A Day at Disney HK

Filed in Current Affairs

I had already decided not to visit Hong Kong Disneyland for quite some time to come, pretty sure that there would be a rush to get in when it first opened and that there might be all kinds of problems as the park adjusted. But when my friends offered us Rehearsal Day tickets, my wife and I bit the bullet and agreed to go.

I've been to the Florida Disneyland park in the USA twice. My wife has been to both the Florida and Japan parks, so this visit was going to be a comparison trip even if we didn't plan it that way. We were sure that the Hong Kong park wouldn't be as big or as grand as the other parks but we were curious none-the-less.

We went to the park on Tuesday. The weather was incredible. Luckily, I had my aussie wide-brim hat with me for protection because the sun proved to be quite harsh that day. Many a visitor spent hours sweating while waiting in line to ride the attractions or see the shows, and the sweat level seemed to be much higher than I experienced in Florida.

Disney in the hills

It might have been a visual affect of being nestled in the mountains but the Disney signature castle looked pretty small.

One of the things that struck me as we entered the park was the size of the buildings. Everything seemed to be small. At first, I thought it was the mountains in the background that made the buildings look small but friends who have also been to the USA parks confirmed that the buildings in the Hong Kong park are indeed smaller than the buildings in the USA. That's strange. I wonder why they'd do this? For most of the buildings, it didn't matter that they were smaller but the signature castle was a big let down for many people. It was simply too small.

Umbrellas were up everywhere as people tried to stay out of the direct sunlight. Unfortunately, as a relatively tall person in a city of less-than-six-feet-tall people, I detest umbrellas because I usually end up getting poked in the neck or the face by somebody's umbrella and Tuesday was no exception. It wasn't too bad but I still had to be careful whenever surrounded by umbrella wielding people. Umbrellas were also a problem when we were trying to see the Disney Main Street Parade. We could hardly see anything at all because people in the front rows had their umbrellas up, almost completely blocking our view.

The Main Street Disney Parade

With all the umbrellas up in front of us, it was almost impossible to see the parade. While watching the parade, I was admiring the performers who had to maintain their wonderful cartoon-like smiles and expressions throughout the parade twice a day under the heat of Hong Kong's sun.

We didn't go on many rides. In fact, we only went on one ride if you could call it that. We went on the river raft ride which is around 50 feet long! The reason we took the ride was to get to the other side of the river to walk around Tarzan's tree house which was actually quite good. For most of the day, my energy levels were too low to be bothered waiting 50 minutes in line for the Space Mountain ride or the other rides.

Apparently, the rides are not nearly as advanced as the ones in the USA parks. Rides with simulated momentum such as the "Back to the Future" ride don't exist, and neither do rides such as the Jurassic Park, Tornado and Fire-fighting rides. I guess they were simply too expensive to be rebuilt here in Hong Kong.

There were two live performances. We saw both and I was very impressed by the performers; most of them not from Hong Kong. The dancers and the singers were outstanding. You could see the professionalism by the energy they consistently put into their performances, and the small movements in their dance routines, small movements that are the signature of mature advanced dancers. And the singers were great too. My only complaint was with the Lion King show where in typical Hong Kong fashion, the music was so much louder than the singers that we couldn't hear what they were singing.

On the day that we went to the park, there were too many visitors. Even when not queuing up for a ride or a show, we were still forced to walk at baby speed because there were people all around us. This, combined with the heat of the sun, really tired me out.

Food was a problem. There are around seven or eight restaurants in the park and from around 12 to 2pm, it was impossible to get a table. After queuing up at one restaurant for twenty minutes, I was told that we'd have to wait another one and a half hours before getting in. I gave up. It was almost time for the Golden Mickeys Award show anyway so we bought some fruit juice and made our way over to the show, hoping to find food after the show.

With Disneyland being an American company, I expected to find some fair dinkum American food in the park. I was wrong! With the exception of a few lame hamburgers in the Star-liners fast-food restaurant, there was no real western food to be found. No hot dogs. No quality ice cream or ice cream sundaes (I really missed the Ghirardelli chocolate/ice cream store from the Florida park). However, if Tuesday's attendance was any indication, the park management probably made the right choice. There were almost no caucasians in the park so serving western food might not have made sense. Still, I would have really enjoyed a quality ice cream sundae on that hot day.

The view from Tarzan's tree house

Looking down on Adventureland and the River Boat ride from Tarzan's tree house.

