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…

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In Hong Kong, Disneyland clearly is the destination at the end of the line, with trains adorned in Disney decor that make them feel more like fancy monorails than average city rails. Like the boat ride from the Ticket and Transportation Center to the Magic Kingdom, this MTR ride is part of the opening act. It builds anticipation, and arguably is the best introduction to any Disney theme park going for it.

After getting off at the Hong Kong Disneyland Station, you walk under an archway welcoming you to Hong Kong Disneyland, and then see this beautiful fountain featuring Mickey surfing atop a whale, surrounded by other Fab Five characters. This fountain is absolutely gorgeous, and the turnstiles are just beyond it.

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I suspect a lot of westerners miss this approach because Hong Kong Disneyland is near the airport, and the easiest way to get to the park and its hotels is to just take a taxi from the airport (it’s like $20, versus a more time consuming MTR route that involves a couple transfers). Since we visited downtown Hong Kong first, we took the train into the city and took the taxi from Hong Kong Disneyland to the airport–I recommend doing things in this order.

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We’ll have some other Hong Kong Disneyland travel tips in this trip report, and if you have questions, we are more than happy to answer them. If you’re looking for something to read primarily to plan your trip to Hong Kong Disneyland, you’re probably better off reading our Hong Kong Disneyland Trip Planning Guide, which covers most of the important stuff. This report will have a lot of fluff and other random observations and isn’t a strict planning resource.

If you continue walking straight past the whale, you encounter a lush pathway that leads to the two Hong Kong Disneyland hotels…

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I’ve remarked before that the feeling of arriving outside a new Disney theme park brings with it a certain excitement and anticipation that is impossible to recreate. That was true even in Hong Kong, at the resort complex that is often considered the ugly duckling of the Disney theme park empire. Opened in 2005 and criticized from the beginning for a serious lack of content, we were cautiously optimistic for our visit Hong Kong.

As we would quickly find out, Hong Kong Disneyland’s negative reputation is largely undeserved in the present day. The park is far from perfect and still has a lot of room for improvement–but the same could be said about almost any Disney theme park. We had a great time in Hong Kong Disneyland, and found it to be a far better place than its reputation suggests. The excellent time we had there already has us excited for a return visit during their Halloween celebration.

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Since we didn’t go to the park that first night, let’s start with photos from our hotel. Figuring we’d only visit once (it feels like I’ve written that once or twice before…), we decided to splurge and go for the Hong Kong Disneyland Hotel. It’s like an upscale version of the Grand Floridian, without the dated “Country Living” motif. We’ve already done an in-depth Hong Kong Disneyland Hotel Review; suffice to say, the hotel was nice albeit expensive, but I felt it was worth the splurge.

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At $290/night, it was more than we wanted to pay, but cheaper than average rates at the Grand Floridian. Our alternative was Disney’s Hollywood Hotel, which was around $180/night during our visit. Other than that, off-site hotels were the only option, and they all seemed too remote, so they were out of the question. (Note: we’ve actually booked an off-site hotel for our next trip; so much for them being “out of the question.”)

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The high hotel cost was sort of “offset” by ticket prices. Tickets to Hong Kong Disneyland are ridiculously cheap relative to the other parks–so cheap that we came close to buying Annual Passes because they were practically giving those away. Despite this, for some reason, we decided to skip the park that first night. Probably because we are cheap, too. Instead, we got situated and wandered around the hotel a bit.

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After that, I headed back to downtown Hong Kong by myself to get some photos while Sarah caught up on sleep. Our other days in Hong Kong had been over the course of the weekend, when the MTR was relatively ‘light.’ For some reason I thought it would be a good idea to travel on it during rush hour on a weekday. That was an interesting cultural learning experience.

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When I got back to the hotel, it was just before 11 pm, and we headed downstairs to Walt’s for dinner.

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I haven’t done one yet, and I’m not sure that I’ll do a full review for Walt’s Cafe. It was a good restaurant. Not as detailed as Walt’s – An American Restaurant in Disneyland Paris, but still a nice little corner-cafe with nods to Walt Disney.

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I don’t participate in “what would Walt think?” debates for the purposes of ascribing my personal views to Walt Disney, but I truly am curious as to what he would think about having theme parks in Hong Kong, Tokyo, and Shanghai. Unfortunately, we will never know.

