Asian Adventure, Part 2 - Hong Kong Disneyland

Edited: October 29, 2017, 7:25 AM

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Checking in at Hong Kong Disneyland – The Jungle Booking

Thanks for sticking with me so far! We now enter 5 ½ days straight of exotic Disney Parks, which was the main point of this trip.

Leaving Ocean Park around 2, I head straight back to Ibis Styles Hong Kong. Overall for this trip I’ll stay at 6 different hotels, most for only 2 days each, so there are plenty of midday transfers. Partly for this reason I’ve packed very light, with a single carry-on which is easy to drag through airports and metros and unfamiliar bustling sidewalks.

This is what I’m doing now, following checkout, schlepping through Hong Kong’s fabulous MTR to the Hong Kong Disneyland Resort. This is easy, and takes under 30 minutes. The airport line from Central has a stop on Lantau Island for the dedicated Disneyland line.

Disney certainly makes your arrival feel special, in every resort I’ve seen so far. The outdoor transfer platform for HKDL is just a little better manicured and maintained than Hong Kong’s other stations…and Hong Kong is clean already! The train itself has Mickey windows and Mickey handles, plus faux-bronze character Mickey statues in glass Mickey displays between cars. The announcement voice, though in Cantonese, is Mickey’s. Already you’re entering another world, and it certainly feels peculiar between the Disney familiarity and the foreign exoticism.

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It’s well past 3 once the train arrives at the Disneyland station, and wall-to-wall guests exit to begin their day touring the park. (I won’t enter the park ‘til tomorrow.) I’ve already completed a theme park for the day! Compared to Ocean Park’s morning guests, there are more families here, more young children. To be expected for Disneyland.

The Hong Kong Disneyland Resort is beautifully located on the southern coast of Lantau Island, on reclaimed land at the foot of a picturesque mountain range. Leafy jungle foliage perpetually threatens to overtake the resort’s well-maintained roadways. Gardeners are a constant sight, always trimming back tenacious tropical vines. The infrastructure on its own reminds me of Orange County CA’s affluent gated communities, complete with decorative fountains and “Mictorian” fencing. It’s that jungle flora (and humidity) which sets this resort apart.

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While most train guests proceed under a gateway towards the park, I follow different signage towards the hotel buses. Hong Kong Disneyland Resort is compact, with the theme park sitting across from a park-sized expansion pad. To their east is the parking complex, and to their west are the hotels. It’s all roughly the size of Disneyland Resort, only with lush verdant overgrowth instead of Anaheim’s chintzy chain motels.

Unsurprisingly, the resort is easy to use. Whenever needed, there’s a sign in English and Cantonese. The free resort buses arrive every 5 minutes and follow a single simple circuit between the park and all three hotels. It’s super compact and convenient!

Do note this is my first time actually staying onsite at a Disney resort. I live 40 minutes from the original Disneyland. Most visits are habitual and casual. Disney World fans are constantly talking about hotels, extended stays, things like dining points and the DVC which are totally alien concepts to me. This will be my introduction to a new style of Disney vacation.

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Lodging is at Disney’s Hollywood Hotel. I’m unfamiliar with the Deluxe-etc. terminology Disney uses, but it’s the mid-tier hotel. The high-end hotel is the “Mictorian” Hong Kong Disneyland Hotel (patterned after the Grand Floridian), where I’ll be dining this evening. The lower-tier hotel located between the others is Disney Explorers Lodge. This lodge I didn’t explore, but it seems to be a continuation of the Adventureland style; I suspect Animal Kingdom has something similar.

I’ve picked the Hollywood Hotel mostly for a pricing deal. I surely didn’t fly from Los Angeles for Hong Kong’s faux-Hollywood theming…that just isn’t exotic. The hotel’s look, though, is really quite pleasant, all streamlined Art Deco modern curves which stand apart from the encroaching jungle. This particular architectural minimalism is very comforting for me, so the hotel felt like home in a surprising and relaxing sort of way.

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Silly Hollywood décor continues throughout the common areas. There are statues of Mickey and pals in the style of Golden Age Hollywood celebrities. There’s a mural of assorted Hollywood landmarks behind the check-in counter. Busboys are dressed as non-spooky Tower of Terror bellhops. Bilingual mouse voices in the elevator announce your floor.

I gather the Mickey overlay is common to all Disney hotels. It definitely brands things. It’s that “Disney Bubble” effect which, well…We all value Disney parks for different reasons. I’m in love with the artistry of Imagineering. You could replace Mickey with Minions as long as the same quality shines through. Other guests have deep emotional connections with the Disney characters, so no doubt Disney’s hotels are extra meaningful for them.

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I am a fan of a well-run hotel, however, and Disney’s Hollywood Hotel surely is that! Check-in was painless. The staff’s English was really good – better than at the Tokyo Disney Resort, frankly. This made my series of complex questions – regarding pre-purchased park tickets, hotel guest perks, dining, laundry – not so complex.

In fact, check-in quickly transitioned from formal to conversational. Out of politeness or actual interest, the concierge asked about my travel plans (Californians aren’t a common sight at HKDL). I let slip that I’d just left Ocean Park, and her face just lit up with genuine passion. She loves Ocean Park, which belongs to Hong Kong in a way this Disneyland never can. Disney runs a tighter ship than Ocean Park (she was a big part of that!), but in her eyes I saw that same warm locals’ pride in Ocean Park which I feel for the original Disneyland and its rustic neighbor Knott’s Berry Farm.

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My room was nice. Hotel rooms aren’t something I can speak too eloquently on; I slept in it. A post-visit survey (which I took in a Tokyo pub) suggested that there was a Halloween overlay in the hotel room, which frankly I never noticed. There was AC, wifi, a comfy bed, and a functional restroom with easy-to-flush toilet, so my needs were met.

The view was unexpectedly nice – there are no bad views in HKDL, probably the most naturally beautiful Disney resort. The window overlooked Disneyland, not that I could pick out much more than the tallest castle spires. Peering elsewhere, the Disneyland Hotel façade frames a panorama of the Hong Kong skyline behind it. That’s a neat view! Rooms facing away from the park view the South China Sea – all three hotels are situated on the coast. Just north of Hollywood Hotel are rocky, stream-filled mountains. (With more time, I’d’ve loved hiking those mountains, which reminded me so much of my local trails in the Angeles National Forest.)

