In November of 1999, the Hong Kong government announced that through a joint venture with the Walt Disney Company, Hong Kong would become the site of Disney’s 3rd international resort destination, and its second in Asia. Since land can be hard to come by in Hong Kong, work began in May of 2000 on the reclamation of about 2.8 square kilometers of land in Penny’s Bay at Lantau Island. Over 70 million cubic meters of fill material was placed in the reclamation area, and in January of 2003, construction of the resort began.
On September 12, 2005, the Hong Kong Disneyland Resort opened. The theme park, known as Hong Kong Disneyland, featured themed areas that all Disney fans know and love: Main Street, U.S.A., Fantasyland, Tomorrowland, and Adventureland. Hong Kong Disneyland didn’t open with a Western-themed land, but their Adventureland was (and still is) the largest Adventureland out of all the Magic Kingdom-style parks in the world. The resort also boasts the Inspiration Lake Recreation Centre, as well as two hotels: The Disneyland Hotel and Disney’s Hollywood Hotel. All told the resort offers approximately 1,000 hotel rooms, employs close to 8,000 cast members, and encompasses 310 acres.
Park expansion talks began in July of 2009, and by December of that year, an official groundbreaking ceremony took place. Less than two years later, in November of 2011, Toy Story Land opened in what would be the first of three new themed areas added to the park. Andrew Kam, Managing Director of Hong Kong Disneyland Resort, was on-hand at the grand opening ceremony. “Thank you to all those who have worked with us on our comprehensive marketing strategy,” Kam stated, “which has created tremendous buzz around Toy Story Land throughout the city.”
I see what he did there.
On July 14, 2012, seven years after opening, Hong Kong Disneyland finally received its Western-themed land. The world-exclusive Grizzly Gulch officially opened to the public, with an eye on attracting younger guests looking for thrill rides. The land’s E-ticket attraction is a unique multidirectional terrain-style coaster called Big Grizzly Mountain Runaway Mine Cars, and features some of the coolest audio-animatronic bears this side of the Jamboree.
The third and final part of Hong Kong Disney’s ambitious expansion project came to fruition on May 17, 2013, with the official opening of the world-exclusive area Mystic Point. With the new land, Hong Kong Disneyland succeeded in growing nearly 25% in size, while adding a state-of-the-art attraction to its stable. Mystic Manor, a dark ride which implements a trackless ride system, is the cornerstone of the land. The area also welcomed a new shop, restaurant, and even a freight depot.
Hong Kong Disneyland was also the original home of the nighttime spectacular “Paint the Night.” The first-ever fully LED parade by Disney debuted on October 1, 2014.
Now that I’ve given you a little bit of history, I’d like to share my personal thoughts on the resort. I was lucky enough to visit Hong Kong Disneyland in June of this year, and I took away plenty of observations. Let’s start with the veggies first.
Size doesn’t matter. Or does it? Hong Kong Disneyland is small, folks, and you can feel it. Everything even looks small to the eye. The way WDW people react when they first see our castle in Anaheim was the way my brother and I felt the moment we stepped foot in the park. That’s not entirely a bad thing, but it does make it difficult to justify spending several days there. Doing one day is easy for locals, but not as appealing to out-of-town Disney fans who are accustomed to needing more than one day to see everything. Plus some of the attractions are clones, a few of them feeling almost identical to their American counterparts, thus technically can be skipped altogether by time-conscience tourists.
Where are the robots? This was something I found odd and completely noticeable during my weekend in Hong Kong Disney. There are no human audio-animatronics. No pirates. No cavemen drawing on walls. No ‘former humans’ swinging on ballroom chandeliers. The one--and I mean one--human audio-animatronic was Lord Henry Mystic of Mystic Manor, and he appears in the ride for approximately 23 seconds. Plus, he’s more of a human caricature (which was actually done on purpose as a nod to Disney Legend Marc Davis). The park being almost completely devoid of human AAs feels like a conscience decision, therefore implies to me that it was based on keeping costs down. I don’t think it has anything to do with language, because the entire Mystic Manor narration is in English. English is actually one of the official languages of Hong Kong. However all I can do is speculate.
Main Street, U.S.A.
