Hong Kong Disneyland Resort, part two

Good morning

I woke up from a Disney dream, and found myself in another one. Last night was beautiful—raving with Paint the Night parade, crying over the fireworks, and dancing through Park Promenade. It was a few minutes before six, so the sun had not risen yet. Even though my sister and I spent another hour exploring the hotel before going to bed last night, I felt well-rested. The light in our room was soft, and a calming breeze kissed my cheeks when I stepped out onto our room’s balcony.

I was up this early because we had breakfast reservations, and I didn’t want to rush myself in getting ready. Like our park tickets, I booked the reservations for the restaurant online, and confirmed them while checking in the day before. The cast member who checked us into our room asked us what time we would like to have breakfast, 7:30 to 9:00 or 9:30 to 11:00. I chose 7:30 because I wanted to be able to freshen up back in our room before heading to the parks, and ending breakfast at 11:00 would require me to proceed to check out immediately after.

Breakfast with character 

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Be our guest

Later, when everyone was up and ready,  we hopped into the glass elevator (operated by Mickey and Minnie Mouse) in the lobby and descended to the level 1 where the restaurant was. Enchanted Garden restaurant was one of the two character dining locations in the entire resort, the other being Chef Mickey in Disney’s Hollywood Hotel. The night before, I asked one of the cast members who was cleaning up in the restaurant which characters we would be able to meet at breakfast the next day. She told me that there was no definite schedule, but we would meet two to four characters among Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck, Daisy Duck, Goofy, Pluto, Duffy, and Shellie May.

The restaurant was colossal; it spanned about half of the bottom floor of the front building of the hotel. It was arguably one of the most intricately themed areas in the resort. Past the wrought iron gate entrance, alternating mirrored panels and white columns embraced by ivy led to a marble fountain. Behind the fountain was the massive dining room, lit in gold by the morning sunlight passing through the glass panel doors that lined an entire wall. There were seats in different sections, some closer to the windows but farther from the buffet stations, others closer to the food but had no views of the lush gardens outside. Being one of the earliest, we were seated at a round table with a view of the Mickey Mouse hedge maze at the back of the hotel and the South China Sea. A waitress took our drink orders then we darted to the one of the many buffet stations.

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First of four plates

There were oodles and oodles of food, and I cannot even begin to describe the quantity of choices presented to us. I scanned all of the buffet stations, grabbed one of the plates from under the counters, and began with a Disney staple: Mickey Mouse-shaped waffles*. I piled up my plate with Mickey-shaped pancakes, croissants, various sausages, dim sum, and some spring rolls. Not all of the foods were labelled, but the chefs, who were in the kitchen separated only by the counters where food was up for grabs, were ready to answer any questions I had about the food.

My coffee was already waiting for me when I sat at the table. I was about halfway done with my first plate when I saw Pluto approach my sister, who was seated beside me. He hugged her from behind, almost making her fall off of her chair, which prompted a round of laughter from the rest of us who were still waiting for a turn to hug Mickey’s best friend. I asked Pluto to sign my autograph book, and later we were taking group pictures** with him. I wasn’t expecting more than two characters to show up that morning because there weren’t too many people in the restaurant, but Daisy Duck, Mickey Mouse, and Goofy were later making the day more magical for us diners.

What I loved about Enchanted Garden restaurant was that the experience wasn’t limited to the food, and because there was such an immeasurable range of it, I wasn’t able to list down all of them. There was a variety of Asian favourites, from Thai to Indian and to Chinese. The dim sum wasn’t as good as the ones served in the city, but it wasn’t terrible.  Some of my favourite dishes from the feast included tandoori fish, chicken sausages, bacon, waffles, and fresh noodles with clear soup, which was prepared by a chef with my choice of vegetables. The fruits were some of the best I’ve had anywhere in the world, and the desserts weren’t too sweet for an early morning meal. Because there was so much food, I didn’t mind that there were some dishes that I didn’t like. For sure, you’ll find a favourite of your own.

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A kiss for my favourite duck!