I found the problem of language to be interesting. Cantonese is my second language so I have no problem with it and I enjoy running into people around the world who speak it. Still, the park must be expecting a lot of traffic from Guangdong because all performances were in a mixture of English and Cantonese. If you spoke Mandarin, you were out of luck. Almost all of the Golden Mickeys Award show was in Cantonese except for the songs which were almost entirely in English. It'll be interesting to see how this aspect of the park is accepted by future attendants, particularly those from China who don't speak Cantonese. And if case you're wondering, there were no subtitles anywhere that I could see.

My wife and I didn't stay around for the fireworks scheduled for 9pm. I was too tired to wait. Our friends stayed, one of whom later commented that the most interesting aspect of the fireworks was the sea of starry DV camera LCD screens while everyone recorded the fireworks. Which brings me to cameras. They were everywhere. Digital photography has really changed the world of photography. People aren't afraid to take photos because it won't cost them anything. They were taking photos everywhere. People were even taking photos while trying on hats and clothing in the Disney stores; which makes a lot of sense because you get to wear them without paying for them, and you'd probably only wear them once or twice anyway.

Overall though, I think the park has a big chance of being very successful. Everything looked great and I think people will enjoy it; especially the kids!

The one concern I have about the park's future is the future visitors from China. Will they mindlessly drop rubbish everywhere instead of using the rubbish bins? Will they push through the queues for the shows and rides? Will there be scuffles and fights? Will they try to steal as many souvenirs as possible from the Disney stores? Will they be crouching on the sidewalks in that typical Asian style? Will there be escalated pick pocketing? Hopefully, my premonitions are wrong and the Chinese visitors will be very respectful of other visitors and the park itself.

The big question. Will I go again? Probably. One day.

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25 Responses to “A Day at Disney HK”
  1. Eileen says:

    I'm going to the Disneyland HK tomorrow, after looking at the pics you took, I'm worried about it being so crowded!!! I heard that the park is really small (my friend told me it's like half of Ocean Park).

    But the pic you took at the treehouse seems nice, I bet it worths visiting =)

  2. Alison says:

    Thanks for your very descriptive article. I think we all learned from the media that the Park is relatively small (Disney's mgmt was very upset with Next Magazine's reporters who wrote the article though). I do expect it to be rather chaotic at first and may not be nice as the other D parks in the US or Japan. But I am still very proud of having one in HK. I do hope it can bring more visitors and jobs for HK and boost HK's economy further.

    I'll be visiting the Park soon, for a conference though. I am quite looking forward to that, despite my expectations are quite low.

    Greg, u look great in the picture. :-)

  3. 木子 says:

    I've been to Disneyland in Florida and Japan and I've never seen this:
    "The Amazing Sea of Umbrella in Disneyland HK!"

    THX for the pix Greg!

  4. Ho Tsz Shan says:

    I Liked the questions you quoted at the end on your article, that's what I've been thinking about too !

  5. Vicky Chow says:

    "Unfortunately, as a relatively tall person in a city of less-than-six-feet-tall people, I detest umbrellas because I usually end up getting poked in the neck or the face by somebody's umbrella"

    less-than-six-feet-tall people......
    Ha...I know Chinese people are short comparing with the Westerners.
    and I also worry about the problem caused by the people from mainland.
    so I planned to visit the HK Disneyland a year later ,hope all the construction is finished and those problem had been solved at that time.

  6. Colin says:

    Been reading the blog for a couple of weeks.... an all-round great read....

    Yeah the main castle at Disney HK looks tiny in comparison to the ones at the other parks. If I remember correctly, at the other parks, each building on Main Street USA is designed so that it's taller than the preceding building.... so the buildings at the main entrance are the shortest and the ones adjacent to the castle are the tallest.

    So when looking down Main Street from the main entrance, it creates a kind of optical illusion to make the street look longer and thus making the castle seem taller than it actually is.

    Even if the buildings in HK are smaller, it looks like they didn't scale the other buildings properly to create the properly illusion of "enlargening" the castle.

  7. Debbie says:

    Regarding that picture you have taken at Tarzan's tree-house... I have the exact same picture (from more or less the same spot) taken at the Disneyland in LA!

    It's uncanny how it's all the same. Except smaller-scaled... which is quite disappointing, I reckon.

  8. Eileen says:

    我今天 (9月2日) 到disneyland了, 有點失望, 因為機動遊戲都不夠刺激 (space mountain). 不過劇場卻是非常好! 尤其是lion king, 真的很好看, 很好聽.

