mack announcing at BlooloopLIVErpool that Europa Park will be adding a Scandinavian themed Waterpark and Hotel in 2018, in addition to the impressive 5 hotels, Camping and Caravanning at the Resort.

So, as attractions gear up to provide longer and even better experiences for their guests, with nighttime spectaculars and early opening hours and all manner of in-park secondary spends, this trend really does feel like a win/win situation.

 Images from ECA2, Alton Towers, Warwick Castle, DisneyandMore. 



China’s Attractions Market: A Bubble about to Burst?

yellow hatted workers ground breaking ceremony six flags haiyan china

This past week, Six Flags and its licensing partner for China, Riverside Investment, announced its intentions to build a second Six Flags-branded theme park in Chongqing, the third most populous city in China after Shanghai and Beijing.

Their plan is to build 10 Six Flags theme parks in China in the next ten years. This is just the latest theme park project announcement in a country that some say has 60 theme parks currenrly under construction. Can the Chinese demand for entertainment sustain so much development in the next five years?

by Joseph Joy, Director, Strategic Accounts, TriotechJoseph Joy Director of Strategic Accounts at Triotech

That question was raised last month at the blooloopLIVE Asia attractions symposium in Shanghai in light of the tumultuous history of attraction development in China in the last 25 years.

Theme Parks in China: Millenials and the Middle Class

When ‘Splendid China’, the mainland’s first theme park opened in 1989, its success and a growing middle class seeking entertainment brought hundreds of parks online of which many opened in remote locations, had no cohesive theme and gave no reasons for guests to return or tell their family and friends about their experience. The exception was Hong Kong Disneyland, which opened in 2005. Soon after, a government report identified that of the theme parks operating in China 70% were losing money which led to a government ban on new park development which lasted until 2013.

The government very much wants to promote theme park development on a few levels. Firstly, it fits well into the vision of a consumer, service-driven economy. It provides entertainment in areas where non existed before. And most importantly, domestic tourism is rising 10% year over year. Theme parks fit well into the government’s policy of developing “green” industries that can employ the masses. A massive consumer population makes potential profits very alluring.

According to a McKinsey report, the percentage of affluent and mainstream Chinese will be 57% of the population by 2020, a significant increase compared to just 8% in 2010. When the first theme parks opened in the late 1990s, China barely had a middle class with just 5 million households, today that number is 225 million. By 2020, the ranks of the Chinese middle class may well outnumber Europeans.

wonwhee kim with merlin and village at bloolooplive asia 2016 Wonwhee Kim, of ProForma Advisors presented at the blooloopLIVE Asia some other consumer dynamics driving theme park demand by making the point that the 18-34 in age segment or “millennials” are more populous in China than in North America and Europe combined. Making up 31% of China’s total population, they have become a spending army of over 400 million consumers — prompting Goldman Sachs to call them “the single most important demographic on the planet today.” Some US parks have over 60% of their guests in this age category.

Local and Western Theme Park Operators Accelerate Plans

Much like Six Flags, all the leading operators and media property developers have accelerated their plans for China. The massive, $5 billion Shanghai Disneyland Resort opened last month and has already welcomed 1 million guests which would put it on trackshanghai disney resort logo for 17 million guests a year in the short term. By comparison, Disney’s Magic Kingdom in Orlando, FL had 20.5 million visitors last year and it has been open since 1971.

DreamWorks Animation plans to open its $2.4 billion DreamCenter in Shanghai next year and Universal Studios is building a $3.5 billion park in Beijing to open in 2019. Lionsgate, LEGOLAND and Nickelodeon all have branded parks in development to open in the coming years.