Beyond the food, the waitstaff was one of the most attentive. My coffee cup was never empty. They even cleared out some of the chairs so that we would have space to interact and take pictures with the characters. Speaking of, the characters*** were just the thing to kickstart another Disney day. I appreciated the option of having breakfast with them, so as to not take up so much time waiting in line to meet them in the park. Interactions with them did not end at signing autographs and taking pictures. Daisy Duck flirted with me after asking to give her a kiss for my pictures. She even made fun of my mom’s faux fur jacket that looked like her feathers. Goofy pointed to a kid’s plate to tell him to finish eating. Pluto gave me another hug near the self-service juice bar.

Enchanted Garden restaurant is easily one of the best places to experience Disney’s hospitality. Although the price to eat there was about three times as expensive as one meal inside the park, every dollar spent was worth it, given the number of good food, the free-flowing drinks, the deplorable waitstaff, the charming ambience, and the delightful characters. I also appreciated not having to queue to have my picture taken with the characters, since doing so inside the park was always a 20- to 45-minute wait. We found ourselves talking about the experience throughout the day.

One last thing, I loved that they were playing the original versions of the songs from the movies throughout the dining room, compared to the instrumentals played around the park and Park Promenade. It was a fun energy booster to sing along while getting food.

* In my opinion, he waffles alone justified the price (~HKD320 per adult) I paid for this buffet breakfast, as one regular-sized Mickey Mouse waffle cost HKD50 in the park.

** Each character was accompanied by a character attendant (a cast member), who was more than happy to take our picture for us.

*** The characters went to every table; don’t worry about not having time with all of them. They even went to our table twice.

In the light of day

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Who needs castles when you can stay in a hotel like this?

Later that morning, we escaped through the backdoors of Enchanted Garden restaurant and found ourselves drenched in the morning light. The “backyard” of Hong Kong Disneyland Hotel looked like it served as an inspiration for a painting. In the middle of everything was the Mickey Mouse hedge maze, which everyone in my family, including my elderly grandmother, enjoyed. It was easy to navigate and to get out of. The hedges grew taller as we approached the middle of Mickey’s face, but was hardly tall enough to block off the view from the rest of the maze. For sure, children could get easily separated from their parents in the maze because some of the hedges had small holes cut out for pint-sized people. Although, it wasn’t designed to fit larger guests comfortably. My sisters and I had to walk sideways to get through it. Still, it was a fun activity that was great in keeping all that food down from breakfast.

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The indoor pool

We took more pictures and explored the rest of the hotel. The outdoor pool was closed for the winter, but we didn’t mind because it was 20º that morning. We took a look at the indoor pool, the length of which was lined with tile mosaics that depicted scenes of a Victorian garden, not far from what could be viewed from the windows. A lifeguard was present in the room that housed the pool. Towels were also provided on a table near the entrance of the locker rooms.

Adjacent to the indoor pool was the gym, accessible through the room that displayed Disney memorabilia on the same level as Enchanted Garden restaurant. Although I’m not a gym-goer, I could tell that this was one of the better-equipped ones. There were more than one of the same machines, as well as an extensive weight rack, among other things. On top of that, it had a full view of the indoor pool. As for the crowds? There was only one person using it when my  sister and I checked it out.

In the hallway between Enchanted Garden restaurant and the fitness centre was Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, a princess-themed salon and gift shop where girls aged 12 and below could receive a princess makeover and have their pictures taken in a small throne room for a fee. Given that the youngest person in our group was 18 years old, we were not able to experience the services of the boutique.

I returned to our room while my sister went to Kingdom Gifts, the hotel gift shop that we explored last night. If you’re staying at the hotel, it’s probably best to shop in Kingdom Gifts instead of at the Grand Emporium in Main Street, USA. It has most of the merchandise available at the Grand Emporium, except for a few notable items such as the personalised phone cases and character hats. It’s a lot less crowded; it’s open until 11:00PM, and you don’t have to carry around your merchandise in the parks because you can return them to your rooms****. The cast members working there also let us buy the commemorative 10th Anniversary watch without the required purchase.