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We were literally the only people eating there. More than anything, I got the sense that this was the type of restaurant where Walt Disney himself would like to eat. Intimate, low-lighting, masculine woods, and an old-timey feel. Plus, I assume they serve a mean chili.

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After dinner, we went to to the room. I think I was asleep with 5 minutes of opening the door to the room.

My morning started out really early, as I had a sunrise photo shoot in the park. I can’t really complain about this too much (or at all), but this was really an anti-climactic way to see the park for the first time. No sense of discovery and darting around, seeing everything with glee. Instead, it’s a no-nonsense ‘taking care of business’ approach. On the other hand, there is something to be said for entering in the pitch-black of night, walking around a corner and being greeted by Mystic Manor.

I spent a while shooting the park at dawn, spending the bulk of my time in Grizzly Gulch and Mystic Point. It was a real test being thisclose to Mystic Manor without being able to queue up for it, but having the run of those lands was a great consolation prize.

Before going anywhere new-to-me for photography, I always do a ton of research on the weather, sunrise and sunset times and angles, and a variety of other things so I’m prepared for the conditions I’m likely to encounter. Because of this, I knew there was literally less than a 5% chance of a worthwhile sunrise while we were in Hong Kong (good sunsets are more common). I took those odds anyway and opted for two sunrise shoots. The alternative was just getting extra sleep, so it’s not really as if I had anything to lose…besides sleep.

After taking the dawn shots, I was pretty much just lingering around Mystic Manor, waiting and hoping for some color in the sky. There was no haze or marine layer, which was in itself a huge victory. Cloud cover was dense, doing this accordion-like thing where the clouds would contract in a thick blanket, then break apart a bit, then contract again.

Sunrises are a tricky thing for photography. A totally clear sky equals nice light on whatever the sun is hitting, but a lackluster sky in the direction of the sun. Too many clouds totally obscures the sun, giving nothing across the board. The “best” sunrises are somewhere in between: some clearings so the sun can shine through and bounce around in the clouds spraying crazy colors everywhere (that’s the scientific explanation of what happens, in case you were wondering).

The accordion of clouds “expanded” just as the sun rose, letting enough light through to spray color everywhere. It was seriously like a kaleidoscope of color. This was one heck of a way to be welcomed to Hong Kong Disneyland!

The liaison with Hong Kong Disneyland said it was the prettiest sunrise he had ever seen in Hong Kong, and reiterated a few times just how lucky I had gotten. Although I am far from an expert on Hong Kong weather, I knew this was some insane, one-in-a-thousand type luck.

This was the type of sunrise that I would have loved to have during a morning in Florida, but Hong Kong is not Florida. Not only is there a morning marine layer, but there’s also smog and haze. It’s like the ‘May Grey, June Gloom’ in California, year round…and intensified.

The color changed quickly. Part of me wanted to just stay in the same spot near Mystic Manor to capture the color as it changed, but after grabbing a handful of photos here, I raced over to Grizzly Gulch.

I had less than a 15 minute window with this beautiful sky, and when it started to fade, it faded fast. It’s times like that when you really wish you could be in multiple places at once.

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I tried to capture some of the light as it faded by Sleeping Beauty Castle and in Tomorrowland, but by that time, it was gone. In the place of that glorious light, the clouds filled out and I was left with an overcast ‘meh’ sky.

Fortunately, the cloud-accordion would expand again later in the morning for a few more shots in front of Mystic Manor, but that was about it for the day in terms of nice sky.

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Then, it was off to Main Street…

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We visited during the Christmas season (yes, that’s how tardy this trip report is), but aside from the Christmas tree on Main Street, a display in the Hub, and merchandise, you would have never known it was Christmas.

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I was actually a bit surprised by the lack of Christmas offerings. In terms of culture, Christmas is more significant in Hong Kong than it is in Japan, and Tokyo Disney Resort had tons of Christmas stuff. Maybe it’s just because Hong Kong Disneyland goes so all-out for Halloween that Christmas is put on the backburner? Whatever the case, it wasn’t a big deal, just don’t expect to see the word “Christmas” in this trip report much, because it was mostly a non-factor.

I was back in the hotel room by a little after 7 am, right as Sarah was about to get up. I called downstairs to see if there was any availability at Enchanted Garden Restaurant, and they were able to squeeze us in for the second seating of breakfast.