Really, overall Hong Kong is just a pretty place.

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That humidity, though! (I’m a broken record on this topic.) With all the raining and sweating, somehow even the clothes I haven’t worn yet have gotten wet. I’m running through my outfits thrice as fast as I’d planned. Pre-trip research suggested that Tokyo’s Hotel Miracosta has no laundry service (a strange oversight for a 5-star hotel, one I never verified). Instead I just pulled the emergency cord and had Hollywood Hotel clean my filthy, filthy clothes. Not much to say about that. It was handled efficiently while I was out touring. Returning after a day of fun, finding my apparel neatly pressed on hangers, that’s a great luxury. Just another minor thing which reflects glowingly on this hotel, which was a true joy to visit.

While at the front desk I’d made dinner reservations that night for Crystal Lotus in the Disneyland Hotel. That was still hours away by the time I’d recovered in my hotel room. Wanderlust kicking in, I headed out to explore the resort.

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I took the resort bus back over to the theme park, familiarizing myself. Dressed in my best “jungle formal” outfit (a classy Hawaiian shirt), I slowly, casually ambled towards the park entrance. Not to see the park yet, but to take in the scenic esplanade. I lingered at the resort’s iconic fountain, which depicts the Fab Five in watercraft surrounding a grinning cartoon whale. Mickey is riding a surfboard atop the waterspout.

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The nature walk from here back to the hotels was exceedingly tranquil, just me and the jungle vines. In Hong Kong’s summer humidity, no one walks unnecessarily, and I kept a very deliberate pace to keep my pores from opening up again. Success!

Because I was trying to minimize distances, I didn’t walk out onto the resort’s ocean pier. From what I can tell, this dock is meant to receive the Disney Cruise Line…How fun would that cruise be?! Once this resort expands into its second gate pad, I’d imagine Imagineering will be able to do some really unique things with this dock area!

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The Hong Kong Disneyland Hotel, with its jungle setting, feels like a British adventurers’ outpost on the edge of the wilderness. With one wing under renovation, covered in the region’s distinctive bamboo scaffolding, this impression is driven home.

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The hotel’s interior is posh…too posh! Honestly, this sort of Victorian ambiance feels a little stuffy and starched to me. (The Victorian-style Tokyo Disneyland Hotel has a similar feel.) Here, Hong Kong’s British past shines through. To kill time until dinner, and quench an undying thirst, I’d intended to grab a beer in the hotel’s lounge, which I was sure it would have! (As a local, that’s the primary function of DCA’s Grand Californian.) Nope, it has a tea room! While I did manage a seat and a pint, it seemed all sorts of awkward when everyone else was enjoying Earl Grey tea with bitesize cucumber sandwiches.

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Eventually, the time came for my Crystal Lotus seating. This is a fancy tablecloth Chinese restaurant, with a stuffiness in keeping with the hotel. Honestly, I enjoyed the casual, hair-down ambiance of the Hollywood Hotel a lot more, and I’m glad that’s where I was staying. My meal – Cantonese barbecued pork as recommended by the waiter – was tasty enough, but I’ll let the picture speak for itself. Kinda boring and expensive, the antithesis of Hong Kong street cuisine.

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Dessert was slightly interesting. Chinese jellies molded to resemble Iron Man…even though they’d advertised it as Star Wars!

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In retrospect, the most disappointing meals trip-wide were all fine-dining. This surprises me, because normally I like fine-dining. Even in theme parks. DCA’s Carthay Circle is my favorite park restaurant! Maybe it was the trip’s tenor. The food in Hong Kong and Japan was typically amazing, and consistently I found the fine-dining meals the least adventurous. Certainly compared to the miracle of Hong Kong street food, Crystal Lotus was rather staid. Its reviews are generally excellent, too, so consider my opinion the anomaly here.

Anyway…The sun set while my back was turned. In the sweltering jungle nighttime, bugs chirruping away, I rode the bus back “home.” In the dark, Hollywood Hotel’s blue neon Mickey windows take on an eerie glow. My return is carefully timed to watch the park’s fireworks display from the hotel room. (Again, kudos to the Hollywood Hotel staff for suggesting this!) There’s a TV station which plays the show’s audio, which I assume is common in Disney hotels.

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Fireworks explode, seen through water-condensed windows (great evidence of the region’s humidity). From the hotel perspective there’s plenty I missed, like the projections on the Castle. I catch glimpses of incredible fireballs rising from the park’s hub. Still, for a compromised fireworks view it remains magical – and there it is, that most common Disney adjective! For assorted reasons I’ll make no efforts the following day to see these fireworks from within the park, but still I’m satisfied.

I don’t turn in immediately afterwards. I study the park map for a while, and otherwise get my bearings. Tonight has just been an appetizer for tomorrow…

Up next: Day 5 – Hong Kong Disneyland!!

Replies (18)

October 29, 2017, 1:00 PM

Aw man, hanging on to the edge of my seat here....

(Great report btw)

Edited: October 30, 2017, 7:25 AM

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Day 5: Hong Kong Disneyland – Main Street & Tomorrowland

Hong Kong Disneyland doesn’t open until 10:30. Have I mentioned this city’s relaxed pace yet? And of course I’m still beating the sun up every morning, thanks to time zones and generally being a morning person. This left oodles of time to enjoy Hollywood Hotel’s buffet breakfast, and still dillydally.

I neglected to bring my phone (i.e. camera) downstairs to take food pics, but trust me it was a tasty meal. With a buffet you don’t expect high quality so much as good variety. I got just that, with different expansive stations dedicated to western, Chinese, and halal cuisine. Yesterday I ate very little, and this trip has been quite active, so I load up a heaping generous plate of waffles and eggs…followed by a heaping plate of dim sum…followed by a heaping plate of curry…You get the idea.