Lottery, or umbrella salesman? Wanna get rich quick? Sell umbrellas in Hong Kong. Seriously. They were everywhere. It rains a lot there, so umbrellas are required. It’s scorching hot a lot there, and since some Asian people can be fair-skinned, portable shade is required. Those crafty umbrella salesmen are getting consumers coming and going! But why am I mentioning this? Because if you’re tall like me, keep a weather eye out. I was inadvertently poked in the face by the business end of an umbrella spoke a few times, and I currently owe the vision in my right eye to the $20 (USD) Mickey Mouse sunglasses I purchased in Pooh Corner. Keep your head on a swivel, folks.
Lord Henry Mystic with his companion, Albert
My wish list for HKDL
1) Add a second gate. At time of publishing, Hong Kong Disneyland Resort is the lone Disney resort without a second theme park. And with the opening of Shanghai drawing ever so closer, I would love to see a second unique park (note: not a movie studio park) added at some point to prevent HKDL from getting a little lost in the shuffle of #Shanghype. Not to mention the fact that a second gate would more than justify the need to spend multiple days visiting the resort, as well as encourage more people to consider buying that flight from Shanghai to Hong Kong after 2016.
2) Add some sort of human AA-driven attraction. It doesn’t have to be Pirates, but something to help remind us of one of Walt’s richest legacies. Maybe I’m old school, but human AAs always drew my fascination as a kid, and to this day capture my imagination and further draw me into the story being told. The current lack of dark rides in HKDL is hard to miss.
3) Continue building unique attractions. In my humble opinion, Hong Kong Disney’s two best attractions are both completely original (not based on existing IP), and exclusive to the resort. If they can keep that trend going, it will only increase the resort’s viability.
Okay, veggies are out of the way! Let’s move on to the steak.
Mine cars and mountains and bears, oh my! Big Grizzly Mountain Runaway Mine Cars is an awfully fun attraction. It takes some of the best elements of Expedition Everest and Big Thunder and combines them in a coaster that traverses the entire land of Grizzly Gulch, flying by guests and ducking into the mine shafts of Big Grizzly Mountain. I personally prefer this coaster over Everest.
Ella, ella, eh, eh, eh
Clean, green, Disney machine. It’s no secret that Walt liked his park to be clean. In fact the thought of a nice, clean place where families could have fun together was one of the many catalysts for Walt to create his Magic Kingdom. And I’m happy to say that Hong Kong Disneyland honors that tradition. I think it wasn’t until 4 hours into my first day that I actually saw a single piece of trash on the ground. Like a nerd I was too busy vlogging to pick it up myself (which, yes, I will do sometimes in Disneyland), but by the time I came back around it was gone. There was also no noticeable wear, no attractions seemed to be in any state of disrepair, and everything appeared to be freshly painted. And that greenery! The plus side of all that moisture Hong Kong gets is the lush foliage, and Hong Kong Disney takes full advantage of that to enhance the guest experience. There are approximately 200 species of trees and 400 shrub species in Hong Kong Disneyland Resort, and they definitely help beautify what’s already a pretty park.
Big Grizzly Mountain
Quality of CM service. The cast members in Hong Kong were pretty impressive in terms of the service they provided. American cast members, you guys are great and I appreciate all that you do. But HKDL seems to have taken it up a notch, and my brother and I noticed.
The hills are alive, with views of a castle. Hong Kong Disneyland Resort is not only the smallest Disney resort in the world at 310 acres (for comparison, Disneyland Resort in Anaheim is the second-smallest at approximately 500 acres), it is also home to the smallest castle. But while the castle in Disneyland Paris is affixed to a hill, Sleeping Beauty Castle in Hong Kong capitalizes on its short stature and uses the hills behind it as a backdrop. For lifelong Disneylanders like myself, it can be a little disorienting at first. But you get used to it pretty quick, and the hills provide a charming and unique vista.
And now, kids, it’s time for dessert. Quite literally, in the case of my first point.
