Hong Kong Disneyland Resort, part one

Vocabulary 

  • Hong Kong Disneyland Resort = the entire Hong Kong Disneyland Resort facility, including Hong Kong Disneyland, Hong Kong Disneyland Hotel, Disney’s Hollywood Hotel, Park Promenade, Inspiration Lake, the defunct ferry pier, and the Disneyland Resort station
  • Hong Kong Disneyland = the Magic Kingdom-style theme park

Everything I’m about to say about Hong Kong Disneyland Resort in one paragraph

Hong Kong Disneyland Resort is often criticised for its small park, mostly for its lack of attractions, but a lot has changed since opening day. Three new lands (what Disney calls its themed areas) have been added to the original four, and two of those, which are graced with two of Imagineering’s best works, are unique to Hong Kong. Beyond the park, the hotels host a variety of activities that bring just as much magic as the attractions in the park do. There is something for everyone to enjoy, and for guests going on their first, second, or subsequent visits, a little mixing up of their itinerary for a day or two at the resort can feel like a genuinely new experience. Still, be wary of the other guests. The difference in culture could be felt; expect to be pushed by strangers, and to race for a table when eating, among other things.

How I got there

For this trip, I was the only one who organised the entire itinerary for a group composed of myself, my grandmother, my mom, and my two sisters. I’m not a licensed tour operator, so booking all the hotels and transport we used within Hong Kong was based on my previous visits.

Aside from getting a private car, there are three ways to get to Hong Kong Disneyland Resort: train, taxi, or bus. I have never taken a bus in Hong Kong, so I didn’t bother listing it as an option. Our group wouldn’t fit in a taxi (which costs ~HKD100, according to the airport information personnel), so our best option* was to take the train.

Foreign tourists can purchase a special MTR card that includes either one (HKD220 with HKD50 refund if the card is returned) or two (HKD300 with HKD50 refund if the card is returned) trips on the Airport Express (the MTR line that connects the airport to the other MTR lines), and 72 hours of unlimited MTR use. I have used this ticket twice before this trip, and it’s easy to take back the HKD300 on the unlimited MTR rides (roundtrip Airport Express rides already cost between HKD110 to HKD180).

Going back, travelling from the airport to Hong Kong Disneyland Resort was fairly easy using Hong Kong’s extensive MTR system. We took a Hong Kong-bound Airport Express and alighted at the Tsing-Yi Station (the first stop). From the Tsing-Yi Station, we took a Tung Chung-bound train and alighted at Sunny Bay (transferring from the Airport Express line to the Tung Chung line took a bit of a walk and a lot of elevator trips, since we were travelling with luggage). From Sunny Bay, we walked across the platform and waited for the Disneyland Resort line. It’s not difficult to tell which one the Disneyland Resort line is because the train is adorned with Mickey Mouse silhouettes, and for this reason, I consider the Disneyland Resort line to be one of the most charming attractions of Hong Kong Disneyland Resort.

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Disneyland Resort Station (Disneyland Resort Line on the left, escalators leading to Park Promenade on the right, elevators at the farthest point behind me)

The entire journey took about 40 minutes to complete, plus an extra 20 minutes for the shuttle going to Hong Kong Disneyland Hotel. It can take a shorter or a longer time depending on how fast you can walk from one MTR line to another and on the frequency of the trains and the shuttles.

* In retrospect, we should have just taken two cabs and bought the MTR cards that had one ride on the Airport Express because we were travelling with a senior, and transferring between stations required a bit of walking.

An immersive world

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Surfboardt

You’ll notice how Disney Hong Kong Disneyland Resort is the moment you spot the Disneyland Resort line**, which has the theming the Disneyland and Walt Disney World monorails lack. The Park Promenade, which links the parking lots to Hong Kong Disneyland to the pier and to the hotels, is lined with flags featuring classic Disney characters and is marked by two arches welcoming you to and thanking you for visiting the resort. Walking through it, you’ll hear a medley of your favourite Disney songs; you’ll also be able to catch a glimpse of Space Mountain which bumps up excitement points. In the middle of the Park Promenade is a feature unique to this resort: a fountain with statues of the sensational six enjoying a variety of water-based activities, situated in front of the gates of Hong Kong Disneyland.  With this detailed theming and the distance of the resort from the rest of bustling Hong Kong, the resort plunges you deep into the Disney universe.

