We have a fun Hong Kong Disneyland trip report for you today from good friends Rory Osborne and Melanie Truan. Please join me in thanking Melanie and Rory for sharing their experience at Hong Kong Disneyland with all of us at MiceChat! – Dusty
We have just returned from a long and engaging trip to China, culminating in two days at Hong Kong Disneyland. We’d kept hearing that HKDL was a “small park,” and that we could do it in one day. Instead, we wished we’d had more time. In addition to some very cool attractions, we found ample opportunities to hang out, chat with the friendly cast members and guests, and appreciate the decorative qualities, little details, tucked-away spaces, in-jokes, and homages to Disney history. HKDL is definitely more than a one-day park. If you’ve got a few moments, we’d like to share our experience with you.
We had a ton of baggage from traipsing around China so we wisely took a taxi from Kowloon to the resort for the bargain sum of $6.50 USD. The Hong Kong subway also serves the park and is very convenient. The park sits on an island separate from the main city so staying on property makes the most sense if you want to maximize your time at the resort. We stayed at the Hollywood Hotel, a sparkling art deco structure that pays tribute to the Hollywood of the 20’s and 30’s.
The check-in process was straightforward, though the reservation process from the States could have been easier. There was no toll-free number to the hotel so we had to correspond via email, then FAX in the required forms and payment authorization. Nevertheless, the hotel was beautiful and our room was clean and well-appointed. The staff was great: friendly, helpful at every turn, and spoke enough English to meet our needs. There are three eateries, a retail shop, and nicely-landscaped grounds with a pool and waterslide. (It would have been nice if the pool had been open later so guests returning from the park could enjoy a dip before bed.)
The flagship hotel of the HKDL Resort is the swanky Hong Kong Disneyland Hotel which looks a lot like the Grand Floridian, except that it is set along the very real South China Sea instead of the Seven Seas Lagoon. The HKDL Hotel has three restaurants, an indoor and outdoor pool, a pool bar, a conference center, and lots of other amenities. There is also a maze in the garden, a working dock on the waterfront, and a ballroom fit for Cinderella with a sweeping staircase and tiny glass slippers tucked into the chandeliers!
A third “adventure themed” hotel is scheduled to open in 2017. All three hotels will be connected to each other and to the park by a waterfront promenade.
A convenient shuttle connects the hotels with the park’s transportation center. This area also houses the HKDL metro station.
From the transportation center, it is but a short walk to the esplanade in front of the park with a gorgeous character-themed fountain that was particularly beautiful at night with its synchronized music and light show.
This fountain, and many other features of the resort, were designed using the traditional Chinese art of feng shui, building and placing elements to be in harmony with each other and nature and to bring the most good luck.
As we zipped through security and through the gates, we became increasingly aware of how few people were in the park. Yes, folks, we could literally – and we do mean literally – count the number of people we could see up the length of Main Street. We had arrived after the summer high season and basically had the place to ourselves. There was virtually no waiting wherever we went. It was eerie but exhilarating. A Disney park enthusiast’s dream-come-true!
To our great delight, there were practically no strollers and no scooters. A few strollers were being rented from the firehouse next to City Hall, a tiny space indicative of how few strollers were being rented. People were mostly walking, something that we had heard about Tokyo Disneyland as well. And yes, we discovered later that they keep a light burning in the window above the firehouse for Walt.
Main Street, U.S.A.
HKDL’s Main Street looks a lot like the other Main Streets. All of the important buildings are there. The Opera House is occupied by the Art of Animation Gallery and Animation Academy where they teach you to how to draw Disney characters, in Cantonese. This was a pretty popular attraction among the locals. Town Square has a pretty gazebo for character meet and greets—Walt had originally wanted a gazebo for Town Square in Disneyland, but had scrapped the idea after it had interfered with the view of the castle. There are no rails embedded in Main Street—the parade dancers must appreciate this—and only an Omnibus and Cab to carry guests back and forth. The second story windows have tributes to those involved in the creation of the Park and a cigar-store Indian stands guard.
While some of the stores are unique, there is a Silhouette Shop, Arribas Brothers’ Crystal Arts, and the ever-present Emporium on the corner. The small side street across from Center Street is occupied by an atrium much like the Magic Kingdom in Florida.
On the way to Adventureland is a shady wooded area with benches. A man sat on a bench, surrounded by a coterie of birds feeding from his hand. Even though we were pressed for time to see everything, we felt compelled to sit for a minute and enjoy this idyllic setting.
Further on we were surprised and yet not surprised to find the Frozen Village attraction. This attraction featured a Broadway sing-along show presented in both English and Chinese. There was food, merchandise, and, most popular of all, real snow! Families were having a great time sledding, throwing snowballs, and posing for photos with Sven. It was a great place to escape the heat, though a shaded queue would have been nice.
