Hong Kong Disneyland

Klik hier voor de Nederlandstalige versie van dit tripverslag.

If you’re talking about Disney theme parks in 2019, you’re actually talking about Galaxy’s Edge. This long-awaited Star Wars area is about to open at Disneyland Anaheim and the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida. Crazy crowds and multiple-hour queues are guaranteed during the next few months and years. It almost seems as if the other Disney resorts don’t exist anymore. But that’s not the case and in fact, those other resorts are also expanding at a rapid pace. Shanghai Disneyland is working on a brand-new Zootopia-themed section and in Europe, Imagineers are finally trying to make the Walt Disney Studios Park a full-day experience. In the meantime, both Tokyo Disneyland and DisneySea are building a major fairytale-style expansion. But… what about 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 pixiedust (and a 1,4 billion dollar investment) to transform Hong Kong Disneyland into a world-class theme park.

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Hjälmar and Niek joined me during this trip to the Far East. They’re both here for the first time. That deserves a party (or two or three…) at cocktail bar Petticoat Lane, but of course, we’re also planning a trip to Hong Kong Disneyland. This is quite special for Niek, as he will enter a Disney theme park for the very first time. That’s an important moment, so we opt for the full option package. That package includes being accompanied by two convinced Disney fans, the discovery of a brand-new attraction and a stay at Disney’s hotel resort. And the experience wouldn’t be complete if we didn’t use Hong Kong Disneyland’s own metro line, right?

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Last year I stayed at Disney Explorers Lodge, a recently built hotel with a colonial theme. This is definitely one of the nicest Disney accommodations I’ve ever seen. Nevertheless, we’re choosing the adjacent Hollywood Hotel this time. The theme is somewhat less elaborate and the overall atmosphere is cooler, but it’s a great place to sleep nevertheless. It’s the cheapest option to stay at Hong Kong Disneyland, but you shouldn’t expect a budget hotel either. Hollywood Hotel actually contains all elements you’ll find at the Moderate and Deluxe Resorts at Walt Disney World, including a great cocktail bar on the ground floor. Advantages of staying at a Disney hotel are free bus transport, a designated lane at the entrance and one Fastpass offered every day. However, there is no extra park time (such as the Magic Hours at other resorts) in Hong Kong. That’s not a problem because the park is often quiet enough to see everything within one day.

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As I mentioned, shuttle buses are free of charge. But please, do me a favor: just walk to the park. From the Hollywood Hotel, it takes less than twenty minutes and the walkway is actually one of the most beautiful places within the resort. The trail is surrounded by tropical plants, cheerful Disney songs can be heard all day long and very few people seem to know this route. It’s always special to be alone within a Disney resort. As soon as we see a huge fountain with Mickey, however, more people start showing up. This fountain marks the entrance to Hong Kong Disneyland, which is located at the foot of an iconic train station.

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We scan our admission tickets and we then enter Main Street USA. That’s a familiar feeling for the majority of our group, but Niek experiences something totally new. Unfortunately, his first encounter with Disney’s famous entry zone isn’t perfect. Although most facades look great, the ultimate eye-catcher on Main Street is a construction site during our visit. Hong Kong Disneyland is currently transforming its tiny Sleeping Beauty Castle into a much larger fairy tale castle. As a result, cranes and metal scaffolding dominate our views today. A perfect tourist selfie with the icon of Disneyland isn’t possible, but there’s also good news. According to the maintenance calendar, not a single ride should be closed today. A closed Mystic Manor or Grizzly Mountain would be more bothersome than a castle in scaffolding, if you ask me. Lucky us.

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There’s no better way to fight the Monday morning feeling than riding a rollercoaster. That’s why we start our day at 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 lighting effects during the ride are even stronger than they were in the past. The layout remained identical and the ride is just as smooth and fast as it was before. Hyperspace Mountain is still a fantastic rollercoaster, but my non-existent love for Star Wars makes me prefer the original version.

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At the time the park opened its gates back in 2005, Tomorrowland was mostly dedicated to space travel. Both Space Mountain and Orbitron simulate a flight in a spacecraft and nearby restaurants also refer to the cosmos. However, the focus has shifted in recent years: today’s Tomorrowland is a collection of futuristic things in general. The biggest changes are related to Marvel, one of Disney’s current money-making machines. I’m not into superheroes, so Marvel is uncharted territory to me. Still, I don’t hate it and I’m actually curious about the Marvel attractions coming in the following years. In January 2017, Hong Kong Disneyland had the honour to present the world’s first Marvel ride. It’s called Iron Man Experience and it’s a pretty convincing attraction. The queue area – which represents an exhibition full of high-tech gadgets – is beautiful and the ride doesn’t disappoint. The great thing about Iron Man Experience is the fact that the story is about Hong Kong. This ensures recognisable visuals and it makes this attraction quite unique. Besides, a good amount of humour and a nice soundtrack were provided, so I like this ride a lot. It’s considerably softer than (the almost similar) Star Tours, but our fellow passengers clearly seem to find it spectacular.