** Riding the Disneyland Resort Line is NOT free. It is an extension of Hong Kong’s MTR line and serves only the Disneyland Resort and Sunny Bay stations. For getting around the resort, take the resort shuttles that stop at the Park Promenade and at the two hotels every 10 to 20 minutes.

Setting expectations

If you’re visiting from Hong Kong Disneyland’s sister parks elsewhere and you’re expecting the same experiences, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. While Disney maintains a sense of homeliness and familiarity in all of its Magic Kingdom-style parks, Hong Kong Disneyland is a bit short on the classic attractions. Disneyland staples, such as the Haunted Mansion, Peter Pan’s Flight, and Pirates of the Caribbean, are nowhere to be found. Still, the absence of the classics make way for amazing rides that can only be found in Hong Kong Disneyland.

Like the other Magic Kingdom parks, Hong Kong Disneyland is separated into lands: the opening day lands (Main Street, USA, Fantasyland, Adventureland, and Tomorrowland), and the expansion lands, most of which are unique to Hong Kong (Toy Story Land, Grizzly Gulch, and Mystic Point).

Before I go on, it is important to know that atmosphere attractions, such as Sleeping Beauty Castle, Snow White’s Grotto, and a number of walk-throughs that spray mist and water to cool guests down, are included in the listings, which is why the number of attractions seemingly rival those of its sister parks.

The park is definitely smaller, but this only helps making it easier to go back to attractions you skip because of a long line or getting a good spot in Main Street to catch the parade if you’re coming in from the opening day lands. Doing the same from the expansion lands, however, is a different story. They were built outside the railroad tracks that encircle the park in its original state, so they are not accessible from the central hub in front of the castle, from which guests can get a preview of their day. Both Grizzly Gulch and Toy Story Land can be accessed from opposite sides of Adventureland, which unfortunately does not have a stop on the Hong Kong Disneyland Railroad, contributing to the long walk from the central hub. Mystic Point, being sandwiched between the Grizzly Gulch and Toy Story land, is the farthest to get to from the hub. Because of their position, I recommend starting from either Grizzly Gulch or Toy Story Land, and walk through and experience the adjoining new lands immediately after, instead of going back and forth between them and the opening lands. There aren’t any must-see shows here, so you’re not bound by a schedule when exploring the areas.

My Disney Day

We arrived at the resort a few minutes past 11. We made our way to the resort shuttle parking, waited for the shuttle, and dropped off our bags at the Hong Kong Disneyland Hotel. We took another shuttle to get to the park. I pre-purchased our tickets online because there was an ongoing promo for a two-day park ticket (HKD599, standard one-day tickets at HKD539 for an adult) that came with a meal coupon (details here). We also bought a 3-in-1 Meal Coupon (HKD278), which saved me about HKD50 on my last visit (details here). Before purchasing the meal coupon, the cast member asked us where we planned to eat because he said that the wrong combination of restaurants could end up costing us more money. He recommended that we eat at Explorer’s Club in Mystic Point and at River View Cafe in Advenureland, which required combining two tickets to get a group meal***.

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Doesn’t this look familiar?

We did the standard Disneyland thing after entering the gates: take pictures in front of the Mickey Floral (this is what the announcer of the morning show in the Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World calls the Mickey Mouse flower bed). After, we boarded the Hong Kong Disneyland Railroad, which also had a voiceover providing a tour of the park, and hopped off at Fantasyland station to have lunch at Royal Banquet Hall, whose entrance is beside the backside of Sleeping Beauty Castle. I chose this restaurant for our group because it had the least adventurous choices (my grandma is a picky eater) and because it serves my favourite meal in the entire park: breaded chicken with curry sauce over rice at the Sushi station.

