On a recent business trip to Hong Kong I was able to take some time to visit Hong Kong Disneyland (HKDL). My schedule was such that I was able to visit the park one evening for a couple of hours then return the next day, so I was able to see the park during the day as well as at night. During this time I was able to take in much of what the park has to offer. Not surprisingly, the park has many things in common with the other two “Magic Kingdom” style parks I have visited – the original Disneyland (DL) and Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom (MK) – and it also has many features that make it unique. As you will see, my initial impressions were not good. But as I was able to take in more of the park I eventually fully succumbed to its charms.
When I mentioned to colleagues who live in Hong Kong that I was planning to visit the park, they warned me that it is small. This was my second visit to Hong Kong, and on my first visit a few years ago I considered visiting HKDL but I didn’t, and one reason was because it is such a small park. In fact at the time, all it had was Main Street USA, Adventureland, Fantasyland and Tomorrowland. That’s right, not even a Frontierland. Even so, when I got back from the trip I kicked myself for not visiting the park. For one thing, getting there could not be easier. The park is easily accessible via commuter train from most of Hong Kong – less than 30 minutes from my office. In addition, the ticket price is surprisingly affordable – my 2-day pass was 680 Hong Kong Dollars (HKD), or about $84. Since my first visit to Hong Kong, HKDL has undergone a major expansion added 3 new “lands”: Toy Story Land, Mystic Point, and Grizzly Gulch. Now, while the park is still small by WDW standards, I would still consider it a “full day” park.
Overall impressions: When I left the park after visiting that first evening I was approached by a cast member asking me to take a survey, to which I complied. I think my answers somewhat confused her. While I gave high marks to how much I enjoyed myself, I gave low marks in terms of the park meeting my expectations. My main complaint was that the park lacked the level of detail I have come to expect from Disney. After spending more time in the park, however, I would amend that assessment. I still think that there are parts of the park that are not up to the Disney standard, but this is not true of most of the park. Specifically, parts of Fantasyland (including the queue to “it’s a small world” (IASM) and some of the buildings) as well as the queue area for Grizzly Mountain Mine Trains felt like minimal attention was paid to them.
The main culprit, however, was Main Street USA. This section, which in the other parks is in many ways the most full of detail, was not anywhere near what I have come to expect from a Disney park. HKDL’s Main Street lacks not only detail, but also authenticity and build quality. Things like iron work, molding and decorative details felt like they were purchased from the nearest Home Depot. In terms of authenticity, one criticism you often hear from non-Disney fans is that the parks are “fake”. The truth is that, in reality, Disney only manufactures what they can’t find to buy. Much of what you see at a Disney park in terms of items that are added for atmosphere are quite authentic. In HKDL’s Main Street, however, many of these things lacked that authenticity and did, indeed, look manufactured and fake. Finally, in terms of build quality, things felt poorly constructed. In fact a tile in a store entry actually came loose as my foot passed over it. Honestly, Main Street in HKDL reminded me of Busch Gardens – it looked nice at first, but the more you scrutinize it the more flaws you see.
On my second day in the park I was able to look much more closely at the details and I have to say that my original assessment was premature. In particular Adventureland, Grizzley Gulch, Mystic Point and Toy Story Land are full of the little details that make Disney parks so special. Adventureland, as an example, has a very different feel from either of the other 2 I have visited. For one thing it feels less like you’re in a village and more like you are in the actual jungle. As you wander its winding paths, you begin to feel as though you’re lost, occasionally stumbling onto some small sign of civilization. In addition to all the details you would expect, many of the trees – which I assume are indigenous – land an air of authenticity to the area lacking in the other parks. Also, as there is no Frontierland or Rivers of America at HKDL, the Adventureland River is featured much more prominently.
Attractions: As you would expect, HKDL has several attractions that are featured in other Disney parks as well as attractions unique to HKDL. It is also notable for the attractions it does not have: no Peter Pan (nor any of the other classic “opening day” Fantasyland dark rides), no Splash Mountain, no Pirates of the Caribbean and no Haunted Mansion (although it does feature a more than acceptable replacement). Of the non-exclusive attractions, “it’s a small world” and “Winnie the Pooh” seemed to me to be pretty much the same as in the other parks (I know folks mention the differences between the DL and MK versions of IASM, but honestly I don’t ride them that often and I’ve never really noticed much of a difference.)
“Jungle River Cruise” and “Space Mountain” on the other hand are very different at HKDL. The Jungle Cruise is interesting because it’s much more open. As I mentioned earlier, the Adventureland river is more prominently featured – much like the Rivers of America in the other parks. While the other parks have rafts to Tom Sawyer Island, HKDL has rafts to Tarzan’s Tree House (which I did not experience). The Jungle Cruise boats share the river with these rafts. Because of this, the jungle vignettes are more out in the open and some can be seen from other areas of the park. There is also a volcano vignette unique to this version – at least I think that’s what it was, our guide’s English was not good and she was difficult to understand. Speaking of which, before boarding your boat you get in line for an English, Cantonese or Mandarin speaking guide.