While feasting, I overheard a conversation from two Americans nearby. Best as I could tell they were Imagineers (!). They discussed how different attraction types work or don’t depending on location – California guests don’t like shows – and how freeing it is to design for Hong Kong even when it’s slow there, because you’re free from the micromanagers in Burbank.

I tried passing more time in my room by continuing to reread “IT.” Still I grew restless, and once I could see the resort buses downstairs making their rounds, I strolled on down and hopped onto the next one.

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Eventually I found myself at Hong Kong Disneyland’s entry gates around 9:30. My (inexpensive) park ticket came with the hotel, so I’m all set. The crowds are gathering, but they are incredibly light, and will remain so all day. I was curious about this park’s clientele. Based on observation, there’s a rather varied mixture of local Hong Kongers (to be expected) and Southeast Asians ranging from Thai to Vietnamese to Indian. All English speakers were Australian. Best as I can tell, there were few to no Mainland Chinese guests, which makes sense now that Shanghai Disneyland directly appeals to that market.

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Around 10 they open up Main Street. Crowds amble in. Cast members hold guests at bay before the hub, but they don’t even need a rope. Most guests are simply milling about elsewhere.

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Here’s the most crucial thing about Hong Kong Disneyland: It’s a clone of Disneyland. It’s not exact, of course, but their Main Streets are incredibly similar. Like, they used basically the same blueprints. On a cursory glance, the only major visual differences are the jungle plants and the brick paving. The Opera House holds an Animation Academy. Shops are open (naturally), so there’s half an hour to explore the land. Compared to Disneyland, the buildings’ texture and finishing seems a little…plainer? Less textured, less dimensioned. Like it’s the budget-conscious Disneyland Park, which is kind of the reputation HKDL has garnered. Is that reputation earned? We’ll revisit that question a few updates from now!

Eventually I notice a queue forming near Main Street Cinema. I dutifully take my spot. A few short minutes later I enter the building and an enormous bear lunges at me!

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It’s Duffy the Disney Bear!!!

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Duffy is the Patron Saint of the Tokyo parks. Lines to greet him in Japan can exceed the lines for Toy Story Mania. His merch does appear in Anaheim, but in limited amounts. Holding an audience with Duffy (and that rabbit whose name I don’t know) was gonna happen at some point on this trip, so might as well be in Hong Kong where there aren’t lines. Duffy is a mensch.

Now, Hong Kong doesn’t do Early Morning Hours for hotel guests. There’s really no reason to. Instead the hotel gives each guest two additional FastPasses good for any ride. There’s really no reason for these either. Wait times throughout the day rarely rose over 5 minutes!

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And when “rope drop” happens, it’s nothing like the piranha feeding frenzy in Anaheim. Guests barely move past that relaxed “make sure you don’t start sweating” pace which defines Hong Kong life. There’s no early morning “must do” attraction. Just go where you want.

My Disneyland instincts say to FastPass Space Mountain first…but the draw of Hong Kong’s unique rides proves too powerful. Instead I turn left towards Mystic Point, only to find a sign stating that it’s not open ‘til 11. The crowds just aren’t there yet. So I head back towards Tomorrowland and grab that Space Mountain FastPass. (Return time: 10:55)

I wound up never using it.

Only two Hong Kong rides have FastPass: Winnie the Pooh and Space Mountain/Iron Man Experience (they trade off). Pooh was closed for my visit – it’s the WDW version, so missing it here isn’t a big deal. (Don’t worry. The trip was timed carefully so no unique-to-Asia rides were closed.)

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Waiting to use a FastPass I’ll never use, I stroll over to Iron Man Experience. I’m not rushing, which feels counterintuitive right now. Iron Man is unique to Hong Kong, and as their newest ride it's getting the big resort-wide ad push. Its nickname is “Stark Tours,” because it’s simply a Star Tours reskin. Much of the difference is in the queue, a Stark Expo complete with Iron Man suits, a model of Hong Kong, and a whole collection of Stark Industries contraptions including our flight vehicle.

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Riders are guests on this prototype Star Speeder painted Iron Man red-and-gold. It actually takes off from Hong Kong Disneyland itself and sails over to Hong Kong…to the same streets I’d strolled days earlier. That’s pretty neat! Then Hydra attacks because of an Arc Reactor and yadda yadda big aerial gigantic machine doomsday device Marvel MCU battle.

Compared to Star Tours, this motion simulator doesn’t simulate very much motion. Rather, vehicles sit still on many an occasion while Tony Stark cracks wise in English (robots do on-ride translation). There’s only the one ride film. No random destinations. It’s fun but it doesn’t warrant revisiting. Or cloning.

They’re bringing more Marvel to Hong Kong’s Tomorrowland! This context will improve Iron Man Experience. Presently, the standard Buzz Lightyear shooter ride is getting reskinned with, like, an Ant-Man theme. And the former site of Autopia (that sure didn’t survive long!) is getting an all-new Avengers E-ticket sometime in 2023. Actually, if it weren’t for Space Mountain itself, I’d wager this entire Tomorrowland might get Marvelized. It’s really small, just some plants and some jokey futurism, and its only other features are that Jedi kiddie show and the usual Orbitron spinner deal. (Oh, and a Stitch Encounter "Turtle Talk," which I only learn about after returning from my trip.)

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It’s not time yet for the Space Mountain FastPass, so I just get in the standby line. A 10 minute wait, the day’s longest! Seriously! (That’s because of the slow dispatch times endemic to Hong Kong theme parks overall.) I haven’t seen a Disney park this vacant since DCA circa 2001, and I haven’t seen a good Disney park this vacant since the 1980s. Paris Disneyland in a snowstorm was more crowded.

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Hong Kong’s Space Mountain is still running the Star Wars Hyperspace overlay they recently retired at Disneyland. It’s the same as ours except with brighter lights, meaning you can plainly see the tracks. Wow, does the darkness really make this coaster work! Without it, it feels a whole lot tamer. For that reason I don’t consider a reride, FastPass or no (that 10 minute wait is past the FastPass merge anyway).

Nope, it’s past 11, the amazing stuff is open now. I wander across Fantasyland – we’ll get back to that – and zoom straight for Hong Kong’s one-of-a-kind E-tickets!

