When “Frozen” hit the big screen in 2013, it took the world by storm. An ice storm, to be exact. When it debuted a decade ago, Elsa’s icy magic, Olaf’s warm hugs and Anna’s spirited personality made “Frozen” the highest-grossing animated film of all time, spurred an even-higher-grossing sequel in 2019 and created possibly the most oft-repeated soundtrack to ever hit listeners’ ears.
Now, this beloved fairy-tale world gets its own land for the first time (yes, in forever), as the World of Frozen has been brought to life at Hong Kong Disneyland’s largest-ever expansion. This immersive land transports guests to Elsa and Anna’s Kingdom of Arendelle in a way that feels both authentic to the Nordic cultures it drew inspiration from and magical in a way that only Disney can pull off.
Ahead of the land’s official opening on Nov. 20, Hong Kong Disneyland “opened up the gates” to TPG for a behind-the-scenes tour of the World of Frozen from the creative team who spent years conceptualizing, designing and building a real-world Arendelle.
Bringing ‘Frozen’ into the real world
This land is the culmination of a multi-year collaborative effort between Walt Disney Animation Studios and Walt Disney Imagineering Asia. When you enter World of Frozen, it’s clear the teams left no snowflake unturned when conceptualizing, researching and designing the land so that every guest who steps inside feels like an honored guest of Arendelle.
But it all began with a movie about two sisters and their love for one another. Josh D’Amaro, chairman of Disney Experiences, knew from the first time he saw “Frozen,” that it could be just as successful inside Disney’s theme parks as it proved to be on the big screen.
“When there is a film that is so clear in terms of what it is and what it means to you, in your heart, you can see how that’s gonna translate into a world that we and Imagineers are gonna want to bring to life. This was one of those movies,” D’Amaro said in an interview with TPG, along with Jennifer Lee, chief creative officer of Walt Disney Animation Studios and writer/director of “Frozen” and “Frozen 2” during our visit to World of Frozen. “When you have a story like that, and then you get a reaction from the world like we did, there’s not a question that we’re going to start to think about ‘How do we build that,’ ‘How do we bring it to life,’ in the way that we have here,” he added.
Now, it’s been seven years since Disney began work on this real-world version of “Frozen” in Hong Kong. “When you realize how many years folks have been working on this and how long it takes to build it and how thoughtfully they’ve built it, I’m in awe of that,” Lee shared.
Those years were spent researching Norwegian architecture, art and cuisines, analyzing ice colors and textures and dreaming up ways to make guests a part of the story in the living, breathing land that exists today.
Reward your inbox with the TPG Daily newsletter
Join over 700,000 readers for breaking news, in-depth guides and exclusive deals from TPG’s experts
Setting the stage
In the World of Frozen, every day is Summer Snow Day – the annual holiday that marks the day Anna and Elsa saved the Kingdom of Arendelle. The town goes all out for the celebration, with colorful banners and decor and well-wishes for a “Happy Summer Snow Day” from every townsperson you encounter.
The land is divided into two sections – Arendelle Village and Arendelle Forest.
The two sections are connected by King Agnarr Bridge, named for Elsa and Anna’s father and Arendelle’s one-time king. In Arendelle Village, you’ll find the Frozen Ever After ride, Tick Tock Toys & Collectibles souvenir shop, Golden Crocus Inn quick-service eatery and Northern Delights sweet shop.
This area is also where you’ll find some of the most iconic landmarks from the “Frozen” films, including Elsa’s Ice Palace, Arendelle Castle and the clock tower where Anna and Hans shared their first dance. Funnily enough, Lee shared during our interview that the clock tower was only introduced into the film because the filmmakers wanted an excuse to have Anna and Hans do the robot dance.
Across the bridge in Arendelle Forest, you can take a ride on Wandering Oaken’s Sliding Sleighs, witness Elsa’s ice magic at Playhouse in the Woods, grab a snack at Forest Fare and shop at Traveling Traders.
As is often the case at Disney, equally important to the buildings that line the streets are the people who fill those streets and bring them to life.
During our visit, the Royal Arendellian Troubadours played jubilant tunes as they marched through town, the Royal Arendellian Conjuror performed magic tricks for onlookers and townspeople celebrated by singing, dancing and games, often recruiting visitors to join in the revelry.