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We ended up really liking this restaurant, at least as far as character meals go.

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We already covered it in our full Enchanted Garden Restaurant Review, but the variety was great, the food was generally good quality, and the costumes the characters wore were lavish. We were definitely pleased we opted to do this.

 

Just look at Mickey Mouse’s costume…beautiful, right?!

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From there we walked to the park, which is about 10 minutes from Hong Kong Disneyland Hotel. The walk is beautiful, and we noticed very few other guests on this little path. There’s bus service from the hotel to the park, but with as much as the Hong Kongese walk on a daily basis, I cannot imagine them being intimidated by a 10 minute walk.

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I would describe the days we visited as ‘the height of off-season,’ meaning that the park was about as dead as I expect you’d find it all year long. I believe operating hours both days we were there were 10 am until 9 pm. There were probably more people lined up for the Duffy Meet & Greet at Tokyo DisneySea than in the entirety of Hong Kong Disneyland those two days. Okay, maybe not quite that extreme, but still…the place was about as dead as I’ve ever seen any Disney theme park.

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As we entered the park, we noticed almost every other guest making a mad dash for characters on Main Street. Did they not realize Mystic Manor existed?! We raced to that, and by the time we got past the “gateway” to the three new mini-lands, no other guests were around us. We raced to Mystic Manor and immediately got in line for that. It took a few minutes before the pre-show room opened, and eventually another party showed up.

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Mystic Manor…where to begin? Well, since I already wrote a full post about it, how about just doing this the lazy way: copying and pasting a couple paragraphs from that article…

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In my opinion, Mystic Manor pretty much has it all. Rather than consisting of show scenes that guests passively move past, Mystic Manor does what so many other great attractions do: immerses guests in the action, making them feel like part of the experience. This is accomplished largely through the trackless ride vehicles, which were first used in Pooh’s Hunny Hunt. It’s heightened by how various effects actively engage the guest. This is amplified even further by the attraction’s music, consisting of Danny Elfman’s score that is an instant classic in terms of Disney theme park music. Mystic Manor is not just Albert getting into trouble along the way, it’s you and Albert getting into trouble. Or at least it feels that way.

I look at Mystic Manor more along the lines of a cross between Pirates of the Caribbean and Haunted Mansion, two attractions that are more focused on offering vignettes, fun gags, and captivating storytelling (even if not in terms of a linear story) than they are with a developed story. Mystic Manor actually goes a bit further than these, as its strength is as a great vignette attraction, but it also has a developed storyline.

The fact that I mention Mystic Manor in the same sentence as Pirates of the Caribbean and Haunted Mansion should be enough to tell you that I hold the attraction in pretty high esteem. Purists will probably scoff at the notion that a new attraction could be considered an equal of the Walt Disney-era Imagineering Legends, but I think it’s fair to say that for some Disney fans, nothing will ever be as good as what that generation produced. To me, Pirates of the Caribbean are the pinnacle achievements of the early years of Imagineering, and Mystic Manor is the pinnacle achievement of this generation.

I view Mystic Manor as the same caliber of attraction, and one of the top Disney attractions of all time. If ever there were a reason to visit Hong Kong Disneyland, Mystic Manor is it.

You can read and see more in our Mystic Manor Photo Tour & Review, but be warned, that post contains photo and plot spoilers. Since Mystic Manor is still relatively new, this post will remain spoiler-free with regard to it.

Nothing else in this trip report is going to top Mystic Manor, so I might as well leave this installment on a high note. Alright, that’s it for me! Be good everybody!

…We’ll pick up with the rest of the first day in Hong Kong Disneyland in Part 2.

If you are interested in seeing more of my best Hong Kong photos or purchasing prints, check out my Hong Kong Disneyland Photo Gallery.

If you are planning a visit to Hong Kong and want comprehensive planning advice, from how long to visit to language barrier issues to what to pack and much, much more, check out our Hong Kong Disneyland Trip Planning Guide.

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Your Thoughts…

What do you think of Hong Kong Disneyland? Does Mystic Manor appeal to you? Share any thoughts or questions you have below in the comments. We love when readers leave comments on the trip reports…let’s us know people out there are reading!


24 Responses to “Hong Kong Disneyland Trip Report – Part 1”
  1. Katrina Toomalatai January 1, 2017
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