Russian Disneyland Wants Your Rubles (All Of Them)
Giant theme parks are something Americans kind of take for granted, but as new ones pop up in other countries, it's always cool to take a look at them and marvel at the different ways that other cultures imagine excitement and fantasy. But a theme park in Russia presents a ton of challenges, the first of which is the weather. Russian weather famously sucks, so you can't exactly have an all-outdoor park and expect it to be open year-round (hard to profit on a big venture that's closed half the year). Even in Florida, it's much more fun to go on Splash Mountain at lunchtime in July than at 9:30 in the morning in January.
That's why Russia decided to go all-in on, drumroll please, the largest indoor theme park in Europe, Dream Island. It opened officially on February 29, and you can tell the ambition was certainly there, if not the love. There's already a good walkaround video from Theme Park Insider:Walking down what appears to be Dream Island's version of Main Street, USA, it's very obvious that you're indoors, and that's definitely disorienting in its own way. The ceiling lights make it very clear where the ceiling is, and doesn't exactly give you the feeling that you're in a dream or on an island. You can tell where to buy food because of the sign on the left that reads (translated) "Restaurant" and where to buy souvenirs because of the sign with a Hello Kitty that simply reads "Gifts." It also doesn't take long to notice that the acoustics in this place are just terrible. The screeches of children on rides echo over the constant drone of people having regular conversations, and adds to the more Las Vegas-y feel that you start to get the more you look at the storefront facades.
There are nine areas of Dream Island to explore, and it's hard to say exactly how they were chosen. There's the Smurf Village, Hotel Transylvania (yes, that one), Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Hello Kitty, and "Mowgli in the Dinosaur Land," all of which seem to have a more character-centric theme, and then there's the Abandoned House, Fairytale Village, Snow Queen Castle, and Dream Race. There'll also be character encounters specific to Russian culture, and dear lord, please let there be a Cheburashka running around somewhere. There's also a ton of outside-the-park development yet to come, including something called a "yacht school," and boy does that leave us with some questions.
There's a reason that the Disney Imagineers get so involved in the idea of immersion. They want you to really feel that you're on a submarine going down to the depths of the ocean with Nemo and Dory, or taking a trip on a real rocket ship to Mars, or actually escaping the clutches of the First Order. They go to great lengths then to ensure that there's not cowboys walking through Tomorrowland or otherwise take you out of the experience of each thing. But in Dream Island, you look down and see the plumbing and/or electrical work in the water below a dinosaur, or see a weird haunted castle next to the Smurf Village, and it just looks like spaghetti being thrown at the wall instead of a meal made with love.
What's also upsetting for local families is that it's honestly kinda pricey for what you're getting. This whole kit-and-kaboodle cost about $1.5 billion, with a B, and in the theme park industry there's a fine line to walk between "we gotta get that investment back NOW!" and "we've gotta be patient and put the time and work in here to build loyalty." So the price tag on tickets for a family of 4 is about $163 for a family of 4. Disney Annual Passholders will laugh at that figure, but the average Muscovite doesn't quite have that amount of disposable income at the ready.
It's an attempt at a Disney-esque theme park that, while laudable in scale and effort, only serves to harken to a whole host of other Soviet-era imitations. Maybe this'll be a hit someday with further time and money thrown at it.