Come on down to Grizzly Gulch
Inspired by the gold rush and the American Wild West, Grizzly Gulch is a new attraction that opened at Hong Kong Disneyland last Saturday. Our junior reporters went along to explore the town, and to try out the ride. They also spoke to Joe Lanzisero, one of the imagineers in charge. Check out what they found out ...
Imagineering with Joe Lanzisero
Joe Lanzisero grew up in southern California, in the US. He first started out as an animator for Disney. He then became a story developer before finally becoming an imagineer. The imagineer says that telling people positive stories with inspirational messages is the most enjoyable part of his job. He likes it, especially in a world where people have to face many negative things.
Lanzisero talked about how stories are like movies - they all have a beginning, climax and an ending. The idea of having a theme plays an important role in the Grizzly Gulch design. The newly opened section, Lanzisero says, is man versus the wild: how mankind encroaches on natural resources and land, and tends to forget the consequences of their actions.
Making the idea happen
Grizzly Gulch is world-exclusive to Hong Kong. 'We wanted something not only unique in Hong Kong, but unique in the world, too,' Lanzisero says. 'We wanted to keep the tradition and tell a story, so we had to keep in mind that we needed to have one foot in the past and one in the future.'
Launched in 2007, the project took some five years to complete, and a line-up of 140 imagineers were involved in various tasks - for example, there were musicians, sculptors and project managers.
At first, they thought about a land which had never existed elsewhere. Then they turned that into reality. 'Just like a movie, we were trying to create a total sensory experience,' Lanzisero says.
It's fun to come up with ideas, the imagineer says. 'But unless you have a great team, the best idea in the world won't happen,' he adds.
A lucky day
What is so extraordinary about Grizzly Gulch is its story-based design. Every story on Earth has its time and location; the Grizzly Gulch story - set in the American Wild West - took place on August 8 in 1888. Eight is considered a lucky number in Chinese culture. The day - the eighth day of August, the eighth month, in 1888 - is thus the luckiest day of the luckiest month in the luckiest year.
Using the figure 8 is not a gimmick, but an architectural challenge. An 88-foot mountain was built to quadruple prosperity. The towering mountain is also accompanied by splashing artificial geysers. The combination of the landscape and geysers is meant to bring visitors to the forgotten world of the American Wild West.
The Wild West experience
Grizzly Gulch recreates an old Wild West town with one big difference - bears replace the cowboys. In the town of Grizzly Gulch, there is a fake jail, a bar and some buildings replicating the old Wild West.
Crew members and ride operators are dressed as cowboys, and so are Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse - merging a dream-like fantasy with the historical American Wild West.
Grizzly Gulch is perfect in every detail. There are even bear teeth marks on one of the road signs. Last but not least, you can smell a woody scent throughout the old town. Together with some Western-themed music, it feels like you have really gone back in time for an experience in the Wild West, and you're about to set off for a gold-digging adventure.
The roller coaster at Grizzly Gulch is called Big Grizzly Mountain Runaway Mine Cars and it is an exciting experience. During the ride, visitors get a look over Grizzly Gulch as they snake around the site. The whole journey also tells the story of grizzly bears as they appear in the tunnels and caves.
The ride is an interesting one because part of it goes forwards - and some of it goes backwards. The back-and-forward motion fits in with the story-telling nature of the ride. A bear scratches its back, inadvertently cutting a wire which pulls the mine train. The train then moves backwards.
The train backs on to a different track as another clumsy bear accidentally flicks a switch. It comes to a halt in a cave where bears can be seen fiddling with boxes of dynamite. The carelessness of the bears continues. They detonate the dynamite, propelling the train out of the cave until it speeds back to the starting point.
This ride is perfect for adrenaline junkies who are in search of a thrill that even the speed-of-light Space Mountain can't fulfil.
'If you can dream it, you can do it'
Who says a career talk has to be boring? Recently, our junior reporters attended Disney's Foundations for Career Success programme. The day included a behind-the-scenes tour of Hong Kong Disneyland's office.
A welcome environment
To stay true to the fun nature of Disney, the company conducts its job interviews in a casual and relaxing environment. When we entered Disney's interview room, we felt welcome, rather than anxious. The first impression is a vague Mickey Mouse presence - the room is painted in red, yellow and black, the main colours of the company's most iconic character. Disney wants not only its visitors, but also its employees, to enjoy a magical feeling the moment they enter the park.
Everyone is a performer
Working at Disneyland is not just a job, but a performance. Anyone who works at Hong Kong Disneyland - store workers, ticket collectors, and machine operators - all treat visitors not as their customers, but guests.
Employees feel more comfortable being part of a team that serves guests. At Disneyland, first impressions are especially important and cast members stay positive when on duty. That is channelled through their service, and felt by visitors.
This work-is-a-stage motto boosts the attitude of staff, and it means they are most comfortable providing quality service to visitors.
Self-belief is essential
During our visit, we spoke to Charles Thomas who is Disney's channel sales and distribution marketing director, and Christine Ng, manager of Disney youth programmes.
Thomas studied music at university and joined Disneyland in America. In 2007, he was assigned to a business trip to Hong Kong and decided to stay here. As a musician, he never thought that he would become an educator. But he is glad to have had the chance to do so, and since his arrival, he has helped Hong Kong Disneyland launch its first-ever youth programme.
Ng says having a fun environment helps learning. She bears in mind one of Walt Disney's quotes: 'If you can dream it, you can do it.' She thinks self-belief is an essential thing for all teenagers. She believes that if you set a goal and believe in yourself, then you will always prevail, regardless of the circumstances.
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