HONG KONG — There is something magical about a Disney theme park. It has the power not only to transport visitors back to their childhood, but also to a better childhood than memory serves.
There is also something comforting in knowing that the Disneyland in Anaheim and the Magic Kingdom in Orlando are cut from the same cloth. It’s like going to an In-N-Out and knowing that no matter the location, the name means it’s going to be great.
Therefore, Hong Kong Disneyland has a host of expectations to live up to when it welcomes guests from the United States. The five-year-old park excels in some areas and comes up a tad short in others, but overall it’s a successful transplant.
“Disneyland Hong Kong seemed very similar to Disney parks in the U.S. in many ways,” said Shea Nairn, who has been living and working in China for four years. “All the different areas, including Main Street U.S.A., Tomorrowland, etc., all reminded me of being in the U.S.
“The only thing that felt different was that everything was created on a smaller scale,” he added. “For example, the castle in the center of the park was much smaller than the one in Disneyland or Disney World. But as I walked through the park, I definitely felt like I was at a Disney park.”
Hong Kong Disneyland is the smallest of the Disney theme parks at 55 acres, compared to its Anaheim cousin at 85 acres. It also comes with one of the cheaper admission prices at $360 HK dollars ($50 U.S.).
The smaller park size helps visitors traverse the three “land” areas during park hours, which for the Chinese New Year ran from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Hong Kong Disneyland includes Tomorrowland, Fantasyland and Adventureland, in addition to Main Street, U.S.A.
Although the park features fan favorites like Space Mountain, Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters, the Mad Hatter Tea Cups and the Jungle River Cruise, visitors will not find thrill rides like Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Indiana Jones Adventure or Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride.
Hong Kong Disneyland is in the midst of an expansion project that will stretch its footprint to 65 acres, but, more importantly, add some much-needed thrill rides to the attraction-heavy park.
“I think it was still enjoyable because there was enough to keep you busy all day,” said Aurora Aisenbrey, who has been to Disney World’s Magic Kingdom. “It wasn’t so small that you think, ‘This is a waste.’ It’s still big enough to be interesting all day long.
“It has a good balance. There’s a lot to see that’s not just performances,” Aisenbrey said.
What Hong Kong Disneyland does well is what China does well: put on a good show. Who can forget the opening ceremonies of the 2008 Summer Olympics? At Hong Kong Disnelyand, the shows and parades are superior quality, especially Adventureland’s “Festival of the Lion King.”
“To see all the costumes, the lighting, the dancing, the singing, everything come together, it was very well done; it was just amazing,” said Sarah Willson, who was visiting a Disney park of any kind for the first time. “It was fun to sing along with the songs even though (my friends and I) were the only people singing.”
Nairn added: “I didn’t know what to expect from the 30-minute show. But as we watched it, I felt like I was watching a Broadway show condensed into 30 minutes. I was very impressed with the acting, singing and choreography of the show, as well as the use of an innovative stage which moved and created dramatic effects according to the scene.”
Another show not to be missed is “Mickey’s PhilharMagic” in Fantasyland. It’s like the one in the States — but hey, visitors shouldn’t miss it there either. This 3D movie experience — which is more like 3½ D with its occasional bursts of water, air and aromas — features a mix of classic Disney musical numbers.
“It’s like the third time I’ve seen it, and it’s my favorite,” said Gwen Spencer, who has visited the Magic Kingdom in Orlando. “It’s a little nostalgic. It combines the stories you know in a story that’s just fun.”
There are a few subtle differences about the park — differences only visitors from the West would notice — like food choices. The majority of menus are heavy on Asian food. Even the snack carts feature dried squid and seaweed crackers. In addition, the It’s a Small World ride has an expanded Asian section, complete with Hong Kong skyline.
For visitors who must have Western-style food, the best choice is the Main Street Corner Café. Turkey and chicken legs also are available at carts around the park. The only place that sells corn dogs is Flying Saucer Snacks in Tomorrowland. Unlike America, where there seems to be an endless supply of items, in Hong Kong once something was gone, it was gone … the corn dogs were gone by 7 p.m.
“If you see something and you want it, get it, because there is no promise it will be there later. That’s something I’ve learned in China,” said Willson, who has been teaching in China for three years.
— Kim Orendor is a former sports writer and editor for The Davis Enterprise. She has been teaching in China for five years. She has frequented Disneyland and Disney World and is happy to add Hong Kong Disney to the list.
They were just 10 little words five years ago as I packed up my life into two suitcases and moved to China to teach English.
“Kim, if you get a chance, go to Hong Kong.”
My dad offered the advice to me based on his 1960s stopover while touring the world thanks to the U.S. Navy. He admitted it may have changed since then, but he remembered it as this magical place.
Well, Dad, it has changed — it’s no longer British, hundreds of buildings reach to scratch the sky, and Chinese junks are now more for show than transportation — but it’s also still a very magical place.
I stayed five days during the Chinese New Year, which means prices were a tad higher but there were also specials.
There were certain musts: 1) walk barefoot on a beach; 2) visit Hong Kong Disneyland; 3) see a Chinese junk in the harbor.
Done. Done. And Done.
Now, as a California native, I like to think I know a thing or two about what makes a good beach. The Stanley Market and Shek-O area definitely qualify as good — possibly great in the summer when the water would be warmer. The hidden coves reminded me of Laguna and Newport beaches, complete with expensive homes on the cliffs above.
While Dad maneuvered around Hong Kong in a Jeep, I got around on the Mass Transit Railway and my feet. The MTR system is easy to figure out and runs just about everywhere, including Disneyland. The tourist day pass allows for 24 hours of unlimited rides, plus it comes with a packet of coupons for attractions and malls.
My first day there, I saw a junk moored in the harbor. It wasn’t too exciting just sitting there. I felt a little bad because Dad’s description fell so far short. On my last night, I was walking along the harbor when something caught the corner of my eye. Suddenly, my view was filled by a junk moving under full sail.
It was magical.
So, if you get a chance, go to Hong Kong, and keep in mind the following:
Get familiar with the Mass Transit Railway
Don’t be an ugly American