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Hong Kong Disneyland’s newest Marvel ride opened one week before our departure. I’m talking about Ant-Man and the Wasp: Nano Battle. This attraction reuses the layout and the omnimover system of Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters, a dark ride that has been part of Hong Kong Disneyland for only twelve years. It’s a shame that this ride was closed, but the result of the transformation looks convincing. Once again, I don’t know anything about Ant-Man, but the attraction is nicely themed and the waiting area looks stunning. 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 that joystick) and the laser game was modernised a bit. Nano Battle is certainly not the most powerful attraction Disney has ever created, but I think it’s cool and there’s a good repeat value. A second ride is perfectly possible thanks to the ride’s high capacity. Because even during this relatively busy Monday, the waiting time doesn’t exceed 40 minutes.

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We leave Marvel and Tomorrowland behind and we enter Fantasyland. Let’s get straight to the point: this is the place to go for the world’s best theater show in an amusement park. The name of this gem is Mickey and the Wondrous Book and it can be found in the Storybook Theater. Here, Disney created pure magic. The show contains a great background story, the live singing is very strong and the sets are beautiful. Even the bilingualism – a pain during most shows at Disneyland Paris – doesn’t feel unnatural here. It doesn’t happen often that I want to see a theater show twice in one day, but Mickey and the Wondrous Book is just too good. We will be back tonight to experience this 30-minute extravaganza again. Exceptionally good.

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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 the cartoony facades, the cute puppets and that eternal-lasting song just makes me intensely happy. This guilty pleasure is expressed even more in Hong Kong Disneyland, because this is the most beautiful version if you ask me. The scenes look modern and a number of subtly integrated Disney characters create extra recognisability. I know that many people hate It’s a Small World, but I just wouldn’t want to miss it during a day at Disneyland.

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Since the closure of Astro Blasters, no dark ride concept can be found at every Disney resort anymore. However, there are a number of concepts that score five out of six. These are It’s a Small World, Peter Pan’s Flight, Pirates of the Caribbean and The Many Adventures of Winnie The Pooh. Unfortunately, Hong Kong’s version isn’t as fabulous as its Japanese counterpart. This resort got the standard version, which mainly consists of cardboard and simple animatronics. It’s not a bad attraction, but it’s bizarre that this simple dark ride usually generates the longest waiting times within the entire park. Winnie The Pooh gets queues of up to 50 minutes during the busiest times of day.

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Mickey and the Wondrous Book allowed me to sing along with timeless Disney songs, but there’s a second place in Fantasyland where this is possible. I’m talking about Mickey’s PhilharMagic. This is a 4D movie and it’s known that such attractions are a thing from the past. Yet, Disney’s version seems to age better than the others. It’s Tough to be a Bug remains the most original 4D experience, but my top favorite is still PhilharMagic. The storyline is funny and the growing screen is a very cool feature. This comment doesn’t automatically apply to the version in Paris, because apparently the European park cut all the things that make Mickey’s PhilharMagic so good.

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After a short walk through the elaborately themed fairy tale forest, we enter the jungle. Hong Kong Disneyland’s Adventureland is huge and it also feels remarkably authentic. This isn’t only due to the exotic plants and the bongo music; the tropical climate and the green hills near the park play a big role as well. The area is stunning, but unfortunately there aren’t that many attractions at Adventureland. We don’t necessarily need to take a boat trip to Tarzan’s tree house and the recently added Moana show seems a bit childish to us.

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Adventureland is huge, but most of the surface was filled with one single ride: Jungle River Cruise. Unfortunately, you shouldn’t judge an attraction by its size, because this ride is rather disappointing. Just like in America, the Skipper (your expedition leader during the cruise) plays an important role in the total experience. If you’re accompanied by a hilarious Skipper, Jungle Cruise may deliver the best 10 minutes of your day. On the other hand, those 10 minutes may become very awkward if you get a boring Skipper. In Hong Kong, there’s a third possibility: you may don’t understand a word of what that Skipper is trying to say. We chose the queue for an English ride, but apart from hello and bye bye, the narration remains virtually incomprehensible. It’s a shame that this attraction performs so poorly, because the actual theming is clever and there’s a powerful final.

