Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Hong Kong Disneyland: Tiny, Cute, and a Little Weird

Andy, Steve, Kristin, and I on the Subtlety Train.
While on an unrelated work assignment in Macau, China, my coworkers and I decided to take a side trip to Hong Kong Disneyland. It was a fun and amazing day despite being book-ended by 2 hours of travel each way and enjoyed through the filter of the most brutally hot and humid weather I've ever experienced. 

But it was super fun!

But seriously, it was crazy hot. I'm not even playing. Crazy hot. For reals. Ridiculous.

This incarnation of Disneyland will be very familiar to anyone
What's that green thing behind the castle?
who knows the U.S. parks and yet, it is different in odd and unique ways. As my friend Andy (who joined us for the day) so perfectly said, "it's like an alternate reality Disneyland". Everything is smaller. Noticeably, significantly smaller, and yet scaled in such a way that it appears on the surface to be Disneyland in California. 

Main Street USA
We don't need no stinkin' Partners Statue.
The entrance, Main Street, hub, and castle are laid out exactly like the original Disneyland but scaled down just enough that it feels like a tour of a movie set of Disneyland. The effect if further exaggerated by the fact that the paths in the park seem much wider than usual (which is actually nice). It would be easy to look at photos and think they were taken in California, except for a few oddities sprinkled in. There is a large, forest covered hill behind the castle, the castle actually sits slightly lower than Main Street (making it almost appear to be sinking), and there is an empty grass patch where the partners statue would normally be. It felt like a sci-fi movie, in which we were abducted by aliens and placed in a simulation where they got some of the details wrong. Or maybe I'm a nerd.

Once you step outside of Main Street and the hub, you enter a fantastic sampler of Disney attractions, lands, and show elements from all of the other parks all over the world. Let me explain with a tour of the park, by lands and attractions.

Mystic Point

This, people. This.
Despite the fact that everything there was new to us, we basically rushed right to the newest new thing, Mystic Manor. The Manor is located in its own "mini land" (which is funny because all of the lands are mini) along with a restaurant and a small garden with 3 optical illusion sculptures. Because ghosts are not fun in Chinese culture, the Manor here is all about magical items. As a result, the Manor and Mystic Point have an aesthetic that is very reminiscent of the Adventurers Club (formerly of Pleasure Island in Orlando), but less cluttered.

Mystic Manor

I want to live in this.
The attraction inside the Manor is a trackless dark ride through a mansion filled with artifacts collected from various cultures around the world. At the very beginning, we are introduced to the collector and his always curious monkey companion, Albert. We also learn about the latest acquisition, a Balinese music box that is said to bring other inanimate objects to life. As you may have guessed, the monkey opens the box and crazy special effects ensue. You can see a video ride through HERE. The clever thing about this ride is that there are 4 vehicles dispatched at once that all get slightly different versions of the experience. We were able to ride in vehicle 1 and 2 during our stay.
Naughty monkey.

I absolutely loved the art direction, characters, music, and special effects in this attraction. The animatronics were fantastic and the effects were impressive, especially the use of lasers and video projection mapping. I was surprised however, by the pacing of the ride. It felt slow at times and there were odd pauses in action. My educated guess is that the desired pace of the attraction (fast and energetic) was being dampened by limitations in the ride system. The trackless vehicles felt sluggish on acceleration and rotation and the vehicle seemed to have a low top speed. The pauses appeared to be caused by vehicles waiting for other vehicles to clear a path. It is unclear if these limitations were self-imposed or a condition of the available technology.

In the end, it was a great show, a great story, and Albert is adorable.

Grizzly Gulch

The heat is on.
HK Disneyland opened without a Frontierland, but during the recent expansion, a "mini land" version of it was added in the form of Grizzly Gulch. Imagine if all of Frontierland had the same cartoon western feel as Big Thunder Mountain and you'll know what Grizzly Gulch was like. This land actually had quite a few small town structures and a lot of geyser-related rockwork. Because the area was pretty desolate and unshaded, there were plenty of water play elements to keep us cool. A little water doesn't hurt when you're already boiling in your own sweat.

