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Mainland China is starting to get its Mickey on.
Disney (NYSE: DIS ) broke ground on Shanghai Disneyland this morning, setting the stage for a presence in a financially potent city in the world's most populous nation.
Hong Kong Disneyland got off to a slow start a few years ago, but it should be different this time. The family entertainment giant has learned from its earlier hiccups. The new park is also at a more compelling site.
Shanghai Disneyland will be within a 3-hour drive of 330 million people. Yes, a larger population than the entirety of the United States will be a day trip away. This is also a generally affluent region in China, so paying up for admissions, concessions, and stays at the pair of adjacent hotel resorts won't be a problem when the $3.7 billion attraction opens in 2014.
Disney has also had time to break in its characters. It's been five years since it struck a deal with Shanda Interactive (Nasdaq: SNDA ) to put out Disney online games in China. It has also moved ahead on a much needed expansion at Hong Kong Disneyland to increase the amusement park's brand appeal.
Running a global theme park chain isn't easy, but Disney's not going it alone. A conglomerate of government-owned companies will hold a majority stake in the endeavor and co-manage the park.
Most of the domestic park operators prefer to stay closer to home. Cedar Fair (NYSE: FUN ) does have a park in Canada. Six Flags (NYSE: SIX ) only kept one park apiece in Canada and Mexico when it sold off its international properties.
Blackstone's (NYSE: BX ) Merlin Entertainments has had success growing its Legoland chain globally. There are a couple of overseas parks branded by what is now Comcast's (Nasdaq: CMCSA ) majority-owned Universal Studios. However, Disney's parks have historically ranked at the top in terms of annual attendance.
In short, this is a big deal -- even if we'll have to wait another three years or so to see it.
Have you ever been to a Disney park outside of the United States? Share your thoughts in the comment box below.