Hong Kong Disneyland Trip Report – Part 2

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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.

Aside from having seen some press photos, I knew nothing about Big Grizzly Mountain. My assumption was that it was their version of Big Thunder Mountain, but with a slight twist on the plot and an icon that looked sort of like Grizzly Peak from Disney California Adventure.

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As for the attraction itself, it blew me away. It was like a cross between Expedition Everest and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, incorporating the best parts of each. On the Big Thunder side of things, it had some thematic parallels. Runaway mine train through a mountain in the American West was the general idea, and while that’s not precisely the story of Big Thunder, it’s close.

In terms of Expedition Everest, it utilizes modern technology similar to Everest, and features a backwards ride sequence. The track layout is decidedly different than Everest, but overall Big Grizzly Mountain Runaway Mine Cars feels a lot like Expedition Everest.

The most impressive part of all? There are real bears in the mountain! Well, not real real bears, but Audio Animatronics. I had no idea about this before riding, so it was a very pleasant surprise. I’m of the mind that one of the things that differentiates Disney attractions from amusement parks is the details with which other parks (usually) don’t bother. I know many guests are just looking for an exciting rollercoaster, but you can get these at virtually any other park, and so many of those parks do thrills better than Disney. When Disney plays to its strong suit, I feel like the experience is so much better. Disney definitely plays to its strong suit in Big Grizzly Mountain.

Nothing against the likes of Big Thunder or Space Mountain, both of which are well-themed, but the presence of Audio Animatronics is a huge deal to me. It doesn’t hurt that the bears in Big Grizzly Mountain are fun and mischievous, either. You only see these bears for a few seconds, but their personalities come through in that little time, and you connect with them (even if only to a minor degree). The Yeti in Expedition Everest is more technically impressive than these bears, but I never felt he had any personality, even in his A mode. Not that there’s anything wrong with things that are cool for the sake of being cool, but I like theme park characters to have a little character.

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As a whole, Grizzly Gulch is really cool, but it’s not perfect. I realize the area is a mini-land, but even taking that into account, it felt like everything was on a smaller scale than it should have been. The mountain itself was decidedly smaller than either Grizzly Peak or Everest, as were the buildings in Grizzly Gulch. For as impressive as the attraction itself was, the mountain just lacked that grandiose ‘wow’ factor. There were a ton of sight-gags and cool details in Grizzly Gulch, and the land was really cool as a whole, but something about it just didn’t feel right.

The fact that I can’t really put my finger on it leads me to believe this all might just be in my head, and maybe I was looking for things that were ‘wrong’ with the park because I had so frequently heard that Hong Kong Disneyland was a “huge mistake” and “massive disappointment,” and I just wasn’t seeing anything remotely suggestive of that.

Regardless of the scale of Grizzly Gulch, the land left me wanting more. The concept is strong, and what’s there is really interesting–I just felt like the idea has so much potential that it deserved to be fleshed out into a whole land. One of the things I really love about Disneyland Paris is Thunder Mesa (Frontierland) and its backstory that is actually backed up with substantive quality throughout the land (so it’s not just lipstick on a pig), and I felt like Hong Kong Disneyland had the same opportunity to do that with Grizzly Gulch. Personally, I would have gladly taken a full size Grizzly Gulch, slightly expanded Mystic Point, and no Toy Story Land. Given that Toy Story Land is a huge draw, I can understand why it exists, but still…

 

From there we headed to Fantasyland to grab FastPasses for The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. Most of our planning for this trip had focused on Hong Kong (the city) and Macau, plus things to do at Christmas-time in Tokyo Disney Resort, so we were completely winging it in Hong Kong Disneyland. This wasn’t too big of a concern, as we had allotted two days for the park despite knowing it would probably only take one. Still, we really didn’t know what to expect for any of the attractions.

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After that, we wandered back over to Adventureland where we noticed that the Jungle River Cruise was pretty popular. For this, three separate lines are available, for Cantonese, English, and Mandarin and boats. After having a seriously-awesome time aboard Tokyo’s Jungle Cruise that is only in Japanese due to the mannerisms of our skippers, we debated doing it in Cantonese or Mandarin. However, the lines were a lot longer for those lines, so we just settled on English.

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This was a big mistake. Instead of our skipper being a native English-speaker, ours was doing her best to speak in a foreign language. In a normal interaction, I would have thought her English was excellent, and I know I really can’t criticize, because my foreign language capabilities are extremely limited. However, in the context of a comedic boat ride, it just didn’t work. Too much of the attraction’s comedy is dependent upon delivery, inflection, etc., and that’s really difficult even in your first language. Heck, we’ve had US Jungle Cruise skippers who can’t deliver! The finale consisting of bursts of flames and bubbling water ultimately made up for the lack of humor, but next time we will definitely go for Cantonese or Mandarin. 