The restaurant is a buffeteria with four stations: American grill, Sushi, Kettle, and Dim Sum (specific menu information here). You line up at the station where you want to purchase food, tell one of the nice cast members which meal you want, take your tray to one of the cashiers near the statue of Princess Aurora and Prince Philip, pay, and then have a seat in one of the dining halls ~sort of~ themed to Cinderella and to Beauty and the Beast or at the outdoor seating area with a view of Dumbo the Flying Elephant and the carousel (très charming). Menus with pictures of the meals are available.

Was the food good? Yes, it was, and honestly, I liked all the food in Hong Kong Disneyland. Except maybe for the snacks and drinks, you get your money’s worth. I would definitely recommend this restaurant if you’re not so keen on trying out Asian food because they have a wide selection of Western dishes (other options for Western food: Starliner Diner in Tomorrowland or Main Street Corner Cafe Hosted by Coca-Cola if you have more money to burn).

After lunch, we headed to the newly-opened Fairy Tale Forest presented by Pandora, which is basically a walk-through version of Storybook Land Canal Boats in Disneyland in California. Five gardens, each dedicated to a Disney Princess (in sequence: Rapunzel, Snow White, Belle, Cinderella, and Ariel), and Pixie Hollow comprise the attraction. Each small garden features the princess’ castle (Rapunzel’s tower and the Seven Dwarfs’ mine in the case of Rapunzel and Snow White, respectively), a story book introducing the princess, interactive windows (similar to the magic windows on Main Street, USA in Disneyland) that feature moving 3D models of the characters, and knobs that “animate” the castles. From my experience, I preferred watching someone else work with the knobs and enjoyed the animations from nearby because it takes a while for the magic to work, and turning the tiny knobs over and over can get annoying.

Before heading to the garden dedicated to the Little Mermaid, you have a chance to meet Tinker Bell in Pixie Hollow. We weren’t able to meet her on the first day because her next appearance wasn’t scheduled until after the parade, but my sister and I went back to the park early the next day and caught her on her first appearance of the day (11:00AM, may vary, ask a cast member at the entrance)!

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Discussing pixie dust with Tinker Bell

Meeting characters, especially the ones you can talk to, is one of my favourite things to do in the parks. Most of them are hilarious, but all of them are welcoming, and they are there to ensure that you make memories that would last you a life time. Don’t forget to bring a pen and something they could sign on. Their unique autographs (Olaf’s is my personal favourite) make great souvenirs, and the best part: they’re free!

After exploring Fairy Tale Forest, we made our way to Adventureland and queued for Jungle River Cruise. The ride is presented in three languages: English, Mandarin, and Cantonese, so make sure to line up at the right one! The wait time is the same for all languages. I don’t know how the cast members do it, but I guess it’s true. The skippers in Hong Kong are not as sarcastic  (a trait I find amusing) as the ones in the States, but they are very animated, and watching them perform just enhances the charm of the audio-animatronic-populated jungle. The finale of the Hong Kong version is my favourite among the Jungle Cruises I’ve been on because of the hair-raising fire on water effects. On the flip side, the ride feels shorter compared to its American equivalents. It is also worth mentioning that no parts of the Hong Kong version take place in an indoor temple.

By the time we got off the Jungle River Cruise, it was time to head back to Main Street to catch the Flights of Fantasy parade and to enjoy a frozen lollipop (ice cream) that was free using my 3-in-1 meal coupon. I have seen this twice before, so with my mom, I went back to Hong Kong Disneyland Hotel to check into our room. Still, I think the parade should not be missed if visiting the park for the first time; it features characters that do not do meet-and-greets in Hong Kong, such as Rafiki and King Louie, and an addicting song I couldn’t help but dance to. Otherwise, it’s a nice time to ride other attractions because the lines will be significantly shorter.

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It’s a sky-high celebration!