Up next: Mystic Manor! Big Grizzly Mountain Runaway Mine Cars! Toy Story Land

October 30, 2017, 7:07 AM

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HKDL: Toy Story Land, Mystic Point, & Grizzly Gulch

When Hong Kong Disneyland first opened in 2005, it only had stripped-down versions of Main Street, Adventureland, Fantasyland and Tomorrowland. That’s pretty weak-sauce. But three all-new original lands opened later that decade, and Hong Kong Disneyland has been worthwhile ever since!

Because this park is smaller even than tiny Disneyland, these lands are northwest beyond the berm, describing a large semi-circle on the outside of the Disneyland Railroad. The Frozen and Marvel expansions due for the park’s northeast corner will do the same. This is actually a pretty elegant layout solution, and it affords some cool atypical train views too.

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Coming from Fantasyland, the first destination is Toy Story Land. This is easily the least impressive of the new lands, with just three flats rides moderately themed. These are:

RC Racer – A track-based version of a swinging pirate ship ride, where a giant RC car goes up and down and up and down and up and down up and down along an orange Hot Wheelz ramp.

Slinky Dog Spin – A standard Himalaya spinner themed to Slinky Dog.

Toy Soldier Parachute Drop – It’s a drop tower.

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The land itself is cutely decorated, I guess, like we’ve all shrunk down to the size of Andy’s toys in the backyard. They use big bamboo sprouts to simulate oversized blades of grass. The Toy Story characters are scattered about as towering static props. I rode RC Racer, got whoozy from it because forward-and-back rides destroy me (especially in humidity), and I gave the other two rides a miss. There’s maybe a meet ‘n’ greet?

There’s…not really much else to Toy Story Land. I guess the three rides, each with a height requirement, are for kids as they age up out of Fantasyland. The budget must’ve been low on this one, to secure more funds for the next two lands. If that’s the sacrifice they needed, it was worth it.

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Mystic Point is a mini-land made so that Mystic Manor can have a home. It’s a Victorian jungle garden done in a playful dollhouse style (which I far prefer to the stuffier HK Disneyland Hotel vibe). There’s a small outdoors exhibit of largescale optical illusions. There’s a dim sum restaurant (mmm!). A gift shop. And then there’s Mystic Manor…

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Mystic Manor is maybe the best ride in the world!

How do I begin talking about this?! Okay, so…so they couldn’t do Haunted Mansion in China, right? Chinese culture regards ghosts and ancestors with great reverence. Spooky things are bad. With those limitations, our pals at Disney embraced a lighter, softer approach which has come to represent the Hong Kong Disneyland Resort as a whole. Instead they created an entirely original ride with lovable new characters, memorable music, and a robust, unshowy use of new ride tech.

I think we’ve all watched the on-ride videos. We’re the guests of S.E.A.’s world-famous antiquities collector Lord Henry Mystic. In a photograph preshow he explains his latest find, a music box which brings inanimate objects to life. Then we board Mystic’s magnetic cars for a private tour of the archives. His mischievous monkey Albert opens that danged music box, and suddenly the entire mansion erupts into musical life!

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There are fun individual scenes throughout, like singing suits of armor and a living jade statue of the Monkey King. The trackless ride vehicles allow for great storytelling freedom in the dark ride format, but compared to Pooh’s Hunny Hunt in Tokyo (3 days from now) the use of tech is less elaborate. No one moment of Mystic Manor is truly mind-blowing.

Instead, the entire ride is simply complete. Everything combines into a singular story told perfectly from beginning to end. Albert is my new favorite theme park character. He’s irascible, fun, and a very human monkey. I love it when he bounces along merrily to the Danny Elfman music, with this trickster glint in his eyes which is far more energizing than the cloying cutesiness of certain characters – ahem, Duffy!

It’s hard to fully explain why Mystic Manor works so perfectly. I’ve watched footage of it before, and the experience in person isn’t all that different. It just feels special. The creators’ passion is infectious, as evidenced by my joyous, goofy grin at days’ end after reriding it numerous times in a row:

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Moving on, there’s a sudden gated transition to Grizzly Gulch.

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This is Hong Kong’s reimagined version of Frontierland, here done as a High Sierras boom town infested by bears. In many ways it’s very similar to my own backyard, where multiple brown bears terrorized me mere days before my trip. I – am – not – joking!

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This is in my backyard!!!

Grizzly Gulch is the silly, cartoony version of Frontierland, compared to Paris’ dark and dusty Thunder Mesa. Like Mystic Manor : Phantom Manor. The mini-land’s main feature is a bear-shaped mountain, similar to Grizzly Peak in DCA. (Someone in Imagineering has a bear mania!) There’s some fun storyline conveyed throughout the little town via signage and details, like a single oversized gold nugget. There’s a little geyser splash playground. But we’re really here for Big Grizzly Runaway Mine Cars.

BGRMC playfully reimagines Big Thunder…with bears! It starts similarly: a mine train coaster thru the Old West. Then an itchy grizzly leans against a switch, and we careen down the wrong tunnel. (Clever symbolic use of lucky & unlucky Chinese numbers here.) Cute animatronic bears continue to wreak havoc on our voyage, sending the trains tumbling backwards, launching forwards, and crisscrossing a complex track layout which covers the entirety of Grizzly Gulch. Given the space to work with, it’s a long and impressive ride.

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It’s very fun too, thrilling without being rough – and that’s a good thing since the heat and humidity are making me slightly dehydrated. The launch and the backwards section make it distinctive. Another worthy addition to this undervalued park. And a classic example of a great Disney coaster where the place-making and beastly characters are the big draws.

To be slightly critical, some aspects of Big Grizzly seemed a liiiittle underdetailed. There are parallel tracks and bridge underpasses where the cool rockwork becomes repetitive. Compared to Big Thunder, it feels like the landscape was designed around the coaster, not the other way around. Wood walls in the queue, though maybe historically accurate, are shockingly bare. Compare the plainness of this Big Grizzly wall –

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- to one of the less detailed sections of DisneySea:

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But these are indeed fairly minor nitpicks. Rides like Big Grizzly or Mystic Manor would command deserving multi-hour waits in Anaheim. They’re practically walk-ons in Hong Kong, as is everything here. Stifling weather aside, which really is starting to become unpleasant, otherwise Hong Kong Disneyland is an absolute breeze to tour.