Local operators have ambitious plans as well. Dalian Wanda Group Co. opened a $3.2 billion “Wanda Cultural Tourism City” in Nanchang last month, the first of 15 entertainment complexes that it plans to build over the next four years. Haichang Ocean Park Holdings will unveil what’s slated to be China’s biggest marine park next year. The US-based consultancy AECOM expects China to surpass the US as the biggest theme park market in the world by 2020, drawing 221 million people by that time, nearly double the number last year.

haichang ocean park china signing ceremony smart park

Whereas the American parks are situating themselves in first-tier cities like Beijing and Shanghai, where 300 million live within 3 hours, Wanda is focusing on places like Xi’an, Dujiangyan and Wuxi, where land is cheaper and consumer expectations are measured. Former head of 20th Century Fox Consumer Products, Jeffrey Godsick observed in an interview a few months ago “China is the only place in the world that has a giant catchment of 50 million people living in a 3-hour drive or train ride away. We are looking at a number of opportunities there.”

There is no doubt that domestic consumption in China will continue to grow in the coming years. However, intellectual property and management expertise are still the keys for running theme parks and these are in short supply. Theme parks without a strong concept and marketing will dissolve as quickly as they are conceived. The history of the Chinese attractions industry looks like it just may repeat itself.

The Art of the Visitor Centre


Remember when Busch Gardens parks were used as marketing vehicles for Anheuser- Busch?

Our recent post “Coining it – The New Royal Mint Experience” got me thinking. Isn’t this a fantastic way to get a company’s message across? I don’t know about you, but I tend to remember my experience at the World of Coca Cola – which I visited over a decade ago — more then I remember the last advertisement for Coke that I saw on TV or in print, yesterday.

The first time I remember being exposed to a corporate visitor center, or later called an experience center, was in the 70’s at the Busch Gardens brewery tour in Van Nuys, watch it made in the usa book coverCalifornia. Do you remember when Busch Gardens parks were used as marketing vehicles for Anheuser-Busch and featured hospitality houses with many of the Anheuser-Busch products?

Then later, while I was working for Harrison Price Company, I was involved in the research for the feasibility of several of these types of attractions. At that time, I probably had come across a handful of these visitor centers; but I had no idea of just how many there were, until I picked up “Watch it Made in the U.S.A – A Visitor’s Guide to the Companies that make Your Favorite Products”. While there is a more current edition (2006), my copy, published in 1997, highlighted some 300 of these venues in the U.S.A. alone.

Attractions included Crayola Factory in Easton, PA – Mercedes-Benz in Vance, Al – Peanut Patch in Yuma, AZ – Wal-Mart Visitors Center in Bentonville, AR – Callaway Golf, Carlsbad, CA – Fleetwood in Riverside, CA – Dryer’s and Edy’s Grand Ice Cream in Union City, CA – Fortune Cookie Factory in Oakland, CA – NBC Studios in Burbank, CA – Coors in Golden, CO – Harry and David in Medford OR.

children playing at crayola experience

It was recently announced that Ford Motor Company plans to open ‘experience centers’ called FordHubs. The first store is planned to open later this year at New York’s Westfield World Trade Center; while others are planned for San Francisco, London and Shanghai.

While today there seems to be a visitor center for virtually everything; I was wondering if anyone else believes that we might be returning to the days when major corporate brands (e.g. Busch) viewed these sorts of venues as standalone attractions? Ferrari World Abu Dhabi would be a key example.

Crayola Experience image kind courtesy Jack Rouse Associates. Coca Cola ad 1946 ( Yes Girl by Haddon Sundblom) kind courtesy The Coca Cola Company.

Innovation (and Submersion) at the Ashmolean Museum

Storms, War and Shipwrecks Ashmolean Museum Oxford I recently visited The Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology in Oxford to see their latest exhibition: Storms, War and Shipwrecks, Treasures from the Sicilian Seas.

Honor Frost SCUBA Diving Ashmolean MuseumThe exhibition tells the story of Sicily, the cross-roads of the Mediterranean, through discoveries made by underwater archaeologists. The galleries showcase the invention of SCUBA diving and early diving pioneer Honor Frost’s work, alongside the underwater objects this new technology allowed archaeologists to find, from Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs and Normans who all left their mark on Sicily.

The exhibition’s curator, Dr Paul Roberts, Sackler Keeper of Antiquities for the Museum, talked to visitors with infectious enthusiasm about the project.

