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A New Voyage for the Pirates


If you’re looking at things to come at theme parks, take a ride on “Pirates of the Caribbean.”

What? Are we kidding?

That’s been around forever.

Or just about.

But not in China.

And if so, so what?

And anyway…

That far away country is not likely be in your plans for the next decade or so, is it?

But Disney’s newly opened park (June 15) in Shanghai, China is a taste of the future.

And while you may not now have any plans to jump an American Airlines plane to make the trip, what is happening in Shanghai should be of interest to you.

The reason is that you will see more of what’s happening in China without having to go there.

It’s all coming, in one form or another, to your own local theme parks.

“Pirates” is a good example.

It shows what Disney World Orlando ticket buyers will find in the future.

(No, we have not been there ourselves. Not yet. But we asked friends and read other accounts to find out what is going on there).

Here’s a condensed report worth reading from CNN which points out that while some of your fan favorite rides may be missing, the existing ones have a complete revamp. And that is a positive.

The report says:

“The best example of this is Pirates of the Caribbean: Battle for the Sunken Treasure.

A far cry from the original Pirates ride created by Walt himself back in the 1960s, this hi-tech version is the largest attraction in Shanghai Disneyland, taking up 16,340 square meters.

Boats are controlled magnetically so they can spin or go backwards to maximize views of all the scenes, which feature the latest animatronics technology.”

You may not agree but the Wall Street Journal found Pirates in its version at Walt Disney World Resort and in California to be known in the past as a “kitschy voyage.”

It was dismissed as featuring yo-ho-ho spouting “animated pirate robots” (So what’s wrong with that?).

But since the Journal writer went to Shanghai, he found “nothing kitschy” about their new version.

Real pirates come to life

It all seemed real to him.

The boat ride itself. And the shipwrecks and giant squids. And the threats portrayed in the ride.

“Visual effects projected onto massive screens make riders feel as if their boat is plunging fathoms beneath the sea, amid shipwrecks and giant squids, or surging back to the surface in the throes of a naval battle.”

So he writes.

Not only that. But the characters also seem real, not fake.

Human beings.

“Animated characters are more haunting than amusing, particularly a skeleton that morphs into Jack Sparrow,” the report said.

In case you have forgotten, Jack Sparrow was the pirate captain played in the movies by Johnny Depp.

If this is “hype” or not deserved commentaries on the new park, others also found this pirates to be a winning exploit.

“The hype is deserved. ‘Pirates of the Caribbean: Battle for the Sunken Treasure’ is nothing like any ride you've ever experienced,” writes the Orange County Register Reporter.

Others agree: no hype here

The exterior of the ride is the fictional city of Tortuga.

Treasure chests full of dubloons are lying about with wine bottles and swords. While waiting in line, you'll see scenes like the rides in the US with vintage furniture and skeletons.

The first part of the ride takes place underwater, as if your boat has been sucked down by Davy Jones.

Then the boat rises, and you're in the middle of cannon blasts among battling ships.

The ride uses robots, projection images and even old-school singing faces like those inside the Haunted Mansion.

But it all works together for what the newspaper account calls a “mind-blowing experience.”

Captain Jack fights Davy Jones as riders float perilously close.

”The ride is amazing. It feels like you're sailing into the middle of an IMAX dream with CGI images overwhelming your senses.”

Boats are bigger here. They run smoother. No tracks. The boats are pulled by magnets beneath the surface.

The only thing missing is the song: “A Pirate’s Life for me.” But there were no complaints about that.

Similar to other Disney parks, Pirates is also a flagship attraction here.

But what is fairly new is that Disney has applied movie style digital effects to new rides.

What stands out in the new rides: the technology that was never seen before.

New high-tech thrills

That includes some high-tech thrills.

One example is “The Tron Lightcycle Power Run.”

It recalls sci-fi films featuring super speedy motorcycles.

“The ride’s technology— a motorcycle- like perch that secures from the back and sends riders careening headfirst down a track— was invented by Disney theme- park designers.