My question in Japan will soon be “How do I cram everything into a single day?” Here in Hong Kong my question now is “How do I fill up an entire day?”

Up next: Effortlessly conquering the rest of Hong Kong Disneyland.

October 30, 2017, 5:02 PM

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Adventureland & Fantasyland

Before starting this day’s adventure, I’d carefully studied the park map for unique snacks and restaurants. Upon entering Adventureland from Grizzly Gulch, I reach the most intriguing item – grilled Korean squid. I gobble one down with a mango drink. The squid has that usual rubbery squiddy texture, and light grill flavor. Worth trying.

Hong Kong’s Adventureland is mostly a venue for Jungle River Cruise, which reimagines the standard Jungle Cruise on a scale more befitting the Rivers of America. The boats begin along a much, much wider river. They circle Tarzan’s Treehouse, located where Tom Sawyer’s Island typically is, again accessed via rafts. Other details in Adventureland are fairly light, the jungle foliage taking substantial precedence over architecture, which is doubtlessly aided by the fact that this Adventureland is actually in a jungle! There are scattered Tiki idols and Ankor Wat ruins hidden along the overgrown trails, which are fun to roam. A few Tikis squirt water, which is actually marked as a distinct attraction called Liki Tikis (get it?). As usual, this Adventureland is a mélange of unrelated tropical influences, though appropriately it leans heavily on a Southeast Asian vibe.

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Jungle River Cruise is skippered in three languages: Cantonese, Mandarin, and English. I wanted to try Cantonese, which I honestly thought would be the funniest. However, cast members ushered me into the English line, assuming from my bearing that I speak English. I do. Too bad our skipper didn’t! He must’ve learned the script pho-net-ic-al-ly, but even his pronunciation was barely decipherable. Chinese speakers love swallowing their consonants. There was one bit, I think, about jungle spiders giving Spider-Man rabies (not kidding). With the garbled delivery it seemed more horrific than comical.

The river views, however, were distinctive and good. The river’s redesign – more expansive and naturalistic, less claustrophobic – makes Jungle River Cruise feel like an actual flooded water plain, with sunken reeds, meandering tributaries, irregular shorelines, and a general swampy atmosphere. That oppressive humidity, for once aiding in a ride’s immersion, truly helps simulate a voyage up the Mekong Delta to assassinate Colonel Kurtz.

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The ride’s original climax involves accursed rockwork deities belching up wet, wet waves and hot, hot flames. Not understanding the skipper, it’s not wholly clear what’s going on. This is an interesting idea, the sort of thing Universal would do. It’s far removed from the cheeky Marc Davis animal gags of the classic Jungle Cruise, but those gags – while present in this version – felt overshadowed by the believable river design anyway.

That’s sort of everything they have in Adventureland, so I continue on to an equally understocked Fantasyland. Winnie the Pooh (WDW version), which is down, is the land’s only dark ride. They don’t have Peter Pan!!!?! Thinking on it, there’s very little attraction overlap between here and Shanghai Disneyland, which seems wise.

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This Fantasyland of course has the three standard spinning rides: Dumbo, Teacups, Carousel. Even with short lines, I saw no reason to do these. They’re the same as everyplace, and always content-light. There’s not much else in Fantasyland’s rather small castle courtyard, attraction-wise. There’s a PhilharMagic. The courtyard design features the usual mix of tournament tents and grey balustrades. Disneyland’s Fantasyland evolved from that aesthetic into a Bavarian village in the early ‘80s, for I’m not sure why this “Disneyland clone” park went with the simpler old school look.

Oh, it’s a nice-looking area, pleasant to be in. Among Disney parks, only WDSP isn’t. But Hong Kong’s Fantasyland seems severely underachieving compared to many of its older cousins, and I’d wager this is ground zero for Hong Kong’s spotty reputation. The Frozen land which will open near here will really strengthen it.

One newer attraction which already gives this land a bit more depth is Fairy Tale Forest. This is a charming hedge maze walkthrough which seems to take elements from both Disneyland’s lovely Storybook Land Canal Boats (the models of Disney icons) and Paris’ Alice hedge maze. There might be a bit of Efteling’s Fairy Tale Forest in here too. It’s a cute diversion, nicely integrated with the green mountains beyond, full of playful details. My favorite, something 95% of guests will miss for how well hidden it was, is this adorable figure of Pascal from Tangled, no larger than my shoe:

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Now it’s getting hotter, I’ve been outside too long, and the nearby Mickey’s PhilharMagic is new and unique to me. A chance to sit in AC for half an hour? Sold!

The show, as most know, is a musical montage of Disney’s ‘90s hits with a Donald Duck through line. In Cantonese. Disney often defaults to this “greatest hits” approach in their shows and parades and fireworks, and I find it often below their imaginative capabilities. I understand it’s an inexpensive way to namedrop several profitable franchises, and younger guests especially find reassurance repeatedly seeing their favorite characters. PhilharMagic is technically well done, but it’s sort of the creative antithesis to masterworks like Mystic Manor.

Guests in the theater get rambunctious very quickly, and in a dozen languages. Several groups stand up at random intervals, dance, sit, trade seats…it’s a free-for-all! Kids are going nuts! Every Disney Park has its distinctive guest personality, and it seems this is Hong Kong’s. Disneyland has its jaded locals and their habitualized rituals, Tokyo has its hyper-polite fangirls in costumes, and Hong Kong is party central. In other contexts it’d be rudeness, but I can’t call it that here. It sure was something to behold.

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With that I’ve nearly completed Fantasyland, which is a pretty small world. The only thing left is “it’s a small world.” The façade is a variation on Disneyland’s. There don’t seem to be the same moving clocks, and Anaheim doesn’t have a gorgeous mountain backdrop. It's placed further back, behind the railroad. The ride is 100% indoors, for which I’m grateful since I was dreading those initial canals in the blazing hot Southeast Asian sun.

