Hong Kong Disneyland Trip Report – Part 4

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Alright, time for the final installment of our Hong Kong Disneyland Trip Report. I wanted to start with some overall thoughts about Hong Kong Disneyland in what will otherwise be a photo-heavy installment.

Hong Kong Disneyland has been criticized by Disney fans since even before it opened, with the park justifiably–at least to a degree–having a reputation as being a cheap Disneyland clone when it opened. While Tokyo DisneySea was my holy grail even before we were able to make the trip there, for a while Hong Kong Disneyland didn’t much interest me, and this was in large part due to that reputation.

A lot of this criticism remains valid today, as there are too many cloned attractions in Hong Kong Disneyland, and a lot of the park looks very similar to Disneyland. To Hong Kong Disneyland’s detriment, it doesn’t have that same charm and character that Disneyland has attained by virtue of nearly 60 years in operation. Hong Kong Disneyland also, in some places, feels slightly hollow as compared to Disneyland. This is somewhat difficult to fully articulate, but think of modern reproductions of antiques. The reproductions often look the same, but there’s something missing–a certain je ne sais quoi. In the case of Hong Kong Disneyland, this can be things as little as marquees on Main Street that don’t have the same depth and dimensionality, or as big as a Fantasyland that simply lacking in substance and that inviting feeling.

However, a lot of that criticism is no longer valid–or never was valid. Hong Kong Disneyland’s setting, surrounded by mountains, is incredibly unique and gives the park its own personality. Its Tomorrowland is more of a sci-fi land with an eye-catching aesthetic. Adventureland there feels like an extension of the subtropical environment outside the park. As a whole, the resort was well-designed and is beautifully maintained. The fountain out front is stunning, as are the paths to the two (soon to be three) on-site hotels.

All of this is before even mentioning the three new lands, each of which bring something unique to the table, and further distance Hong Kong Disneyland from the reputation of being “Disneyland-lite.” Toy Story Land isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but it fits the environment really well, and is a big draw for the bulk of guests visiting the park. Grizzly Gulch is a new twist on the Frontierland concept, with its own wrinkles and a top tier attraction in Big Grizzly Mountain Runaway Mine Cars. Then there’s Mystic Point and its flagship attraction, Mystic Manor.

What can I say about Mystic Manor that I haven’t already said? Not a whole lot. It is the pinnacle achievement of Walt Disney Imagineering in at least the last decade, perhaps longer. It is arguably the best modern attraction in any Disney theme park. It, alone, catapults Hong Kong Disneyland into the realm of “bucket list” places for crazed Disney fans like myself. Mystic Manor is the gamechanger that Hong Kong Disneyland needed, and with it, the remaining valid critiques of the park don’t seem so important.

To be sure, Hong Kong Disneyland still has some growing up to do…

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However, in an era during which Disney’s M.O. seems to be building half day parks and then fleshing out their lineup in phases over a course of years post-opening, Hong Kong Disneyland is the park that has grown into its own the quickest, and seems poised to continue on the right trajectory. With a new hotel, Iron Man Experience, and other as of yet unannounced projects coming to Hong Kong Disneyland, things are looking good. Both the present and future are bright for this park that so many fans were once so quick to criticize.

Hong Kong Disneyland still isn’t in the league of the Tokyo parks, but it’s now at the point where I feel comfortable recommending it as a stop for those already going to Asia, especially anyone who can manage to see it for Halloween, which is the park at its finest, with some seasonal entertainment unlike anything you will find in any Disney theme park.

Overall, we have enjoyed our visits to Hong Kong Disneyland and appreciate the differences it brings to the table–both subtle and major–as well as that breathtaking environment surrounding the park. We’re really looking forward to watching it grow over the next few years. For now, let’s take a look at our final night in the park…

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After we met back up, we started by watching a shadow puppet show in Mystic Point that was special for “A Sparkling Christmas” at Hong Kong Disneyland.

