Planning a Trip to Hong Kong Disneyland
Written by Bryan Wawzenek
In many ways, Hong Kong is Asia made easy. If you're an American traveler making a first visit to the continent, it's an ideal starting place. Because Hong Kong was under British rule until 1997 (when it was returned to China), the city has a decidedly Western aesthetic. English is widely understood and spoken. Signage is abundant. Transportation is simple. If you're familiar with finding your way in a major U.S. city, you can be plopped down in the middle of Hong Kong and everything should make sense – in great contrast to the learning curve that exists in most other Asian metropolises.Tweet
Yet, these conveniences don't come at the expense of the city's character or Chinese culture. Unlike Singapore (a city that also was a British colony), Hong Kong hasn't totally whitewashed its more interesting elements in favor of shiny facades. The city's disparate characteristics (colonial, modern, natural) make for a fascinating experience. Streets packed with Chinese wet markets wind around gleaming, angular skyscrapers, which stand before a landscape of green mountains. Some of those lush peaks also are part of the atmosphere at Hong Kong Disneyland. It's an element unique to this version of the Magic Kingdom, one that emphasizes the park's (relatively) small size while also enhancing its beauty.
Do You Need a Visa?
I'm getting ahead of myself. First, let's get you to Hong Kong. One thing you don't have to worry about is arranging a tourist visa. Visitors from North America and most of Europe receive visas on arrival that let you stay for 90 days (180 if you are British), as long as you're not in Hong Kong to study or work. This is different from mainland China, which has a more involved and expensive visa process (it cost my wife and I $300, and a couple of headaches, for our visas when we visited Shanghai and Beijing earlier this year).
Side note: Mainland China recently amended its visa policy for five of its cities (including Shanghai) so that visitors can travel visa-free as long as they stay for less than 72 hours and are booked to fly onto a third destination. For Theme Park Insider readers, that means that, in a couple years, you could hit Shanghai Disneyland and Hong Kong Disneyland on one trip and skip the extra expense of a Chinese visa. Not bad.
Hotels near Hong Kong Disneyland
Now you need a hotel. When it comes to accommodations, Hong Kong isn't cheap (it's a fixture on Forbes' Most Expensive Cities list). Because of this, you might just want to splurge and stay at one of the two hotels at the Hong Kong Disneyland Resort – the Hong Kong Disneyland Hotel or Disney's Hollywood Hotel. Right now, rates start at HK$1,650 (about US$213) and go up to HK$7,500 ($967). In addition to budget concerns, you have to think about location. HKDL is out on Lantau Island, removed from the major sites of Hong Kong and Kowloon. So, if the park is not your sole stop in Hong Kong, you might want to split your time between hotels, or only set up camp in an area with easier access to the city's highlights.
If you're booking a non-Disney hotel, here's something to be aware of. Just because you book a room marked "double" doesn't mean that you are booking for two people. Many hotels in Hong Kong charge by the number of people staying in the room, even if the bed, towels, amenities are the same. (It's also this way in Japan.) So, when you are looking for a good deal, make sure it's for the correct number of people in your group.
I speak from experience. We accidentally booked a double room for one person at the Canada Hotel in Kowloon. We used Agoda.com to get a good rate (something we've done many, many times to great results). When the hotel clerks demanded that we pay an upcharge that was more expensive than the current listed rate for two people, we questioned the amount and asked to speak to a manager. He was called, the phone was handed over and he quickly became enraged that we were even questioning this. He then told us that the hotel had an "unwritten policy" that it could refuse to let us stay there. This is exactly what he did, even though we had already paid for the room. What hospitality! So, my advice is to be careful and avoid the Canada Hotel – but not Canadians themselves, who can make for excellent company. (P.S. It worked out OK. We found a nearby Best Western with a decent rate and had a pleasant stay there.)
OK, so you've got your flight and hotel booked. Now you just need to know how to get from the busy, but efficient, Hong Kong International Airport to your room. That's where Hong Kong's excellent public transportation system comes in. The best way out of the airport is on the MTR subway's dedicated Airport Express line. It moves fast and only makes three stops, each connected to "regular" subway lines. You can choose those or take a taxi (less expensive than New York or Tokyo) from there, depending on the location of your hotel. One piece of advice: if you're not a solo traveler, buy your Airport Express ticket from a clerk at the counter, not a machine. There is a discount for those who buy multiple tickets at a time. Our two tickets cost about US$14 for the 40-minute ride.