HKDLs Space Mountain is, I have to say, the best I’ve experienced. During my recent trip to WDW for Marathon Weekend, after riding Space Mountain I swore I would never ride it at WDW again. It has simply stopped being fun. It’s too jerky and rough. DL’s Space Mountain is much better. Well, HKDL’s version is better still. It retains the signature features I’ve come to expect, including quick, sharp turns and sudden dips, fun effects and, of course, darkness. In the HKDL version, however, the ride is smoother still even than DL’s version. Additionally the music is fun and the sound system is awesome. Finally, the special effects are better than anything in the other parks – especially the awesome lighting effect that happens when the ride ends.
Of the attractions unique to HKDL, the 2 standouts are Grizzly Mountain Mine Trains and Mystic Manor. Grizzly Mountain is a “runaway train” ride that takes riders through a beautifully themed mountain full of mine shafts and geysers. The ride itself is about as intense as Big Thunder, but it combines the ultra-smooth ride of Seven Dwarfs Mine Train with the surprises of Expedition Everest. The story – about a bear who keeps wreaking havoc with the mine trains – is one of the most clearly told stories of any Disney attraction I’ve experienced. One nice thing about this coaster is that it has elements found in more intense coasters, such as going backwards and a catapult launch, while staying a somewhat more tame attraction. A must-do in my book.
Speaking of must-do attractions, Mystic Manor is one of the most technologically advanced attractions in any Disney park. It features a trackless ride system that has yet to find its way to any stateside park. I went to an Imagineering presentation on Mystic Manor while at the D23 expo, and I confess I came to the attraction with extremely high expectations. I was able to experience it on my first night there and I was actually a little disappointed. The next day I was able to experience it three more times and I came away with the realization that I had simply set my expectations too high. The setting is the home of Lord Henry Mystic, an explorer and collector of ancient artifacts. The story involves his mischievous pet monkey named Albert who releases the power of a magical music box that brings inanimate objects to life. Things start off innocently enough but quickly build to a dangerous crescendo. The story is engaging, the characters are fun, the original music (by Danny Elfman) adds nicely to the mood and the special effects are amazing.
Finally, a nice feature of HKDL is all of the interactive areas including the Leaky Tikis in Adventureland. There were also many opportunities to meet characters. I had my picture taken with Goofy at a Fantasyland location featuring classic characters. It’s interesting to note that Goofy and Pluto both had 5 minute waits, Mickey was 20 and Pooh 25, but by far the longest wait was for Minnie at 40 minutes!
Shows and Parades: There were three shows scheduled, and unfortunately I was unable to see any of them. One is “Festival of the Lion King” which I imagine it similar to the WDW show. Another is “Stitch Encounter” which had a very long wait. Stitch seems to be very big in Hong Kong. As I did not see it I have no idea how it compares to the WDW Stitch attraction, but I will say it seems that the HKDL version is more of a show. The show I really wanted to see was “The Golden Mickeys,” but the timing did not work out. I was, however, able to see both parades. The daytime parade was “Flights of Fantasy” and it featured lots of characters, dancers and cool floats – all of it with a flight theme. I liked it. The nighttime parade, called “Paint the Night,” was amazing. It featured brightly lit floats with interactive elements (audience members can buy special paint brushes that they can use to interact with the floats). I’ve heard that this parade is coming to DL, and if so, then I can say we have something to look forward to. Finally, I saw the “Disney in the Stars” fireworks. I will say this – if this show was brought to one of the US parks, there would be rioting in the streets. I would rate this on par with a very good local fireworks show – not anywhere near what I’ve come to expect from Disney. I don’t know whether it’s a budget thing, something to do with local ordinances or the availability of quality fireworks, but this show was very disappointing. Specifically, there were very few aerial fireworks.
Food and shopping: I did eat a little while at HKDL. I had Chicken Satay at The Adventurer’s Club in Mystic Point (42 HKD, about $5.50). It was a pretty good deal but not very good. I also had a burger at the Corner Café (195 HKD, about $26). It was surprisingly good but very expensive. I realized right afterwards that I could have gotten a similar burger at a counter service place in Tomorrowland for much less money. I also had an ice cream bar (25 HKD, about $3.25). It was… odd. The Chinese don’t know how to do ice cream. As a side note, so far as I could see there were no character dining options at all. I did not do much shopping. I wanted to get something with the Mystic Manor logo on it but there was not much to choose from and I didn’t see anything I liked. I did, however, get the obligatory (for me) tee shirt.
Hopefully this gives you a feel for what Hong Kong Disneyland has to offer. If you are ever in Hong Kong, whether for business or pleasure, I suggest taking a day or two to check it out.
More pictures from my trip to Hong Kong Disneyland can be found here.
About the author: John Thompson and his wife of over 20 years are the parents of two wonderful young women. John, who grew up in Southern California in the shadow of Sleeping Beauty castle, is a life-long Disney fan. He has been blogging about travel – Disney in particular – for 17 years. He is also the host of the Runner of a Certain Age podcast.