Hong Kong Disneyland
Lantau, Hong Kong
“The hidden gem of Disney Parks & Resorts”
Hong Kong Disneyland. This theme park on Lantau Island has often been considered as the world’s least interesting Disney destination. Due to its small surface and the lack of signature rides, no one seemed to like this place. Luckily, things have changed dramatically over the past few years. New areas and rides have been added, while other new additions are just around the corner. All we need is some pixie dust (and a 1.4 billion dollar investment) to transform Hong Kong Disneyland into a world-class theme park. Let’s find out how the park was performing during my most recent visit, in April 2019.
Hong Kong Disneyland is connected to the city’s metro network, which makes it easy to get there. But unlike the Disney Resorts in Anaheim, Orlando, Tokyo and Paris, very few external hotels are located in direct proximity to the resort. Those wishing to stay as close to the Disney magic as possible, should definitely consider staying at an official Disney hotel. I’ve had wonderful experiences at the Hollywood Hotel, but my favourite on-site hotel was definitely Disney’s Explorers Lodge. It was opened in 2017 and it became the third hotel at the Hong Kong Disneyland Resort. Explorers Lodge combines a tropical Adventureland theme with the splendour of Walt Disney World’s Animal Kingdom Lodge. The result is a very stylish place which is a perfect match with Hong Kong’s hot, humid climate. Staying here isn’t cheap, but it really adds some Disney flair to your holiday.
Hong Kong Disneyland opened in 2005. The fact that this is one of the youngest Disney resorts on Earth, can be clearly noticed in the park and its hotels. Disney used all the expertise from other resorts while designing this place. The result is a stunning resort area full of space, lush greenery and typical Disney magic. When staying at an official Disney hotel, try to use the walkway to the park at least once. This is just as convenient as the hotel shuttle bus and the (deserted) pathway is simply beautiful.
Hong Kong Disneyland features a total of three coaster credits. The first one can be found at Grizzly Gulch, the local alternative to Frontierland. I have to admit that the differences between Grizzly Gulch and Frontierland aren’t that spectacular – it’s a mining town after all –but the biggest change is the area’s main attraction. Grizzly Gulch doesn’t feature a Cantonese version of Big Thunder Mountain, but they’ve got Big Grizzly Mountain Runaway Mine Cars instead. And I should tell you that I’m in love with this ride. Big Grizzly Mountain isn’t the most thrilling coaster ever built, but it offers a very complete ride experience. It starts with a fairly calm part, but the ride keeps getting more and more intense along the way. Especially the final part, which starts with a launch, always manages to surprise me with its decent amount of g-forces. The best thing about this roller coaster is the storytelling. Not a single element is there without a reason; every turn of this ride is explained through its theming. Disney and Vekoma managed to create a masterpiece.
Credit number two can be found at Toy Story Land. This is, by far, the least interesting land at Hong Kong Disneyland and RC Racer is everything but exceptional. Fortunately, the park’s third coaster performs on a considerably higher level. I’m talking about Hyperspace Mountain in Tomorrowland. There’s no way to avoid the Star Wars hype, even in Asia. Space Mountain was converted to this version in 2017 and I didn’t like that at first. I’ve always loved the special light effects during the lift hill and Michael Giacchino’s soundtrack was simply brilliant. Still, Hyperspace Mountain provides a great experience as well. It’s cool to climb a lift hill with the Imperial March and the effects during the ride are fantastic. The layout remained identical and the ride is just as smooth and fast as it was before. Hyperspace Mountain is still a fantastic roller coaster, but my nonexistent love for Star Wars makes me prefer the original version.
In January 2017, Hong Kong Disneyland had the honour to present the world’s first Marvel ride. Iron Man Experience can be described as Star Tours with a different theme. These attractions are very similar: they both offer a simulator-type ride with some subtle humour and a predictable storyline. It’s cool that the story of Iron Man Experience takes place in Hong Kong and you even fly over Hong Kong Disneyland during your ride. Iron Man is on the same level as Star Tours, but there’s one big difference: the experience is always exactly the same. That’s why Star Tours is a better choice for repeat visitors. These changing storylines might be a good idea for an Iron Man Experience upgrade in the future?
Hong Kong Disneyland’s newest Marvel ride opened in 2019. I’m talking about Ant-Man and the Wasp: Nano Battle. This attraction reuses the Omnimover system of Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters, a dark ride that has been part of Hong Kong Disneyland for only 12 years. It’s a shame that this ride was closed, but the result of the transformation looks convincing. During the ride, a watchful eye can discover some similarities with the predecessor. Still, it doesn’t look like a simple overlay. Vehicles now turn automatically towards the right side (great, because I never liked the joystick) and the laser game was modernised a bit. Nano Battle is certainly not the most powerful attraction Disney ever created, but it fits perfectly in Hong Kong Disneyland’s mini Marvel land.
At Fantasyland, it’s easy to notice that Hong Kong Disneyland opened with a limited number of attractions. Even today, the area only features two classic dark rides: a simple Winnie The Pooh attraction and It’s a Small World. I mentioned it in my previous reports and I’d like to repeat it: I’m a fan of It’s a Small World. I like its cartoony facade, the cute puppets and the eternal-lasting song. This feeling is even stronger at Hong Kong Disneyland, since this park got the most beautiful version. The scenes look modern and a number of subtly integrated Disney characters create extra recognisability.