“For the first time, this story will be told exclusively through spectacular finds from the sea, because it is the sea which has always been the lifeblood of the island’s unique and diverse culture” said Dr Roberts.

Creative Assembly Total War ROME II Ashmolean Museum

A first for the Ashmolean, the exhibit has teamed up with award winning UK games studio Creative Assembly to create a multimedia exhibit. Footage of simulated ancient battleships from the studio’s ‘Total War: ROME II’ game plays behind real battery rams found in the seas around the island.

The film uses primary archaeological source material to recreate uniforms, ships, armour and arms of the period, and shows visitors the sheer force of impact the rams could inflict during battle. The 5 minute video was mesmerising, watching little men fall into the sea every time the boats collided during the epic battle.

Creative Assembly gave the film to the exhibition for free, something particularly useful for a museum with limited resources.

Gift Shop Storms, Wars and Shipwrecks The Ashmolean

The exhibition is beautifully designed, with an emphasis on access for children with the ‘please do touch’ stations such as the “touching the Frog Man” diving suit. The exhibition and a ‘Sicily’ themed gift shop will no doubt be a good revenue stream for the museum.

The Ashmolean is one of 5 museums in the COBBRA Museum Consortium who share travelling exhibitions including Storms, Wars and Shipwrecks – Copenhagen, Oxford, Bonn, Brussels and Amsterdam.

Storms, Wars and Shipwrecks: Treasures from the Sicilian Seas will be at The Ashmolean until the 25th September. For further information see here.

Twisting and Shouting with Chester Zoo, Heritage GB and The Beatles

chester zoo indonesian fishing boats

June 29th saw the third Blooloop conference take place in Liverpool, with 150 professionals from theme parks, zoos, museums and other attractions from both the UK and Europe networking and learning about the latest trends and developments in the industry.

Great though the day was (and here is a full report of the day’s speakers and presentations) it’s often the après-ski activities accompanying these events that are best remembered.  For example, though I can remember little about the Paris Euro Attractions Show in 2013 I will never forget the magical evening IAAPA put on at the Musee des Arts Forain.

A Little Help from My Friends

So it was with “blooloopLIVErpool*”. We had arranged, through the kind agency of our sponsors, a number of  add-ons to the conference, the aim of which was to allow our delegates to have fun and to mingle in a relaxed, informal environment. Ideally with alcohol, music and animals.

The Night Before

Chester Zoo, not far from Liverpool, was our host for a wonderful night, allowing guests a VIP look behind the scenes at “Islands” the recently opened expansion to the Zoo and to meet the team behind it.  The biggest zoo project in Europe,  Islands features six South East Asian islands – Panay, Papua, Bali, Sumatra, Sumba and Sulawesi – and a river ride along with a host of creatures indigenous to the region. The bus to the Zoo was sponsored by dan Pearlman, the architect and designer behind Islands  and in terms of a welcome and their hospitality over the course of the evening,  Chester Zoo’s MD Jamie Christon, Marketing Director Caroline Sanger-Davies and their team really pushed the (beautifully painted, authentic, Indonesian fishing) boat out for us. Cartoon Network provided very handy ponchos.

Once at the zoo, 60 of us were divided into 3 groups and taken round Islands by zoo guides.  They were passionate, informed and clearly loved their jobs.  This made for a diverting tour, their enthusiasm infectious. The enclosures were huge and although we didn’t see all the animals, we managed to catch, among others, the Sumatran tigers (a mother with two challenging teenagers), some splendid dinosaur-like hornbills and saw the Gharial do something to a white rabbit no reputable magician would contemplate.

The signage and information in the Islands is creatively integrated into the whole chester zoo logoexperience and the entire area is highly themed incorporating original artifacts from the region with, for example, the fishing boats having been shipped in from Indonesia. On a warm summer night, even the rain – in truth, traditional Lancashire drizzle – only served to heighten the humid, tropical feel of the Islands.

