China's Jurassic Dream is racing toward a 2013 grand opening with plans to double the size of the dinosaur-centric indoor theme park within three years of the fast-tracked debut.
PHOTOS: Jurassic Dream theme park in China
Designed by Burbank-based Thinkwell Group, the 20-acre theme park will be located in Daqing, a petroleum-rich city of 3 million people in northeast China that has been the site of numerous dinosaur fossil finds.
"Kids all over the world love dinosaurs, but in China they have an emotional connection to dinosaurs because they are right in their backyard," said Thinkwell creative director Dave Cobb. "Dinosaurs are a matter of cultural pride."
An indoor theme park was really the only feasible solution for an area that experiences temperatures that drop to 20 below Fahrenheit in the winter. The upside of an indoor space, of course, is the utter lack of wind, humidity, rain, heat or cold.
Crews broke ground on Jurassic Dream in March after a double-time design phase. Outdoor construction must be completed by October before frost renders the ground impenetrable.
Thinkwell was able to work at a rapid pace in large part because the team at Daqing Dream City Investment Management presented a clear vision for the project and then let the creative team execute the plan without any waffling or second-guessing.
"We were able to use existing technologies to tell new stories with unique twists," Cobb said.
Thinkwell recently completed the Making of Harry Potter studio tour in England and is currently working on the Monkey Kingdom theme park in China.
The first phase of 14-attraction Jurassic Dream will be larger than Nickelodeon Universe indoor theme park at Minnesota's Mall of America, smaller than South Korea's Lotte World, dubbed the world's largest indoor theme park, and about the same size as the 21-acre Ferrari World in Abu Dhabi.
Jurassic Dream's domed Festival Garden atrium will serve as the central hub of the park with the major attractions ringing the perimeter.
The Flight of Mu Yuan sky ride will take passengers on a circuit around the atrium, passing over dinosaur-themed carousels, bumper boats, kiddie trains and spinning rides. Among the atrium highlights: A brachiosaurus-themed half-pipe ride based on Zamperla's ever-popular Rockin' Tug.
The sky ride, a suspended coaster by Dutch ride maker ETF, recalls Pteranodon Flyers at Universal's Islands of Adventure but features individually powered "flying bird" vehicles that can speed up or slow down.
Outside the atrium, Dinosaur Encounter is expected to be the park's E-Ticket attraction, a walk-through exhibit that transports visitors via a time machine back to the dinosaur era.
"People want to see dinosaurs up close, they want to be scared by dinosaurs, they want to see dinosaurs being born," Cobb said. "We wanted to pay off on those emotions in a drastically new way."
Inside the walk-through exhibit, visitors will pass through 10 natural habitat scenes filled with animatronic dinosaurs, large-scale puppets and special effects under the guidance of live performers serving as paleontologists.
During the finale, things go horribly wrong inside a volcanic caldera and the visitors are attacked by raptors and almost eaten by a Tyrannosaurus rex.
"This one has a high scare factor," Cobb said. "We're going to be encouraging people to use the restroom before they enter the attraction."
Among the other major attractions:
> Flames of Fury: The Wrath of Zu Rong fire and water show tells the story of the Chinese god of fire set in the ruins of an ancient temple. Think: Poseidon's Fury at Universal's Islands of Adventure meets the former Backdraft attraction at Universal Studios Hollywood blended with a mythological storyline.
> TimeTrek features a pair of side-by-side flying theaters where viewers soar with pteranodons in "Primal Flight" and swim with dolphin-like ichthyosaurs in "Into the Abyss." The Soarin'-style attraction built by Canada's Dynamic Attractions features articulated seats that extend into a spherical screen in an experience euphemistically dubbed "Dinosaurin' over China."
> The Mystic Caverns Express indoor family coaster built by Mack Rides takes passengers through the dark past black-lit crystals and into glowing caverns on a heavily themed journey that's light on thrills. Think: Universal's Revenge of the Mummy crossed with Disney's Big Thunder Mountain.
> "The Dream Begins" water show will play out on a man-made lagoon before a mountain backdrop with an array of lighted fountains, projected images and special effects. After telling a story that spans from the Big Bang to the dawn of the dinosaurs, the nighttime spectacular concludes with a parade featuring dancers, drummers, horn players and puppeteers. Thinkwell created the similar "Universal 360" water show at Universal Florida.
> With treehouses connected by raised walkways, Dino Discovery serves as a prehistoric playground for younger kids featuring fossil digging and rock climbing in a jungle environment.
The second phase of the Jurassic Dream project, set to open by 2015, will add up to 50 acres of additional attractions both indoors and outdoors with a hotel envisioned in the future.