It is the day before the people of Hong Kong are due to vote in the district council elections. In the lead up to this holiday, where we tried to extrapolate the increase in protests and police violence, we figured that this would not be the best day to be spent in the city itself. This is why we opted to spend this particular day in Disneyland, as it is both outside the city and not too far from the airport.
Like all theme park lovers, we wanted to ensure that we were there for opening so, since we had packed the night before, the alarm was going at 8 and we were out the door within the hour. Similar to Seoul’s main rail station, there is a service in Hong Kong where you can pre-check in your bags for your flight and then swan off to do other things as long as you buy the airport express ticket. In Hong Kong, however, the number of airlines is far more expansive, which is how were able to jettison our check-in luggage and not bring it all the way to Disney. Our hand luggage could always be sorted by one of the lockers in Disneyland itself.
In order to get to Disneyland using public transport, one of the easiest ways is to use the MTR system. If you look on the map, there is a special Disneyland Resort line coloured in bubblegum pink which connects to the same yellow line that you use to visit the Big Buddha. The trains themselves have Mickey Mouse head shaped windows and handles. There are also some themed statuettes inside the coaches, which makes the whole thing feel exceedingly special.
Of course, we arrived a bit before the park opened, but that just gave us time to eat the breakfast we purchased from some MTR bakeries. It’s a good thing we have some great Chinese bakeries in London, else I really would miss these. Mine was the pork floss and cheese bun, which filled me so much that my husband got the whole pineapple bun to himself.
Then it arrived, the park was open, we were walking in and (somewhat predictably) I was crying. There was so much tension going into this holiday because of all the goings on and the violence that the choice was risk it or say goodbye to the money. At that moment, standing at the gates of Disneyland, I knew we’d made the right choice as it’s been a great holiday and now I was going to be closing out Disneyland for the final day.
This is the fourth Disney location that I have been to (after Orlando, Paris and Tokyo) and, as primary Disney parks go, I believe that this is the smallest in size and, possibly, in terms of the volume of rides. However, this in no way impeded our day here at Hong Kong Disneyland which was comparatively empty for a Disney park and so we pretty much walked onto every ride that we wanted to get on.
The idea of going to a Disneyland without queues, or minimal queues, feels like the dream of an eight-year-old, but that’s what we lived today. Thanks to this, we pretty much rode everything in the park that we wanted in under four hours, including some rides that we’d never have gotten around to otherwise.
We started in Fantasyland and immediately made for the Winnie the Pooh ride because of the bad memories of the massive queues back in Tokyo. This isn’t the same sort of semi-independent honey pot ride as in Tokyo, instead it’s one of the more traditional dark rides that takes you through some of the events of the 1970s Winnie the Pooh film.
After this was a ride upon the Flying Dumbos, mainly because of an article I read the night before talking about 50 minute queues for this ride, so thought it a good idea to get this in just in case there was a late influx of patrons. It was nice to be able to share this ride that I loved as a young kid with my husband, before today the queue length was never quite worth the pay off.
Next it was time for a classic – It’s A Small World. This opens a bit after the rest of the park, which is how we ended up being in the front row of the first boat going through the ride. It’s pretty similar to the other iterations of the ride from around the world, but I think this is the first time where I have seen Disney characters mixed in with the regular dolls.
With Fantasyland done for now, we turned our attention to the practically deserted Toy Story Land. This is becoming a fairly common land around different parks, but this is the first time I’ve actually seen it done. I love these movies and I love how bringing them to life as a world gives a more colourful and cheery take on Honey I Shrunk the Kids. We rode two of the three rides here (Slinky Dog Spin and Toy Soldier Parachute Drop) with us avoiding the third as its a take on the banana boat ride and those make me feel nauseated.
Skipping through an area, lead us to the Grizzly Gulch which is based on old prospecting times and also contains my favourite ride of the park – Big Grizzly Mountain. This is the closest that the park has to a runaway train and is one of the rare Disney rides that managed to surprise me on the first ride. We ended up riding this four times over the course of the day, the best ride being the final one that we did after the sun had set and a lot of the track was in darkness.
There’s a mini area between Grizzly Gulch and Toy Story Land which houses the Mystic Manor. Since, culturally, the concept of a Haunted Mansion doesn’t quite translate for the local Hong Kong/mainland Chinese audience, this ride was dreamt up instead. The concept is a tour of an eccentric explorer’s collection of curios that have come to life after his monkey friend has unleashed the magic housed in a music box.
