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Trip Report Archive

Viewing Richard Gray's Trip Report

Details:
  • Trip from: September 13th, 2006 to September 16th, 2006
  • Stayed: Disney's Hollywood Hotel
  • Accomodation Type: Standard Room
  • Ages Represented: Adult
  • HKDL Experience: Semi-Regular Disneylander

Trip Report:

In September 2005, around the time Hong Kong Disneyland was opening, I visited the original theme park in Anaheim. Although it was the second time this Australian had visited the Happiest Place on Earth, an 18-year gap made it all feel like going for the first time. This year, I was fortunate enough to be able to visit the newest of Disney's theme parks. As I was soon to discover, it was just like visiting Disneyland for the first time...again.

Me and my soon to be famous hat!Me and my soon to be famous hat!

Day 1 - Thursday 14th September 2006

Having just spent four days visiting the sporadically stormy Kowloon and Hong Kong Island, it was soon clear that Lantau Island's Sunny Bay was going to live up to its name. As our shuttle turned onto Magic Way, I was immediately awestruck by the size of the Hong Kong Disneyland Resort. Nestled in the mountains, “Resort” was never a more apt moniker than it was for Hong Kong Disney's venture.

After our driver was kind enough to take us up for a closer look at the Hong Kong Disneyland Hotel, we swung back along Magic Way to our destination of Disney's Hollywood Hotel. As soon as the massive Art Deco themed building rose in front of us, we were instantly transported back to the Golden Age of Hollywood. Stepping out of our bus, the hot Hong Kong air greeted us, along with two highly efficient Hollywood Hotel porters in period uniform. Stepping through the beautiful etched-glass doors of the building, we both gasped. Whether this was the result of the blast of much-needed air-conditioning or the sheer opulence of the lobby, I'm still not sure. OK, it was the lobby.

Can we take the room home as a souvenir?Can we take the room home as a souvenir?

Everything about the Hollywood Hotel is about as perfect a hotel experience as you could hope for. In stark contrast to our confused Kowloon booking, the front desk at Disney's Hollywood Hotel had all of our details ready to go. We were swiftly presented with our hard-plastic room keys, guest IDs and 2-Day passes for the Disneyland park. The other nice surprises were some vouchers for 'Summer Bonuses' redeemable in the park (but more on those later). Armed with everything we needed to enjoy the resort, we took the magnificently designed elevators up to our 7th floor room. A nice touch with the lifts is Mickey's voice welcoming you and telling you what floor you've arrived on (in both English and Cantonese). The flawless Art Deco theming continued as we made our way along the hallway to Room 7727. My lucky number!

It was gasp time again as we opened the door to our room. Quite simply, it was the most impressive set of walls and a ceiling that I’ve ever had the pleasure of flopping in. Our large standard room came complete with two double beds; generous drawer and wardrobe space; a flatscreen TV (with over 30 channels in various languages); tea and coffee making facilities in their own themed alcove and a terrific bathroom. Indeed, the best bathroom I’ve ever used. That’s a claim! What made the room so special - and the rest of the resort as well - was the attention to detail. This is true of all Disney resorts, but the theme here is impeccable. For example, think of any problem you’ve ever had with a hotel bathroom and Disney has it covered. They even have the souvenir hunters covered with a complimentary bathroom amenities kit, as well as slippers (with logos) that you can take home with the compliments of the Resort. With our luggage arriving promptly, we took the opportunity to explore the hotel grounds.

While far more detail can be found in the Hollywood Hotel section of this site, the grounds are impressive to say the least. We could have spent the better part of the afternoon exploring the gardens of the hotel, were it not for the hot sun bearing down on our Nosferatu-like skin. After several days in one of the most crowded cities in the world, I finally felt as though I was on holiday. Feeling energetic, and being far too late in the day to start contemplating a visit to the theme park, we took a leisurely stroll (about 1350m) up to the nearby Inspiration Lake. Renting a paddle boat (for about HK$70 for 30 minutes), we toured the lake as best we could in our allotted time. With mountains on either side, and the beautiful landscaping of the man-made lake, we could have been miles away from civilization – except for the low rumble of the Disney-designed MTR Train rolling past occasionally. Our exercise for the day done, another stroll brought us back to the hotel grounds.