We were later treated to a BBQ by our kinds hosts Chester Zoo. The team had warmed up for the blooloopLIVErpool visit with a VIP visit earlier in the day from the Duke of Westminster (the Zoo’s President).

The visit was seamlessly planned, everyone we met from the senior executives through to the catering staff were pleasant and enthusiastic and it was clear that they were proud to show off their zoo.

Mattel Play! Liverpool

Allan Leech Mattel Play! Liverpool

The following evening, immediately after the conference, delegates were invited to the nearby Mattel Play! Liverpool, recently opened on Albert Dock. Kindly hosted by operator Heritage GB – and served champagne on entrance by CEO Allan Leech, we were shown around the new attraction, which features the characters Thomas the Tank Engine, Fireman Sam and Bob the Builder. Lappset Creative, blooloopLIVErpool’s Platinum sponsor designed, manufactured and installed the themed play equipment in the attraction.

A Hard Day’s Night

made in liverpool beatles tribute band

We ended the day with a party at Parr Street: Studio 2 .  One of the city’s famed recording studios, the venue has hosted acts and bands including The Smiths, Coldplay, Take That, Justin Beiber, Barry Manilow, Rihanna, Pauline Quayle and many, many more.

We had a brilliant Beatles tribute act, Made in Liverpool, who played two sets and were great entertainment and top musicians.  Although the four loveable mop-tops themselves were not all able to attend (Farmer, Kent and Willrich were there, Murphy couldn’t make it), a fantastic evening was nonetheless had by all, with the band rattling through a huge number of Beatles songs and delegates drinking and dancing till late. The evening was generously sponsored by Lappset, the Finnish Play equipment manufacturer.

Good Morning, Good Morning

beatles memorabilia at the beatles story liverpool

The following morning, I took my slightly heavy head the 50 yards from the hotel to The Beatles Story for another dose of the Fab Four.  The attraction, which recently announced record-breaking attendance, is essentially a Beatles museum which looks at the history of the band with extensive use of archive footage and memorabilia/merchandise from the sixties. TARDIS-like, the attraction has a fairly low-key entrance yet boasts a considerable footprint and a large number of galleries which run chronologically through The Beatles’ story.  It is a pretty comprehensive take on the development of the band with a skillful blend of  audio, video,  and authentic objects. Crucially the technology used is not invasive or overpowering.

restaurant at the beatles story

In the rather lovely restaurant (which like the shop was larger and more lavishly stocked than I expected) we chanced across a Japanese Beatles Tribute act, One after 909, who were in town to celebrate the 50th anniversary of The Beatles’ first trip to Japan. A testament to the enduring power of the music and the brand.

And like blooloopLIVErpool, this post ends with some stirring music from the world’s greatest band, so here’s the act you’ve known for all these years: The Beatles performing “Revolution”.

* Pun kind courtesy Richard Parry, UKTI.

5 Reasons Why Shanghai Disneyland Is Unique

Tron Ride

On Thursday 16th June 2016, Disneyland Shanghai opened to much fanfare and attention around the world.

After 7 years of planning, $5.5 billion, 700 imagineers and 2.4 million plants, the gates opened to the public, and those attending the Asian Attractions Expo (AAE) (and half of Shanghai) went to visit.

Disneyland Shanghai Castle

Along with the park, Disney opened two hotels, Disneytown dining and shops, and the first Mandarin speaking broadway-style Lion King Show.

I toured the new park with two Disney World cast members, who gave me an ongoing commentary on the operations and similarities between the two resorts. What struck me was just how different this new park was for Disney – 12 years after Hong Kong Disneyland opened, and the first in mainland China.

Bob Iger Shanghai Disneyland

Bob Iger (white T shirt) spotted touring the park on the second day of the Grand Opening Weekend

Marty Skylar, retired Head of Imagineering, has been quoted saying this is the “best park we’ve ever done”. However, I think as each park is designed specifically for a certain audience, it is hard compare them directly. Here is what I think makes Disneyland Shanghai unique for Disney.