**** Hong Kong Disneyland Resort unfortunately does not offer package pick-up.

Let’s get down to business 

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Selfie with cast member Vincent, who probably moonlights as a comedian

After shopping, my sister and I said our goodbyes to the hotel. While waiting for the resort shuttle, we took pictures in front of the Hong Kong Disneyland Hotel sign, where we met a cast member named Vincent, who volunteered to take our pictures for us. Cast members like Vincent are the reason why Disney’s hospitality is lauded worldwide. Not only did he have initiative, he made us laugh, too! He wouldn’t believe that my sister and I were siblings, so he insisted that we stand closer to each other for our picture.

We went ahead to the park to do as much as we could while it wasn’t busy. We got there a few minutes after ten, and we headed straight to the side of Sleeping Beauty Castle (near Adventureland), where the Frozen characters did their meet-and-greets. We were lucky enough to spot Olaf. There were only three families ahead of us, which was a relief because when I went to Walt Disney World two years ago, the line to meet Anna and Elsa was a 300-minute wait.

As I mentioned in part one, we went back to Fairy Tale Gardens to meet Tinker Bell. We then went to Toy Story Land, where we met Lotso in the character meet-and-greet spot near the entrance coming in from Fantasyland. Towering above Toy Story Land was RC Racer, a semi-circular roller coaster themed to Andy’s RC car. Riding it was a bit embarrassing for me because I couldn’t get the safety buckle to click, but the cast members handled the situation well. They asked me to go back to the queue, and later loaded me to a modified seat in front, where I did not encounter any problems*****. This was the most extreme ride in the park, with the roller coaster hurtling us forward and backward into opposite sides of the massive U-shaped track.

After getting off of the ride, we met Woody and Jessie in the same meet-up place where we saw Lotso. After taking pictures and being silly with them, it was time to go back to the front of Sleeping Beauty Castle to meet up with our group.

It took a while for us to be reunited, so my sister and I lined up to meet Princess Aurora near Snow White’s Grotto on the opposite side of Olaf’s meet-up spot. She was only the second face character we were able to meet in the park. From previous visits, I learned that the other face characters, including Rapunzel, Anna, and Elsa, do not make appearances when the park isn’t busy (although we spotted Anna later on but we weren’t able to get in the line). One of the most baffling things about the meet-able characters in Hong Kong Disneyland is that Mulan, the girl who saved China, isn’t one of them. Still, Princess Aurora was just as how one would imagine her to be in real life. We had a sweet conversation about our favourite things to do in the park and her and Cinderella’s castle.

***** If you think you won’t fit into the seat, there’s a test seat near the start of the line.

Just around the river bend 

When we met up with the rest of our family, we went straight to Grizzly Gulch, whose entrance is just around the waters of the Jungle River Cruise and a little past the tracks of Hong Kong Disneyland Railroad. A staircase seemingly leading to a bear-shaped mountain welcomed us to the new land, which told the story of an old mining town, reminiscent of Disneyland’s Frontierland. There was only one major attraction in the land, a high-speed roller coaster, Big Grizzly Mountain Runaway Mine Cars******, whose track runs through the entire land. Fortunately, we only had to wait 10 minutes to get on the ride; on the downside, we had to walk the entire length of the overlong queue area. The queue was wide; the other guests did not seem to care that we got there first, and had no problems cutting in front of us.

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Anyone who has been to Disney California Adventure will surely recognise this mountain

Combining elements from Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and Expedition Everest, as well as a helping of Disney story-telling, Big Grizzly Mountain Runaway Mine Cars was one of the best attractions in all of the Disney Parks I have been to. Its story took us through the gold mines of Grizzly Gulch, where bears messed with the tracks and sent the train to the wrong mine shaft. [SPOILER ALERT] After reaching its highest point, the trains stopped and then we found ourselves going backwards for a while until we entered another mine where the bears caused an explosion that made the train dart back to the loading station.