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The best part of Adventureland isn’t Jungle River Cruise, but Theater in the Wild. This is the place where you can watch Festival of the Lion King. This show is a loose (and quite speedy) interpretation of the film of the same name. The name and 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 half-hour performance with great music and good actors.

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Next to Adventureland, some relatively recently opened zones can be found. Call it the suburbs of Hong Kong Disneyland, because this area is located beyond the berm (behind the train tracks) of Disneyland. Fortunately, it’s a nicer place than the suburbs of Paris or Brussels. This corner consists of three tiny themed areas. These were inaugurated in 2011, 2012 and 2013 respectively. The first phase was Toy Story Land, a rather simple collection of fairground attractions in a plastic fantastic environment. I know that this is exactly what designers tried to portray with this zone, but I just don’t like it. It’s too simple, too cheap. We only make a quick ride on RC Racer. It still delivers quite a few butterflies in my belly and it’s indispensable for the Dutch guys’ coaster bingo.

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Technically speaking, RC Racer is indeed a rollercoaster. In reality, however, it turns out to be nothing more than a swinging ship. Fortunately, a real rollercoaster was built during phase 2: Grizzly Gulch. This area is the playful alternative to Frontierland, including Far West-themed houses, impressive rock formations and a number of steaming geysers. Grizzly Gulch is a rather small-scaled area, but it’s incredibly cute.

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Grizzly Gulch is cute, but its main attraction is simply awesome. Yes, I’m serious: Big Grizzly Mountain Runaway Mine Cars is a winner. This is a modern Vekoma family roller coaster and it offers one of the world’s most complete theme park experiences. We don’t just board a rollercoaster here, but we’re stepping into a story. A story that has a friendly start, an exciting middle section and a pretty intense final. Every twist and turn is explained through the ride’s background story. A bear accidentally sends us into the wrong tunnel, a crackling cable causes the backward part and two hungry grizzly bears ignite an explosive finale. Not a single rollercoaster on Earth puts a smile on my face like this one does. It’s clear that Big Grizzly Mountain is one of my favorite attractions of all time. This is the type of perfection that only Disney can achieve.

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Talking about perfection… let’s move on to phase 3 of Hong Kong Disneyland’s recent expansion. People often say that you should always save the best for last. And Disney applied that rule brilliantly: after the moderate Toy Story Land and the fantastic Grizzly Gulch, the icing on the cake still had to come. That icing is called Mystic Point, a beautiful area with tropical vegetation, mysterious walking trails and the mansion of Lord Henry Mystic. It’s a zone that seems to belong in an adventure movie. And despite its small surface, Mystic Point is great in many other aspects.

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Although I call myself a Rollercoaster Traveller, the term Dark Ride Traveller might suit me better. That’s because 10 laps on an excellent B&M cannot match that 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, cool 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 final scene, in which both the visual spectacle and the music reach a monumental high point, delivers pure goosebumps. During that climax, I once again realise that the Imagineers behind this ride deserve tons of respect. Yes, this was definitely worth that twelve-hour flight.

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I didn’t say a word about the parade and that’s strange. I like parades a lot and I know the whole Flights of Fantasy song by heart (the English version, of course). Yet, the catchy theme song and the cheerful dance moves were the nicest elements of the entire parade. Most floats are rather small-scale and Flights of Fantasy is a little too short to impress. Fortunately, Paint The Night Parade makes up for that in the evening. When the parade’s theme song hits the speakers, you know that you’re about to witness fifteen 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?

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When can we do Paint The Night again? When can we do Big Grizzly Mountain again? When can we do Mystic Manor again? And again? And again? You know… I don’t like to read overly positive trip reports. I think it’s important to be critical and to keep both feet on the ground. Words like magic or enchantment usually make me sick. But very occasionally, those are the best terms to express my feelings. Because yes, Hong Kong Disneyland is magic. From the moment you enter the resort until the moment you leave; it’s pure magic. I’m aware of the fact that this may sound strange. Hong Kong Disneyland is still a small-scale resort and one medium-sized park has to do the job. I also don’t want to claim that this is the best theme park on Earth; I still prefer Tokyo DisneySea and Disney California Adventure. Yet, Hong Kong Disneyland gives me a feeling that no other Disney resort will ever give. I consider it as some kind of crush which doesn’t seem to end.

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The frequency of my trips is the best way to show how much I love Hong Kong Disneyland. I came here for the first time in 2013 and I assumed that it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. But now, six years later, I’m already here for the fourth time. Was this the last visit? No. Will I be here again soon? Probably. And will I count the days until that next trip? Oh yes, definitely.

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