The day finished with a trip to the Studio Lounge bar for some cocktails – I had a Blue Sapphire gin martini for the record – before dining at Chef Mickey’s dinner buffet. I highly recommend this for a cross-section of Western, Asian and (most importantly for me) vegetarian dishes, not to mention excellent desserts that included Mickey-shaped puddings and the house specialty – a marbled chocolate cheesecake. I’m drooling as I type up this report!

Exhausted, we returned to our room and collapsed for the evening. Who would have thought luxury resort living could be so tiring?

Day 2 - Friday 15th September 2006

The day marked not only our first day in the Hong Kong Disneyland theme park, but the sixth anniversary I’d spent with my partner Fiona. This seems to be an annual tradition, having spent the previous anniversary in or around the Anaheim resort.

The day started with a light breakfast at Hollywood & Dine in the hotel, before hopping on a resort shuttle bus to the theme park just after 9am. A leisurely stroll along the Promenade, and several photos, later; we arrived at the gates well in advance of opening with our tickets in hand. My excitement was nearing breaking point around the time we were let loose onto Main Street.

Have I been here before?Have I been here before?

The similarities to the California park are uncanny at the point guests enter, and were it not for the mountains behind the Sleeping Beauty Castle in the distance, it could just as easily be the American park. The urge struck me almost immediately to buy a Really Big Hat, and I did. You know the kind – Sorcerer Mickey, what else? The hat would elicit smiles and waves throughout the two days at the park, along with Fiona’s Minnie Ears, largely from a group of people who had not seen anything like these ‘crazy white guys’ before. Perhaps I just needed to shave. The Really Big Hat would even make me a few fans the following day…but more on that later!

After a brisk walk up Main Street, we turned left immediately for Adventureland to grab a FASTPASS for the Festival of the Lion King. Unfortunately, we were told there were “No FASTPASS today”, so we hoofed it back over to Tomorrowland to investigate Space Mountain. Although there was no line to speak of, we were told to use FASTPASS and we did. The window was less than an hour away, so we decided to use the opportunity to explore the rest of Tomorrowland. Given it was still early, we were able to ride the Orbitron and Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters immediately, and we had a mere 15 minute wait for the relatively new Autopia. By this time, we were able to go back and ride Space Mountain, a genuine thrill in any country, and the only rollercoaster that I’ve managed to convince Fiona would be ‘fun’ to ride. (We rode it four times throughout our trip, so I guess the ride did most of the convincing).

Which one is cute and fluffy?Which one is cute and fluffy?

On our way back to Adventureland, we managed to get our photo taken with Stitch before a line began to grow for the hugely popular character. (Indeed, lines were so huge for Stitch Encounter, that we didn’t bother). After a brief look through the Adventureland shops – which I should add was disappointingly lacking in any real park-exclusives – it was time to line up for the 12:15 showing of the Festival of the Lion King. This excellent show, covered in full here, was halted early due to an undisclosed technical difficult. However, trust Disney to go on with the show and make you completely forget anything ever went wrong. The audience, myself included, was well and truly ‘wowed’ by the show. Definitely a ‘must-see’ feature of the park, as it is slightly different to the Floridian equivalent.

Being in Adventureland, the natural progression was to the Jungle River Cruise. This is definitely the most "original" attraction in the park. Although following the same basic structure of the 1955 original, the "open air" nature of the ride - combined with advanced animatronics - finally make this attraction really feel as though it could be a jungle cruise in an exotic locale. Combining the attraction with the traditional 'Rivers of America' theme, and throwing the Tarzan's Island in the middle of Rivers of Adventure adds a whole new dimension to this traditional favourite.

Did we just drop acid?Did we just drop acid?