  9. sapphire says:

    河生,
    你一向自己所拍的全部相片張張都非常高水準,好像有拜師學過一樣。為甚麼今次別人幫你拍的那一張相(即第三張),其實你在這相片中的表情笑容都很好,但拍到你的臉部 "背光" (light coming from behind the photo subject) 你都肯收貨,是一時失手?還是刻意拍成這樣?因你喜歡把你自己拍到好似 silhouette 一樣?

  10. 河國榮 says:

    Sapphire,

    you got me! we should probably have used a little flash but just neglected to turn it on at the time. on the other hand, from my point of view, the background was more important for this photograph than me standing there so if my light was too bright, it would have distracted from the background.

    I'm still learning photography and still make lots of mistakes but I normally keep the mistakes to myself ;-)

  11. Cynthia says:

    Awesome post.It is a bit of a shock to see exactly how many people are crowded together in Disneyland and the umbrellas.That is truly unique in HK, you would never have seen kiwis or aussies doing that.Hk is bless with good weather.Though, probably have a lot to do with how caucasians like to be tanned, and most chinese are the reverse, the paler the better.

    Probably worth visiting Disneyland when there would be less people because of the heat and everything.The castle as seen in your photo does seem oddly small and out of proportion.

    And what is it with the no ice-cream store?That is really such a surprise,it doesn't seem to make sense, because of how popular ice-cream would be in an amusement park.

    Once again,it's awesome that you have given us a review on Disneyland. I have heard that they are doing up Ocean Park, have you heard much about it?

  12. 河國榮 says:

    Cynthia,

    I remember on TV a long time ago that Ocean Park hired an international theme park expert to examine what they could do to compete with Disneyland. They planned to complement Disney rather than compete directly because they would surely lose if they competed head on.

    however, based on recent reports from visitors to Disneyland, I'd say that Ocean Park is pretty safe and in fact might even profit from Disneyland's presence. Disneyland will attract visitors but they'll have nowhere to go after being at Disneyland for 1 day (or less) so they'll look for other entertainment. Ocean Park's only problem is transport. it's a long way from the busy centre of town and the only available transport is buses.

    regarding ice cream at Disneyland: they had ice cream sticks but no ice cream or ice cream sundaes, and the ice cream sticks were sub-par for an ice cream aficionado like myself ;-)

  13. Cynthia says:

    Good to hear that the Ocean Park may actually benefit from Disneyland. It would be rather sad if people stop going to Ocean Park, I have fond memories of the sharks and penguins there but haven't been there for years.

    I totally agree with you that ice cream sticks won't do but at least they have ice cream! In my opinion though ice block is worse, but something like shave ice can be really nice when the weather is very hot and you feel like you are melting. Would be great if they have good quality Galeto.

  14. Vivien says:

    i went to the Disneyland on the same day and I actually saw you in the restaurant! I really wanted to take a picture with you but unfortunately my mum has got the camera and she was not with me at that moment. hehe

  15. yinyin says:

    Okay, im such an out day person.
    I never been to the Disney before, and i'm planing to go to hk after my sc exams and hopeing that i could refresh myself.... But after those vivid decription it freak me out...
    Seriously... they are so many typical ASIAN, that dont care the environment. Sorry to be mean, we all live under the same sky, be responsible to your own behaviour and think of the impact which it will have on other people. Now, we all suffering from the rescult of many mistakes made by other, like the " HK is part of china" that recount...
    What m'i talking about??/
    Yeah.....
    Vanish.... b4 get kill....
    ^_^
    Regards; Yin^_^

  16. GeLiGuoLu says:

    I've read a lot articles about celebs complaining about the themepark with very little anecdotal details, so I'm glad I came across your post. Thanks.

    Complaints of long lines, ill-manner employees, and lack of organization are flooding headlines of chinese papers -- even here in NYC. Sorry if I offend anyone, but HK people could be so impatient and unforgiving. If everyone is bright enough to understand that the park is now there for good - it will not like say move next month - and are willing to fall slightly behind in this fad, there would be less crowding. Just relax and let the people work out the kinks and don't expect to see everything the first time.

    I've been to Orlando Disney World twice, spent a total of 8 days, and I still haven't seen everything. But I'm ok and plan to go again because new attractions were added this summer. Vacations are meant to be fun. Since my parents couldn't stand the long lines, the long walks and the sun, I ditched them at home and took my siblings with me (I'm eldest). We had fun even waiting on line and fooling around. It would be nice if parents could see the time they spend waiting on line as time to bond with their children and stop complaining. That would make the trip so much more worthwhile (and pleasant for the people standing next to them).

