We’ve just spent two weeks in Australia and it obviously feels a little sad to leave this wonderful country behind. However, our holiday isn’t over yet. The travel time between Sydney and Antwerp is so incredibly long that we decided to plan a stopover-holiday in two Asian metropolises. This will help us to reduce our (inevitable) jet lag, but it’s also a perfect way to add some world-class theme parks to our trip. Australia provided a perfect summer feeling and long party nights, but it simply isn’t the greatest rollercoaster destination. That’s why we’ve put Hong Kong and Singapore on our agenda. These cities combine tradition with ultramodern architecture and they both offer a well-known theme park.
Our first Asian destination is Hong Kong. It’s my third time in this city full of neon light, bamboo scaffolding and spicy scents, but I’m still discovering new things. This time, we planned a visit to the Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery in Sha Tin (north of Kowloon and Hong Kong Island, in the New Territories). The temple’s Main Hall has approximately 12.800 miniature Buddha-statues. I can hear you wondering why they didn’t call it the Twelve Thousand Eight Hundred Buddhas Monastery then, but hey… I don’t know. I guess the current name is just a little easier to remember.
A visit to the Main Hall requires a quite steep uphill walk. Luckily, there’s a lot to see during this strenuous hike: dozens of golden Buddha statues are placed along the pathway. These statues each have different facial expressions and that makes it quite fun to take a closer look at them. Dutch and Belgian readers may recognise the Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery from a television show called Wie is De Mol, which once was recorded here.
A visit to Bride’s Pool is a little less common for European tourists, but this waterfall and its surroundings are well worth the effort. There are some good hiking opportunities and the waterfall can be found in a tropical lush landscape. I admit that it may seem a little underwhelming on the picture below, but I actually enjoyed this natural beauty a lot.
From not-so-touristy to as-touristy-as-you-can-get. Our evening is spent on the Aqualuna, one of Victoria Harbour’s famous antique sailing ships. This is one of the most touristy things you can do in Hong Kong, but it’s actually quite nice to enjoy the city’s stunning skyline from the water. The fact that one drink is included, makes the overall experience even nicer.
Those hikes at the Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery and Bride’s Pool made us tired… Aqualuna’s drinks and scenic beauty help us recovering.
Sure, you’re surrounded by a dozen of tourists. But doesn’t this view make up for that?
And this is a quite nice view as well… Hong Kong is a wonderful place and I enjoyed it a lot. However, my favourite part of this city is still Hong Kong Disneyland. This resort can be found on Lantau Island, only a few kilometres from Chek Lap Kok International Airport.
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. That’s why we book a room at Disney’s Explorers Lodge, the newest on-site accommodation.
Explorers Lodge combines a tropical Adventureland theme with the splendour of Walt Disney World’s Animal Kingdom Lodge. The result is a very stylish hotel which is a perfect match with Hong Kong’s hot, humid climate.
Admittedly: Disney hotels are expensive and you spend most of your time at the park anyway, but I do believe that it adds some special Disney flair to your holiday. And just look at this view… the hotel lobby is a true piece of art.
Easter is celebrated in almost every part of the world and Hong Kong is no exception. That’s why Disney temporarily added lots of hidden Easter Eggs to the park’s themed lands. There are even some (not so hidden) Easter Eggs in the garden of our hotel.
The hotel’s different wings were themed to South-America, Asia, Africa and Polynesia respectively. Just like you’d expect from Disney, decoration and vegetation in the garden have been adapted to these different themes.
I have no clue what we are celebrating, but housekeeping staff provided a little extra for those two Belgian travellers. Balloons and colourful banners… that’s exactly what we need at Hong Kong Disneyland.
Even though the hotel is almost fully booked, the swimming pool at Disney’s Explorers Lodge remains empty for most of the day. Is that strange? Not really, because…
… there’s a world-class theme park just around the corner!
Hong Kong Disneyland opened in 2005. The fact that this is one of the youngest Disney resorts on Earth, can be clearly noticed around the park and hotels. Disney obviously 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.
