Hong Kong Disneyland Trip Report – Part 2

big-grizzly-mountain-night


Whenever we get off a new-to-us attraction, I always ask Sarah what she thought of it, first thing. I want to get her take before sharing mine, as I am very opinionated (to put it mildly), and I don’t want whatever I have to say to color her opinion. After she shared why she was blown away by Mystic Manor, she asked me what I thought. I was completely inarticulate, stringing together words like “music,” “monkey,” and “magic” along with a series of wows. In my defense, I was still on a bit of a high from the crazy sunrise that morning (if you missed that, make sure to go back and start from the beginning of our Hong Kong Disneyland Trip Report), and actually experiencing Mystic Manor just pushed me over the top. Like I’ve said, it’s really an amazing attraction–one of Disney’s bests ever.

That really set the tone for the rest of our visit to Hong Kong Disneyland. After experiencing Mystic Manor, there was no chance that Hong Kong Disneyland would be a letdown, or that we would regret visiting. It’s crazy to think that a single attraction could justify a trip to Hong Kong Disneyland–and we’re not saying that it does. For us, though, that attraction alone legitimized the park and gave it credibility. Unless the rest of the park were laid out like the Walt Disney Studios Park in Paris (since I had already seen it that morning and knew it was not), it would not be a disappointment for us.

Mystic Manor exits through a gift shop, and what a gift shop it is. I don’t often go crazy for Disney merchandise (I’m not sure I purchased any merchandise last year in the US parks), but I love some good attraction-specific merch. Mystic Manor has this in spades. That shop had more Mystic Manor merchandise than I’ve ever seen for any attraction, anywhere. Rivaled only by Splash Mountain, Expedition Everest, and Tower of Terror, to my knowledge. I was about to start going nuts in there before Sarah reminded me that we should do Mystic Manor a few times before the crowds got worse.

We did Mystic Manor a couple more times, seeing new details each time. One of the great advantages of the trackless ride system is that there’s the potential for it to be a slightly different ride experience depending upon which ride vehicle you’re in. The vehicles enter and exit the show scenes at different times, and in one case, take different paths. This adds re-rideability, and is really a smart move. It seems like there’s a bit of a trend towards ‘varied’ experiences like this, with Star Tours: the Adventures Continue probably being the best example.

At this point, we didn’t really take the time to explore the rest of Mystic Point, so I’ll come back to it later for my impressions of the mini-land as a whole. After a couple more times on Mystic Manor, we decided to see some of the rest of the park. Crazy idea, I know. We headed to Grizzly Gulch, where the wait for Big Grizzly Mountain Runaway Mine Cars was only 5 minutes. After seeing the trains fly around the track, Sarah decided to sit this one out. Although she’s fine on all of the Magic Kingdom coasters, Expedition Everest makes her nauseous. (more…)

Hong Kong Disneyland Trip Report – Part 1

In our “Grand Circle Tour” of the Disney theme parks, Hong Kong Disneyland was the last to cross off the list. Originally, we were just going to wait and visit it when Shanghai Disneyland opened. After all, both are in China, so it seemed easy enough to do it that way. We hadn’t exactly heard incredible things about Hong Kong Disneyland (far from it, actually), so we weren’t really in a hurry to visit.

Two new lands, Grizzly Gulch and Mystic Point, changed that. These new lands piqued our interest, and it seemed possible that Hong Kong Disneyland might be a park with at least some substantive merit. Still, we have to admit that flying to Hong Kong solely to visit Hong Kong Disneyland was not even in the realm of possibility for us. Even with the new lands, it was still mostly just a place to visit someday to “cross off the list.” What really changed things, though, was learning that we could fly via United to Tokyo with a stopover in Hong Kong for essentially no added cost (we cover how to do this in this blog post). At this point, the only “cost” became time, and since we had already been to Tokyo, we were okay with sacrificing half the trip for some time in Hong Kong.

We ended up spending 5 days in China: 2 in Hong Kong, 1 in Macau, and 2 in Hong Kong Disneyland. We definitely could have used some more time in Hong Kong itself, but two days in Hong Kong Disneyland was about perfect, we felt. Our mischief in Hong Kong and Macau is beyond the scope of this blog, so we’ll jump right ahead to our voyage to Hong Kong Disneyland…

We made our way to Hong Kong Disneyland after taking the TurboJet (it’s actually a boat…false advertising, right?!) back from Macau. The TurboJet “landed” in downtown Hong Kong, and from there we made our way via public transportation on the MTR to Hong Kong Disneyland. Of the places we’ve visited, Hong Kong has the best public transportation. It’s clean and efficient like Tokyo’s, but unlike Tokyo, it is not ridiculously complicated and confusing.

Perhaps we’re biased because we’re Disney fans, but the best rail line in Hong Kong is the Disneyland Resort Line, which is the MTR train that runs from the Sunny Bay station directly to Hong Kong Disneyland. While Paris, Tokyo, and Hong Kong have all had rail lines built to them, Hong Kong is the only place where it feels like this is an organic part of the master plan. Tokyo and Paris feel more coincidental, as the growth of the Val d’Europe and Maihama areas after Disney came to town might have necessitated rail lines to their respective Disney resorts (I know this isn’t actually the case–but it’s how it feels).

With that, we were at Hong Kong Disneyland… (more…)

Walt Disney World Memorial Day Trip Report – Part 6

animal-kingdom-safari-giraffe

On the last day of our Walt Disney World Memorial Day trip, we elected to go to Animal Kingdom. I had wanted to go there earlier in the trip, as the park was open until 8 pm over the weekend, which meant potential night photography there. That didn’t work out, so we were left with a half day in the park. We were both hoping for more time there, but it seems Animal Kingdom is often the park that draws the short straw from us, even if that isn’t our intention.

