Disneyland in Sand: The Blankenberge Sand Sculpture Festival

If you’re traveling near Brugge, Belgium, over the next two weeks, you might be wondering if you took a wrong turn somewhere and ended up in the outskirts of Paris. No worries – your GPS is not broken – you’ve just stumbled upon the annual Blankenberge Sand Sculpture festival. This year’s theme happens to be the recreation of the Disneyland Paris Resort, based on the Magical Moments Festival currently underway.

Drawing a team of nearly 40 of the most talented artists in the world, Blankenberge’s Sand Sculpture Festival is a world-renowned event that continues to grow each year. In 2010, it set the world record for the longest sculpture promenade at 841.80 meters – more than a two hour walk!

While past festival themes have taken inspiration from Disney elements, the recreation of an entire Disney theme park in 125 sand sculptures is a first.

Enter the first festival tent and find yourself in the middle of Disneyland Paris’ Main Street, U.S.A. Intricate details and elements are vividly captured in each of the sculptures, helping to bring that special Disney magic to life.

As you wind through the tent, the sculptures seemingly get more detailed and larger than life as you now find yourself in Fantasyland with iconic Disney attractions, like Dumbo the Flying Elephant and the Casey Jr. Train.

Much like each of the Disney Theme Parks, the central focal point is the iconic princess castle. The tallest and most elaborate sculpture in the initial display tent is undoubtedly Sleeping Beauty’s castle, which is flanked by many legendary and modern day Disney princesses.

While most people stopped to admire the castle for what seemed like hours, I found myself drawn to the labyrinth that was just ahead. Next to the 3-D experience of watching Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland movie – or perhaps a visit to an Amsterdam coffee shop – this is probably the closest any of us will get to “being” Alice.

%Gallery-132752%Nearly one-third of the first tent was devoted to Alice and her labyrinth. Each turn presented a sensory overload with walls of sculptures and iconic Alice in Wonderland characters. Pose by the Cheshire Cat, have tea with the Mad Hatter, or take a toke with Absolem the Blue Caterpillar

In what has been a seemingly wet summer for parts of Europe, the outdoor sculptures have fared surprisingly well. Here you can walk around many iconic Disney “E-Ticket” attractions including Big Thunder Railroad, Space Mountain, Hollywood Tower of Terror, and my personal favorite – Phantom Manor – Disneyland Paris’ version of the Haunted Mansion. Complete with the cemetery, a visit on a stormy day is definitely a great way to get in the Halloween spirit now!

Another tent includes an ode to Disney movies and everyone’s favorite pirate – Jack Sparrow. A mix between notable Pirates of the Caribbean attraction elements and the movie characters, this is a definite festival highlight for many Disney fans.

Sadly, it seems the pirates in the jail scene might’ve had their sentence lengthened since the dog’s key didn’t survive the duration of the festival. You’d almost have to assume since they’ve been trying to bribe the dog since 1967, one more year won’t make that much of a difference.

Other Disney classics include characters from Peter Pan, The Lion King, and even The Jungle Book. And it wouldn’t be a complete recreation of Disneyland Paris without the one-year-old Toy Story Playland and Disney-Pixar characters, showcased in the third and final tent.

Despite Disney fans’ divided opinions on the land as a whole, you can’t help but love the artists’ whimsical recreations of Toy Story Playland elements, including the entrance marquee. Represented Pixar movies include Wall-E, Monsters, Inc., Ratatouille, and Cars 2.

If you are interested in visiting the Blankenberge Sand Sculpture Festival this year, you better hurry as the Disney magic ends on September 12. The festival is open 10am – 7pm daily and prices are €11 for adults, €9 for students and 60+, €7 for children between 4-12 years old, and children under 3 are free.

Don’t despair just yet if you didn’t make this year’s Disneyland themed festival. There’s a chance you might be able to see something similar at one of the Disney Theme Parks in the future. While nothing is official yet, Nieuwsblad.be has reported that representatives from Disneyland Paris and Walt Disney World held talks to discuss the potential of building sand sculptures in both theme parks. With Walt Disney World’s 40th anniversary right around the corner on October 1st, and Disneyland Paris approaching its 20th anniversary next year, anything is possible with a little pixie dust.

Shanghai to get a Disney theme park: Does it need one?

In five to six years, Shanghai will have joined Tokyo, Hong Kong and Paris as a city out of the U.S. with a Disney theme park. China may or may not need a Disney theme park, but Disney’s aim is that the Shanghai location will help create a mighty want for Disney products among the country’s population.

With 1.5 billion people in China, Disney is hoping that the big bucks it will cost to dazzle the multitudes will pay off in other avenues. As anyone who has ever been to a Disney property knows, the theme park is not just a way to be wowed for a day or two; it’s a gateway into other Disney habits. The hope is that the wow moments are enough to make you crave more.

For example, not only is the Pirates of the Caribbean ride now one more place to get a Johnny Depp fix as Captain Jack Sparrow, it’s a marketing tool for all things having to do with the movie. As Depp, aka, Captain Jack Sparrow makes appearances throughout the ride, and then talks so provocatively right before the end, the connection to the movie is not subliminal advertising–the type where an image triggers off our subconscious.

Nope, by the time we climb out of the ride at the gift shop, it’s no surprise to see shelves laced with every sort of Pirates of the Caribbean merchandise that has ever been cranked out. (Ironically, most of it is probably cranked out in China.) There’s no other way to end this particular ride but to push on through the gift shop, not the easiest thing to do without a purchase when one has a child in tow who now has Captain Jack Sparrow on the brain.

Disney is hoping that the Chinese families who fork out the money to enter its theme park will leave wanting more Disney. DVDs, video games, touring musicals and more are the perfect Disney fix for creating some of Disney’s magic back at home.

For the Chinese government, the hope is that Disney in Shanghai will provide tens of thousands of jobs for people who are in need of viable employment.

Because it is possible to teach an old dog new tricks sometimes, this Disney park will incorporate Chinese history and stories into some of its attractions. Many classic Disney rides will be included. I bet Captain Jack Sparrow will be speaking Chinese. Ni hao, Johnny!