Beauty needs to be refurbished once in a while. That’s why two of Hong Kong Disneyland’s most iconic structures can’t be seen in their original state right now. This might be a little unfortunate for my photos, but hey… I’d rather see Main Street Station surrounded by scaffolding than a closed-sign at the entrance of Mystic Manor.
Hong Kong Disneyland’s Main Street USA was based on the original version at Disneyland Anaheim. This means that buildings are somewhat smaller and the atmosphere is more intimate than at other resorts. It’s got that typical American flair you’d expect on Main Street USA, but Hong Kong’s green mountains add a unique, exotic touch. This backdrop might look bizarre if you’re used to the other Magic Kingdom theme parks, but I actually like this contrasting sight a lot.
Hong Kong Disneyland is currently celebrating its Carnival of Stars, an event which involves a ton of character meet & greets and some cute temporary displays.
Not only Main Street Station is under refurbishment during our visit. Hong Kong Disneyland is also working on Sleeping Beauty Castle. This legendary building – also an almost identical copy of the version in California – will change dramatically during the following months. It seems as if the park doesn’t want to be associated with its miniature fairy tale castle anymore. That’s why they’re currently expanding the castle and this transformation should be completed sometime in 2019. So please take a close look at the picture below, as it will look completely different soon.
Magic is happening behind these fences, but luckily there’s a lot of magic left in other parts of Hong Kong Disneyland.
One of those magic places is Adventureland, which is nothing less than huge at Hong Kong Disneyland. It’s also one of the most convincing Adventureland sections at any Disney park on Earth. The region’s hot climate may be held partly responsible for that.
Adventureland’s total surface is enormous, but there aren’t that many attractions in this area. The biggest ride is Jungle River Cruise, a modern version of Disney’s classic Jungle Cruise. The main components stayed the same: there are wildlife animatronics, there’s a Skipper and you’ll hear a ton of bad jokes. The ride’s big finale is different, but you’ll recognize most elements if you’re used to Jungle Cruise in Anaheim, Orlando or Tokyo.
Tarzan’s Treehouse is another Adventureland classic, but it was mixed up with the concept of Tom Sawyer Island here in Hong Kong. You’ll need to take a raft to discover the tree house and its surroundings. This is a time-consuming activity, so I’d only recommend a visit if you’ve got plenty of time.
My favourite place in Adventureland is without any doubt the Theater In The Wild, which is home to Festival of the Lion King. This name may remind you of the namesake at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Even the central stage and those four different seating areas are similar.
Despite these infrastructural similarities, the shows at Walt Disney World and Hong Kong Disneyland differ significantly. The latter is clearly my favourite. I don’t like the interactive/competitive element of the Orlando version and the acrobatics part feels out of place. Here in Asia, Disney cut those elements in favour of a Broadway-style musical spectacular. Actors show excellent singing skills, there are some amazing special-effects and the entire story is told without the rushed feeling some other Disney shows suffer from. Festival of the Lion King is simply breathtaking and this might even be my favourite stage show at any theme park on Earth.
A brief look at the photo below may make you believe that I’m currently standing in the middle of Frontierland. But that’s not the case; there is no Frontierland at Hong Kong Disneyland. The alternative is Grizzly Gulch. I have to admit that the difference isn’t that spectacular – it’s a mining town after all, isn’t it? – but the biggest change is the area’s main attraction. Grizzly Gulch doesn’t feature a Kantonese version of Big Thunder Mountain, but…
… they’ve got Big Grizzly Mountain Runaway Mine Cars instead. If there was an award for the longest rollercoaster name in the world, this ride would definitely end up in the top 10. And if there was an award for most surprising family rollercoaster in the world, Big Grizzly Mountain would get the jackpot.
Yes, 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 rollercoaster is the storytelling. Not a single element is there without a reason; every turn of this ride is explained through its theming. First, a grizzly bear accidentally changes us to an unsafe track. Then, a breaking cable initiates the backward part and a blast of dynamite launches us into the final coaster part. With this combination of storytelling and a smooth rollercoaster, Disney and Vekoma created a magnificent family ride.
