So as you know I don't tend to write trip reports anymore, simply because we visit the US and Paris parks so often it just seems silly. I also report all the time about them on the blog, and the site has such extensive information and photos from our trips to those places, I just don't bother now. But, time to time something exceptional happens, such as Tokyo last year, and I feel that I have to write about it in more depth.
This year it is the turn of Hong Kong Disneyland, which we visited for the very first time this week.
Last Saturday Jon, Loren and I all made our ways to our respective home city airports to begin an amazing four day adventure in Hong Kong, which initially included two days in Hong Kong Disneyland (ended up being one whole day and two half days, but I'll explain later).
Arrival in Hong Kong and impressions it made
Upon landing in Hong Kong I proceeded to go through all the usual annoyances associated with travelling internationally.
The airport was modern and the staff friendly.
The immigration line, though looked long, was fairly quick and efficient.
Once I had cleared customs I collected my luggage which was also pretty quick, then went to my pickup.
On wandering through the arrival hall I could immediately see that it was very different to Japan, which we visited last year. There didn't seem to be the strict rule of law imposed at every turn, and things seemed more relaxed. The stores were not as bizarre and they even had a more westernised feel to them.
On my return journey I was pleasantly surprised to find a HKDL Store just past the security gates (meaning on the departures side).
The store had a good selection of merchandise and included some of the offers from the park.
Anyway, back to my arrival, and once I had been introduced to my driver I got in the car and we made our way to the hotel. We were staying at the Mandarin Oriental on Hong Kong Island.
As soon as we left the airport I was in awe. Even just from the car I could see that Hong Kong was a fantastically diverse and beautiful city.
Set on a group of islands in the South China Sea, just off the mainland, Hong Kong manages to have a wonderful balance of East meets West.
Massive buildings in greater size and number than I had ever seen before, beautiful mountains and lush green landscapes all engulfed in the waters of the western Pacific Ocean.
What I thought was interesting and somewhat amusing is that due to the region's previous ruling by the British, HK had an interesting mix of British things intermingled with Asian. The road signs for example were all very British. As were all the traffic lights and signals. There were British banks, and all the signs and notices tended to favour English first, then Chinese.
They also drive on the same side of the road and have double decker busses just like the UK!
After taking in the spectacular views from the car and wondering how many 100 storey apartment blocks a city could need, we arrived at the hotel.
As soon as I arrived the porters whisked my luggage away and I was greeted by a manager from the hotel who showed me directly to my room.
I have to say that we get to stay in some varied and different ranges of hotels, including some excellent ones, but the Mandarin Oriental just blew me away. I know also that Jon and Loren felt the same way (they hadn't arrived at this point though).
The rooms had everything you could possibly imagine, the shower and bathroom were amazing, and the beds pure heaven!
I was instantly in love. From the brief sights I had seen from the car already, and now the hotel, I just was completely head over heels!
As the five days passed we had the opportunity to experience two of the hotel's restaurants for breakfast. The buffet one offered an excellent variety of food and the waiting staff were fast and helpful.
The table service breakfast offered some good choices and again the staff could not be faulted.
Overall we didn't get to see too much of Hong Kong itself, but we did stroll down the street and explore around the hotel. They had all the western type things, including a 24 hour McDonald's, but also had some very unique things too. Food and local stores were very cheap. Little local gift shops had some neat souvenirs at not bad prices, and fast food tended to be better in quality and a lot cheaper than in the US or Europe.
On the middle day we decided in the late afternoon to go up to the highest point above the city at Victoria Peak Garden.
Our driver did an amazing job of navigating the practically vertical hills high above the city and once we arrived at the peak it became apparent we made the best choice of our stay.
The views over the surrounding city, islands and bay area were second to none. With panoramic views for miles and miles and lush green scenery, it was truly a beautiful sight.
Some of the buildings in HK must be amongst the tallest in the world as they are simply enormous, but up in this tranquil paradise the hustle and bustle below looked merely like a model village from a theme park. It was simply incredible.
There is a mountain side tram that runs up and down the side to the very point I was talking about, and it is in the central HK city area, but you would have to find out where exactly.
Also near the peak was a small shopping mall (because malls at the top of mountains are normal, right?!) and other useful amenities.
I definitely think that Hong Kong is a much more interesting city than Tokyo. Not that we didn't like Tokyo, but HK just had more character to it and was visually stunning, as opposed to the very industrial and sprawling Japanese capital.
One night we also had a meal at a very upmarket Chinese restaurant in a large tower block. I don't recall the name, but you had to be a member to go there - which our hotel was, which meant we could use it. So if you ever stay at the Mandarin Oriental, ask about those exclusive members only restaurant around the corner - it's definitely worth a try.
Before we move on to the resort itself, I'll just mention some practical things that we came across that might be useful to someone reading this.
The weather this time of year is much like how we experienced Tokyo last year - intensely hot and humid with little let up throughout the day.
Although it is quite close the equator it does get cooler in the winter, and I would suggest spring or autumn for those who wish to avoid the extremes of hot or cold.