Say hello to the best Dole Whip on earth. What are the kids saying these days when they want to express incredulity? Is it “ZOMG”? Or “Oh snap”? Well whatever it is, insert that phrase HERE, because my goodness Hong Kong Disney’s Dole Whip is delicious. While in Disneyland we have the Pineapple Dole Whip and Dole Whip Float, and in Walt Disney World they have the Pineapple Dole Whip and the Citrus Swirl (which technically isn’t a Dole Whip, so I’m not sure why I mentioned it), in Hong Kong Disneyland, they serve up a little treat called “Dole Mango and Passion Fruit Whip with Pineapple Slush”. IT WAS SO GOOD. Perfect amount of sweet and tart, and the pineapple slush complimented the soft serve wonderfully. I procured mine in Jessie's Snack Roundup in Toy Story Land for the low low price of $48 (HKD), which is only about 6 bucks American. Worth. every. cent.
Photo courtesy of Hong Kong Disneyland Resort
MYSTIC MANOR. I don’t have a clever title for this segment, because I don’t need one. Mystic Manor carries this piece, carries the land it’s in, and quite frankly, can throw the whole resort on its back and moonwalk across the finish line while taking a selfie. I realize there may be a few people out there wondering “what the big deal is” in regards to MM. I mean, it’s just a dark ride, right? Well, yeah. But what a dark ride.
Mystic Manor is a work of art, both inside and out. The exterior facade was partially inspired by The Carson Mansion in Eureka, California. It was infused with multiple cultural elements to illustrate that not only was it owned by a worldwide explorer, but also that something was a little off about it. Everything about this attraction works, from the queue to the ride to the score. It’s pretty close to flawless.
I can write an entire piece about Mystic Manor alone, and now that I think about it, I probably will. It deserves as such. And it goes without saying that I rode MM quite a few times during my weekend in Hong Kong Disney. So, just consider this section of the article a prequel to my “Why I Adore Mystic Manor” piece. #foreshadowing #workingtitle
Best. Dole Whip. Ever.
While I’ve highlighted a few specific points, here are few more noteworthy elements of Hong Kong Disneyland…
-Their Autopia fleet is comprised entirely of electric cars! Finally.
-They have an awesome Broadway-style show called “The Golden Mickeys.” Sadly its 10-year run is winding to a close, but its replacement “Mickey and the Wondrous Book” sounds promising.
-As of publishing, Hong Kong Disneyland only has two--yep, two--rides equipped with FASTPASS. Those two are: Space Mountain, and The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. So be sure to factor that in if you’re planning an upcoming trip.
-Their Jungle Cruise is unique as the queue offers three different lines, each offering guests the choice to hear the skipper’s narration in one of three different languages: English, Putonghua, or Cantonese.
What does the future hold for Hong Kong Disneyland Resort?
The resort celebrated its 10th anniversary on September 12, 2015. In addition to the Wondrous Book show, work is well underway on the park’s newest E-ticket attraction: Iron Man Experience. In fact it just topped out (the structure’s final piece of steel was hoisted into place) on August 16. The attraction will be a motion-based simulator, and production is currently underway on the ride film. It’s scheduled to open in late 2016, along with a shop and an Iron Man meet-and-greet.
Work is also underway on a third resort hotel. Disney Explorers Lodge, scheduled to open in early 2017, will be themed around the spirit of exploration. It will be equipped with 750 rooms, and showcase different cultures from around the world. It will also feature lavish gardens, themed from regions such as: Asia, Africa, South America, and Polynesia.
Curious as to whether or not a second gate was even possible, I took a peek at the area via Google Maps, and this is what I saw.
I then contacted Public Affairs for Hong Kong Disney (who have been very helpful from the moment I reached out to them, even prior to my trip), and inquired as to whether or not they owned that large swath of barren land directly adjacent to the park. I mean one can only assume as such, but I was hoping for a little inside “dirt”. A Hong Kong Disneyland spokesperson informed me that unfortunately, they were unable to confirm my query. But, they did offer this official response: "The resort’s two shareholders, The Walt Disney Company and the Hong Kong Government, have already started discussions on its second phase of development that will further boost HKDL’s entertainment offerings and capacity to constantly capture Asia’s fast-growing markets."
Fingers crossed for a second gate! Because the little resort that could deserves one.
Disney Explorers Lodge concept (photo courtesy Hong Kong Disneyland Resort)
Keith Gluck is a writer and Disney Historian, and has written for several Disney-related sites. To learn more please visit The Disney Project, or follow him on Twitter.