Talking about magnificent family rides…
Welcome one and all… to Mystic Point. Despite the fact that it contains only one ride, this area is by far the most interesting place in Hong Kong Disneyland. It contains beautiful vegetation and some dazzling architecture.
When people talk about the world’s greatest dark rides, they’re obliged to talk about Mystic Manor. This trackless ride opened in 2013 and received excellent reviews ever since. Mystic Manor tells the story of Lord Henry Mystic, a world traveller and collector who opened his mansion to the public. During our tour, we get to see some of the most precious artifacts Mr Mystic collected during his travels.
During our two days at Hong Kong Disneyland, the queue for Mystic Manor is always empty. At the same time, the wait time for a simple Winnie The Pooh dark ride is approximately 40 minutes. Like… seriously? What are these people even thinking?!
The queue line contains a ton of references to all the mysterious things we’re about to see. There’s even an homage to Danny Elfman, the genius who composed the ride’s majestic soundtrack.
During the pre-show, Lord Henry Mystic explains that we’re right in time to discover his latest acquisition: an ancient music box that has the power to bring inanimate objects to life. Henry is convinced that this is just a dumb legend which definitely can’t be true. But well… Disney wouldn’t be able to create a world-class dark ride if the legend weren’t true. That’s why we board a Mystic Magneto Electric Carriage and prepare for a serious touch of magic.
May I give you a tip? Try to get a seat in the first or third carriage. This doesn’t change a lot during most of the ride, but it does make a difference towards the end. Those cars spend considerably more time in the second to last scene. This scene can be described as one of the most dynamic and mesmerizing dark ride parts ever, so it’s a big privilege to spend some extra time there.
I’ve already had the opportunity to visit a lot of great theme park attractions. Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Crystal Skull, Journey to the Center of the Earth, Shanghai Disneyland’s Battle for the Sunken Treasure and Universal’s Spider-Man dark ride, to name a few. But only one can be the ultimate number one. That’s undoubtedly Mystic Manor. I love the ride’s exterior, the appearances of Albert the playful monkey and the one-of-a-kind storyline. Mystic Manor combines flawless technology with some of the finest theming Disney has ever delivered. The only thing I don’t like about Mystic Manor? The fact that it will close its gates at 8.15 tonight… together with the rest of the park.
Hey, let’s put the world’s greatest dark ride right next to one of our biggest fails of the last decade. What did Disney Imagineers even think when they decided to put Mystic Point and Toy Story Land next to one another? I have to admit that this colourful toy world involves a certain charm, but it still feels out of place in a Magic Kingdom style theme park. It looks cheap and those low-capacity rides seem to be picked up at a local funfair. Hong Kong Disneyland stole my heart, but I try to forget that Toy Story Land is part of this awesome place as well.
One good thing about this version of Toy Story Land: RC Racer is walk-on all day long. That’s a huge difference compared to Disneyland Paris, where the same ride rarely ever has queues under 45 minutes.
Do you need a portion of Disney Magic after the ugliness of Toy Story Land? Good, me too. Luckily, Fantasyland is there to provide the typical atmosphere we need.
Hong Kong Disneyland’s Fantasyland isn’t huge and the variety of rides is notably smaller than it is at other resorts. However, some of the most popular classic attractions can be found here.
The Many Adventures of Winnie The Pooh is extremely popular at Hong Kong Disneyland. While most queues are 5 minutes or less during our visit, this journey to the Hundred Acre Wood may cost up to 40 minutes of our precious time. And although it’s a fine dark ride for the whole family, I can’t understand why people like it that much. Unfortunately, it’s not a copy of the stunning trackless Pooh’s Hunny Hunt like the one in Japan. This is just the blacklight attraction you may recognize from Anaheim, Orlando or Shanghai.
Luckily, a good dark ride can be found within short distance. No, not kidding… I’m actually one of those crazy people who love It’s a Small World. I just adore the music and those stylised decors. I even think that Hong Kong’s version is my favourite It’s a Small World. The facade looks stunning with those mountains in the background, decors are very modern and I like the fact that famous Disney characters have been added to most scenes.