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Next up was Space Mountain, which had a short line. This seems to be the same idea as the Disneyland and Tokyo Disneyland versions of Space Mountain, with a few twists of its own in the load area and main ride area. At load, there are glowing planetoids overhead, which are pretty cool, but the whole load area felt smaller than Tokyo or Disneyland (maybe this was just in my head). The substance of the attraction was really impressive. Not only does it have on-board audio, but a cool “Hypergate” launch and planetary projections similar to Ghost Galaxy at Disneyland during Halloween

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Right after doing it, we both agreed that this was our favorite version of Space Mountain. I’ll admit that I’m often biased towards my most recent experiences, and writing this today, I’m not sure that this holds true. The thing with Space Mountain is that each of them have their strengths and could arguably be the best. Everyone rags on the Walt Disney World version, but it has a great queue and post-show, plus the load and lift areas are fun. Unfortunately, the ride experience itself is lacking, which I can admit even if I do have nostalgia for it. The Paris version is detailed and gorgeous, but the ride is literally painful. Tokyo and Disneyland both have variations on the same idea, with Tokyo having better aesthetics but Disneyland having on-board audio. Hong Kong is the newest version and has the best effects, but it seems a little lacking in personality. In any case, I’ve never met a version of Space Mountain that I didn’t like.

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After that, Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin. Basically the same as every non-Walt Disney World version.

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From there, it was on to a few things in Fantasyland. First was ‘it’s a small world.’ Hong Kong Disneyland is where the controversial in-ride Disney characters originated, and although I don’t really mind them at Disneyland (heresy, I know), I really have no issue with them here.

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Even assuming, arguendo, that Mary Blair was the artist behind the attraction at Disneyland, this wasn’t the case in Hong Kong.

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Overall, the attraction felt crisp and well-made, with the Disney characters not presenting much of a visual intrusion in any of the scenes. I also found the facade to be gorgeous, especially with the mountains serving as a backdrop.

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The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh was next, and it was a near-clone of the US versions. I can’t recall any differences. It was probably the longest wait we encountered (30 minutes) on our two days in the park, so I’m glad we had FastPass!

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We were hungry and we had no clue where to eat, so we popped inside Royal Banquet Hall to check it out. This was a charming little restaurant.

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Pretty ceilings and details, such as dancing Beauty and the Beast figures. Rather than eating here, we headed over to Tahitian Terrace.

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This Adventureland restaurant seems nothing like the now-extinct Tahitian Terrace dinner show at Disneyland.

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The food here was exceptional, though. It is one of 2 or 3 Halal-certified restaurants at Hong Kong Disneyland, and the food was very high quality.

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In general, we found the food at Hong Kong Disneyland to be quite good.

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After being burned by burgers in Disneyland Paris and Tokyo Disneyland, we finally learned our lesson and didn’t order any burgers in Hong Kong. The trip didn’t quite feel complete without a repulsive burger, so maybe next time…

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There are several of these carved tikis around Tahitian Terrace, and the area around the restaurant feels a lot like the Tiki Room at Disneyland.

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We’ve seen mop art at every single Disney resort we’ve visited around the world. The more things are different, the more they are the same.

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We grabbed more FastPasses in Tomorrowland, but I’m not really sure for what. I think it was more of a formality, because nothing really had waits.

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Ever cursed the fact that you couldn’t get some freshly grilled squid at your favorite Disney theme park? Well, my friend, Hong Kong Disneyland is the place for you!

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After lunch, we met up with a friend in Hong Kong Disneyland. We walked around and he showed us some cool hidden details, including this. Pretty cool, eh?

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Streetmosphere in Grizzly Gulch.

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When he had to go, we decided–what the heck–it was time for more Mystic Manor!

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Even the ride vehicles have attraction posters for them. How cool is that?!

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We ate again at the Explorer’s Club in Mystic Point. I’ve already covered this location in-depth in our Explorer’s Club Restaurant Review, which includes a photo tour, so I won’t fixate on it here. Suffice to say, we loved this restaurant, but wished it were more engaging and eclectic (perhaps an actual ‘show’) like the Adventurers Club.

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We were wandering up to the front of the park as Disney’s Flights of Fantasy Parade started. Neither of us are parade people, so we hadn’t made a point of planning to see this, but since we were there, I decided to watch. Sarah opted to go in the stores on Main Street to see what they had.

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This parade debuted during Hong Kong Disneyland’s 5th Anniversary and is quite good for a daytime parade. I think the highlight is the almost steampunk-esque lead Mickey Mouse balloon float.

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Aside from that, the music is very catchy and the parade is just a fun, high energy parade with some vibrant costumes and interesting floats. I don’t really know what makes a “good” parade, but this one was visually engaging and the music got stuck in my head (in a positive way), and that’s about all I want out of a parade.

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It has two show stops, and features a combination of more traditional floats and acrobatic performers.

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I’ve never been a fan of show stops in parades, and this doesn’t change that, but these show stops worked about as well as can be expected.