After checking in, my mom and I went back to the park. My grandmother and my younger sister separated from us to go shopping. The rest of us headed to Tomorrowland to try to save the universe from Emperor Zurg in Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters, which is a dark ride where you can shoot at stationary and moving targets using laster blasters attached to your car. Your score is displayed on the screens, and they translate to a ranking in Star Command, displayed on a board at the end of the ride. We met Buzz Lightyear himself at the side entrance of Starliner Diner, which is just across Astro Blasters. Space Mountain was next on our agenda. I forgot to mention that it hardly gets busy in Hong Kong Disneyland. I’ve been to the park four times, and the longest I have had to wait at Space Mountain without a FastPass**** was 20 minutes. I’ve been on a relatively busier summer day, and the ride was a 40-minute wait, but with a FastPass scheduled for an hour later, I got on the ride in no time. This version of the ride has an underwhelming queue compared to the California and Florida versions, but as a whole is similar to California’s.

My sisters traded places, so she and my grandmother could grab an early dinner and reserve a spot for us for the nighttime shows. We went to Mad Hatter Tea Cups for a spin. It’s the same ride in every other Magic Kingdom, except this one had a view of the colourful facade of it’s a small world, which was closed for refurbishment when we went (if it’s open, go ride it; the Asia room is huge and features my country, the Philippines). Right beside it is Fantasy Gardens, a haven for meeting fur characters (those who don’t talk). Because it was not a very busy day, only two characters, Winnie the Pooh and Mickey Mouse were out to do meet-and-greets. Other times I’ve been to Hong Kong Disneyland, I’ve met Donald Duck, Goofy, Pluto, Minnie Mouse, and Marie from The Aristocats in one of the five pagodas in the area.

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Before heading to the spot my grandmother reserved, my mom and I returned to the Royal Banquet Hall for dinner. She got a cheeseburger with a side of fries, which she wrapped for us to snack on during Paint the Night parade, and I got a grilled steak with a side of bacon, sausage, and tomatoes. Again, all good food, and the servings were big enough to share between two adults.

*** We did not eat at either restaurant in my last trip because I knew none of the food at Explorer’s Club would appeal to my grandmother, and the River View Cafe was closed; however, I had eaten at River View Cafe using the meal coupon in my 2015 visit. My friend and I shared a group meal that was composed of hot soup, two cups of rice, a plate of steamed vegetables, two main courses, and a pot of tea.

**** FastPasses are free tickets that let you get into a certain attraction in a significantly smaller amount of time. To get them, go to the FastPass distribution near the entrance of an attraction using the service (Space Mountain and The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh), insert your park ticket into the FastPass machine, take both your park ticket and FastPass, then return to the FastPass entrance at the time scheduled in your FastPass. Don’t lose your FastPass! You have to surrender it to the cast member waiting in the FastPass queue.

After the sun sets

Hong Kong Disneyland was built facing West when standing in front of Sleeping Beauty Castle. Catching the sunset from Main Street was one of the most beautiful (and photogenic) parts of my day. After the sun set, we had two hours left to spend in Hong Kong Disneyland before we retired for the night. We felt that it would be too late to explore the expansion lands, so we reserved those for tomorrow.

Thirty minutes before Paint the Night Parade, cast members began to herd crowds behind white ropes to keep us safe from the dazzling floats that would blind us with wonder half an hour later. Vendors pushing carts with merchandise that lit up positioned themselves in the middle of Main Street. Made with Magic products, Minnie Glow Bow, Mickey Glow Mitt, and Mickey Magic Paintbrush, can be purchased from them or from one of the shops on Main Street (~HKD150 each, but got the Minnie Glow Bow for half off). These are interactive merchandise that synchronise with the lights of Paint the Night Parade. The Mickey Magic Paintbrush is my favourite, since it is the most interactive. Aside from being able to change the light sequences on other Made with Magic products, it can also be used to interact with specially-marked art in gift shops throughout the park.