Although I call myself a Roller Coaster Traveller, the term Dark Ride Traveller might suit me better. Ten laps on an excellent B&M just can’t match the feeling Disney’s best dark rides create. You might already know where I’m going: Mystic Manor, Hong Kong Disneyland’s most ultimate attraction. The grandiosity of this trackless dark ride can hardly be described in words, but it’s created with sparkling music, extraordinary scenes and an extremely cute protagonist. One of Mystic Manor’s other strengths is its intimacy. My other favourite dark rides (especially Indiana Jones Adventure and Battle For The Sunken Treasure) mostly feature huge scenes, but Mystic Manor is different. Thanks to these small-scaled scenes, it’s easier to see all the fine details and special effects. Surprisingly, most effects in Mystic Manor aren’t even that unusual, but they’re combined in a brilliant way. Especially the last scene, in which both the visual spectacle and the music reach a high point, is monumental. During that climax, I realise once again that Disney’s Imagineers deserve tons of respect. This was definitely worth the 12-hour flight to Hong Kong.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise, but Hong Kong Disneyland features a few classic Disney attractions. Dumbo, PhilharMagic and Mad Hatter Tea Cups are present at Fantasyland and Adventureland is home to Jungle River Cruise, a modern version of Disney’s famous Jungle Cruise. The main components remained the same: there are wildlife animatronics, there’s a Skipper and you’ll hear a ton of cheesy jokes. The ride’s big finale is different, but you’ll recognise most elements if you’re used to Jungle Cruise in Anaheim, Orlando or Tokyo.
Storybook Land is another classic that has made its way to Hong Kong. It was presented in a modified version, though. Unlike the Storybook Land rides at Disneyland Anaheim and Paris, Hong Kong Disneyland’s Fairy Tale Forest is just a walk-through. I’d prefer a boat ride over this, but those selfie-addicted Asians really don’t seem to care. Besides, I must admit that the scenery and the dioramas look absolutely stunning.
Fantasyland is the place to be for the world’s best theatre show inside an amusement park. The name of this gem is Mickey and the Wondrous Book and it can be found at the Storybook Theater. Disney created pure magic. The performance features a great story, the live singing is fabulous and the sets are beautiful. Even the bilingualism (a pain during most shows at Disneyland Paris) doesn’t feel unnatural here. It’s unusual to visit a show twice in one day, but Mickey and the Wondrous Book was just so good that we needed to see it again.
At the opposite side of the park, you’ll find Theater in the Wild. This is the place where you can watch a second awesome stage show: Festival of the Lion King. This musical is a loose (and quite speedy) interpretation of the film of the same name. The circular theatre suggest that it’s identical to the version at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, but thank goodness it’s not. I’ve always found the American version a bit awkward because of the public interaction and the acrobatics which just don’t fit within a Lion King story. I’m very happy that these elements were dropped in Hong Kong. The result is a wonderful 30-minute performance with great music and good actors.
Hong Kong Disneyland is possibly the world’s best Disney park when it comes to entertainment. The park doesn’t only feature two world-class stage shows, but the parades are also impressive. Especially the nocturnal Paint The Night Parade stole my heart. When the parade’s theme song hits the speakers, you know that you’re about to witness 15 minutes of pure Disney magic. Paint The Night depicts both classic and recent animation films. Blockbuster Cars delivers the most impressive part of the parade, but the other floats are convincing as well. The chorus of the Paint The Night soundtrack really describes my feeling in the best way: When can we do this again?
WORTH A VISIT?
Some people may say that Hong Kong Disneyland is a one-day destination and that is partially true. You’re perfectly able to see the park and its highlights in a single day. However, I do appreciate the value of a second day. This allows us to fully discover the park and to revisit all the attractions we like the most. Big Grizzly Mountain and Space Mountain both deserve a few re-rides, we’re happy to see Mickey and the Wondrous Book twice and you can never make too many rides on Mystic Manor, right? Hong Kong Disneyland obviously isn’t the world’s biggest theme park, but the overall quality is impressive. They offer two extraordinary stage shows, excellent food options, a perfect nighttime parade and most rides are flawless. Besides, the theming and the park’s atmosphere are brilliant.
Hong Kong Disneyland is often considered as a small Disney Resort which isn’t worth the long trip. I don’t agree. I actually think that this is Disney’s best kept secret. Hong Kong Disneyland is one of the best Magic Kingdom-style theme parks on Earth and I guess things will only get better during the next few years. Thanks to the redesigned castle, the Marvel invasion at Tomorrowland and the addition of a whole new Frozen-themed land, the future looks bright for this park. That’s why I’m already looking forward to my next visit. Who’s joining me?
DISNEY’S HOLLYWOOD HOTEL
DISNEY’S EXPLORERS LODGE
MAIN STREET U.S.A.
TOY STORY LAND
BACK IN TIME
Am I the only one who loves Hong Kong Disneyland? Is Mystic Manor the world’s greatest dark ride? Is it a good thing that Hong Kong Disneyland expanded its castle? Share your thoughts in the comments section at the bottom of this page.