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This show had absolutely nothing to do with Christmas, so I’m not sure why it was being advertised as a Christmas offering. Probably because there wasn’t much else to tout. Christmas at Hong Kong Disneyland isn’t much beyond a tree, some garland, and background music.

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After the show, we saw what was shaping up to be a nice sunset…

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We also wanted to do afternoon tea at Corner Cafe (I cover our more recent tea set in our River View Cafe Afternoon Tea Review post), which was going to end during sunset…

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Sarah, being a kind and patient wife used to dealing with an obsessive photographer, let me run off from our tea set to capture this sunset. I don’t know if it’s the light catching the pollution/haze in the sky or what, but Hong Kong regularly has these rich sunsets with a lot of diffused light–or at least regularly has when we’ve visited. The “ball” of the sun is often pretty clear, too, which makes for unique shots.

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After firing off some shots, I returned to Corner Cafe to enjoy tea with Sarah. When we left the Cafe, a beautiful dusk sky had appeared behind Sleeping Beauty Castle.

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I call this next series of photos, “Sarah and Tom stand in front of stuff taking photos with the exact same pose.”

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Pretty uninspired poses, to be frank. It looks almost as if we just shot ourselves in front of a green-screen and inserted different locations as backdrops. MAYBE WE DID?!

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With our recent trips, we have done a really poor job of taking photos of ourselves during the trip. We used to run around every night at Walt Disney World, getting fun and unique photos of us. I don’t know if we’ve become burnt out on that or what, but we haven’t done that nearly as much, which is something we need to remedy. We half-heartedly tried to remedy it on this particular night, but in retrospect, it really just looks like we phoned it in.

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If it seems like I’m being harsh on this particular set of photos, it’s because I am. We know better, and after posts like my Unique Family Photos at Disney one, and imploring people to not simply “stand in front of an object and pose for a photo to ‘prove’ you were there,” I’m embarrassed that I didn’t heed my own advice.

There’s nothing wrong with a few photos like this scattered amongst unique ones, but these are pretty much the only shots we captured of ourselves that night, and they are lame. I know better, and I hope you learn these examples and try more ambitious and fun ideas in your own group photos in the parks. Photos like this should convey some personality or at least integrate the environment better.

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Although it’s relatively small, I’m a fan of the neon, swooping lines, and sci-fi look of their Tomorrowland.

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I especially like the UFO-like appearance of the Orbitron. Spinners aren’t awesome, but UFOs are, so I guess this is an okay attraction.

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Hong Kong Disneyland’s Christmas tree was pretty, but from time to time, the lights seemed to get wonky. before the fireworks, only the blue and green lights were on, and only in patches.

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The fireworks in Hong Kong Disneyland are extremely photogenic. One of my objectives for this visit was to get Christmas photos, which was a challenge, so I opted to shoot the normal fireworks with the Christmas tree in the foreground. Boom, instant “Christmas fireworks photo.”

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Pretty much everything Hong Kong Disneyland does for Christmas, in a single photo.

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After the fireworks, I shot the portions of the park I hadn’t captured the previous night. So, essentially, everywhere that wasn’t part of the expansion. Yes, this is a seating area, but I love the way the lines lead to Space Mountain.

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Regular readers of this blog know I have unhealthy obsessions with a lot of things. One such thing is light fixtures. I could have sat under these planetary lights in Tomorrowland and just listened to the background music for hours. Before you judge my light fixture obsessions, read my post on The Light Fixtures of the Disney Parks, and really think about how big of an impact light fixtures have on your park experience. Even if you don’t notice them, they play a key role…and I don’t just mean in helping you see. They are integral to conveying theme. I swear I’m not (totally) crazy.

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For a park that was built in the 2000s in a city that’s on the bleeding edge of technology, the number of pay phones in Hong Kong Disneyland seemed a bit excessive. Maybe the park is a popular spot for enterprising criminals to conduct business without being traced, and Disney is just capitalizing on this demographic?

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It wouldn’t be Tomorrowland without some Stitch. Because nothing says “future” like a movie set in present-day Hawaii…

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I didn’t cover it above, but the area where ‘it’s a small world’ is located in Hong Kong Disneyland is also quite stunning.