Next up was Grizzly Gulch, the “Frontierland” of the Park. Grizzly Gulch is themed as a California Gold Rush town. But here, the bears have the upper hand, or rather, paw! The centerpiece is Big Grizzly Mountain Runaway Mine Cars. Think: Big Thunder Mountain meets Expedition Everest with some California Screamin’ thrown in. Great fun – particularly when the bears break into the TNT and blast your ore car right out of the mine!
Around the corner from Grizzly Gulch is Mystic Manor, HKDL’s answer to the Haunted Mansion. The Imagineers have created an elaborate storyline around this attraction and it is impressive, inside and out. Mystic Manor’s long queue area was virtually empty so we rode several times, letting people pass so that we could linger over the theming. Others have described and videoed the ride, so we’ll just say we loved it. It has two ride paths, so make sure to try both. There are a couple of areas that are only experienced by one path or the other.
Across from the Manor sits the Mystic Point Freight Depot that serves as a stage for special shows. Oddly, the Disneyland Railroad passed by but did not stop at the depot, despite being a logical way to serve guests in this part of the park. Just beyond was the impressively-themed Explorer’s Club Restaurant.
The restaurant was not serving but the doors were open, so we went inside. According to the story, Lord Henry Mystic built the club to resemble five countries that he admired—China, India, Russia, Morocco, and Egypt. Guests can eat a variety of international foods in one (or more!) of the five themed dining rooms that feature materials and treasures brought back from each of these exotic countries.
Toy Story Land
Next up was Toy Story Land, the placement of which seemed rather incongruous, following so closely upon Mystic Point. Nevertheless, it was a lively and immersive area though hot due to extensive concrete and little shade. Guests feel toy-sized as they ride the towering Toy Soldiers Parachute Drop, the sweeping Matchbox-style RC Racer, and the giant Slinky Dog Spin. Toy Story Land also had a nice shop and strolling entertainment, including robots and a platoon of toy soldiers.
From Toy Story Land, you enter Fantasyland from the rear. We passed by a boarded-off area that we were told was to be a “maze.” The attractions inside looked very much like the Pixie Hollow area at Disneyland. We learned later that this area will be called “Fairy Tale Forest.” Just beyond was the Fantasyland Train Station and the topiary-studded Fantasy Gardens, the latter containing several meet and greet gazebos. There were virtually no lines so we visited with Goofy, Belle, and Pluto. The character attendants were friendly and happy to take photos of us with their cameras and ours.
HKDL’s only dark ride is The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. We rode mainly to see if this Pooh ride might also pay homage to Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, for which ride it usurped at WDW. Sure enough, there was Toad handing the deed to Owl on the left, and on the floor to the right was Moley greeting Pooh. We thought the ride was the best of the three Pooh rides we had been on. It seemed longer, the sound system was good, and the car would sway gently from side to side throughout the ride, giving it a certain ambience that the other rides lacked.
After Pooh, we headed for It’s A Small World, passing by Dumbo, the Tea Cups, Mickey’s PhilharMagic (we assumed it was the same as the attraction at the Magic Kingdom), and the Carrousel (which had horses of different colors instead of all white).
There was also the Sword in the Stone where we hear Merlin appears at various times during the day inviting young guests to pull Excalibur from the stone.
We caught It’s a Small World just in time to see the clock tower parade of toys, which also includes a Chinese opera singer. The outdoor façade is similar to the original at Disneyland except that the boats do not come out and pass in front of the façade (neither does the Railroad). An extremely long queue inside the building was almost empty but we still had to wend our way back and forth through the pipe corridors. The ride itself was marvelous, being longer and containing many more and different dolls. Some paid homage to Disney films and characters developed since the original Small World was created. Everything was bright and fresh, and, best of all, we exited into an ice cream shop!
We hopped on the Disneyland Railroad at the Fantasyland station. The railroad has only two stops, Main Street and Fantasyland. The theming along the route was rather spartan, some assorted animals and headhunters along the Adventureland stretch and four Little Green Men at the rear of Space Mountain .
We missed Stitch Encounter because it is presented in different languages at different times of the day and we missed the last English language presentation. Space Mountain seemed longer, darker, and had more dipsy-dos than either the Disneyland or WDW. It lacked the acceleration experience of the Paris version, which is so great. Once again, and with no lines, we rode it multiple times. Ranking of Space Mountains to date with Tokyo and Shanghai yet to come: Paris, HKDL, WDW, Disneyland.
Then came the Autopia. Big mistake. By far the longest wait of the day. The attraction itself: ho-hum. The cars are electric and, while the lack of exhaust fumes was great, the electric cars certainly lack the rumbling excitement of those smog-spewing go-carts. Plus, we also discovered that even just tapping the car in front of you caused your car to stall out for several seconds; a punishment for bumping? Overall score for ride and theming: ZZZzzzzz.