Big Grizzly Mountain Runaway Mine Cars

Straight outta DCA.
On the surface, this new roller coaster would seem like a version of Big Thunder Mountain, but it actually has almost nothing in common with it. In fact, it feels like a low profile version of Expedition Everest from Animal Kingdom mixed with the rockwork from the Grizzly River Run at California Adventure. The coaster is basically 3 different ride experiences of escalating thrills, each representing a story beat in a very
simple story. In the first segment, a moderate thrills gravity coaster with a traditional lift hill, we are introduced to the family of bears living in and around the mine we are travelling through. In the second, we are traveling up another lift hill only to have a rope break send us careening backwards through the mine. In the last section, we find ourselves in a cave full of explosives where a Momma and Baby bear are attempting to steal fish from the miners. In the process, they set off the explosives and blast us out of the cave (via magnetic launch) on a high speed journey around the mountain. When we finally stop, we see that a slightly charred Momma and Baby survived and got their fish. This ride was adorable, simple, fun, and the overall favorite with our group.

Toy Story Land

"Reft, right, reft." I know, I'm awful.
Although I've never been to the Walt Disney Studios Park in Paris, this 3rd and final "mini land" from the recent expansion looks almost exactly the same. For me, it looked like a re-skinned version of A Bug's Land from California Adventure with some Disney Hollywood Studios in Orlando thrown in. The elements here were a handful of cleverly-themed, medium-sized flat rides. The land looked popular, but we barely slowed down as we walked through it. We were not the target audience.

The Green Army Men performers (same as DCA and DHS) did catch my attention though. It is culturally insensitive to say this, but hearing Sarge yell out "left, left, right, left" in a thick Chinese accent is pretty hysterical.

Moving on...


This land was a mind game. You know that crazy dream you had where you went to Disneyland and all the rides were all mixed up together? Been there. Like for real.

Though it started with the classic tribal gate that you see in California, most of this land looks and feels like Animal Kingdom in Orlando. And there are a lot of interesting blends of elements happening here too. As I said, there is no Frontierland so the closest thing to the Rivers of America is in Adventureland. There is also no New Orleans Square or Liberty Square so no steamboat or sailing ship either. Instead of Tom Sawyer Island, the island is home to Tarzan's Treehouse (which we didn't have time to see) and is accessible only by rafts. Now here's where it gets super weird...

Jungle Cruise
What is going on here?
The dock for the Jungle Cruise is on the "Rivers of America" surrounding Tarzan's island. Imagine sailing around Rivers of America in Disneyland in a Jungle Cruise boat. It's seriously weird. We had to pause in the middle of the water and wait for the rafts to the island to cross our paths. As the JC boats pass around the back side of the island, the river narrows and becomes a more traditional Jungle Cruise river (though significantly more naturalistic and less trough-like). The boats are still on a guide track (which is capable of some very sharp turns), but being out in
Welcome to the jungle.
open water like that makes it feel like you're really at the mercy of your guide / driver. Speaking of guides, because of the region, the tours take place in 3 different languages (English, Cantonese, and Mandarin). There is a different queue for each language, but they run the load in such a way that the wait time is equal between them. It's a clever system that makes for a pretty big queue building. Our guide had pretty good English, but something gets lost in the translation. 
Instead of the dryly-delivered corniness, the script sounds much closer to "there is an elephant bathing, isn't it funny?". But it doesn't matter because this version of the Cruise amps up the scenery and animal realism and introduces a bit of action. Near the end, the boat makes a sudden and nearly 90 degree turn to dodge a fairly massive geyser that erupts in the water. And the finale is small fire and water show that tried to kill us. It's already 241 degrees outside, but the show still manages to end with a brutal steam burst that cooked us alive for an excruciatingly long time. Cool! Again, again!

Festival of the Lion King
Can you feel the AC tongiht?
Adding to the feeling of being in Animal Kingdom is the Festival of the Lion King that is (sort of) lifted from it. This show was really good and another group favorite, but it had a lot of changes and improvements over the Florida version. These elements may have been introduced into the original show's new home in AK. I haven't seen it since it moved. The HK version needs to work for at least 3 languages, so the original format with its audience participation just won't work. They dealt with this by taking all of the original show elements (except for the Tumble Monkeys, who were deleted entirely) and rewriting the show.
Dance battle.
There are also some technology upgrades including stage lifts, turntables, and all new floats that could drive around the entire stage and rotate individually. The 4 main singers are still the core of the show and have their same solos but they aren't tied to audience sections and animals anymore. To make it easier to understand, they simplified the overall story and added a pair of Translator Monkeys. If I am remembering right, it sounds like they may have rerecorded some, if not all of the score. It has been a long time, so I can't be sure. Anyway, the show is high energy and great fun. 