The design was later paired with “Tron” because it matched the films’ hotrod bikes so well,” another news report said.

What Disney did was create a roller coaster almost entirely inside a giant dark room.

What it might remind you of: it’s a cousin of Disney’s “Space Mountain.”

“But in Shanghai, the headfirst experience is more visceral and projections on the wall conjure up a race against another team of lightcycle riders,” reviews said.

The ride towers over Tomorrowland with lights that might remind visitors of American parks. The walk-up to the ride recalls “Space Mountain.”

“The sound is like an amplified video game with a pulsing beat,” says the Orange County Register.

“The two movies on which the TRON attraction is based weren't really that good, but the ride is great,” it adds.

To further imagine the ride

You straddle the Lightcycles and lean forward to grab the handlebars. As you pull the handlebars, a pad pushes up on your back to hold you in place. It's like you're on a racing motorcycle.

After a countdown, you shoot straight ahead. Then you twist and turn going over the line of guests waiting for the ride.

An onslaught of computer images overwhelms you as you zip through the colored lights. This all whips you through darkness indoors and then to the open air outside.

It's a neon explosion on a sleek black cycle.

Hopefully, this won’t spoil the ride if you ever make it there: but one difference from Space Mountain (which you may be familiar with) is that it is a minute shorter in length.

The ride lasts only two minutes instead of three.

Another futuristic ride

The ever-popular “Soaring” ride in the China version is immensely popular.

Why?

In large part because of its IMAX-like screen.

It definitely achieves its goal of making riders think they are flying over the Eiffel Tower and the Great Wall, reviewers say who have ridden it.

As you know….“Soarin” takes you and your dangling feet over sights such as the Taj Mahal.

Disney executive Bob Chapek says the Chinese version is “a substantial step forward” from previous attractions.

The main reason: technological advancements.

The photography is done with high-definition cameras and laser illumination.

There is also what Chapek calls proprietary shooting techniques that separate Disney’s effects from the rest of the world.

During months of testing prior to the opening, the ride became the most popular one at Shanghai Disneyland.

Chapek said:

“It wildly exceeds everybody’s expectations.”

In Shanghai, the ride’s back story is that a shaman helps each guest release a birdlike ability to fly.

“Soarin” whooshes over six continents. It features:

-- the Matterhorn mountain in Switzerland

-- the Neuschwanstein castle in Bavaria

-- the Sydney Opera House in Australia

-- a balloon festival in Monument Valley in the American southwest

-- the Iguazu waterfalls in Brazil

-- a deserted island in the South Pacific

-- the Eiffel Tower in Paris

-- the pyramids in Egypt

-- the Arctic Circle in Greenland

-- the Great Wall of China

-- the Taj Mahal in India

-- a savanna in Africa

-- the skyline in Shanghai

Ending your ride in style

The end of the ride features fireworks

But even less thrilling rides have some high-tech connections.

At the “Enchanted Storybook Castle,” the “Once Upon a Time Adventure” features 3-D figurines.

Sounds ho-hum. Nothing new.

Except these figures respond to viewers’ actions.

They also are amazingly realistic with props that are equally real.

So what about “Marvel” and “Star Wars?”

Can US visitors like us expect some startling new rides from these Disney’s ride versions?

This may be a disappointment.

“Fans hoping for rides based on recent Disney acquisitions Marvel and Star Wars may be disappointed, as there’s nothing interactive— only character meet- and- greets, short films and memorabilia,” according to one report.

Are you, like us, somewhat curious about the opening of Shanghai Disney Resort itself?

If so, it was a rainy day for the venture…which took more than 25 years to become a reality.

The opening gala - meant to be a bonanza of fireworks, live music and dance - was rained off on during the first night.

Disney faces rain and other bad news

At the same time, at Walt Disney World in Orlando….worldwide news media focused on the story of a young boy who was grabbed by an alligator and killed.

But that did not dampen the positive reaction in China.

This sounds familiar by now: thousands of Chinese visitors from hundreds of miles away waited anxiously for the grand opening.