The rest of the land consisted of a photogenic ghost town and a cooling station called Geyser Gulch, which was my favourite among the cooling stations within the park (the others being UFO Zone in Tomorrowland and Liki Tikis in Adventureland). There were interactive elements to this station, such as the pump-operated water guns on opposite buildings near the gulch. There was also the thrill of standing near the geyser, which explodes with cold water every now and then. My sister was a victim of this, and had to spend a few minutes under the sun to dry off. A Welcome Wagon show was listed on the maps as another attraction, but it didn’t seem interesting enough to be worth the wait. We didn’t meet any characters in this land, either.

A few steps away from Grizzly Gulch stood heavy wooden gates overlooking the gloomy Mystic Point. It smelled of a dense forest with a hint of manure. Much like Grizzly Gulch, Mystic Point was one half major attraction, one half photo spot, but neither disappoint. Before we went on Mystic Manor, we checked out Mystic Point Freight  Depot, which was just a non-functional train station that did not even have a display of a train; another show that didn’t seem to be worth our time also used this as its venue. The other photo spot was Garden of Wonders, which was a life-sized collection of optical illusions whose effects could be seen by peeping through the golden viewfinders.

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Mystery and magic

In spite of its underwhelming attractions, Mystic Point redeems itself with Mystic Manor. Many claim this is the equivalent of the Haunted Mansion, and its not hard to see why. Both take place in creepy mansions, and both have their share of frightening elements; however, instead of aiming to scare its guests, Mystic Manor aims to fascinate. Its queue is almost as engrossing as the ride itself, with fabricated artefacts from around the world, portraits of important-looking people, and even a scale model of Mystic Point. The introduction to the ride, ushered by Lord Henry Mystic who owns the manor, is both informing and comedic; it heightens excitement as the crowd moves on to the star of the attraction—one of the Mystic Magneto-Electric Carriages that seem to have a life of their own.

Really, there are innumerable reasons why I love this ride so much. Danny Elfman, who wrote the scores for Tim Burton classics The Nightmare Before Christmas and Corpse Bride, provided the haunting tune to accompany the ride. It did not rely so much on projectors to deliver special effects, which was a good thing because seeing audio-animatronics come to life reminded my why attractions are Disney Parks are world-famous. There is more than one way to experience the ride thanks to the trackless ride system. Each of the four carriages has a different route, and some routes approach parts of the manor that others do not.

The Archive Shop is connected to the exit of Mystic Manor. On-ride photos aren’t taken, but it has an interesting collection of souvenirs, including small leather goods that could be personalised. In my last trip, I purchased a bracelet from the same collection duplicated in Professor Porter’s Trading Post in Adventureland, and I had them put a Mickey Mouse charm, which was sold separately. This time, I got a bag tag printed with the logo of Mystic Manor for ~HKD120. I asked to have my name printed on it, which was free.

After exploring Mystic Point, we skipped Toy Story Land to have lunch at Clopin’s Festival of Foods in Fantasyland, which served a selection of noodles, barbecue, and rice meals cooked in woks. I got braised beef with a side of vegetables, which was free using the meal coupon from our two-day ticket.

When we returned to Toy Story Land, my sisters rode RC Racer while I went with my mom and my grandmother to take pictures with Woody and Jessie again. I did not ride any of the attractions in the land afterwards. Frankly, without the Toy Story theme, the  rides are pretty generic. Toy Soldier Parachute Drop, which I rode the last time I went to the park, always had a long wait, but it was one of the most disappointing rides. Looking at it, it seems like it’s a drop tower ride, but the drop part happens so slow, it’s almost as if you ride it just to get a good view of the park. Slinky Dog Spin was probably the most generic of them all. It was a caterpillar ride, similar to those in local fairs that pop up in my hometown during the fiesta, but themed to Slinky Dog. That’s it, and there was a 40-minute wait for it. I skipped it in favour of going on something else. My grandmother enjoyed it, nonetheless.

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Isn’t it beautiful?

Thankfully, Toy Story Land serves one of my favourite Disney treats: mango whip, a soft serve ice cream, similar to Disneyland and Magic Kingdom’s Dole whip, another favourite of mine, only mango-flavoured and served in a sugar cone. It’s a bit expensive at HKD40, but is definitely worth the price.