And air conditioned.

The future that never was...
Oh my lord, this land is tiny. It should be called Tomorrowcourtyard. However, the fact that it is so small that you see all of it at once also makes it far more visually cohesive than the U.S. versions. The theming all ties together quite nicely with Disneyland's Dark Crystal-ish Astro Orbiter in the middle and swooping architecture accented with little planets around the perimeter. It was also very well isolated from the rest of the park, which helps with the theme. There are 2 big and familiar attractions here, as well as a Stitch-based version of Turtle Talk (which we didn't get to). An Iron Man attraction was under construction in this area too, but there wasn't much to see of it yet.

Buzz Lightyear's Astro Blasters

This is nothing unusual, but always fun and like its previous incarnations, it has its own slightly unique track plan and scenery. Despite being a new layout to us, Andy still managed to murder me at it.

Space Mountain
The force is strong with this one.
This is exactly the same roller coaster as the current version in California. It even has the same soundtrack, minus the English countdown. Though always a fun coaster, this was sadly the only place in the entire park where I felt like the budget was clearly cut. The queue was mostly outdoors and the tiny bit inside was barely themed at all. The load station was pretty cool, with interesting internally lit planets and a big telescope-like thing, which I (of course) immediately dubbed the Space Penis. And suddenly, I realized that the Space Penis was recycled. It is (was) the central telescope-like prop in DisneyQuest (or it was built from the same plans). I was pretty proud of my fairly obscure catch on that one.

The DisneyQuest telescope. Look familiar?
The ride itself was strange. The first scene was a series of poorly lit, strobing blacklight-ish Asian-ish space gates followed by a lift hill surrounded not by a cool projection tunnel but a microwave oven-like metal box housing a handful of American DJ fixtures. The gravity section was mostly empty save for a few blacklight asteroids, but the ambient light level was so high that you could see everything. EVERYTHING. It felt like something was wrong. Hell, something was wrong. You could see everything. Thankfully, the finale tunnel was exactly like California. Also, air conditioning.

We rode it twice.


Spin cycle.
This land was great. Similar to Main Street, it was a miniaturized version of the original with roughly the same layout. The Carousel, Dumbo, and the Orlando version of Tea Cups were all present and charming. The Pooh ride was a duplicate of Florida but with the added fun of an all Chinese language dramatic catfight in the queue between 2 ladies and the ride's staff. What's happening!? Also present was Mickey's Philharmagic, but we ran out of time for it as well.

it's a small world
it's a tiny, tiny world
The big ticket item was Small World and it was really great. The outside was a copy of California but the load was inside, similar to Florida. In this version, the ride was slightly reorganized, much newer looking and more vibrant than the existing incarnations, and sporting what seemed to be a new mix of the soundtrack. Like California's version, this one featured Disney characters in their home countries. The divisions between regions was far clearer and better labeled than other versions and some elements were relocated to more appropriate divisions. I can't think of any good examples now, but it seemed obvious at the time. 

A wonderful world of color
By the time we did Small World, it was dark and close to closing time. And it was freezing inside that building, which was perfect because we emerged from the exit into the outer bands of an approaching typhoon. At least it washed the 9 hours of sweat out of our clothes. At any rate, it was time for us to begin our 2 hour, 3 train, 1 ferry, and 1 taxi journey home. So we said goodbye to the tiny kingdom.

I hope you enjoyed your journey with us. Please gather all your personal belongings and step out the same way you got in because we didn't have enough room to put an exit on the other side. Thanks.


  1. Thanks for the write up! I'd love to check it out, but am definitely going to wait til Shanghai is open, and make a 2-3 week China trip out of it!

  2. I really enjoyed this. Hope to visit HK soon... Mystic looks like a fantastic ride.