The ride itself is the same as always, with some minor variations in set dressing and layout. This is where Disney characters first started appearing in “small world,” a choice which proved very controversial when it migrated to California. The most interesting addition is a model of Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbour in the “Asia” room (compare “small world” pic below against the real thing!). They even included the Peak Tower! Otherwise, with Mary Blair’s artwork defining this ride so, so much, it doesn’t seem to allow for quirky regional variations like some other classics.

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Victoria Harbour
We’re nearing the mid-afternoon stretch. I’m about to learn a touring tactic beloved of East Coast Disney fans – when it gets nasty outside, go see the shows. This winds up being much, much more special than I’d anticipated! Hong Kong has exceptional shows!

Up next: Shows!

Edited: October 31, 2017, 8:11 AM

A
Parades, Shows, and Stretching Out My Day

They say there are two all-star E-tickets in Hong Kong Disneyland: Big Grizzly Mountain and Mystic Manor. There are actually four. The other two, surprisingly to me, are both live stage shows: “Mickey and the Wondrous Book” and “Festival of the Lion King.”

As I learned from the Imagineers that morning, Disneyland locals don’t like shows. Guilty as charged! Shows lack replay value, and that matters when you visit multiple times a year. Plus, show times are tricky to plan FastPasses around. More infrequent Disney World visitors get more from shows. When you’re vacationing, touring from morning to night, shows help break up a busy day and let you sit and relax productively. Plus there’s that escape from the humidity.

This is my first time as a Disney Park tourist, rather than daytripper, and suddenly shows sound appealing. The timing is perfect to begin with “Mickey and the Wondrous Book” in Fantasyland’s Storybook Theater. This recently replaced a “Golden Mickeys” show, and by all accounts the new production is superior.

HKDL 2
On paper, it’s nothing amazing. Mickey gets magically sucked into a gigantic book, while Olaf of all freaking characters is spat out. (Cantonese Olaf is shockingly tolerable.) The book pages turn and reveal new worlds, with projection animation akin to “Mickey and the Magic Map.” It’s then another “greatest hits” attraction, just a semi-random assortment of song & dance numbers from assorted Disney movies. What sets this apart and makes it exceptional are those ineffable qualities I can’t name, that infectious performance energy and spirit which is intrinsic to live theater. The songs are all staged in a Bollywood manner, which doubtlessly caters to Southeast Asian tastes. The Bollywood stylings really make it distinctive! There’s mesmerizing lighting and engaging dancing. I can’t decide in the end if I prefer the raucous King Louie number or the sultry Genie routine the best.

Following the show, there’s half an hour until the midday Flights of Fantasy parade. Grabbing a chilled mango drink along the way, I join others in the hub. Guests are lightly scattered, as my pics have shown, and there’s the unique spectacle of seeing parade crowds fight for shade instead of for sightlines. It really is ludicrously muggy outside. I feel tremendous sympathy for those poor cast members in the full-body character suits! Slowing down after the morning rush, I examine the hub and its pleasures.

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Now, just like a Disneylander, I’ve totally forgot to mention Hong Kong’s castle this whole time. That’s the first thing Disney Worlders glom onto! Yeah, it’s simply Disneyland’s castle. It’s small. I like the small castle. I grew up with it. Disneyland is a perfect theme park anyway. The castle fits Disneyland's scale, while Hong Kong's somewhat wider walkways reduce its appeal. Plus the castle feels like the copy it is. The castles shouldn’t be copied! (That goes for you too, Tokyo Disneyland!) But since this castle is getting completely redesigned into an original creation, there’s no need to kvetch further about what’s there now.

That mountain range behind it is HKDL’s coolest feature.

Also, I think Space Mountain might actually be closer to the hub, roughly in the Matterhorn location. That makes things feel cramped.

HKDL 2
Flights of Fantasy emerges. It sloooowly oozes down Main Street from the north. The big gimmick here is hot air balloon floats, with different balloon designs befitting the assortment of franchises their dartboard selected this time. It’s a pretty neat parade. Honestly, I’m more focused on the air conditioning, for though I’m standing outside in scattered shade, I can feel refreshing cool air flowing from the Plaza Inn restaurant some 30 feet away. That’s some powerful AC right there! And considering all I’ve eaten since breakfast is squid meat, it’s high time for a high tea.

Hong Kong’s Plaza Inn is actually a sit-down dim sum palace, decorated like a vintage Hong Kong Victorian tea house, which is an inviting look. Sitting down again I realize how dehydrated I’m getting, so the first thing I order is the menu’s most ridiculous-looking drink. And juuuuuust as it’s arriving, dizziness kicks in -

HKDL 2
Actually, the reason for that weird blurry photo is because I’d just been dive-bombed by a parakeet! Seriously.

Slowly it dawns on me, with pizzicatto strings playing on the soundtrack, that the Plaza Inn is absolutely swarming with parakeets. They’re in the rafters, on the red lanterns, camouflaged in the patterned carpet, and everywhere devouring dim sum debris. Everyone else takes them in stride, guests and servers both. Chinese restaurants often feature birds in cages, so I wonder if they’re encouraging the parakeets to swarm. Ultimately it’s a charming wrinkle to an otherwise-standard dim sum a-la cart meal (good quality for in-park grub, still incomparable to the Hong Kong street food).

A
This meal is perfectly timed, and I reach Adventureland’s Theater in the Wild just in time to be seated for “Festival of the Lion King.” This is a theater-in-the-round pageant retelling of The Lion King, contextualized as a celebration in King Simba’s honor. They’re retelling him his own life story! (And really badmouthing his uncle.) All the animal costumes and props are imaginative and technically astounding, which is a common thread with all live Lion King productions, from Broadway on down. I think Animal Kingdom has this same show.

HKDL 2
As with “Wondrous Book,” what makes this bog-standard movie recap feel exciting and alive are those undefinable live performance tics. It’s the pulse from the audience, the joy of the players, and altogether it makes for a rousing and glorious show. Even the bilingual caveat, where Cantonese monkeys translate the English dialogue, barely slows it down. A majorly wonderful surprise, one of this park’s best offerings!