My description sounds a bit odd, but the Disney Imagineers built an engrossing world here. Also, this ride uses the trackless cart technology from Tokyo’s Winnie the Pooh ride, which means the four carts from the same group experience the same ride rather differently. This is how we ended up riding this three times over the course of the day, just so we could see it from all perspectives.
Now, it wouldn’t be Christmas in Disney without some sort of a Christmas show. There’s a few throughout the day, but we caught an early afternoon one which featured swing and rock and roll covers of Christmas classics. Of course this featured the main Disney characters, Donald Duck stealing the spotlight as always, as well as characters that are more specific to the Asian parks. The sun was so hot that it felt like we were cooking, which is an odd sensation as you watch Chip and Dale dancing to ‘Rockin Around the Christmas Tree’.
The penultimate land we visited was Adventureland. This is one of those lands that doesn’t change too much depending on the park you’re visiting, but with some names changed here and there. For example, the Swiss Family Robinson treehouse has been branded into a Tarzan treehouse because that makes sense for an audience mainly composed of Gen Xs and younger.
You also have the Jungle Cruise, which is cute enough but really depends on how engaging your cast member guide is and how much the kids in the group go with it. The guide we got was excellent, she was armed with a long list of one-liners that just flew off the cuff like nobody’s business. The ride itself is fine, but it’s sometimes nice to just get a chance to sit down and do something a bit more chill.
Time for lunch, and I heard that the best place to go was The Explorer’s Club near the Mystic Manor. Well, we were not steered wrong with it’s beautifully varied decor (each room is decked out with a few replicas of different culture’s artefacts) and food from four different Asian cuisines. In the end I went for the nasi goreng which, as the picture shows was ginormous, looked stunning and tasted really good. This did not feel like the sort of food you would get in a theme park.
This leads us to the final land: Tomorrowland. This land is traditionally the one that myself and the hub finish the day on, but we still had five hours left in the park so ended up here a bit ahead of schedule. This is the only land in the park where you can see the encroaching of Disney’s recent franchise takeovers with Marvel getting two rides and Star Wars having one.
The Star Wars ride is Space Mountain – now branded as Hyperspace Mountain. I’m not exactly a Star Wars fan, but the theming makes sense and actually lends a story to the Space Mountain ride. This ride will always hold a special place in my heart as I had to have my leg length checked in Tokyo Disneyland as they were unsure whether I’d be able to adequately fold up. It is also traditionally the final ride of the day that my husband and I do at a Disney park. Which is what we did, on our fourth ride of the day where we also rode in the front of the train.
The other rides we did in Tomorrowland were the Iron Man Experience, which was an okay take on a simulation ride, and the Ant-Man and the Wasp Nano Battle. The latter ride is a re-skinning of the wider Buzz Lightyear blaster ride to something a bit less cartoony, but this one comes with videos of Paul Rudd which is an improvement to any ride out there. Ended up riding this twice because I love blaster rides and, in the end we had half a day to fill up with repeat rides.
Like I said, the park was emptyish which meant we ended up with a lot of time to re-ride everything we liked. Amongst these repeats, we also had time to take in both of the Disney parades.
The first was the Flights of Fantasy parade which was meant to have an ‘up in the air’ theme, but that only really applied to the minority of floats after the initial Mickey and Winnie the Pooh ones. Still a lot of fun though and it was cool to see Lilo and Stitch represented here.
Our Disney day finished on the second and better of the parades: Disney Paint the Night. Watching a parade like this with all the costuming and the different mechanisms at play really make me wish that someone would do a documentary taking you from the initial conception to the eventual running of one of these parades.
The fact that you have, one after the other, these beautiful candelabra-based ballroom outfits followed by a massive light-up Slinky Dog with moving eyes and spinning glow discs for springs just shows the variation of thought on display here. It just helps to cap off what was just a perfect day at Disney and a wonderful set of memories to end this trip to Hong Kong on.
And with this final dinner of assorted roasted meats at the airport, that’s this holiday over with. Next comes the 13 hour flight and the further trip home which will need to be navigated at 5am British time. As I write this, with the passenger next to me dressed in a full Parker and trying to nap on their tray table, I am not relishing the rest of this upcoming journey. Just hope that tomorrow’s me can forgive me for staying up so late to write this.