On Saturday, Russia opened a grand theme park that is being seen as its answer to the United States’ Disneyland. Called Ostrov Mechty (Dream Island) and built at $1.5 billion, it spans 30 hectares in southern Moscow.
It is the culmination of six decades of ambition to rival Disneyland, opened in California in 1955. The Moscow Times described it as a “fairy-tale theme park” and said all the stories, characters and attractions in Dream Island are Russian-themed.
Dream of 1959
The Soviet Union’s first proposal to build such a theme park came way back in 1959. A 2018 article in the publication Russia Beyond the Headlines (RBTH) recounts what happened during the Cold War atmosphere.
Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev travelled to the US in 1959 but was barred from visiting Disneyalnd. Very upset, he decided to build a a better Soviet version.
The project, named “Wonderland”, was meant to be very different from Disneyland with its American characters. Wonderland, spanning 260 hectares beyond western Moscow, was planned to showcase the Soviet Union. The plot was to match the map of the Soviet Union, with specific zones.
The best architects and even leading Soviet science fiction authors Aleksander Kazantsev and Ivan Yefremov were involved in the project. Specialists were sent to the US on fact-finding missions, RBTH says.
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The budget was 600 million rubles, enormous for those times. The first tranche of funding was allocated. But when Khrushchev was removed from power in 1964, most of his projects were cancelled, the article says.
So, what is in it?
In another article, published last week, RBTH looks at how Dream Island compares with rivals in other countries, particularly Disneyland. The assessment is by RBTH’s “own expert — a parent of three, who’s visited every Disneyland and Universal park, a few Six Flags, Legolands and Thorpe Park, as well”. The verdict: it is “not very” Russian after all.
“The park looks and feels like it could have been anywhere in the world and was built clearly to mimic a typical theme park, such as Disneyland or a Universal theme park… Hello Kitty and Smurf themes are used as theme zones for smaller children, with rides typical for such a park worldwide. One ride in the Hello Kitty zone is quite similar to Disney’s well-known spinning teacups, but there will also be a beauty salon for little princesses,” the article says.
The New York Times, too, observes that Dream Island may remind some visitors of Disneyland. In place of Elsa from Frozen, there will be the Snow Queen, while The Jungle Book is replicated by a version in which the jungle is populated by talking dinosaurs. The NYT quoted Alena Burova, a publicist for the site, as saying: “The word Disneyland is on people’s tongues. In Russia, we say Disneyland when we mean just a theme park.”
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