By Brady MacDonald
11:56 AM EDT, July 17, 2013
The first of 10 theme parks planned for a 2,000-acre resort billed as the "Orlando of China" is expected to open in late 2013 after three years of construction.
The $2-billion marine-based Chimelong Ocean Kingdom theme park on Hengqin Island in China is to be connected by bridge to Macau and by ferry to Hong Kong.
Chimelong Group already operates a resort about 75 miles northwest of Hong Kong, in Guangzhou, that includes the Chimelong Paradise theme park as well as a safari park, water park, crocodile farm and hotels.
Ocean Kingdom, built on reclaimed land that was once an oyster bed in the South China Sea, is to feature nine water-themed lands designed by PGAV Destinations, a St. Louis-based firm that has created theme park attractions for Universal Studios, Six Flags, SeaWorld and Busch Gardens.
In a region known for inferior ride knockoffs, Ocean Kingdom plans to install brand-name attractions by Switzerland's Bolliger & Mabillard, Chance Rides of Wichita, Kan., and Germany's Zierer and Mack Rides, according to Funworld magazine.
Plans call for Ocean Kingdom's signature ride to be a parrot-themed B&M winged coaster with the working title of Flying Over the Rainforest. The park also is expected to feature a pair of water-centric roller coasters by Mack Rides similar to Atlantica and Poseidon at Europa-Park in Germany. A Mack dark ride has also been announced.
An artist's rendering of Ocean Kingdom shows a 190-foot-tall whale shark icon hovering over a central lagoon expected to host a nighttime spectacular.
Several SeaWorld-style stadiums are to host marine animal performances by Beluga whales, dolphins, sea lions and walruses. Large aquariums are to exhibit penguins, polar bears, manta rays and rare dolphins. The planned centerpiece of the park: a 6-million gallon aquarium dubbed the "largest window in the world" housing a whale shark, a threatened species and the world's largest fish.
The initial phase of construction is also expected to include an outdoor shopping mall with a tunnel-like LED digital canopy, a 1,000-room hotel and convention facilities.
Plans to build the world's tallest Ferris wheel and the world's longest wooden coaster have been postponed; the rides may appear in future theme parks envisioned for the resort.
Chimelong Group's chairman, Su Zhigang, whose wealth the Wall Street Journal estimated at $390 million in 2012, envisions building 10 theme parks on the massive property with a dozen hotels, three golf courses, two yacht clubs and a 60-story hilltop landmark rivaling the Eiffel Tower.
As with any ambitious project, many of the proposed elements may never be built.
Related theme park stories and photo galleries:
Universal Studios Hollywood: Wizarding World of Harry Potter
Six Flags Magic Mountain: Full Throttle
SeaWorld San Diego: Aquatica
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