And similar to US visitors, they said the wait was worth it.

To meet and greet Mickey Mouse and others (obviously a favorite character here as well as in the United States).

There were long lines, of course.

And there was another familiar issue: price complaints.

Shanghai has two pricing tiers: $76, and off peak $56.

That is the lowest cost of the six world Disney parks. But Shanghai is one of the most expensive parks in China.

Walt Disney Company chairman/CEO Bob Iger has called the park the entertainment giant’s “greatest opportunity since buying land in Florida.”

Walt Disney World in Orlando gets almost 20 million visitors, in the latest figures. Shanghai is expected to get 15 million in its first year.

This prediction comes despite the increasingly crowded Asian theme park market.

New theme parks are booming there, despite the fact a single day’s ticket could represent several days or even weeks of work for ordinary working people.

But Disney’s new park is strategically located with 330 million people within three hours of the park.

But how is this Disney version different?

In deference to Disney’s efforts to make it a distinctly Chinese park, Main Street USA is gone. So is Frontierland.

No such things in China (particularly western-booted gunslingers of the wild west).

Main Street is now Mickey Avenue

Replacing Main Street is Mickey Avenue. It has a Wandering Moon tea house and a Chinese Zodiac-themed garden with performing acrobats.

And if you stay there…

Not all the high-tech elements here are obvious.

But Shanghai Disney Resort hotels include new technologies and design elements that include heating and cooling that will improve energy efficiency and reduce greenhouse emissions by 300 percent from the park as an entire operation.

Some reviewers say the Shanghai Disneyland Hotel may be the most luxurious theme park hotel in the world.

Luxury touches include marble floors and dark wood crown molding.

It also has “Beauty and the Beast” statutes and bamboo trees that stretch through the top two floors.

The style is art nouveau from Disney’s own career start in the 1920s.

Five movies inspired the art that hangs on the walls: “Peter Pan,” “The Lion King,” “The Little Mermaid,” “Fantasia” and “Beauty and the Beast.”

The grounds offer walkways with views of the “Storybook Castle,” as well as other landmarks. There’s water fountains in the shape of peony flowers.

The hotel’s swimming pool is a work of art. It’s called King Triton's Pool, from “The Little Mermaid.” It features wall mosaics of Ariel and blue and gold pillars.

Souvenirs are not overlooked.

In “Tinkerbell Gifts,” you can buy six different types of chocolate packaged in Disney storybook covers.

They also offer “Frozen” Elsa dresses, Mickey and Minnie snow globes and collectibles commemorating the grand opening of Shanghai Disneyland.

Hotel rates start at $250 or very high for that part of the world.

Staying at a less expensive place

The other new hotel here is the 800-room Toy Story Hotel. The cost is less or 850 yaun (about $120).

Reports say it is dedicated half to Sheriff Woody and half to Buzz Lightyear.

There are two-story tall statues of each character anchoring their respective wings of the hotel.

Each room, in keeping with Chinese culture, is equipped with tea kettles and slippers.

On the Shanghai Disney Resort property, the Toy Story Hotel is the “value” property of the two choices.

The popularity of “Toy Story” in Asia is obviously a major reason for its name.

News reports say The Toy Story Hotel is designed for families.

That means small seats for children and low sinks in some of the bathrooms.

There are also characters walking around to interact with guests.

Disney films are playing on televisions in several common areas in the hotel.

“The rooms are small and have wooden chairs and tables, and a cupboard that looks like a Rubik's cube. The shower curtain features drawings of Woody and Jessie. There is a Buzz pack of toothpaste on the bathroom counter,” observed one newspaper account.

Food choices at the Sunnyside Café include a chicken leg with teriyaki sauce, pork necks with Thai salad and shrimp dumplings.

Also gift shops featuring…you name it.

One located just off the lobby is the Lotso gift shop, named for the huggable (and not-so-nice) character in the “Toy Story 3” film.

In case you have forgotten, that film at the time also broke new ground for technology. ###