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In millions of dazzling lights

Later, the voiceover announced that the lights in the park would be dimmed to showcase the full effect of Paint the Night Parade. A familiar fanfare introduced the show, and it brought me to tears. It was a remix of the soundtrack of the original version of the Main Street Electrical Parade, an undeniable favourite when I visited Magic Kingdom two years prior. Our Made with Magic merch went berserk with the equally crazy light effects of the castle and of Main Street, and later danced along with the lights of the floats and of the performers. My Made with Magic ear hat, which I purchased in Walt Disney World, also worked with the nighttime parade in Hong Kong.

When I first saw the parade in 2015, it used to have two show stops that allowed the guests with the Mickey Magic Paintbrushes to change the lights on the floats and on the characters; however, in 2016, the show did not have any stops and gave no opportunities to change the light sequences. Though it is important to note that it was a nightly parade (the show stops might only occur on weekends), and again, our visit was on a day that wasn’t particularly busy. Still, with its high energy, beyond belief effects, and LSS-inducing soundtrack, it’s another must-see attraction that only drove my anticipation for the fireworks through the roof (in the 45 minutes between Paint the Night parade and the fireworks, I had time to ride Space Mountain twice thanks to a five-minute wait)!

Disney in the Stars is Hong Kong Disneyland’s nightly fireworks show, and I have never missed it in all of the times I’ve been to the park. Anywhere in the world, Disney’s fireworks spectaculars are called spectacular for a reason. They are always a harmonious blend of fireworks, castle lighting and projections, and music, inducing a Venti-sized dose of Disney magic, and Disney in the Stars is no exception. For its 10th anniversary, Hong Kong Disneyland refreshed the show with projection-mapping, turning Sleeping Beauty Castle into a giant canvas where montages of the films are displayed in sync with the music and the fireworks. Prior to this, the whole or sections of the castle are lit up in different colours and have fountain-style fireworks in front of the big windows; the castle also remains lit blue after the show. With the refresh, both the simple lighting and the fountain-style fireworks have been removed in favour of projection mapping.  After the show, the castle remained glowing gold with the 10th anniversary logo in the middle. Frankly, I preferred the simple blue light to the glowing gold mostly because the latter was a pain to photograph (and I didn’t think it looked very nice).

Before I go to bed

The fireworks show marks the end of the day in Hong Kong Disneyland. I never leave the park right immediately after the fireworks because the MTR and the resort shuttles are sure to be packed. Staying late also makes you feel like you have the place to yourself, which makes it great for taking pictures and appreciating all the lights on Main Street. It sounds corny, but it’s the time I look back on my day and be grateful that I’ve had another good one for the books.

My younger sister and I stayed behind while the rest of the group caught a resort shuttle to go to bed. Meanwhile, we took silly photos and danced and sang to the Disney songs playing near the fountain outside the park. We agreed to walk back to the hotel, which was accessible by walking through the other side of Park Promenade, which I have never visited in my seven years of going to the resort.

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Hello from the other side (of park promenade)

We were surprised to see that the flags with the characters continued throughout the entire Park Promenade, even though we were the only people there (I was sure this place was deserted all the time because it doesn’t have access to public transport). We also passed by two plazas of generic fountains (no longer Disney-themed). In between these fountains were touches of Chinese architecture, manifested in hedges of dragons and other animals of the Chinese zodiac. To our surprise, we found a duplicate of the Welcome/Thank you for visiting arch before a fork in the Park Promenade. We were grateful to have found this arch because the one near the MTR station was always full of people. Moving forward, we reached the ferry pier that was outlined with fairy lights, overlooking the Hong Kong Disneyland Hotel, where we were to retire after taking more selfies and performing to the songs that continued playing to that side of the walkway.

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Fairy (pier) lights

The walk going back to the hotel didn’t really wear us out. We thought that without our pauses for selfies and for dancing, walking through the Park Promenade to get to Hong Kong Disneyland Hotel was faster compared to riding the resort shuttle.

SEE YA REAL SOON!

By the end of day one, I could say that one day is no longer sufficient to explore the entire park and all of its attractions. I’ll write my final thoughts about Hong Kong Disneyland Resort in part two of this travel blog. I will also talk about Hong Kong Disneyland Hotel and the expansion lands of Hong Kong Disneyland.

by Royce

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