It will be a little bit different if you're going straight to the Hong Kong Disneyland Resort. Because HKDL and the airport are both on Lantau, a taxi ride shouldn't be too expensive. You could also take the Airport Express to the first stop, and take a couple of short subway trips to the resort. Alternately, it's possible that the hotels offer shuttle service. I looked into this, but wasn't able to locate anything. My best advice: ask your hotel.
Getting to Hong Kong Disneyland
If you're staying on-site, you can get the park by walking (15 to 30 minutes, depending on the hotel and your pace) or via shuttle, which drops visitors 5 minutes from the gates. If you're staying elsewhere in Hong Kong, your best bet is the subway, considering that the MTR has a dedicated Disneyland Resort line. Unless you're paralyzed by the mere thought of navigating a subway system, you'll find the experience hassle-free. Even if you run into trouble, you should have plenty of time. After all, HKDL opens late (not until 10:30 a.m. during my visit). All you need to do is get to the Sunny Bay station (about a 30-minute ride from the main areas of Kowloon and Hong Kong) and jump on the Disneyland line, which constantly makes the eight-minute journey between its two stops. The whole trip cost US$5 one-way for both of us.
Although it's not a Disney monorail, the above-ground train is the next best thing. The windows and handholds are Mickey-shaped, each car houses a bunch of Disney character statuettes, there are wide, padded benches and everything is immaculate. And then you arrive at the Disneyland Resort station, also known as the cleanest and most inviting train station in the entire world. It's like something out of Main Street, U.S.A., with ornamental light fixtures and stately, turn-of-the-century design. If good old Marceline, Missouri, had required a subway station, it could have looked something like this. In an extra touch, some of the pillars have sorcerer hats for their foundations. You're not in the park yet, but you might as well be.
A few steps out of the station and you're on your way under the welcome sign and onto Hong Kong Disneyland's entrance plaza, where the centerpiece is a fountain that finds Mickey surfing on a whale's spout. The huge fountain incorporates Hong Kong's maritime legacy, as well as Mickey's pals, who are caught up in their own hi-jinks on the periphery of the fountain. Donald's boat is, of course, sinking fast. Man, will that guy ever catch a break?
The ticket booths stand to the right of the fountain plaza. We had purchased our two-day tickets (about US$150 for the two of us) online, so we bypassed the manned booths to go to the ticket machines. We scanned the credit card we had used for the purchase, typed in a confirmation code and, in seconds, Jessie and Rex were staring at us from the backs of our two tickets. Pretty easy.
All that was left to do was wait in line for opening time (which, again, was 10:30 a.m.). The only problem was, where were the lines? Keep in mind that our most recent Disney experience was in Tokyo, where we often arrived 90 minutes before park opening to join hundreds and hundreds of visitors who had been camped out for quite some time. In Hong Kong, we showed up about 45 minutes before things started, and the place was a ghost town. Did I get the time wrong? Was the place closed for repairs? Was I going to have to punch a moose in the nose? What in the name of Walley World was going on?
At 10:00 a.m., the gates were opened as a recording told us (in English, Cantonese and Mandarin, I think) that Main Street was open now and the rest of the park would follow at 10:30. In the meantime, everything on Main Street was hopping. You could grab a photo with Mickey in the town square, wander through the bakery and souvenir shops or check out Monsters University – a clever little overlay on the park's Art of Animation building across from City Hall. A white rope at the end of brick-covered Main Street prevented guests from going into the park's hub.
Just before the official opening, a little girl with a big pair of scissors was brought out to cut the ribbon, with Goofy and Pluto's assistance, and declare the park open. We stood in a crowd … scratch that – a small gathering of folks about three people deep. Because this is China, where personal space is not a priority, we were all smushed together like it was the last express subway train during rush hour. But, in a few moments, I'd be able to move my arms and legs again … and, of course, experience Hong Kong Disneyland's spin on the Magic Kingdom.
Tomorrow: Part Two - A Tour of Hong Kong Disneyland
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