1. Cultural Sensitivity

Canoes Shanghai Disneyland

With 95% of guests from mainland China, the park is no doubt “authentically Disney and distinctively Chinese”. There is no “American” Main Street USA, but rather a character-themed Mickey Avenue to funnel guests into the park. Queue lines are shorter as the Chinese don’t mind close proximity to each other. There are more shows as well as character meet and greets, passive activities and lots of picture taking! There is no Haunted Mansion, as ancestor worshiping is a common practice in China and this would be deemed disrespectful. Even the size and shape of Mickey Mouse’s eyes have been changed, though it is not clear this is a development designed to resonate more with an Asian audience or simply the start of the roll-out of a new look. Minnie too appears to have lost her blue eye-shadow.

Michey Small Eyes Shanghai Disneyland

As one of the 5% of guests who were non-chinese it was helpful that many signs had an English translation, though some of the rides had no English at all. This was particularly bemusing on the “Once Upon A Time Adventure” where an animated 3D Snow White and her animal friends (I think) told us to point and interact with them but we were unable to really engage as we didn’t understand her instructions! However this was the only point in the whole park where the meaning/message was missed, as the theming and story-telling translates on all rides in a very Disney way.

3D Animated Snow White Shanghai Disneyland

The new Gardens of Imagination “land” features seven gardens including the Garden of Twelve Friends: mosaics of 12 Disney animals all a different Chinese Zodiac- which in turn allowed for an entire merchandise range for the 12 animals ( $ kerching Disney!).

2. New Technology

“You are going to be blown away by Pirates”

Pirates of the Caribbean Facade Shanghai Disneyland

All week we kept hearing this on the show floor – and if industry veterans are excited for a ride then I knew it must be good- and it did not disappoint.

The re-imagined ride uses ENORMOUS high definition screens that are blended with the scenery to support the story, but are not completely dependent on it. Throughout the ride are new AV effects such as one that changes a skeleton into an animatronic Captain Jack Sparrow. Nearly 50 years after the original ride opened in Disneyland California, technology has moved on and Disney have utilised this to give a much loved attraction some oomph!

Shanghai Disneyland Treasure Cove

3. New Patented Rides

Rising above Tomorrowland was the new Tron Lightcycles Power Run, an ultra-futuristic coaster with what is in essence a motorbike coaster design. Guests sit on the seat motorbike-style , (“light cycles”) and by pulling the handles towards you the back restraint moves and keeps you safely in place, yet you don’t feel trapped.

Tron Ride Vehicle Shanghai Disneyland

The ride then goes from a standing start to shoot outside the ride building to go back in and “race” a competitor bike on projection screens. Though such a system is not unique, this is a beautifully conceived and designed ride from Vekoma, with the theming, the AV, the smooth, rapid ride and the atmospherics delivering a truly futuristic experience.

Tron Ride Shanghai Disneyland

The Pirates of the Caribbean boat vehicles are unique to the park too – for the first time, the boat’s movements are not controlled by the water current, therefore the boat can speed up, turn, and go backwards allowing much greater control of the story and what the guests see.

4. The Size

Adventure Isle

Shanghai Disneyland is MASSIVE at 963 acres. Larger than Disney World’s Animal Kingdom, the park is big, so wear comfy trainers and put your Fitbits on! The streets are very wide and there seems a lot of space to enjoy the theming of the park including grass spaces and gardens. The largest ride is Pirates of the Caribbean, taking up a whopping 175,000 square feet.

5. A focus on newer IPs

Not surprisingly Disney has used a lot of its resources on newer IPs that are more familiar to the Chinese audience. Frozen is just as huge in China, with an entire Anna and Elsa dedicated show. The first Marvel area of any Disney Park utilises the newly purchased franchise, allowing guests to meet Captain America, Spiderman and friends, as well as take cover inside from the heat/rain.

Frozen Anna Elsa Shanghai Disneyland

Even the Pirates of the Caribbean ride has shifted its focus to be squarely on the film IP and the story of Jack Sparrow, however there are still some nods to the original ride (such as the skeleton dog with the keys).