The currency of Hong Kong is the Hong Kong dollar, and at the moment HK$10 equates to about 84p (British).
British and US Citizens with no criminal convictions or endorsements can enter HK without a visa, and will need to fill out a landing card on arrival. You actually have two parts to it, one which is given upon entry and the other exiting the region.
To visit mainland China all visitors usually need a visa and should check before travelling.
The airport appeared to have a good number of transport options, including rail services to all over HK, hotel shuttles and taxis.
Going to Hong Kong Disneyland and first impressions of the resort
On Monday morning we had our first whole day in HKDL. We started the day as any character fan should, and that was with a character meal at the Enchanted Garden in the Disneyland Hotel (which I'll come back to later as I want to describe arriving at the resort first).
As our driver drove to the park we were again in awe of the spectacular views from the multiple bridges we went across to get to the island HKDL is on.
What is interesting is that apparently the area in which the resort is situated is protected, and in order to drive there you need a permit, as evidenced by signs I saw along the highway.
This raises an interesting point. Not many people drive to HKDL, and this was evident by the minuscule parking lot that has only a handful of cars in it on a peak summer day.
Most people in the region either come by train or bus, both of which are easily accessible through the Resort Transportation Hub.
I can also see why the area is protected as it, as with the rest of HK, is simply beautiful.
There appeared to be a lot of bus services, though I can't say where they go to. The train on the other hand I know is very easy (though we didn't use it).
The resort line train, which incidentally is Disney themed too (complete with mouse ear shaped windows!), runs to the next stop along a main line where you can then change to the main line trains. I guess it almost serves as a monorail to the mainline train station just outside the resort, but the difference being that you can purchase your rail tickets for your whole journey right at Disney, and then connect to whichever train later without any problems.
As you approach the resort area and go over the brow of the hill along the main gate road you get a glimpse of Space Mountain and the DL Hotel.
The roads and areas surrounding the park and the entrance are lined with palm trees and beautiful landscaping. There is a recreation area with a lake called Inspiration Lake Recreation Area.
As you enter the resort proper there are taxi and car drop-off areas, and the various bus stations.
Once we got out of the car we made our way to the park entrance.
One thing that we thought was funny is that the parking lot had the number and character system like the US and Paris resorts - but here there is only one parking area anyway, and they are all called Simba!
Loren cracked the joke "everyone remember we parked in the Simba lot!" Of course, where else would one park?...
Also the drop off point was beyond the parking area, which was a bit odd. Although the parking lot was very small, it was still quite a distance from the entrance, and it's not like they didn't have any room to fit it in up front, as the resort areas outside the park itself were very spacious.
Anyway, despite the parking weirdness, we made our way past all the usual amenities such as guest relations, toilets, the metro train station and other such things.
Entering under the big green archway into the park area we saw ahead of us the fountain that you always see pictures of online from this park.
Unique and very cool looking it is a statue of a happy whale spurting water from his spout. The water shoots out quite high and atop it is Mickey riding a surf board.
Around the fountain are smaller statues of some of the other Big 8, in various poses.
I might add at this point that the Park Promenade (the name for this whole area) was also lined with lush green landscaping and palm trees. The walkways were impeccably maintained and had different patterns in them.
To the right of the statue is the entrance to the park. There are gates and beyond that the ticket booths. Directly in front you have a clear view of the Main Street Station, which looks just like Disneyland in California's at a first glance.
The difference of course at this resort is that in most places you have views of the surrounding mountains around the resort.
The HKDL Hotel and breakfast at the Enchanted Garden
As I said above, on our first day we didn't actually go to the park right away but instead had breakfast with the characters at the HKDL Hotel's Enchanted Garden restaurant.
When we entered the hotel grounds we were initially struck by several things.
Firstly the resemblance on the outside to the Grand Floridian resort at WDW, and the DL Hotel in DLP.
The outside grounds in front of the hotel, as with the rest of the resort, were stunning.
Inside, the lobby again was a cross between the above two resort hotels.
It was hard to tell which had more influence. For example, the decor I thought was more akin to the DLH, but individual items such as the elevator had more of a GFl feel.
Overall we were all very impressed and the hotel throughout (what little we saw) was simply stunning, and continued the cross over DLH/GFl theme.
The Enchanted Garden is a buffet restaurant on the lower ground level of the hotel, and features some more unique elements that make this restaurant actually different from anything at the DLH/GFl.
The entrance was like walking into a small Italian garden through a tunnel of vines and greenery. There was a marble fountain at the end of the walkway, and to the right it entered into the restaurant.
Overall the theming of the restaurant was simple but effective. Columns with hanging baskets, blue sky ceiling and simple colours and tones make for a pleasant and relaxed casual dining experience.
The food was great, and offered a good mix of Chinese and western breakfast dishes, along with a kids buffet.
As with everywhere at HKDL, the cast were exceptional.