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I’m definitely glad I watched it. As far as parades go, this one gets really high marks from me. I wouldn’t put it up there with any of the Tokyo Disneyland parades we’ve seen, but it’s solid.

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Like I said, some interesting and fun costumes.

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After the parade, we decided to go to Main Street Bakery for some snacks. Because the 3 meals we had already eaten by mid-afternoon that day weren’t enough. They had some fun Christmas snacks.

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There were also some Streetmosphere/Meet & Greet elves on Main Street.

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We wandered around for a bit, trying to get a feel for what made Hong Kong Disneyland special.

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In terms of lands, Adventureland probably has the most character. I’ll come back to this…

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Fantasyland is probably the least unique, but even it has a pretty garden.

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That afternoon we did The Golden Mickeys, which is also a show on the Disney Cruise Line (although I’m told there are some differences). 

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We both enjoyed this stage show, but we couldn’t quite tell whether it was a soft award show parody or just a montage show with the awards show used as the narrative thread. My guess is that the reality is somewhere in between, but the resulting show was a bit odd.

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The host interviews various Disney characters who are at the awards show, with musical numbers occurring throughout the show. There’s awards show stuff, and then they bust out into song. The show is in Cantonese with English subtitles, which likely cause the nuance and comedic delivery of spoken language to be lost on us. Regardless, we thought that it didn’t take itself too seriously, and overall we enjoyed it.

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Next up was Mickey’s PhilharMagic. This is the same 3D montage film that you all know and love, except in Cantonese. The theater was pretty cool, but otherwise, identical to the Walt Disney World version of the show.

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Besides decor, there was one piece of Christmas entertainment at Hong Kong Disneyland: “Christmas Illumination.” This is the tree lighting.

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Mickey, Minnie, and Goofy come out in a sleigh parade float and light the tree, with a professional of performers holding glowing snowflakes afterwards. I don’t have many photos from this, but you can see some here.

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This is the kind of thing that has the potential to be beautiful and with an elegant sense of pageantry, but we felt that it was really rushed.

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Following that, we headed back up Main Street and waited for the fireworks. I was half expecting a quick, half-hearted show like the Happiness on High fireworks at Tokyo Disneyland.

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It was far more than that. Disney in the Stars fireworks is a show set to a montage of Disney music, similar to Wishes in the Magic Kingdom. I found the show much more engaging due to its use of fireworks on and immediately behind Sleeping Beauty Castle, plus more interesting and fitting fireworks burst sequences, in general.

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I’m a big fan of the “fan” fireworks bursts, and I swear that there were like 4 of these sequences in the show. Most of the sequences were thoughtfully arranged, and the show photographed really well, which is probably more important to me than most guests (and probably a big part of why I liked it so much).

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There’s also something to be said for being able to vaguely see the mountains in the distance as the fireworks explode. The first time I noticed this, it gave me chills and a sense of pause. I never feel out of my element in any Disney theme park, no matter what country it’s in. Language barriers and things like that aren’t really things to which I give a second thought, so it’s easy for me to lose my sense of location. The mountains in the distance there were a nice reminder that I was in a theme park on a sub-tropical island on the outskirts of one of the largest cities in China (SAR). Sort of a surreal feeling. 

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After the fireworks, it was time to get busy taking photos. On this evening, the focus was Mystic Point, Grizzly Gulch, and Toy Story Land…

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Grizzly Gulch looks really good at night.

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I wish I could share photos of the water play area and geysers, because the lighting in that area is spectacular. I’m no fan of water play areas, but these are stunning at night.

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Welcome…to Mystic Point (that sounds a lot cooler if you read it in a John Hammond voice).

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Mystic Manor is impossible to photograph with the show lighting. As Disney is wont to do lately, the manor is bathed in deep blue lighting, which does not photograph well. Whether it looks good is a different story, and my opinion is probably colored by the fact that it’s such a pain to photograph.

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Even the gate is beautifully detailed. They spared no expense!

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I waited a few minutes here for the moon to peak out from behind the clouds.

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Then it was on to Toy Story Land. I’ll share thoughts on this land later, but…it does look nice at night!

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I lied on the ground for this one. I’m not afraid to get down and dirty, but this shot wasn’t worth it.

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Lied on the ground for this, too. Because once you’ve lied on the ground for one shot in Toy Story Land, why not do it again?

We’ll pick up with the next morning’s sunrise shoot in part 3…

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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We would greatly appreciate it if you’d share this Hong Kong Disneyland Trip Report via social media to help spread the word. A lot of effort goes into trip report posts. This is especially true of the international trip reports, and the audience for them is considerably smaller than the audience for Walt Disney World or Disneyland content. (Part 1 of this HKDL trip report was our least popular trip report to date.) Consider sharing this post your act of charity for the day.

Your Thoughts…

What do you think of Hong Kong Disneyland? Any attractions you think look cool? 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!


20 Responses to “Hong Kong Disneyland Trip Report – Part 2”
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