Short lines and brief waits abound in Disney's 'Empty Kingdom'

September 24, 2019, 10:11 PM · Imagine a Disney "Magic Kingdom" theme park with no waits. Just pick a ride and hop on it. Enjoy uncrowded, almost empty, streets as well as plenty of attention from cast members, who are no longer overwhelmed by crowds. Sound nice?

The good news? You can have this experience right now, paying some of the lowest admission rates in the Disney Parks chain ā€” just about $80 for an undiscounted one-day ticket.

The bad news? You'll have to go to Hong Kong.

Not willing to travel to a district that has been wracked by weeks of protests, including shutdowns of its airport? Well, plenty of other potential visitors feel the same, which is why Hong Kong Disneyland right now is enduring one of the worst attendance slumps in Disney theme park history.

Disney CEO Bob Iger acknowledged the downturn at Hong Kong Disneyland in Disney's most recent earnings call, and things seem only to have gotten worse for attendance at the park since then. Disney is spending millions of dollars to expand the park's Sleeping Beauty Castle and add new Marvel- and Frozen-themed attractions, hoping to make the park competitive with the relatively new Shanghai Disneyland, which has been drawing many of the mainland Chinese visitors who used to come to Hong Kong for a Disney visit.

The Castle of Magical Dreams
Concept art from Disney of Hong Kong Disneyland's expanded Castle of Magical Dreams, now under construction.

Hong Kong Disneyland welcomed 6.7 million visitors last year, which placed it 11th among the 12 Disney theme parks worldwide, according to the TEA/AECOM Theme Index report. (Walt Disney Studios Paris at just under 5.3 million visitors, in answer to the inevitable question that follows.) The park's attendance had grown for the past two years, nearly recovering from the 10 percent drop it suffered when Shanghai Disneyland opened in 2016. But the park's attendance last year was still down from its 7.5 million visitor peak in 2014. And this year's numbers should come in far below last year's, given the poor turnout over the past couple of months.

No amount of new attractions can convince people to visit if they do not feel safe or worry that they will not be able to physically make their way to the park. Attendance to the park from mainland China has plummeted, in large part due to Chinese media's sharply negative coverage of the ongoing protests in Hong Kong. The recent airport shutdowns also seem to have dissuaded many outside China from visiting.

"While August, as summer holiday, is usually a tourism high season, the drop in tourist arrivals has accelerated from a 5 per cent year-on-year decrease in July to a 40 per cent plunge in August," Hong Kong's Financial Secretary wrote in a blog post. Fewer people visiting Hong Kong means fewer guests at Hong Kong Disneyland.

You can dive deeper into the situation at Hong Disneyland in this CNN report, or here from other theme park fans in this Reddit thread.

The Walt Disney theme parks have proven over time to be among the most resilient tourist attractions in the world. Disney has cultivated a global lifestyle brand, and few who visit Disney parks end up losing their desire to come back. (Whether they can afford to do so is a different issue.) But with Hong Kong's future uncertain, even Disney will have to endure the effects of that uncertainty.

All we know right now is that Hong Kong Disneyland is open and easier than ever to get around... if you are willing and able to go there.

Replies (4)

September 24, 2019 at 10:43 PM

I visited Hong Kong Disneyland last month and this post is spot on. Its a high quality park that had no waits longer than 10 minutes. The west side of the park with Big Grizzly mtn and mystic manor felt like a ghost town and those amazing attractions were walk ons. The truth is those protests are scary for visitors. The monday before I visted Disneyland itself was operating with a skeleton crew and those attractions I mentioned earlier werent operational. Cast members were either caught up in the protests or participating themselves. Thankfully they were up and running for our day and we enjoyed a delightful day at the park.

Hong Kong is a wonderful city that had a rough summer. I hope more people visit soon and the situation calms down for those citizens. The park itself is awesome and growing plus its a relative value for a disney park. Those protests and the stress that it caused visitors have taken a toll on HK Disneyland attendance no doubt.

September 25, 2019 at 5:54 AM

Iā€™m really surprised that Mainlamd China has shown the restraint it has. I can only conclude that having a somewhat free press in HK with Cameras everywhere has made the stare fear tianamen 2.0

September 27, 2019 at 3:12 PM

I visited Hong Kong Disneyland in April, and it was such a fantastic experience! Only about 150 people were present for the rope drop, and I hopped right onto the biggest rides immediately. After a full run of the park, I was able to re-ride anything and everything as many times as I wanted. I can't wait to get back!

September 27, 2019 at 4:48 PM

I'm an American who's visited Hong Kong twice, both Ocean Park and Hong Kong Disneyland, so I have some degree of emotional investment in the place and its current plight (*). The lines at Disney were rapid (**) even in June 2018, so the whole park as a walk-on ghost town is a scary thought.

Tourism arrival data through July have been published by the HKSAR Census and Statistics Department (in Table E551, and although the trends are volatile, a recent unusual drop is apparent.

(*) That being an oft-cited benefit of travel -- the traveller learns to appreciate people and lands that are different from home.
(**) Except for the Iron Man photo experience. Oh, and the audience overflowed the benches at the Moana live stage show.

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