As you may know, I had a change of mind about Disney’s Animal Kingdom after spending more time than normal there last year, which I wrote about in the article “I Was Wrong About Disney’s Animal Kingdom.” That post was surprisingly popular (I think you all just like it when I’m wrong, but as Sarah will tell you, that’s fairly often) and I spoke more to the topic on the Animal Kingdom-centric podcast, Radio Harambe. While I no longer view Animal Kingdom as a half day park, it feels incomplete for me, and it’s missing that special something that I can just do over and over again to kill time.

Something like the PeopleMover, Country Bear Jamboree, or Carousel of Progress in Magic Kingdom, and American Adventure, Living with the Land, or Impressions de France in Epcot. About the closest thing Animal Kingdom has is eating Flame Tree BBQ ribs at the spot that overlooks Expedition Everest. This is probably largely because I haven’t spent enough time in Animal Kingdom to really feel an emotional attachment to anything in the park. It shouldn’t feel bad (assuming theme parks have feelings), as Disney’s Hollywood Studios is about the same for me. Although there I guess the Great Movie Ride sort of occupies that role. Sort of.

I am really hopeful that the boat ride that’s coming to AVATAR Land will fill that void. I remain in the approximately .5% of Disney fans who are actually optimistic about AVATAR Land. I’m by no means a fan of the movie (I thought it was mediocre at best), but it did have some truly beautiful environments that I think will transfer well to a theme park. This is why I’m looking forward to AVATAR Land. Like I’ve written countless times, I think ultimate quality transcends source material. Meaning, if the attractions are compelling and the land is beautiful, no one will care that AVATAR doesn’t really have a fanbase or wasn’t really that good of a movie. I’m not a fan of Cars, but I love Cars Land because the environment and main attraction are great. That’s not the best example because others love Cars, which could explain why the land is a hit. A better example is Splash Mountain. I wonder what percentage of guests have the slightest idea what the source material for it is, let alone how many have actually seen it. But I digress–I know I’m not going to change any minds with any of this, as AVATAR Land is one of those topics where you’re either ‘with us or are the enemy’.

We only had limited time in Animal Kingdom that morning and early afternoon, and that time included lunch at Yak & Yeti. Unfortunately, we hadn’t made FastPass+ reservations, so we jumped into the standby line for Kilimanjaro Safaris first thing. The posted wait was only 10 minutes…although that turned out to be more like 25. Oh well, it’s worth it. (more…)

Walt Disney World Memorial Day Trip Report – Part 5

sci-fi-dine-in-car-over-processed

We had the Star Wars Character Breakfast scheduled for that morning (click here to start from the beginning if you haven’t read the previous parts of this Walt Disney World Trip Report), but fortunately I had booked one of the later seatings—props to me for actually looking at the park hours calendar before arbitrarily booking at early seating. I’m finally getting the hang of Walt Disney World trip planning 101!

I’ve already covered the Star Wars breakfast in our full review, but suffice to say, we really enjoyed the experience. The food was good, but it was more about the ambiance and quality of interactions that made it worthwhile…or at least close to worthwhile. In terms of value for money, both Star Wars meals required great experiences, as the food alone did not even come close to being “worth it” at either venue. Obviously our thoughts on these Star Wars meals are moot since Star Wars Weekends have concluded and now the meals are over, but I strong suspect they will return next year. If not sooner…Star Wars meals have many guests screaming “PLEASE TAKE MY MONEY, DISNEY.”

We were at Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater until right about the end of breakfast, getting our moneys’ worth both in terms of experience and food. When we finally left, I think it was around 11:30 am, at which time Sarah came to the conclusion that she wasn’t feeling well, and needed to head back to our hotel to take a nap. We had switched to the luxurious All Star Music Resort (& Spa?) for the final two nights of our trip, and I didn’t want to mess with getting back there, so I just decided to stay in the park, despite being fairly tired. (more…)

Walt Disney World Memorial Day Trip Report – Part 4

star-wars-weekends-fireworks

We got close to a full night of sleep that night (if you missed our previous installment at Epcot, click here to start from the beginning), but I was still up fairly early the next morning. Unfortunately, Sarah had some work-related stuff to deal with, so we couldn’t get an early start on the morning. While she was doing this, I went out and wandered around the Contemporary, trying to find some interesting photos. Once you get past the cool a-frame building, there isn’t a ton of photographic interest, so I basically just wandered. Sort of like the rooms themselves, it’s just a modern looking hotel with a really cool hook in the design.

As a kid, I always thought the Contemporary was about the coolest hotel ever, an impression formed entirely as we whisked through it on the monorail. Even when we first returned to Walt Disney World as adults, it was a dream to stay there. Now that we have stayed at many other nice modern luxury hotels around the world, the luster of the Contemporary has sort of worn off for me. Like I mentioned in the first installment, Sarah really liked it, and I love being able to walk to the Magic Kingdom, but it just isn’t a top hotel for me on a list of Walt Disney World hotels at which I’d personally want to stay.

For me, where Disney excels is in the creation of hotels that blend nice accommodations and interesting themes, with an emphasis on the themes. You can get luxury hotels anywhere in the world; frankly, many brands and boutiques do these types of hotels much better than Disney does. Themed hotels are rare, and themed hotels that are well-executed (rather than just a light bit of window-dressing to differentiate the supposedly ‘themed’ hotel from countless other hotels in an area) are exceedingly rare. For this reason, I’d much rather stay at a hotel like Port Orleans Riverside or Wilderness Lodge than the Contemporary. I still liked the Contemporary, but Sarah is enamored with the hotel, and it just doesn’t quite do that much for me.

We got a really late start that morning, and headed to Disney’s Hollywood Studios for Star Wars Weekends just before lunch… (more…)