At many Disney parks, the outside world is hidden from the view of guests, but not in World of Frozen. Somehow, the suspension of reality is made all the more real by Lantau Island’s mountain vistas visible in the distance. The gardens and rockwork created for the land blend perfectly with the tree-covered peaks, an East Asian design technique called Shakkei, or “borrowed scenery.”
Along with the architecture, the attractions, the cast members and the other elements of the land, this is just one of many “transformational elements that says ‘I’m somewhere else,'” that D’Amaro believes bring the land to life.
Attractions and experiences in the World of Frozen
Frozen Ever After
Frozen Ever After is a boat ride that takes you through favorite scenes from the “Frozen” films, including Troll Valley, North Mountain and Elsa’s iconic Ice Palace while characters sing “Do You Wanna Build a Snowman,” “Let It Go” and other cherished songs from the films. This ride does have a few drops but is mostly a sing-along boat ride the whole family will love.
Frozen Ever After is similar to the version located in Epcot at Walt Disney World, with a few distinct differences that elevate it above the original.
The setting feels more fully-themed from floor-to-ceiling, the experience is about one-and-a-half minutes longer and the Hong Kong version uses some of Disney’s most advanced animatronic figures to date. The characters’ features are incredibly animated and lifelike, making the experience even more immersive.
“What was so amazing was the level of the animatronics … they’re incredible,” Lee said. “It’s not an iteration of Olaf or a puppet. It’s Olaf. There’s just a moment where I’m like, ‘That’s him.’ It’s just so visceral. And when Elsa’s singing ‘Let It Go’ and I’m going ‘I’m here and it is her,’ and it’s because it’s so true to the film,” she added.
Even Lee, who is arguably closer to these characters than anyone else, shared that seeing how true the characters in the ride were to the ones she helped create brought her to tears.
“To be able to take something that is on a 2D plane and turn it into this incredible animatronic; they make it look easy, but it’s at a level I’ve never experienced before. I was just pouring tears,” she revealed.
Wandering Oaken’s Sliding Sleighs
Wandering Oaken’s Sliding Sleighs is an all-new, family-friendly coaster you can only experience at Hong Kong Disneyland. In honor of Summer Snow Day, Oaken created the coaster behind his trading post to entertain visitors to Arendelle. You may even spot him in his sauna in the queue.
During the ride’s short climb, you’ll see Olaf sitting atop Sven the reindeer’s back, dangling a carrot in front of him to encourage him as he runs along the treadmill that powers the sleighs. Once you reach the top of the hill, you’ll zoom across hills, over the water and through caves before returning to Oaken’s Trading Post.
With only about 980 feet of track and a quick one-minute ride time, this sleigh ride is short and sweet. Kids will love it and parents will love seeing the smiles on their faces as they ride. It isn’t the fastest or most thrilling Disney coaster, but it isn’t meant to be. The length and thrill level are just right for kids, but the theming and views of the land will appeal to adults, as well.
“The experience is phenomenal. You can picture a five-, six- or seven-year-old with mom or dad and family coming around that first turn with your stomach moving just a little bit to say, ‘Look what I just did!’ And doing it in story. I think this is gonna be incredible,” D’Amaro said.
The length of the ride should only become a concern if the wait times climb above the 30-minute mark since that is a short ride if you have a longer wait. But with two other attractions and so much to experience within the land, hopefully, wait times will stay manageable.
Wandering Oaken’s Sliding Sleighs has a minimum height requirement of 95 centimeters or about 37 inches.
Playhouse in the Woods
Located next to Wandering Oaken’s Sliding Sleighs, you’ll find Playhouse in the Woods. This playhouse is Elsa and Anna’s secret childhood hideaway, where they are now welcoming guests to join in their adventures.
Part meet-and-greet and part interactive theatrical experience, Playhouse in the Woods is unlike any other Disney attraction.
Elsa and Anna walk amongst guests as Elsa calls the elemental spirits into the room. This attraction uses physical sets, projection mapping and a few icy surprises to create a spellbinding experience for guests.
There are four different versions of the show and your experience even varies based on where you stand in the playhouse, so you definitely want to experience it more than once.
“The Imagineers were pretty bold with the way they thought about this land. Even the space that we’re in right now, which is, you know, what you traditionally call a meet and greet, but this is an actual experience now that will never be the same anytime you come back. And I think totally draws you in … it’s an emotional experience,” D’Amaro said.
If you do want to snap a photo with Anna and Elsa, you’ll also find them wandering the land in celebration of Summer Snow Day, along with Kristoff, Oaken and even Mossie.