Afterwards, I’m pretty well recovered. Ready to tackle rides once again, I have two options: I can do all the assorted spinners and clones which already exist in Disneyland CA, for completionism’s sake, or I can just keep on riding Big Grizzly and Mystic Manor. I choose to just keep on riding Big Grizzly and Mystic Manor.

HKDL 3
Wholly accurate model of Mystic Point in the queue

That actually sums up my final few hours in the park. Two rides on Mystic Manor, one on Big Grizzly, repeat ad nauseum. Lines hovered at 5 minutes throughout, making this a cinch. No regrets! They’re the parks best, most unique rides, and the point of a visit. Mystic Manor especially grows on repeats, helped by different trackless routes for each car. My goodness, what a warmhearted and exceptional ride that one is!

So here at the end, how is Hong Kong Disneyland altogether? Does it exceed its reputation?

Yeah, sure. At least, it’s getting there. Grizzly Gulch and Mystic Point are exceptional unique creations, and better still they exude a distinct personality (quaint, lighthearted, cartoonish) which I suspect will become Hong Kong Disneyland’s defining attribute as it evolves. It needs more stuff at that level, and one hopes that new mini-lands for Frozen and Marvel, plus a rebuilt castle, will be just that. The live entertainment, which doesn’t rely upon scale or layout, is truly exceptional, a great way for tiny HKDL to earn its keep. Many of Hong Kong’s shows and parades have already migrated to Anaheim to rapturous applause, so that’s a big point in this small park’s favor.

The opening day stuff pales in comparison. Main Street, Adventureland, Fantasyland and Tomorrowland all need more content and distinct identities. I’ll leave it at that. The city of Hong Kong is great, if you’re nearby and a Disney fan it’s absolutely worth seeing this park. It’s fun, it’s evolving, it’s ludicrously easy to tour.

HKDL 2
It’s still light out once I find myself headed down Main Street for the exit. I’m slightly tempted to do a circle tour on the railroad, but choose against it. (A YouTube video watched that night confirms there’s little to it but a neat Toy Story Martian gag.) I’d’ve stuck around had they been running the Paint the Night parade that evening – to date my favorite Disney parade ever. I eagerly anticipate its transfer to DCA. They weren’t though. The fireworks alone weren’t enough to keep me inside, since again I watched them from the hotel room. Besides, I gotta be up well before dawn tomorrow because the next destination is TOKYO DISNEYSEA!!!

Up next: Day 6 – Park-Hopping from Hong Kong to Tokyo

October 31, 2017, 5:36 PM

Thoroughly enjoying reading these reviews. I think one of the reasons the 'fine dining' in Hong Kong was a let down was that it struggles to compare with the fantastic, cheap street food found elsewhere.

Food in America, in sorry to say, can't compare with this. Most chain food stores in the US just isn't that good (not much better here in Australia), so a fine dining experience is allowed to shine through.

I love Hong Kong. Only been there once, about 10 years ago. Disneyland was a little uninspiring then, but the city was awesome. I think I'll plan another holiday there once some of this expansion is done.

October 31, 2017, 11:56 PM

Another outstanding report, Blake! When Hong Kong Disneyland opened, I remember hearing from a lot of people that it wasn't worth visiting as it was essentially Disneyland California with 3/4 of the attractions removed. Now, however, I generally hear that it isn't the top resort to go to, but it is still well worth the trip for any Disney park fan. It looks like you had a pretty enjoyable day there, though perhaps a little more time than necessary given the low crowds.

A few other specific comments...

-That castle looks tiny with the mountains behind it. Even after visiting Walt Disney World, I don't mind the small castle at Disneyland, but it looks off here. The mountains give a great backdrop, however.

-The Iron Man Experience sounds like a disappointment, which is bad news if it comes to California (I've heard it's dependent on whether the budget permits three attractions in Marvel Land). If they do clone the ride, hopefully it gets a new and more exciting ride film, as a motion simulator with limited motion isn't really simulating anything.

-I've never ridden Disneyland's Space Mountain with the lights on, but I've ridden it without the audio and that made a huge difference. It really is just a family coaster in the dark. I believe the Hyperspace overlay is intended to be permanent in Hong Kong, which is a bummer if true.

-My understanding is that Toy Story Land is a clone of the version installed at Walt Disney Studios Paris, and that it was done cheaply and quickly to boost the attraction count in the park. Given that it opened only one year later than the Paris version, I wouldn't be surprised if Disney just ordered a second copy of everything and made slight adjustments to make it fit.

-Mystic Manor is the reason I want to visit Hong Kong Disneyland. That's the only Disney ride to open between 2006 and 2016 that I felt a need to ride, and I may or may not have looked at flights after reading your report.

-I have to ask: Where's Big Grizzly Mountain rank compared to all the other Disney coasters you've ridden?

-Yes, Animal Kingdom has the Festival of the Lion King, but their show is more of a circus show set to songs from the film rather than a retelling of the story. I've got a feeling Chinese audiences may be less familiar with the movie, so Disney probably thought it was better to go with the retelling format.

I'm looking forward to reading about the Tokyo parks, especially since I've got a couple friends who visited recently (mid/late September...probably shortly after you were there).

November 1, 2017, 7:00 AM

I don't know why they would clone Ironman at DCA. It uses the same hardware as Star Tours, which wouldn't even fool the most oblivious guest. I would think Disney knows that they can't replicate E-ticket hardware across the same resort.

November 1, 2017, 7:20 AM

This is AWESOME! Not being a big traveler, I am certain this is as close as I will ever get to seeing these overseas parks and I am loving your detailed descriptions. Do the parakeets in the Plaza Inn sing to you while you eat!??! Maybe it's as close as they can get to their own Tiki Room! ^_^

November 1, 2017, 7:23 AM

To Grant, AJ, anyone else following along, thanks!