Heading back to Fantasyland, we grabbed a FASTPASS for the incredibly popular The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, which gave us just enough time for a meal a few more rides. The meal came from the canteen-style Royal Banquet Hall in Fantasyland, which - in addition to serving an excellent vegetable curry, among other things - provides a generous helping of soup, rice and a drink for a small amount of money. Polishing that off rather quickly, we lined up to hop aboard Dumbo the Flying Elephant - although the 'line' concept doesn't seem to mean much on this particular ride, with people pushing in left, right and centre and at least one elderly patron argument with a Cast Member over whether or not she had handed back the 'seat assignment' card (she hadn't). After a turn on the familiar ride, it was time to use our FASTPASS tickets for The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. The ride is basically the same as the Anaheim version, although I daresay there are a few tweaks here and there that make the ride a little more interesting.

The afternoon was moving swiftly onwards, so we headed back to Main Street for a bit of a shop and an ice cream sundae. Sadly, the fantastic ice-creamery found on Anaheim's Main Street was nowhere to be found here. Dejected, we took up our spots on Main Street for the imminent Parade, and just like clockwork it began to rain. After popping in to a shop to buy an umbrella, it just as reliably stopped raining after 20 minutes and the parade began. Could this have been a Disney conspiracy to sell umbrellas? If it was, it worked like a charm! The parade itself was something of a combination of the regular parade and the 'Rainy Day Parade', and we found it to be fresh and vibrant and full of energy. The floats were impressive, especially the 'animation' float that featured giant pages turning as though we were watching a giant animator's sketch pad at work.

Rain, rain, go away...Rain, rain, go away...

The parade over, people seemed to be leaving – or perhaps that had something to do with the rain that had just begun to drizzle again. This was a perfect time to ride the Teacups, which unlike its Anaheim counterpart is under cover. Filled with multi-coloured Chinese lanterns, this provides an especially trippy ride experience, especially when you get a good spin-speed going. The rain, now a little heavier, drove us into the nearby PhilarMagic 3D show. While I have been on many such attractions at various parks, this was my first time in this particular “4D” experience (the show had previously been a Florida exclusive). The reactions of the audience, grabbing Ariel’s jewels and jumping as a cork flew towards them, made it clear that the vast majority of the locals hadn’t seen anything like this either.

Foot-weary, we did a circuit around the park on the Disneyland Railroad from the Fantasyland Station. It was nice to see that while there wasn’t anything as special as the Primeval World, there were a few surprises installed just for Railroad guests (but I won’t spoil them here). Arriving back in Fantasyland after a complete circuit of the park, we walked through the castle and got our photo taken with the beautifully pale Snow White. Continuing on to Main Street, some more shopping yielded an encounter with Daisy Duck just outside the ‘closed in preparation for a future event’ Disneyland Story. Daisy was kind enough to pose for a photo opportunity, and a lovely cast member took several shots with my camera that came out beautifully.

The urge to kill time before the fireworks also resulted in another urge to ride Space Mountain. We literally walked straight onto the ride this time, and had just as much of a blast this time around (I swear they keep changing the track and lighting on me, though…). The natural progression from Space Mountain is to ride the Teacups again. By this stage in the evening, with the natural light fading, the lantern-illuminated attraction takes on an even more surreal quality. There is really no need to screen for drugs at Disney’s gates – with rides and spacey as this, you won’t need them!

Beat that view, AnaheimBeat that view, Anaheim!

Speaking of nighttime illumination, it was the perfect time to head back to Adventureland and take the rafts to Tarzan’s Island. At this time of night, with the torch light and the “flames” about, you could almost be forgiven for thinking you were in the jungle. From the top of the Treehouse, I saw a magnificent view of the park – and the nearby hotels – as the lights came on. It was truly a breath-taking Disney moment, and it really didn’t matter what park we were in.

After a raft-ride back to “dry land”, we took our places up on the Hub – here, it is right in front of the Castle – for the evening fireworks. I usually take the attitude that you’ve seen one set of fireworks, you’ve seen them all. However, it was difficult once again to not get caught up in the enthusiasm of the locals. There was genuine awe as the multi-coloured lights arced their way across the night sky, and exploded in a dizzying array of pixie dust. The magic was certainly alive in Hong Kong that night.

The buzz stayed with me all the way back to the hotel, or maybe it was just that my hat was on too tight. Another trip to the Studio Lounge bar, for a flavourful Manhattan and pizza, burgers and fries replenished our collective fuel reserves and prepared us for an early rise the next day.