Dark ride photography will never be my strong point. It’s a Small World‘s jungle scene is so cute that I needed to try, though.
Some rides never get old.
As I mentioned before, Festival of the Lion King was extraordinary. And because Disney wants to brag about the fact that they’re world leaders in entertainment, Hong Kong Disneyland offers a second mind-blowing stage show. Every second of Mickey and the Wondrous Book delivers pure joy (and goosebumps). The show can be described as an Asian version of Mickey and the Magical Map at Disneyland Anaheim, but with a better storyline and inside a decent theater. The live singing is once again superb and the show’s title song will sound familiar if you’ve seen Happily Ever After at the Magic Kingdom. Don’t miss this show! By the way… Mickey and the Wondrous Book is mainly performed in Chinese, but English subtitles are displayed next to the stage.
Mickey and the Wondrous Book opened in November 2015 to celebrate the park’s 10th birthday. Only one month later, another new attraction was presented in Fantasyland: the Fairy Tale Forest.
Unlike the Storybook Land rides in Disneyland Anaheim and Paris, this is just a walk-through. I’d prefer a boat ride over this, but those selfie-addicted Asians really don’t seem to care.
I’ve never seen Flynn Rider hanging in this position in the movie, right?
Disneyland isn’t Disneyland without a parade. That’s why we claim our places for Flights of Fantasy in the early afternoon. And although Hong Kong could definitely use some new floats (this parade has been running for 7 consecutive years now) I still enjoy the parade a lot. The song is catchy and the performers do a great job. Don’t expect it to be on Tokyo Disneyland-level, but Flights of Fantasy is more than fine.
Who’s the fairest of them all…?
Fun fact: I live in Belgium, fairly close to the town of Boom. Boom is the hometown of Tomorrowland, one of the largest yearly dance festivals. That Belgian version of Tomorrowland attracts about 60.000 visitors per day. That’s a lot more than this version in Hong Kong, where Space Mountain’s Cast Members are literally waiting for passengers today.
Thanks to Hong Kong Disneyland’s relatively young age, Tomorrowland hasn’t become some kind of Yesterdayland (yet). It’s not the most beautiful themed land ever, but I appreciate the sleek, modern design. Since Marvel is about to take over a large part of the area, I’m not sure how it will look in ten years, though.
Just like in most other Magic Kingdom parks, Space Mountain is the signature attraction. At Hong Kong Disneyland, it has been (permanently?) renamed to Hyperspace Mountain and the ride simulates a Star Wars battle. Despite the fact that I miss Michael Giacchino’s phenomenal soundtrack a lot, this overlay made the ride considerably more immersive. I’m not a Star Wars guy, but Hyperspace Mountain is at least as good as the original version.
Hong Kong Disneyland is currently creating an entire Marvel Universe. The Buzz Lightyear dark ride is closed permanently to make room for new Marvel attractions, but the first addition already opened next door. 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?
I consider Hong Kong Disneyland as one of the most beautiful Disney theme parks ever. I like the cosy and intimate atmosphere this park creates. It reminds me of Disneyland Anaheim, but without those narrow pathways and overflowing queue lines. And at night, the atmosphere gets even better.
During the construction works at Sleeping Beauty Castle, there’s no fireworks display. However, Hong Kong Disneyland still offers some top-notch entertainment after nightfall. Paint The Night is the sparkling nighttime parade which can be seen at park closing time. I never really liked the old-fashioned Main Street Electrical Parade, but this modern version is incredibly good. It’s colourful, it’s fun, the song is recognisable and Imagineers used clever lighting effects. Especially the Cars segment (including some cool dancers) look fantastic.
Hong Kong Disneyland’s fireworks display was missed a lot, but our evening was literally saved by the Belle.
Six packs and red-headed beauties during a parade… Disney’s got something for everyone.
When Can We Do This Again? The right answer is tomorrow, because we will be spending a second awesome day at the Hong Kong Disneyland Resort before flying to Singapore. 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 highlight 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 the Lion King musical 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 that 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 without a doubt my favourite Magic Kingdom-style theme park 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…?