Standing in front of Sleeping Beauty Castle on Lantau, with ticket in hand, I found myself feeling something unexpected: Appreciation for Walt Disney. All the hype and publicity—good and bad—that has accompanied the opening of Hong Kong Disneyland boils down to one little question: Is it fun? And the answer is: Yes, it is.
Much has been made of the size of Hong Kong Disneyland—126 hectares—but with the park yet to reach predicted capacity crowds (except for those infamous days during Chinese New Year), and therefore few queues for the rides, it doesn’t seem unmanageably large. After several hours, I had made it through the magic and was again facing the hills of Lantau.
The resort is split into four parts: Main Street USA, Tomorrowland, Adventureland and Fantasyland. There are also two hotels: Hong Kong Disneyland Hotel and Disney’s Hollywood Hotel. The project, a joint venture between Disney and the Hong Kong SAR government, was officially launched in 1999. As recently as just six months ago, rumors had been rampant that the park wouldn’t be entirely operational by opening day. However, the Walt Disney “imagineers” claimed everything was right on schedule and, indeed, the general public had full access to all rides and facilities, which were clean and complete, when the Magic Kingdom opened its doors.
Almost as Good as the Original
What the park accomplishes effectively, as all Disneylands manage to do, is tap into the wonder of childhood and make us all feel like kids again.
Main Street USA is a miniature replica of the California Disneyland’s version, and it’s along this street that children meet Disney characters while their parents empty their wallets in souvenir shops.
Tomorrowland’s Space Mountain, a variation of Disney’s most famous ride, is a rollercoaster that operates in pitch darkness—to approximate an outer space environment. Sadly, the Hong Kong version feels shorter, slower and less steep than the California version. But perhaps that’s my memory playing tricks on me. Or perhaps it a sign of the decreased emphasis on rides and the increased emphasis on the brand and characters. The “Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters,” for example, rely heavily on Toy Story branding. But even if you don’t know who evil Emperor Zurg is, it’s still a blast shooting laser cannons while spinning wildly in your space cruiser.
And don’t miss “Mickey’s PhilarMagic” in Fantasyland. For this famous 3-D show, the audience sits in an auditorium, dons hi-tech 3-D specs, and watches holographic Disney characters bound around and right off the screen. Hong Kong’s version incorporates several new features, such as food-scented air freshener. It’s silly, but undeniably spectacular.
In Adventureland, the Jungle River Cruise invites you to journey through Tarzan’s jungle among realistically simulated wildlife. Despite their apparent talent for playing the panpipes, you’ll swear the gorillas are real.
When it all gets to be too much, hop aboard the Hong Kong Disneyland Train, either at the main gate or the far end of the park, for a tour of the whole site.
Sleeping With Mickey
The lush Hong Kong Disneyland Hotel with 400 rooms, and Disney’s Hollywood Hotel with 600 rooms, are also worth visiting. Both offer a diverse array of facilities, including indoor and outdoor pools, spas, an enchanted garden maze and sunset terraces. From the outside, they’re as beautiful as any five-star hotel, but the rooms are a little smaller than I expected. The amenities, however, offer full-on luxury. As for service, from the hoteliers to the guy in the Donald Duck suit, everyone is in character, right on cue and brimming with enthusiasm.
Disney has clearly taken gigantic steps on the path to become one of Hong Kong’s—and the region’s—main tourist attractions. Kids will love it—and so will most grown-ups. I only needed a few hours to get through the magic, but I expect the place to become more packed with tourists and hour-long queues—just as in Anaheim. It’s a small world, after all.
When You’re Done
What to do after your day with Mickey? Hong Kong is full of tourist attractions and activities. Here are some.
Established in 1917, Po Lin Monastery (open daily 9am-6pm) on Lantau Island is a popular destination for day trippers who come to marvel at the world’s largest, seated, outdoor bronze Buddha. A five-minute walk from the Tian Tan Buddha takes you to Ngong Ping Village, which is designed to reflect and maintain the cultural and spiritual integrity of the Ngong Ping area. Starting next year, the Ngong Pin Skyrail will offer breathtaking 360-degree panoramic views of the South China Sea and the spectacular North Lantau Country Park, home to over 100 species of plants and a diverse array of birds and butterflies.
Go on a Hong Kong Dolphinwatch cruise (+852 2984-1414, www.hkdolphinwatch.com) and catch a glimpse of pink dolphins along Hong Kong’s coasts. The cruise takes up to three hours, and if no dolphin is seen, the company provides a free “go-again guarantee” for any of its scheduled trips.
Ocean Park (Ocean Park Rd., Aberdeen, +852 2873-8888, open daily 10am-6pm) is a massive aquarium and the world’s largest marine mammal theater. The big draws are two giant pandas, An An and Jia Jia, and their HK$80 million habitat.
Built in 1847, Hong Kong Island’s oldest temple, Man Mo Temple (124 Hollywood Rd., +852 2540-0350, open daily 8am-6pm), is named after two virtues: Those of statesmen and writers (man) and those of soldiers (mo). Resident worshippers may ask you for a donation, but none is required.
The world’s steepest funicular railway, the Peak Tram (runs daily 7am-midnight), hauls passengers up Victoria Peak in about eight minutes. Once at the top, enjoy panoramic views of the city from almost any vantage point, or check out the restaurants, shops and various attractions at the Peak Galleria and Peak Tower.
The century-old fleet of green-and-white-striped Star Ferry boats (runs daily 6:30am-11:30pm) make hundreds of roundtrips from Central to Tsimshatsui daily. It provides an unbeatable view of the city’s spectacular skylines. Other ferry routes run between Tsim Sha Tsui and Wan Chai as well as between Hunghom and Central, and Hunghom to Wan Chai.
Park hours on most days are 10am-9pm. Tickets are HK$295 (USD37) for adults and can be booked online (www.hongkongdisneyland.com). Tickets are also available at the main entrance.
For hotel reservations at either the Hong Kong Disneyland Hotel or Disney’s Hollywood Hotel, book online at the above website or call +852 1-830-830.