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Here’s another shot of ‘it’s a small world’ there that I really like.

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I don’t know what I was going for here, or if it really works, but I sort of like it…

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Bokeh is always good, but nighttime bokeh is especially awesome. I don’t see a lot of photographers try it, but if you don’t carry a tripod but do have a fast lens, instead of trying for nighttime landscapes, focus on shallow depth of field shots of the Disney Details. You’ll get great results.

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Adventureland at night is super dark, and I would not be at all surprised if it’s so they don’t disturb the creepy Fruit Bats or whatever other type of crazy creatures inhabit these parts.

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I don’t think I’ve mentioned Tarzan’s Treehouse in this report. I can’t believe that, because it’s awesome! It occupies the location where Tom Sawyer Island would probably be otherwise, and goes through the same waters as the Jungle River Cruise boats. It’s a lot more than a treehouse, and another cool and unique offering at Hong Kong Disneyland.

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Here’s Tahitian Terrace, one of the many excellent counter service restaurants in Hong Kong Disneyland. This park is very strong for counter service food, especially if you like unique offerings. I haven’t bothered with the burgers, but I presume they are predictably disgusting.

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Half-hearted Christmas decorations that make (what I think) is an otherwise cool photo not really appropriate for general use. Unfortunately, the decorations aren’t significant enough to warrant using the photo at Christmas, either. This leaves me with a photo that I can basically only use in trip reports, with the caveats above. Hong Kong Disneyland, go big or go home with the Christmas decor.

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Snow White’s Grotto is very similar to the Disneyland version, but I think this is another area lacking in charm as compared to Disneyland. It’s totally the little things, and maybe I’m crazy, but details like the lack of the “Lover’s Bridge” and larger walkways and more ‘modern’ flourishes kill the quaintness that makes this little display so emotive at Disneyland.

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This flower bed in front of Sleeping Beauty Castle always seems to have a display in it. I thought this one for Christmas was fine. The one they added for the debut of the Paint the Night Parade was straight up hideous.

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Okay, maybe I’m crazy (I feel like I’m writing that too much), but the marquee on the Cinema is one example of the park appearing cheaper. It doesn’t have the same depth as the Main Street Cinemas anywhere else, and that really stuck out to me. The odd thing is, there is plenty of depth and detail elsewhere (including the pavers on the ground), so I’m not sure what happened in some spots.

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A quick shot of City Hall and the Fire Department on the way out…

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Here’s the Art of Animation building where Great Moments would be at Disneyland. This really feels like “Bizarro Disneyland.” I still stand behind my idea for the Vampire Hunter attraction here. After sleeping on it for a night, it sounds even better than before.

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Attraction posters line the tunnel under the railroad, just as they do in all of the castle parks.

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Here’s a nice photo that should haunt your dreams tonight! This Mickey Mouse flower bed should never be photographed with a fisheye lens.

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Despite being up at zero dark thirty the two previous mornings and having a long day to come as we headed to Tokyo Disney Resort, I set my alarm bright and early on the day we were leaving to see if there would be a nice sunrise. When I looked out the window of our room, it seemed promising, so I trudged out to do some shooting around Hong Kong Disneyland Hotel (more photos in our hotel review) before we caught a taxi to the airport and headed for Japan.

It was a fun first visit to Hong Kong, and we enjoyed everything–from Hong Kong to Macau to Hong Kong Disneyland–that we have already made a return trip, with more to come in the future.

Hope you enjoyed this trip report. See ya real soon!

If you are interested in seeing more of my best Hong Kong photos, 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…

Do you think Hong Kong Disneyland can be fairly described as “Disneyland-lite” or does it bring enough of its own offerings to the table to be something unique? Is the current attraction lineup in Hong Kong enough to get you thinking about a visit? Do you share my affinity for light fixtures? 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!


19 Responses to “Hong Kong Disneyland Trip Report – Part 4”
  1. Audrey February 17, 2016
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