Disney’s “Turbocharging” of Theme Park Business Gathers Pace With ‘Frozen Land’ Launch in Hong Kong

A full decade after the Walt Disney Co.’s musical animation Frozen became a worldwide box-office phenomenon — and the enduring soundtrack to the lives of parents with little kids everywhere — the very first theme park attraction dedicated to the film is set to open its doors Monday at the Hong Kong Disneyland Resort.

The belated leveraging of the internationally beloved IP is expected to drive further gains for Disney’s lucrative, newly renamed Experiences group, including its theme parks, cruise lines and consumer products businesses, which reported a 31 percent surge in operating income last quarter.

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The launch also underscores the role the Asia-Pacific region will play in Disney’s recently unveiled plans of “turbocharging growth in our parks and experiences business,” as CEO Bob Iger put it on the company’s fourth-quarter earnings call earlier this month. In September, Disney said it will spend $60 billion over the next 10 years to expand its parks and cruise lines — nearly double its investment in the sector during the last decade.

Among Disney’s portfolio of six theme park resorts around the world, Hong Kong Disneyland is the location perhaps most in need of a boost. The park, which is jointly owned by Disney and the Hong Kong government (with the government holding a slight majority), has reported a loss for the past eight financial years and made profits only in three years since its opening in 2005. The park faced several significant headwinds over the past few years, including a steep decline in civic activity and mainland Chinese tourism during Hong Kong’s 2019-2020 pro-democracy protests, followed by the city’s lengthy border control policies throughout the pandemic.

“[World of Frozen] is going to entirely change the footprint of this theme park, bringing completely new fans and families into the franchise,” Josh D’Amaro, chairman of Disney Experiences, said in an interview Thursday with The Hollywood Reporter. 

The executive added that he had toured the new Frozen attraction earlier in the day with filmmaker Jennifer Lee, co-creator and co-director of the Frozen films. “To see her walk into this space and be completely immersed and overwhelmed, quite frankly, by what she saw — this is a big deal,” he said.

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Wandering Oaken’s Sliding Sleighs ride at Disneyland Hong Kong’s World of Frozen.

D’Amaro said Disney settled on Hong Kong as the first global location for a Frozen land because it “knew that the guests in Asia and in Hong Kong were asking for this” and “we just saw a huge opportunity to do it right here.”

Hong Kong’s World of Frozen brings a number of iconic scenes from the movies to life, such as North Mountain, Elsa’s Ice Palace, Arendelle Castle, Friendship Fountain and the Clock Tower where Anna dances with Prince Hans. The area also features three flagship attractions: Frozen Ever After, a family-friendly boat ride that immerses guests in the music and world of the films; Wandering Oaken’s Sliding Sleighs, a high-speed rollercoaster through the landscapes of Arendelle; and Playhouse in the Woods, a high-tech interactive show featuring Anna, Elsa and Olaf.

Business at Hong Kong Disneyland has already begun improving ahead of the new attraction’s upcoming opening next week. In its quarterly earnings report on Nov. 8, the company said the international branch of its Experiences division saw income rise more than 100 percent to $441 million, with higher attendance and higher ticket prices at its Shanghai and Hong Kong parks offsetting weaker results at its domestic parks in California and Florida.

“As borders have opened up, flights continue to come in and visas get easier to get your hands on, we’ve seen really nice growth here,” D’Amaro said from Hong Kong. “With the addition of this new land, it’s going to open people’s eyes wide in terms of this being a place for them to come now. So we have high expectations here.”

Disney already had announced several significant expansions of its parks and cruise lines overseas before revealing the $60 billion spending plan for the coming decade. The World of Frozen opening in Hong Kong is to be followed by the long-planned launch of a Zootopia-themed area at the Shanghai Disney Resort in December, a Frozen Kingdom attraction at the Tokyo Disney Resort in spring 2024 and a another Frozen-themed Kingdom of Arendelle area at Disneyland Paris in 2024/2025. Disney launched cruise lines in Australia and New Zealand for the first time in October, and thanks to the popularity of the first sailings, the company recently unveiled expanded voyages to the two countries for 2024 and 2025. A Disney Cruise Lines seaport is also planned for Singapore in 2025 — a first in Southeast Asia. In the most recent full fiscal year, Disney invested $5 billion in its parks, resorts and cruises.

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Arendelle Castle at Disneyland Hong Kong’s World of Frozen.

D’Amaro declined to say what share of the upcoming $60 billion spend has been earmarked for domestic versus more international projects in Asia.

“All of the sites today are performing exceptionally well,” he said, referring to Disney’s parks in Hong Kong, Shanghai and Tokyo. “We will continue to invest there, and I think this can be augmented with other experiences outside of these three theme parks.”

Disney has revealed massive domestic expansion goals as well, but those ambitions may ultimately depend on forces beyond its control. The company wants to redevelop land next to the original Disneyland in California, but doing so will require the City of Anaheim to change a policy that restricts where such attractions can be built. The city is scheduled to vote on Disney’s proposed changes to the rules in late 2024. Disney also previously said it would spend $17 billion to expand Florida’s Walt Disney World over the next decade, but those targets are in limbo amid the company’s high-profile legal dispute with the state’s governor, Ron DeSantis.

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