****** This ride does not have a FastPass, but it does have a single-rider queue.

I don’t want to grow up 

While the rest of my family went on to Slinky Dog Spin, I claimed my leather bag tag from The Archive Shop in Mystic Point and walked over to Tomorrowland to ride Space Mountain. On my way, I was surprised to walk alongside Storm Troopers, not knowing that Star Wars had already been integrated into Hong Kong Disneyland. I asked their character attendant where the Storm Troopers stopped to meet guests. He told me that they patrol around Tomorrowland, and they just choose random guests to take pictures with. Unfortunately, I wasn’t one of those guests. Besides, I didn’t have anyone to take a picture of me.

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One lucky kid with two cranky Storm Troopers

Space Mountain was a 20-minute wait, but the FastPass return was scheduled for 20 minutes later. I took a FastPass and ran straight to Fantasy Gardens to try my luck at meeting Minnie Mouse, whose signature was one of the two I was missing to complete the Sensational Six. As luck would (or wouldn’t) have it, only Mickey Mouse and Winnie the Pooh were there. I had my pictures taken with Mickey Mouse to pass time and to test out the Live Photos on my phone, which produced pretty cool results.

Later, I was able to skip the 10-minute line in Space Mountain then I rode it one more time because the standby line was still 10 minutes when I got out. Only after the second ride did I realise that it has been way more than 40 minutes since the rest of my group went on Slinky Dog Spin. We met in Midtown Jewelry, where my older sister was busy picking out the park-exclusive Disney Pandora bracelet and a charm to commemorate our trip to Hong Kong Disneyland. While this was happening, Flights of Fantasy passed by, and I watched it while waiting for my sister to finish her shopping.

Immediately after the last float got past the gates of backstage, multitudes of characters got out from the other side of Main Street and started walking to their respective meet-and-greet areas. Mickey and Minnie immediately earned a line with a 45-minute wait, so I opted to meet Donald and Daisy instead. A group of photographers was ahead of us, and they captured the couple dancing and giving each other kisses, which made me want to photograph them as well, but I didn’t have a good camera with me. The time my sister and I spent with the characters was truly magical, even better than my interactions with any of the characters from breakfast. I didn’t ask Daisy to sign my autograph book, as I already met her in the morning. She wondered why, and when I showed her her signature, she covered her eyes in embarrassment and pointed to her head, implying that she just forgot. Of course, I bought her bluff because even at 19 years old, I still believe in everything Disney does.

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Ducks of Disney

After this final interaction, my sisters and I had to pick up our luggage from the hotel. Even after we checked out, the hotel was kind enough to hold our luggage while we spent the day in the park. The cast members dispatched it to us from a counter outside the hotel entrance, which was convenient because we didn’t have to walk a long way going to and from the resort shuttle.

Later on, tired but happy, we boarded the Disneyland Resort Line and prepared ourselves to experience the rest of Hong Kong.

Final thoughts

I have seen Hong Kong Disneyland Resort develop in the past seven years. Having spent a total of six days there in my lifetime, I can say that no two days have ever been the same. It has long evolved from being a half-day destination and from being just a taste of Disneyland. Today, it is a multi-day vacation oasis that doesn’t sell itself short on Disney magic. It will always be on my itinerary to visit the resort when I return to Hong Kong.

A Day in Disneyland from Royce Untalan on Vimeo.


FAQs

Do the cast members speak English?

Yes they do!

Does Hong Kong Disneyland give out buttons?

Unfortunately, no, but they do give out collectible stickers. Almost every cast member hands out stickers, even the custodians!

Why didn’t you watch any shows?

I recently watched The Lion King and Aladdin on Broadway a few months before going to Hong Kong Disneyland, and I didn’t want to disappoint myself. I’m sure the shows in the park are good, but I also didn’t want to spend 45 minutes waiting for a 30-minute show to start.

What happens if it rains?

Depending on the hourly rainfall advisory by the Hong Kong government, some of the outdoor rides become nonoperational. Parades and fireworks may also get cancelled; however, a substitute parade called the Rainy Day Express runs through the parade route in the event that the cancellation occurs. 


by Royce

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