With only some slight hiccups in operations and having to adjust to mass Chinese culture, I have no doubt Disney are onto a winner with mainland Chinese tourists, city locals and tourists. Hardcore Disney fans will also want to see and compare the new re-imagined Disney park. With 10-12 million visitors expected in the first year this is a hugely impressive endeavour and I can’t wait to go back!

Disneyland Shanghai Tired

How to Display an Acid Trip

How to display an acid tripThe Danish town of Roskilde, approximately 30 minutes from Copenhagen, is home to the Roskilde Festival, one of the biggest music festivals in Europe drawing 130,000 people every summer for a week of camping, partying, music, drinking and cultural activities.

How to display an acid tripIt is now also home to ‘Ragnarock’, a museum of rock, pop and youth culture.

Opened in April, the attraction focuses on the evolution of music merged with youth culture from the 50’s to present day, and is housed in a building that suggests that this place is indeed like no other.

The giant, golden, almost cathedral-like structure with a dramatic overhang and the dark red interior of the lobby certainly give a profound sense of arrival. The spectacular building was designed by Danish COBE and Dutch MVRDV.

But, how do you display and communicate intangible stuff like ‘music’ and ‘youth culture’?

I spoke with Sebastian Gyrst-Longsig Christensen of White Noise Agency, the creative force behind the museum’s concept and design.

How to display an acid trip

“Early on, we decided not to tell the story in a traditional, linear form. Instead, we focused on key aspects of the story and ended up with 11 themes such as fan culture, the concert experience, the recording studio, etc. The order of the themes is random, allowing us to take out themes and replace them with new in the future.”

“Each of these themes then features what we call a ‘time carousel’, where we take a deeper look at the theme in 3 different decades. In the ‘dance room’, we explore the phenomena of dance by dipping into rock’n’roll, hip hop and rave.”

How to display an acid tripThe exhibits feature lengthy video interviews with people who were part of the scene and artefacts such as posters and clothing. For many visitors, however, the main attraction may be the dance floor, where you get to try to dance with a kinetic figure (top image) and see how good you are at throwing your hands up in the air at a rave party.

Sex and Drugs and Rock’n’Roll

Another theme deals with more controversial issues such as politics, sexuality and integration.

How to display an acid trip“Sex, drugs and rock’n’roll didn’t come from nothing,” Sebastian says. “The music scene has always reflected new trends in society, be it gay rights, sadomasochistic sex or political views.”

In this room, visitors get to see Anne Linnet’s stage costumes, which caused quite a stir in Danish society when she launched her band Marquis de Sade and started to sing about sadomasochistic relationships, complete with whips and leather corsets 80s style. A video features a recent interview with Linnet who also addresses what happened when she came out as a lesbian after the Marquis de Sade period.

Ragnarock Museum How to display an acid tripIn the ‘light room’ visitors get to test lighting equipment, from 60s-style psychedelic liquid light shows to today’s video mapping. You can also put your head through a hole and view what an acid trip could look like.

An Unorthodox Museum Experience

“Basically, we wanted this to be an unorthodox museum experience. We have a lot of artefacts displayed in traditional, climate-controlled display cases, but the emphasis has been on giving people the overwhelming feeling of being part of music by using aggressive graphics, strong colours, interactive features and, of course, lots and lots of music,” Sebastian explains.Ragnarock Museum How to display an acid trip

“Each room has a giant, feature item, such as a massive mirror ball in the dance room or a huge cassette tape in the demo room, giving a clear sense of the theme.”

Unusual in the museum industry, the Ragnarock attraction was designed without the help of an architect.

“The majority of the design was done by graphic designer, Robert Nagy from Heavy TM, simply using Sketch Up, an inexpensive 3D modelling software. We had help with our interactive features by Jesper Harding and No Parking, who designed the attractions according to our brief.”

The museum gives the visitor a feeling of leaving without having seen everything there is to see – with good reason.

“If you hear every sound clip and see every video there is on display you’ll spend more than 24 hours in the museum,” says Sebastian.