Dining in World of Frozen
Disney went to great lengths to develop an authentic, fresh and flavorful food and beverage program for World of Frozen. Golden Crocus, a quick-service restaurant, is the land’s main dining establishment, though you can get various snacks and sweet treats at Northern Delights and Forest Fare, as well.
“We’re so lucky to have a chef who grew up in Sweden, in the Nordic area. We tried to look at all of the popular cuisines from the Nordic countries while we were planning the menus,” Manfred Wong, director of food and beverage at Hong Kong Disneyland Resort shared with TPG.
At Golden Crocus, you’ll find fresh and hearty Norwegian fare like lamb shank, mushroom pasta, meatballs and, of course, the seafood you’d expect to find in a village near the sea. The food and beverage team also took measures to ensure the menu items were prepared using healthier cooking methods.
For example, the Village Chicken Roll stuffed with ham and cheese is baked rather than deep fried and vegetarian options are available, as well.
For dessert, Wong is sure the Celebration Chocolate Fondue will be a big hit with anyone who loves chocolate as much as Anna and Elsa. To dip in the chocolate, you receive berries picked from Arendelle forest, Elsa-inspired blue and white marshmallows and four flavors of ice cream.
1 of 4
TARAH CHIEFFI/THE POINTS GUY
For an even bigger variety of sweet treats, you’ll find baked goods and other desserts, along with prepackaged confectionaries and kitchenwares that would fit right in at Arendelle Castle at Northern Delights. You can also get churros, cookies, ice cream or a pre-packed lunch for Arendellians on the go at Forest Fare.
Shopping in the World of Frozen
The merchandise in World of Frozen was designed to be just as genuine to both Arendelle and Nordic culture as everything else in the land.
“We wanted to be true to the land of Arendelle and to its Nordic heritage, culture, look and feel. So when we looked at the materials that were going to be used to create these items, it’s really the wooden, the knitted, the wool and the more kind of authentic Items that we were inspired by,” Mary Lam, Hong Kong Disneyland’s director of merchandise told TPG.
1 of 3
TARAH CHIEFFI/THE POINTS GUY
Yes, you’ll find “Frozen” t-shirts, bubble wands and stuffed animals, but you’ll also find wool sweaters, wooden toys and handknit headbands with “Frozen” characters on top inside Tick Tock Toys and Collectibles, the land’s primary souvenir shop.
Many of the items were created to help guests integrate themselves into the living, breathing story of Arendelle. “It’s all about the guests and how they want to express themselves. Every Arendellian guest is unique,” Lam said.
1 of 2
TARAH CHIEFFI/THE POINTS GUY
You can purchase nail stickers, hair bows and ribbons, jewelry and other accessories to customize your Summer Snow Day look. At World of Frozen’s outdoor souvenir stand, Traveling Traders, you’ll find some of these same items, along with cast members who will help complete your personalized style with hair braiding and face or hand painting.
One of the land’s most unique gifts immerses you even further into the story.
“When you come in to Tick Tock Toys and Collectibles, you can buy a postcard as you would in any special place. And then once you’ve written it — just like when you’re on holiday — you can pop it into the post box outside and we will mail to anywhere in the world,” Lam said.
1 of 2
TARAH CHIEFFI/THE POINTS GUY
Postage is included in the price of the postcard and it’ll even be stamped with a special Arendelle postmark.
After spending two full days in World of Frozen as it prepares to open, it’s clear that World of Frozen is setting a new bar for the kind of immersive stories Disney has the capability to tell in its theme parks. As soon as I walked through the tunnel and into the land, I felt as if I had left Hong Kong Disneyland and truly entered the Kingdom of Arendelle.
That was obviously by design, but that makes it no less complicated to pull off so effectively.
It was more than just fun rides and photos with characters. It was having Oaken wander up to me to chat about our days. It was having a ribbon braided into my hair. It was seeing the Summer Snow Day banners and hearing music all around me. It was agreeing to trade my iPhone to a villager for two carrots because he only had a large wooden camera.
I was in Arendelle. And, truthfully, even after two days, I wasn’t ready to leave. You can’t “do” everything in the land because the land is alive and always changing. The energy was so joyous and playful; why would you ever want to leave?
But, alas, the real world always comes calling. After experiencing World of Frozen and knowing the rich library of stories Disney could bring to life in the future, I can’t wait to find out where we can all be transported to next.