The Buzz Lightyear attraction was similar to the others—not all guns worked properly—and we exited into the requisite gift shop. Quick comment here: we are usually pretty avid spenders when it comes to Disney. But at HKDL, we bought very little. Especially disappointing was the lack of merchandise to mark the 10th Anniversary of the park, normally a pretty big deal which here seemed to be forgotten. We spoke later to a resort executive who told us they had decided not to make a special effort to celebrate the anniversary but, rather, to tie it in to various upcoming local holidays. Hmmm. Miss an opportunity for merchandising? Are you serious? We heard rumors that they were hurting for attendance and there have been cultural clashes between the Hong Kongers and the Mainlanders. Perhaps that has something to do with it. Sheer speculation on our part.
Tomorrowland is small but has as a beautiful Orbitron, a UFO Zone water play area with various space-age things squirting water, and a large indoor-outdoor quick service restaurant. What will add a great deal is the Iron Man attraction currently under construction and slated to open in 2016.
We ended our day with the Disney In The Stars fireworks and dinner at the Main Street Corner Café. We discovered that this restaurant—and the adjacent Plaza Inn—will seat guests right up to the time of closing. They will happily allow you to come in and get settled, place your order, then go outside and watch the fireworks while your dinner is prepared. We dined both nights until well past park closing, then strolled out to a nearly-empty Main Street. Back in our room, we called for extra pillows, more bottled water (a must), and a pair of bathrobes. They were at our door within a couple of minutes with gracious smiles. Ahhh . . . .
The Park did not open until 10:00, so we took the opportunity to sleep in. We sauntered out to the shuttle and within 3-4 minutes were walking past the dancing waters again.
Day Two was dedicated to some essential repeats (e.g., Grizzly Gulch, Mystic Manor) and to some things we had missed from day one. These included the Main Street Market House Bakery and the Sleeping Beauty’s Castle – modeled on the castle at Disneyland but without the mosaics or walk-through dioramas. There is a replica of Snow White’s Grotto, which doubles as a meet-and-greet area for Princess Aurora.
At Adventureland, we rode the raft across the Jungle Cruise Lagoon to Tarzan’s Tree House which has some nice views of the area, but was otherwise unremarkable. We explored some of the shops and a variety of side paths that led from here to there throughout the Park.
We made sure to catch the Festival of the Lion King show, scheduling our visit for the heat of the day. This Lion King show is similar in configuration and content to the show at WDW but with some unique Asian twists. The show was a big hit with the audience and we loved it too. Once again Disney was adept at telling the story in both English and Chinese.
After the Festival of the Lion King we made another trip back to Grizzly Gulch to ride the Runaway Mine Cars again and to order another refreshing mango boba drink that we’d discovered on Day One. While sipping, we were treated to a fun western stage show. Have to say, watching a Chinese cast playing western yee-haw music was pretty entertaining!
After dark, we explored the area beyond the Jungle Cruise that we had skipped the previous day. It was just us and the rumbling, steaming, water-spouting Liki Tikis. We skulked around a nearby interactive area filled with statues and drums then, feeling the need for some bright lights and big city, made our way back to Main Street to shop and watch the Disney Paint the Night parade, which, like the daytime Flights of Fantasy parade, was excellent.
We ended our day at the Plaza Inn, a wonderfully-appointed place decorated in traditional Chinese fashion, for a delicious meal. A truly special conclusion to another great day!
We were especially struck by the friendliness of the HKDL staff. If one ever wanted to know what Van Arsdale France—the originator of Disneyland University—envisioned for the original Disneyland staff, this was it. The entire staff conveyed a warm welcome and worked to meet our every need. It just doesn’t get any better, folks.
This was the cleanest Park yet and there were plenty of restrooms. We were never far from facilities. All of the shops and restaurants were beautifully themed and it was a delight to walk through each and every one.
HKDL certainly has fewer attractions than either Disneyland or the Magic Kingdom, but there is ample space to add new ones. Both the new Fairy Tale Forest and Iron Man attractions are already in the works for 2016, with a new hotel following in 2017.
Another great perk was the pricing structure for seniors. Rory, being of a venerable age, was able to take advantage of the park’s Silver Access Annual Pass which cost only $39 USD! And because we purchased this pass, we received a substantial discount on the hotel and a 10% discount on purchases. Sweet!
HKDL is located on the same island as the new Hong Kong airport. The next morning, the friendly valet staff at the hotel hailed us a taxi, and we took the 15-20 minute ride to the airport for our flight home. We couldn’t have ended our three-and-a-half week vacation to China in a better way. We know we’ll be back. And next time, we’ll combine our visit with a trip to the new Shanghai Disneyland scheduled to open next year!
Melanie Truan is a research biologist at UC Davis specializing in wetlands ecology. Rory Osborne is a clinical psychologist at UC Davis, has an independent private practice, and worked at Disneyland in the mid 60s. Both are “Disneyphiles” and collect original pencil animation drawings from the 1920s-60s (the Walt era). They have visited Disneyland, Walt Disney World, Disneyland Paris & Hong Kong Disneyland and are looking forward to visiting Tokyo Disneyland & Shanghai Disneyland.