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Thousands throng opening of Shanghai's Disney Resort

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Thousands throng Disney's first theme park opening in China

First. That word was key to the mad rush of people who thronged the new Shanghai Disney Resort.

Thousands of Disney fans vied to be the first to dash through the gates of Walt Disney Co's first theme park in China, eager to be among the first to hit the Treasure Cove, ride the Roaring Rapids or visit Disney's tallest castle.

Ms Zhao Qiong, 36, was one of the first visitors to the park, along with her four-year-old daughter.

"My little girl has always loved Disney princesses, so I wanted to take her to the park to fulfil her dream," she said.

Visitors came from all over China.

Restaurant owner Guan Song, from the eastern province of Shandong, who was with his wife and their six-year-old daughter, said: "We have always wanted to go to a Disney park, but China did not have one."

The park, which is Disney's largest overseas investment at US$5.5 billion (S$7.5 billion), is a bet on China's middle class and booming domestic tourism.

The US firm hopes it will offset an otherwise lacklustre international theme park business, better known for cash-burning sites such as Euro Disney.

"This is one of the proudest and most exciting moments in the history of the Walt Disney Company," chief executive Bob Iger said yesterday at the official ribbon-cutting ceremony where he was flanked by Chinese government officials.

Mr Iger and Chinese Vice-Premier Wang Yang read out letters of support from US President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

But not everything has gone to plan for Disney.

The opening gala - meant to be a bonanza of fireworks, live music and dance - was rained out on Wednesday night.

And at Disney's park in Orlando, in the US state of Florida, a young boy was killed by an alligator.

Long queues at attractions - more than two hours for the film Soaring Over The Horizon - also dampened the celebratory mood for some.

"It's not worth waiting for two hours," said one man from the central province of Henan, who had his two sons in tow.

"I want to look for something faster."

Disney sees China as its biggest opportunity since Walt Disney bought land in Florida in the 1960s for what is now Walt Disney World, the world's most-visited theme park.

With that in mind, Main Street has been replaced by Mickey Avenue, to reduce the feel of Americana, and attractions include the Chinese-style Wandering Moon tea house, a Chinese Zodiac-themed garden and a Tarzan musical featuring Chinese acrobats.

Disney estimates that 330 million people within a three-hour radius of Shanghai will be able to afford to visit the park. - Wire services

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