Ragnarock Museum How to display an acid tripThe museum, aiming to attract 50-60,000 visitors a year, admittedly features mostly Danish musicians.

“Yes, our focus is Danish, but rock music has no borders,” says Sebastian. “It’s impossible to talk about youth culture without mentioning The Beatles or The Rolling Stones but the majority of the exhibits are Danish.”

Which, in some cases, takes the Danish visitor on a sweet trip down memory lane. All text is in Danish and English however, and the museum will give the visitor to Denmark a unique  insight into modern Danish culture.

Ragnarock How to display an acid tripAnd, just like youth culture itself, the museum aims at being in constant development.

“We have many new things in the pipe line,” Sebastian says. “One of the things we are looking at is making the toilets a part of the attraction by letting each toilet represent a different music venue. We are also planning a smaller, pop-up version of the museum to travel to the music festivals this summer.”
















Coining it – The new Royal Mint Experience

Last week, I was lucky enough to attend the press day for the new Royal Mint Experience in Llantrisant, South Wales. The attraction, run by Continuum Attractions, celebrates the rich heritage of the Mint and the importance of coins throughout history.

Royal Mint Experience AV

While I’ve always had a healthy interest in money, I soon realised how little I knew about the coins rattling around in my purse.

Did you know, for instance, that one in three pound coins in circulation is a fake?

Royal Mint Experience Coin Film

The attraction, designed by Mather & Co, and AV by Figment Productions, features a short intro film, a view of the factory floor (the sound of money is amazing!), a film showing the life of a coin and a fantastic projection showing the various locations of the Mint through history.

Royal Mint Experience Factory Tour

There are 5 zones: Money Around the World, How Coins are Made, Military and Sporting Commemorative Medals, the Meaning of Coins and Collecting Coins.

There are also some great interactive elements for kids including a hidden ‘see a penny pick it up’, a wishing well you can throw pennies into, and an interactive Penny Farthing.

Royal Mint Experience kids interactive

The tour guides deserved their own commemorative medals for the sheer volume of information they had memorised for the guided tours:  the force needed to press each coin, the number of coins made per minute, the production rate of the factory… Small change is a surprisingly big deal.

I learnt so much on the tour and I think that’s why it will appeal not just to coin enthusiasts, who no doubt will love it, but to families and tourists alike.

My Top 5 Fascinating Facts:

  1. This is the first time the Royal Mint has opened its doors to the public in its thousand year history. Originally based in the Tower of London for 500 years, the Mint moved across the road to Tower Hill to accommodate steam machinery. It finally moved to the much bigger site at Llantrisant to accommodate the huge amount of new coins needed for decimalisation.

Royal Mint Experience Tower of London

  1. The Royal Mint is the World’s largest exporter of coins, producing coins for over 100 countries worldwide – 15% of the worldwide market.
  2. The Royal Mint Experience is the only place in the country where you can mint your own pound – I got to push the button and 650 tonnes of pressure marked my blank coin with the last round pound design.

Royal Mint Experience £2 Coins

  1. 1 billion new 12-sided pound coins are being produced in the factory ready for introduction in March 2017. The new coins are extremely intricate to help dissuade counterfeiters.
  2. The inscription on the £2 Coin – “Standing on the shoulders of giants” – is a quote by scientist and mathematician, Sir Issac Newton, who was Master of the Mint for 30 years.

Royal Mint Experience Penny Lane CarThe attraction sold over 10,000 advanced tickets before its official opening on 18th May 2016. A winner?  I’d put money on it.

blooloopLIVErpool 2016

We are delighted to have Continuum Attractions as Gold Sponsor for the Northern Powerhouse Panel Session at BlooloopLIVErpool on the 29th June 2016. The session will be led by Continuum CEO Juliana Delaney and include Jamie Christon, MD of Chester Zoo, Nick Thompson, Deputy Managing Director at Blackpool Pleasure Beach, and Heritage GB. 

Eventbrite - blooloopLIVErpool