Two stories from our 2-month-old Shanghai Disneyland are taking center stage in this week’s Street View, one involving some irate visitors who had to wait in long lines for attractions that were closed, and the other a campaign to rid our subways of Disney balloons. But the real story here is the fact that our new Disney Resort has been relatively scandal-free in the 2 months since its grand opening in June, which seems like a major accomplishment due to the huge attention it’s attracting.
As a longtime reporter who formerly covered Disney, I can say with authority that the US entertainment giant is a magnet for publicity, both negative and positive. Any sort of accident or other negative thing that would normally be considered quite minor suddenly becomes major news when it happens inside a Disney resort, which undoubtedly causes numerous headaches for the company’s public relations team.
Even before it opened, our $5.5 billion Shanghai Disney Resort was already becoming a lightning rod for mini-scandals. Some of those involved ticket scalpers who are a regular fixture in today’s Chinese, but suddenly became more newsworthy when they were caught selling tickets to the park. Others involved the high cost of food at the resort’s restaurants, even high prices for such amenities are also quite common in similar parks where visitors have few other options.
I remember how Hong Kong Disneyland was also dogged at its opening by similar minor incidents a decade ago, including a scandal over the park’s decision to serve shark’s fin soup, a local delicacy, at some of its restaurants. That decision triggered an outcry from conservationists, and Disney ultimately decided to yank the item from its menus.
Fast forward to the present, where our own Disney Resort was in the headlines this past week after some irate visitors ended up waiting in line for hours for attractions that they later discovered were closed. According to media reports, some of the visitors waited for up to 4 hours to ride on 5 popular attractions including Pirates of the Caribbean, when they were told the rides were closed.
Disney responded by saying it occasionally has to temporarily close down attractions for maintenance and other reasons, though it didn’t comment on this specific case. The visitors demanded a refund for their tickets costing 499 yuan each, though Disney only agreed to provide them with free tickets to visit the park another day.
It’s difficult to comment too much without knowing more circumstances behind the actual situation. Long lines are common at Disney parks throughout the world, and at any other major amusement parks for that matter. During my own trip to the Shanghai Disneyland during the preview period in June, many of the rides were closed and at least one parade was cancelled at the last minute after it started raining.
Waiting in line for 4 hours, only to be told a ride has been temporarily closed, certainly seems like cause for frustration. But that said, this kind of wait certainly isn’t unheard of, especially in crowded places like Shanghai, and I’m fairly certain the only reason it became a news item was because it happened in a Disney Resort.
Next there was the other minor news item involving balloons, which again probably only made headlines because it involved Disney. It seems that visitors to the resort were taking free balloons they received onto the subway trains when they left. That’s considered a no-no, since such balloons are considered explosives and could technically pose a safety threat if they burst, not to mention the loud noise that might alarm other riders. The numbers did seem relatively small, with subway officials reporting that only around 20 balloons were being taken onto subways on average days.
Frankly speaking, such balloons probably are a bit dangerous when taken onto trains, less because of their potential to actually hurt anyone and more because they could startle others and cause a panic if they burst. But isn’t that why we have hundreds of security workers at all of our subway entrances, forcing the millions of people who use Shanghai’s metro each day to submit our bags and other items for scans that often seem useless and a waste of time?
At the end of the day, both of these stories are quite minor, and Disney itself should probably be commended for the relative lack of major problems in the first 2 months after the park’s opening. Of course it’s still quite early and other minor scandals are bound to happen as the park kicks into high gear. Perhaps we’ll see more complaints about long lines, food prices or controversial menu items, before such headlines ultimately subside and the media return to reporting more important news.