Day 3 - Saturday 17th September 2006

An early arrival at the gates proved fortunate on the Saturday morning, with the Cast Members letting us onto Main Street at 9:30am. After getting our photos taken with Goofy, and redeeming the aforementioned vouchers for a cute little lunchbox, we had a strange encounter. While waiting for the ropes to be dropped, the Mickey hat I was wearing – and Fiona’s Mickey ears – that had garnered so many smiles and waves the day before won us over several fans. A couple of girls asked if they could have their photos taken with us, and then her friend asked us for the same. If you are reading this – and were the girl in the pink shirt and pink Converse – please let me know!!! This was one of the many small things that made it increasingly obvious how little of the Disney culture that the Chinese market had seen, and how even one of the simplest devices and fan gestures could put a huge smile on an unsuspecting face.

Goofy is the one in the middle.Goofy is the one in the middle.

The rest of the day saw us polishing off the last of the attractions, and re-riding a few “old favourites”. A quick “walk straight on” ride of Space Mountain was at the top of the order. This was followed by our first look at the Golden Mickey’s musical stage show at 10:30, hosted by one of the most annoying people in stage history. Or is it just me? We took a second look at PhilharMagic after this, because Fiona requested it, and I just can’t say no to a girl in Minnie Ears. It was at this point that we met up with Belle, who after gracing us with a photo opportunity, took a look at my hat and warned me to look out for broomsticks following me.

We picked up another FASTPASS for the now crowded Space Mountain in an increasingly full Tomorrowland, but by this stage the lure of the Teacups was too strong. It was our longest wait for the ride, but even that only lasted 10 minutes or so. By this stage, it was time to go back to Space Mountain for our final – and seemingly roughest – ride. The track seemed a little bit different again, with far more dips and sharp turns. It may have been my imagination, but the bruise on my knee proved that I was surprised at least once by the ride.

As we headed back toward Main Street and the exit, we picked up some caramel popcorn. Returning to the hotel, we finished our first – but hopefully not last – trip to Hong Kong Disneyland.

Summary and Commentary

Hong Kong Disneyland has gotten a bad rap over the last year. The chief criticism is that the park is “too small” and not up to Disney standards. From the above trip report, you may get the impression that we were struggling to fill in time. While it is true that you could probably see everything in the park in a single day, you’d still be rushing things a little. To get the full Disney experience, however, a bit of time to simply “soak up the atmosphere” is probably needed. For this reason, I can easily recommend a 3-night stay at the Resort. The first night will be needed to absorb the hotel and surrounding grounds, the second day is for the park and the final day is purely to relax and enjoy that Disney magic. However, anything more than three nights may be a bit extreme, especially given how removed the Resort is from the rest of Hong Kong.

As for the claims that this is somehow a “lesser park”, this is simply not the case. While it is true that the park is significantly smaller than the California counterpart – or any other park for that matter - make no mistake: this is still a first-class Disney experience. What struck me instantly was just how fresh everything felt. Unlike the well-trodden Main Street of California, or the flaking paint of certain signs and attractions, it was almost as though we'd stepped back in time to a stage when Disneyland was in it's infancy. Seeing the park in the midst of its First Anniversary Celebrations, as low-key as they were, fills me with the same excitement and anticipation that people visiting the original park in 1955 must have felt. At the end of the day, Disney being Disney offers a bright and shiny show like no other - even if it does pale in comparison to other Disney efforts.

Doesn't it just fill you with good vibes?Doesn't it just fill you with good vibes?

One of the memories that will always stay with me is the looks on the faces of a multi-generational family as they boarded the Dumbo attraction for the first time. As the machinery, already familiar to me, first lifted them off the ground, a mixture of pure surprise and joy crossed their faces. Looking around, this was true of many local families visiting the park for the first time. It would be very easy for the hardened Disney faithful to dismiss the park as an "also ran", but this completely misses the point. As Walt once said, Disneyland is our land, and it has enchanted billions of people in one form or another over the last fifty years. If the small steps that Hong Kong Disneyland has made in its first year can produce the pure wonder I saw in the park - including those enchanted by my hat - then that fills me with hope for the future. If that isn't the essence of Walt's dream, then I'll eat my hat!

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