Overall, HKDL is still a very minor park despite its positives, and isn't alone a reason for a trip. Luckily, Hong Kong itself is amazing if you have any taste for foreign travel (as Grant will attest), and their Disneyland is worth a sidetrip if you're there. I'd say it's also worthwhile with a multi-stop trip like I did, and surprisingly economical as a Japan trip add-on.

Onwards to AJ's many questions!

Yeah, the small castle doesn't really work in HK (and with Tokyo, I've kinda seen the big WDW castle now). Luckily they're redoing it.

I see no reason to clone Iron Man Experience for CA. Other than the ride video, it's basically a tamer Star Tours. They'd have to change that film anyway, since the current one is set in Hong Kong.

Tokyo's Space Mountain (which we'll get to eventually) has no audio, Hong Kong's is too bright. While both have Disneyland's layout, those changes really highlight where Disneyland's works better.

I've seen Toy Story Land in Paris, and yeah they're the same. Both are basically worthless apart from ride counts. Is this really the version they're fast-tracking for Shanghai?!

Where does Big Grizzly rank among Disney coasters? That's always hard to quantify, since I judge Disney's thrill rides not simply by the thrill, but by the thematic integration as well (which drops California Screamin' down the list). Tops for me, having not done Paris' Space Mountain, remains Paris' Big Thunder, a great combo of higher-than-expected thrill and the most astounding Frontierland. Big Grizzly is tamer than that or Screamin', but wilder than Disneyland's coasters, and with decent-but-middling theming. I've heard some say it's a more family-friendly version of Expedition Everest. So overall a fun ride, maybe smack dab in the middle of Disney's coasters. (Like you, AJ, Rock 'n' Roller Coaster - Paris's - underwhelmed me as I'd hoped for a wilder Flight of Fear experience.)

And lastly I cannot stress enough how good Mystic Manor is. For dark ride junkies, it's a strong contender for "world's best." The reason to visit HKDL!

November 1, 2017, 7:59 AM

So, the questions I Have Doug are as follows (and I guess these repeat for the other Disney resorts)

1. Presume for a moment that you weren’t a Disney veteran but have visited other theme parks. If this was your first Disney experience, would on a scale where “1” is just another them park and 5 is “a truly unique and magical experience” where would you place this park?

2. Now to turn that on it’s head. Based on the Disney Park experience you have under what (if any) circumstances would you recommend to a Disney-park-Virgin that they make HKDL their first Disney experience?

November 1, 2017, 9:35 AM

Chad, these are very intelligent questions which get to the heart of HKDL's overall quality.

If I were a Disney Virgin starting at HKDL, honestly I might rate it a 3 of 5. (Opening day lineup is a mere 2 of 5.) Except for their original newer rides, it's almost all 1950s ride systems, and themed lands (jungle, fairy tale, sci-fi) that have become cliches. Not much to do, nicer theming than in regional parks but otherwise lacking.

For a Disney Virgin, I'd only recommend HKDL as the first Disney experience if you're already in Hong Kong. For a Vet, it's a B-side park - worthwhile, but not essential.

Skipping ahead, Tokyo Disneyland I'd say would be more interesting to a Virgin than a Vet, since it's a perfect fusion of the U.S. castle parks. It's also really heavy on the exact clones, which a newbie won't notice or mind.

DisneySea is an unequivocal 5/5, A+. So is the original Disneyland. Easily the two best Disney parks I've been to (I don't yet know Shanghai or WDW).

November 1, 2017, 1:33 PM

Nice job with the write-up. When I lived in HK and South China, I went to HKDL a few times. It's just a relaxing, low-stress place to hang out.

I miss it, but I'll wait on a return until after their expansions are complete. The only thing there that is new is Iron Man Experience, which sounds pretty dull.

I really appreciate the hotel portion of the review, as I never stayed on-site.

Edited: November 1, 2017, 5:38 PM

If Iron Man Experience was cloned in California, it would essentially be a replacement for Star Tours in a different location. While nothing is confirmed, there is a very good chance Star Tours will not be around much longer after Star Wars Land opens. That would open the door to Iron Man moving in. Even if it didn't, Iron Man could still work over in DCA...it would be like Transformers and Spider-Man in Florida.

Yes, unfortunately Shanghai is getting the cloned Toy Story Land. I like the look of the one in Florida a lot better. It may only have two rides, but the Slinky Dog coaster looks very reminiscent of SWSD's Manta (with possibly a little less intensity) and the whole area seems better themed.

Now I need to get my Epcot report done so I can read your Tokyo DisneySea report. Hopefully I'll get to that tomorrow.

November 1, 2017, 8:16 PM

It's a shame to see HK Disney still struggling - it really is a much better park than it gets credit for (at least nowadays). I had a very similar experience to you in Asia where pretty much everything at HKDL was a walk on then the next week when I went to Tokyo Disney everything had 100+ minute waits.

November 6, 2017, 11:43 PM

Wonderful trip report! We are planning a Hong Kong-Shanghai trip for 2018 and all of your great details are very much appreciated.

A major concern we're having right now is that we can't seem to find any kind of long-range refurbishment calendar for either HKDL or SDL. You mentioned that you timed your trip to avoid such closures. Was there a particular resource you used? Obviously it would be a major bummer to miss something like Mystic Manor, so we'd like to avoid that if we could!

Again, great report! One of the best I've read about HKDL. Thank you for this!

November 7, 2017, 8:31 AM

Tim,

I cannot now recall how I determined ride schedules for Hong Kong, I'm sorry. Searching around online, the best I can suggest is to check HKDL's website calendar for specific anticipated travel dates, but they don't seem to be posted that far in advance.

Some anecdotal advice I've seen suggests Hong Kong rarely shuts down rides due to their low overall ride count. Sorry I can't be of more help.

November 7, 2017, 4:35 PM

The short-range schedule all I've found as well. Like you said, I am hopeful that the low ride count means they don't take down major attractions often. I'm also hoping that is the case with Shanghai Disneyland.

The best I have been able to do is looking at past trip reports and park updates to see when attractions might have been down. Apparently Big Grizzly Mountain was refurbished recently. I haven't found any mention of Mystic Manor being refurbished since its opening in 2013.

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