One of America's most popular entertainment icons, Mickey Mouse, has arrived at his newest home in Asia. Disney opened its latest theme park Monday in Hong Kong with tens of thousands of people joining the festivities.
With Sleeping Beauty's castle in the background, Mickey Mouse and Disney's cartoon friends arrived in Hong Kong Monday greeted by a colorful traditional Chinese lion dance.
" I now declare Hong Kong Disneyland officially open," said Disney's Chief Executive Michael Eisner.
Mr. Eisner officially opened Disneyland's first theme park in China to thousands of visitors, celebrities and senior Hong Kong and Chinese officials in a distinctly "East meets West" atmosphere.
Children from Hong Kong and from other Disney theme parks sang "It's A Small World" in Chinese, Japanese, French and English with the auspicious color red dominating the scene.
Only six years ago, the site of Hong Kong Disneyland was a mere speck of rocky beach. But a massive land reclamation transformed it into a wide expanse of fake forests, rivers, castles and futuristic space rides.
Hong Kong Disneyland is a close replica of the original Disneyland theme park in California, but with a distinctly Chinese flavor in a bid to attract millions of tourists from China. For a measure of good luck, the park's opening day was chosen based on Chinese geomancy or feng shui. Its restaurants offer Chinese-inspired menus and Mickey Mouse and friends can be seen wearing the traditional Chinese outfit.
Roy Tan Hardy, Hong Kong Disneyland's vice president for marketing and sales, says demand for tickets has been strong. "We've created a world class family destination right here in Hong Kong," he said. "Whether the guest comes from Taiwan, Beijing, Sydney or right here in Hong Kong, guests in Hong Kong Disneyland resort will make magical memories that would last a lifetime."
The park expects more than five million visitors in its first year.
But Disney's opening here has been far from a fairy tale. The theme park was forced to pull the Chinese traditional sharks' fin soup from its restaurant menu after protests from environmental groups.
The park also had to fend off criticism over its handling of stray dogs in the area and the allegations of exploited labor in Chinese factories making Disney products.
The Hong Kong government owns more than half of the theme park, which cost more than $3 billion to build. The government hopes to earn at least $19 billion over the next 40 years.
But that happy ending appears to be clouded by the possibility that Disney might build a new theme park in China in the next few years, potentially robbing the sparkle from Hong Kong.
But for now, the whole city seems to be under the spell of the so-called Disney Magic.