I love Disney. (Big surprise there.) I love Disney parks. But like I suspect many Disney fans, Hong Kong Disneyland has never really been on my radar. I live in Tokyo, so I visit Tokyo Disneyland/DisneySea every chance I get, and I grew up with the parks in the US, but when I was first told that I was heading to Hong Kong for my TouringPlans Everywhere trip, my first response was: “Oh that’s right, they have a Disney too.” I didn’t know much about it, so I did what I always do when confronted with the unexpected – lots of internet research!
Before long I felt I knew what to expect from my Hong Kong Disneyland trip…and what I expected was to be kinda bored. I had discovered the following:
- Hong Kong Disneyland Resort is one park. One castle park. There are so few rides that the map lists a garden area with benches and a few classic optical illusions as a major attraction for one area.
- Classic attractions such as Pirates and the Haunted Mansion are missing, to the point that Fantasyland has only one dark ride. Yeah, that’s right.
- There are only two – count ’em – TWO rides in the whole park that even offer FastPass. (Space Mountain and Winnie the Pooh, in case you were wondering) Which you can only get one of at a time.
Sure, Mystic Manor looked great, and Toy Story Land was interesting though I didn’t plan on riding any of the surely nausea-inducing rides. But after I’d looked around, I wasn’t sure what else I’d end up doing. Maybe hanging out at the hotel pool? (And isn’t the Hong Kong Disneyland Hotel just a copy of the Grand Floridian anyway?)
But it turns out that while all of the above facts are true, they don’t really sum up the resort, which was a lovely, thoroughly entertaining surprise. I don’t have room to do everything justice, but here are the three main reasons why Hong Kong Disneyland Resort ended up being a great vacation getaway for our family:
It’s beautiful. We were there during the protests and so didn’t venture off property too much, and I have to say the part of the city where the airport is isn’t the most impressive sight. However, the landscape of the island…well, here’s the “bad, cheap view” from my hotel room:
Mountains. Everywhere you look in HKDL there are mountains. Or ocean. Here’s the walk behind the Hong Kong Disneyland Hotel:
Much has been said about how cool Sleeping Beauty’s Castle is with the mountains behind it:
But for me, it’s a small world is even cooler:
The whole resort is like this, just one stunning view after another. I’ve been to Tokyo DisneySea. I know true beauty in a theme park, and this was…well, it was a castle park. It can’t hold a candle to the innovative gorgeousness of Sea, of course.
That said, this is really in the running for most beautiful castle park. Besides the help given by the natural environment, I was thrilled by the careful attention given to maintaining the park. The colors were bright, the fixtures glowing, and effects working. I never saw anything obviously broken or in need of attention. At times I just sat down and took in my surroundings. It was great.
It’s fun. Of course any discussion of Hong Kong Disneyland has to include Mystic Manor right now. It’s a lovely ride. I’m going to overuse that word in this article, but that’s because it accurately describes so many things in the resort. The story is cute, the monkey adorable, the audio animatronics fantastic, the trackless system awesome, the final scene freaking amazing and I can’t talk about the details without becoming overwrought. We rode this 4 or 5 times. A day. In a row, because there was no line, ever. (We did have to cover my 3 year old’s eyes for the almost-scary parts, but she loved Albert the monkey so much she loved the ride anyway.)
But this certainly isn’t the only ride we enjoyed. HKDL’s it’s a small world is my new favorite version of this ride. Not only is it super long and even better at integrating the characters than Disneyland’s version (yes, I consider that a plus, sorry), but it’s obviously maintained like crazy, and the sheer beauty of it just sold me. Bonus: a whole little section on Hong Kong, which is adorable. The ride is also completely indoors despite being more similar to the Disneyland version than the Disney World one, which is a plus considering the beat down the sun was giving out the whole time we were there.
Or there’s Big Grizzly Mountain Runaway Mine Cars, an attraction I was led to believe was Big Thunder Lite – but in fact was an adorable half-coaster with cute bears. “Cute” seems to be the watchword in fact for Hong Kong Disneyland – if an attraction could be less scary and more adorable, then you can bet it’s been done here. Even Space Mountain seemed tamer and yet fun.
