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In 1982, Tokyo Disneyland became the first Disney Park to open outside of the United States. Ten years later, Disneyland Paris (originally called Euro Disney) became the world’s second international park from the entertainment brand, followed by parks in Hong Kong in 2005 and Shanghai in 2016.
These parks take elements of the original Disneyland in California and Disney World in Florida and add their own regional flourishes, but all of them have one thing in common: They are hugely popular, drawing millions of annual visitors eager to check out the rides, performances, gift shops, and food vendors. (And of course, to say hello to the eternally friendly Mickey Mouse and friends.) Read on to find out eight things you might not know about Disney Parks around the world.
Japan Has Two Disney Parks — Right Next to Each Other
In the same way that Florida’s Walt Disney World is actually composed of four distinct parks — the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and Disney’s Animal Kingdom — the Disney resort in Japan is divided between Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea. Both offer completely different experiences. Disneyland is what fans call a “castle park” (meaning it has a signature Cinderella castle modeled after the ones in California and Florida), while Tokyo DisneySea is all about immersing oneself in an original nautical-themed world. Nevertheless, the two are separated only by a parking lot, which means that visiting them both is possible, if not in a single day, then in a single trip. Tokyo Disney Resort also features Ikspiari, which is similar to the Downtown Disney or Disney Springs dining, shopping, and entertainment areas.
Neither Park in Japan Is Actually Owned by Disney
Unlike the other Disney parks around the world, Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea are entirely owned by a company unrelated to Disney: the Oriental Land Company, which is headquartered in Urayasu, Japan. In the late 1970s, the Oriental Land Company and the Walt Disney Company struck a deal in which the former would borrow over $1 billion from Disney in order to build the theme park now known as Tokyo Disneyland. The park was an immediate success, and the Oriental Land Company quickly repaid its debt to Disney. In 2001, the two companies teamed up again to open Tokyo DisneySea. While the Oriental Land Company owns both parks, the Walt Disney Company retains creative control of them, which is why they both excel at capturing and disseminating the Disney brand and spirit, just the way Walt imagined it.
Shanghai Disneyland Is Built on a Former Graveyard
In 2016, after years of negotiations, Shanghai Disneyland opened its doors, becoming the first and only Disney Park in mainland China. The park, which is co-owned by Disney and a Chinese company named Shanghai Shendi Group, cost nearly $3.8 billion U.S. dollars to build, and represented one of the largest-ever foreign investments in China. But before this new park could open, a major obstacle had to be addressed. The land where the park was planned had until that point been a graveyard, so in order to break ground, the Chinese government announced that 1,200 tombs needed to be relocated. To make up for this, the government promised to repay the families of those buried in the former graveyard, and construction went ahead as planned. Now, Shanghai Disney occupies approximately 1.5 square miles on the eastern side of Shanghai, and more than 11 million Disney fans visited in 2019.
Shanghai Disneyland Has the Tallest Castle of Them All
Of the twelve Disney parks around the world (including those in the U.S.), six are “castle parks,” each featuring a magnificent building suited only for a fairytale princess (and her millions of eager guests). Sleeping Beauty Castle, at California’s Disneyland, was the first Disney castle to be constructed, followed by Cinderella Castle at Florida’s Magic Kingdom, Cinderella Castle at Tokyo Disneyland, and other similar iterations in Paris, Hong Kong, and most recently Shanghai. The newest version at Disneyland Shanghai is known as the Enchanted Storybook Castle, and at 197 feet high, it is the tallest of them all. Another fun fact: Whereas most Disney castles are dedicated to a single princess, Shanghai’s is a tribute to them all. In 2020, Tokyo followed suit, renaming its Sleeping Beauty Castle the Castle of Magical Dreams.
An Artisan Who Worked on Notre Dame Designed the Windows at Paris’ Castle
Le Château de la Belle au Bois Dormant is French for Sleeping Beauty Castle, and you’ll find this magical edifice at Disneyland Paris. Le Château has many awesome features, not least of which is a La Tanière du Dragon, a cellar housing an audio-animatronic dragon some believe to be an incarnation of the villainous character Maleficent. Others, however, believe it belongs to the wizard Merlin, whose workshop (which is actually a gift shop) is right upstairs. But the most charming elements of Sleeping Beauty’s Parisian abode are its original stained glass windows, whose design was overseen by an octogenarian Englishman named Paul Chapman. According to Disney fans, before coming onboard at Disneyland Paris, Chapman had worked on a restoration project for some very illustrious windows nearby: those at Notre Dame Cathedral.
Hong Kong’s Mystic Manor Was the First Ride to Use Innovative RFID Technology
Mystic Manor, a popular haunted-house like attraction at Hong Kong Disneyland, is unique for several reasons. The first is that, unlike the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland in California, Mystic Manor only appears to be scary — touring it is actually a pretty relaxed experience. The second is the technology that powers the Manor’s central ride, the “Mystic Magneto” electric carriages. There are 37 carriages, and instead of a track, they use RFID technology to run smoothly. Prior to the installment of the Mystic Magento carriages, no Disney ride had ever used RFID, which stands for radio-frequency identification, and is similar to the technology that allows scanners to pick up barcodes at the grocery store.
There Are Over 200 Species of Trees at Hong Kong Disneyland
Because Disney Parks are best known for their human-made attractions, it’s easy to forget about the planted landscapes that help enhance the parks’ appearances. In fact, there are over 400 species of shrubs and 200 species of trees decorating the grounds of Hong Kong Disneyland alone, which opened in 2005. While you can’t ride these or take them home as a souvenir, there’s something to be said for the Hong Kong park’s commitment to cultivating and maintaining this amount of greenery for guests to enjoy.
Hong Kong’s Cast Members Speak Three Languages to Guests
At Tokyo Disney Resort, it’s easy to get around with either Japanese or English; at Disneyland Paris, either French or English will do; and at Shanghai Disneyland, it’s Mandarin or English. But because most natives of Hong Kong speak Cantonese, Hong Kong Disneyland is the most multilingual of Disney Parks, catering to speakers of Mandarin and English, too. Not only do many of the attractions over audio in these three languages, but most of the Disney cast members at the resort speak all three, too, ensuring that the majority of guests will be able to understand as much as possible.