Rollercoaster ride to Hong Kong Disneyland opening
[09 Sep 2005] HONG KONG (AFP)




When Mickey Mouse officially welcomes visitors to the three billion US dollar theme park here for the first time next week, he will no doubt breathe a sigh of relief that the rollercoaster ride to its opening has ended.
With problems from scam artists, run-ins with environmentalists and complaints about everything from the park's size to the food at its restaurants, the run up to Monday's opening day has been anything but a fairytale.

"It appears Disney has never had to deal with the likes of Hong Kong people before," quipped local commentator Nury Vittachi.

Disney is more sanguine: "We have already seen that our guests love the resort once they have a chance to experience it first hand," it said in a statement.

"We are confident that 50 years of operating experience will allow us to create a fantastic guest experience."

The most notable hiccup was an episode that Nemo, Disney's loveable cartoon fish hunted by a shark in the "Finding Nemo" movie, would no doubt have approved of.

In a huge promotion, Disney proposed to serve shark's fin soup at wedding banquets in the resort's two hotels.



Environmentalists, however, saw red and launched a global online campaign to have the item scrapped, blaming consumption of the luxury traditional Chinese dish for plunging shark populations.

In a bruising row, Disney initially resisted, saying it would serve the soup out of consideration for cultural sensitivities in Hong Kong where it is regarded as a delicacy.

But with its image as an animal-loving company threatened, Disney was forced to climb down and pull the meal.

Sharks were not the only aquatic creatures at risk; marine conservationists predicted catastrophic consequences for nearby coastal waters when the park was given the go-ahead in 1999.

Situated on 126 hectares of partly reclaimed land on leafy Lantau Island, it stretches across Penny's Bay Bay, an area that once housed a shipbuilding yard.



Green groups blamed the stirring of coastal mud laden with contaminants from the ship yard for a decline in the numbers of rare Chinese pink dolphins that once thrived nearby.

Among the most anticipated of Disney's attractions are the daily fireworks displays. However in smoggy Hong Kong, where air pollution is a growing concern, campaigners also complained the smoke posed a health risk.

Although repeated, government-monitored tests found no fault, Disney's refusal to use virtually smoke-free -- and more expensive -- launch technology angered Friends of the Earth Hong Kong.

"It will make the already bad pollution even worse," said a spokesman, Hahn Chu. "We expect the smog levels to reach record highs as a result."

For a company that makes cuddly caricatures of insects like crickets and caterpillars, Hong Kong Disneyland has been troubled by real wildlife.

An infestation of wood-boring insects reportedly forced the replacement of some guest-room furniture and dozens of wild dogs took to scavenging for food in the park.

After a pack reportedly chased park chief Don Robinson as he drove onto the site, Disney had 45 caught and killed. The public outcry, however, forced the company to adopt more humane -- and more expensive -- controls.

Disney's arrival was heralded with the promise of tourism riches for all -- and some took that literally, cashing in with scams.

Elected official Law Kam-fai was jailed for two years after stealing 800 tonnes of rocks to sell to landscapers building a nearby ornamental pond, in the process destroying a pristine local river.

And only this week, Disney was presented with what is likely to be an ongoing problem when touts were found to be selling tickets for a pre-opening charity day in an online auction.

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