This was all hammered home to me by the fact that I brought my 3 year old, who was 100% immersed in the whole experience, despite having visited 4 castle parks in her short life. She loved everything. (And everyone loved her too – apparently a blond haired blue eyed little girl draws serious attention there. She was asked to pose for photos with random strangers 4-5 times a day.)
My daughter rounded a corner of the castle one afternoon and discovered Rapunzel watching ants climb up a tree. She then spent 20 minutes in deep conversation with her about bugs, scary trees, and dancing (ending with a joint lesson in the latter). She was so involved with the Stitch Encounter that when Gantu invaded she hollered “Run!” and started booking it towards the exit. (A cast member caught her – we were too paralyzed with laughter to move.) She ran around with a group of kids, none of whom spoke the same language, playing duels with the electronic paintbrushes –
Wait! The parade! I haven’t mentioned Paint the Night!
…I don’t know what to say about Paint the Night, except that it is my favorite parade, edging out Dreamlights because of the amazing costumes and cool interactivity. I wasn’t a huge fan of the whole “Glow With the Show” tech to this point, but the paintbrushes you can buy for Paint the Night let you change the color patterns on the floats during certain parts of the parade. That’s for the floats themselves (which is kind of hard to see if it’s working) or for the dancers, which is cool because they come up and let you change their colors. My daughter loved this, and I thought it was neat as well. Plus the paintbrushes can change other paintbrushes (and glowing ear bands), resulting in the duels I mentioned earlier between kids. Much fun to be had all around.
It’s relaxed. As I said, I was in HKDL during the protests. I was told that these were keeping away mainland China tourists, so what is usually a busy time there (Halloween) was not. As in, the park was practically empty, and there were no lines for almost everything. As this was my first time, I don’t know what crowds are “usually” like. But after my home resort in Tokyo’s insane crowds, this was a pleasant change, and may have skewed my perspective slightly! So for that aspect, your millage may vary.
That said, we rode whatever we wanted, whenever we liked, as often as we liked.
The park is big, much bigger than it needs to be for the amount of attractions it currently has (trust me on this, I live in Tokyo), so when there’s hardly anyone there it’s just this wonderful expanse of space. Utterly charming.
I felt less stressed in this park than I normally feel in any Disney park, except maybe Animal Kingdom, and probably for the same reasons – there’s not that much to do, and people aren’t in that much of a hurry to “get it done”. This may sound like a strange plus, but it really made a difference in my enjoyment of the resort.
The park opened at 10:30am all the days I was there. 10:30! In Tokyo, if the park opens at 8am, you’d better be in line by 7 if you want to grab a FastPass and have a chance at seeing the majority of the park that day. I remember standing at the hub at 11 o’clock on Saturday and just looking around, flabbergasted. Everywhere I looked people were…relaxing. Hanging out. Strolling to the next attraction. I found myself getting a FastPass for Winnie the Pooh so I could skip the 20 minute line at the worst part of the day. And feeling totally justified, because I wanted to go linger over lunch before riding.
The food probably plays a large part in this relaxed feel too. I never felt rushed to eat and get out the door, even though I ate in a large number of counter service places. The food is excellent (I could probably do a whole post on just that, if only I’d taken more pictures before devouring.) and encourages you to relax and enjoy. I wanted to try every dish in the park. And I felt like I had time to do it and still get in a few rounds of Buzz Lightyear.
Conclusion: All of this vacation was colored for me by two things you may not have if you visit – a basically empty park, and a scant 4 hour flight from home to get there. So I’m not trying to say you should go out of your way, hop a 32 hour flight and spend a week at the resort.
If you have the opportunity – a planned trip to Tokyo with a stopover, a trip to Hong Kong proper with a day or two to spare – I really, unexpectedly recommend you check it out. Like me, you may be surprised by how much you love it. My family is already planning another long weekend there…yes, even with Tokyo DisneySea so close by.