    From the pictures, the castle looks ridiculously small. I guess making a comparable replication of the Florida themepark in HK is inherently impossible due to obstacles in RE, technology, finance, etc. The decision to build one in such a dense and RE-lacking city like HK has puzzled me from day one.

  17. alex says:

    I wonder if they sell those giant smoke turkey leg like they have in the Florida Disney

  18. 2dave says:

    The castle in Hong Kong is the same size as the one in California, which in turn is much smaller than the ones in Florida and Japan. Both castles use forced perspective to appear taller, but the one in California has only blue sky behind it. The mountains behind the Hong Kong castle ruin the effect, and the castle looks like exactly what it is - a tiny model castle with stubby little turrets. If you take your photo and digitally scrub out the mountains (MSpaint will work fine) you'll see that the castle suddenly looks larger and more imposing.

    Colin, above, has the right idea but the wrong proportions -- the buildings grow smaller as they approach the castle, not larger. What they needed to do -- assuming it's possible in Penny's Bay; I'm not familiar with the geography -- is orient the park so that the open ocean is the backdrop.

    By the way, you'll be waiting a long time before you find the Back to the Future or Jurassic Park rides at Hong Kong Disneyland. Both of those rides belong to Universal Studios, as do the tornado (Twister) and fire-fighting (Backdraft) attractions.

  19. Wing Liu says:

    I am taking my son to Disney HK in Feb / MAr when we are back in HK from UK. Thanks for your unbaised personal review.

    I personally DO NOT really like the idea of going to Disney in HK after all the BAD press it was getting + my NOT too impressed Disney Paris experience many years ago.

    I guess if you have a NEMO, TOY STORY AND INCREDIBLE FAN (4.5 yrs) SON. It wil be a parent's job to see the son gets to Disney (even though it isn't US version REGION 1 but a REGION 3 version - HA, HA - I guess home is in Hong Kong

  20. Mae Young says:

    Disney Land Hong Kong, it is not perfect but it is fun! We have lived in European countries most of our lives and we are most impressed with the professional attitude of the people in the service industry here in Hong Kong. Yes, it is not as big as other places but it is big enough for a day of fun. We loved the shows the best!
    When we visited the park we had little expection but did get a pleasant surprise! Weather plays a big part in all outdoor activities and make sure to go on a sunny day! Give it a go again and you normally will get a better run once you have an idea of what to do!
    If you want me to be your tour guide, well email me.
    Cheers
    Mae

  21. Stephen says:

    um...sum of my 2 cents thoughts about Disney in HK. My wife suggested we visit Disney the next time we go to HK...which will probably not be in the near future. Dunno if I agree to go or not for I've been to the Disney in L.A. Have that "been there" "done that" kinda feeling. After Greg's revu, dunno if that question above will apply to me or not. Anyhow, the sea of umbrellas provoked me to think of time during the last few years of summer months here in Maple Land. I see many people (both men and women) wearing Darth Vader masks. You know the ones that many wear to shade their entire face from the sun. I'd burst into laughter when I see any of them and finally, I think that it's unfortunate for them to have been converted into the darkside of the "force." ha ha. Thing is, if they're afraid of the sun, they should stay home.

  22. lilian says:

    the golden mickeys show is great!
    當排隊看時,我就正正在你之後!
    真有緣!

  23. Irene says:

    I heard that the HK Disneyland isn't doing terribly well so they're considering closing it down. I haven't been yet, so when my family and I go to Guangzhou for my leavers, we'll go to HK as well for Disneyland.

    Hopefully since it's been a few years since its opening, the hype has died down and there'll be no 50minute queues for a ride.

    After HK disneyland, I still have the Disneylands in Paris, Florida and Japan. As well as Legoland in England :)

    Irene

  24. Dragon2057 says:

    "They must be expecting a lot of traffic from Guang Dong." That's not actually correct, since Hong Kong people speak Cantonese. And in case someone tries to disprove this - I come from Hong Kong. I live in Hong Kong. I am surrounded all day by Hong Kong people.

  25. 河國榮 says:

    hi Dragon.

    you are absolutely correct. my statement though was made on the assumption that Hong Kong customers alone would not provide enough business to keep Disneyland alive, hence if Cantonese was the alternate language, then the target customer base must be Guangdong :-)

    take care, 河國榮