The characters that joined us that morning were Mickey himself, wearing his normal outfit, and Daisy Duck, Goofy and Pluto all wearing chef outfits that were very similar to the ones at Goofy's Kitchen in California.
I asked a cast member if we could get a group shot of all the characters as we left, and to my surprise we were allowed. This is something that the US parks fall down on.
After breakfast it was off to the park for the very first time!
Disneyland park impressions and thoughts
I will be honest and admit that we all went to HKDL half expecting to be a bit disappointed. We knew the park is significantly smaller than any other park, and that the attraction count was very low, missing some key Disney experiences.
But, I have to say that after two days in the park (or equivalent of - we actually did a whole day and two half days) we were suitably impressed with everything that we experienced.
The park is exceptionally clean, and beautifully maintained. The cast are amongst the friendliest and most helpful people I have ever met at a Disney park, and they all seem to genuinely love Disney too, which makes it a whole lot better.
Our VIP tour guides were simply incredible, and dare I say it, adorable too! They loved to be helpful, and loved to talk about Disney. They were grateful to us for being there, giving them work, and would stop at nothing to make the stay as pleasant as possible. I thank them dearly.
There are a lot of similarities in the park that we could recognise from other parks before it, yet it did have its own unique take on everything too. Nothing was identical, yet nothing was too drastically different.
Where the park does fall short is on the number of, well, everything.
The attractions, boutique and restaurant count are very low. What they do have is great, but they definitely need more there.
I realise there is an expansion coming, which admittedly has some great additions, but the park will only be adding (to my current knowledge) five new attractions, which still leaves it a lot short of all the other Magic Kingdom style parks.
One thing that Loren and I especially agreed on was the bizarre design of most of the boutiques, which links to another point that we noticed.
The park, despite its minuscule size, seems to have a lot of wide open spaces that don't appear to serve much purpose. In a park where every inch should matter, it seems to be that there are a lot of places you could fit in whole other attractions.
This links to what I was saying about the boutiques because the stores in the park were the smallest overall of any park I have been to.
The worst culprits were the attraction exit stores. They were absurdly tiny, and when you have 50 people exiting Space Mountain or Winnie the Pooh (to name but a few) every two minutes, it makes shopping, or even just exiting the ride, a painful experience. Yet you walk outside the store and there will be a large open concourse, and you stand and wonder why the store wasn't made bigger. Surely it would be better for sales, for the cast who have to work there and for the comfort of the guests inside to have a better organised, bigger store?
Moving from the stores to the merchandise they sell now, and overall there were a lot of similarities with the other parks.
There were some interesting items though, including simple things from different pins and Vinylmations, to simply having the HKDL logo on things, and their seasonal designs and promotions. There were also more localised items and Hong Kong themed souvenirs, though there didn't seem as many as for example DLP offers for Paris.
The sweets and candy items were a little strange and in much abundance like Tokyo. Actually, a lot of the cookies and similar items were from Japan (they said on the tins "product of Japan"), and although didn't say Tokyo Disneyland on them, it was clear that they had just ordered the same products and had the packaging changed.
HKDL seemed to offer a good amount of special offers and discounted products, some of which were reduced up to 60%! We managed to get some really cool things without paying an arm and a leg. This is in comparison to the Japanese parks which were ridiculously expensive beyond reason.
Also, unlike the Japanese the Chinese were not driven to panic buying the second they entered the park gates. Though due to their small size as I discussed, the stores seemed quite crowded at times.
Some things were very reasonably priced and worked out cheaper than the US parks for almost identical products.
Overall I liked the variety of merchandise on offer at HKDL as it was a little different, and affordable.
I want to add in at this point that the park and resort as a whole was quite modern, and although it kept to the traditional Disney style in most aspects, it did also have a contemporary and Chinese feel to it. I realise the park is in China, but what I mean is even Main Street felt Oriental in a lot of respects. Just in the design, style, and subtle things such as the signs and window displays/dressings.
All the stores, restaurants, attractions, toilets and locker rooms had air conditioning - as simple as this sounds, but if you remember our experience in Tokyo, you'll know that even the 5 year old DisneySea doesn't have AC in a lot of places! Something which in their climates is a basic must-have!
Moving on to dining now and much like the merchandise the food was varied and different, also offering some more western foods as well as traditional Chinese flavours.
As with the souvenirs there were also some good deals and overall prices weren't too inflated.
Most places offered some Chinese food as well as some more standard western options. As with all the non-US parks the drinks sizes were smaller.
We begin our tour of the park where it always begins in the Magic Kingdoms, on Main Street USA.
Just like the other parks (except Tokyo) HK DL's main entrance sports a train station. It looks almost identical to the California one, except some of the roof tiles and other small cosmetic differences; but for all intents and purposes is the same.[more]
What sets it apart from the other entrances is the fact you can see large green mountains in the background behind the park.
This is the case for about 60% of the park, mostly on the right hand side and the back of Fantasyland.
It gives an interesting perspective and can seem really pretty, but does cause two problems. One, it really throws off the scale of the park, including the castle and Space Mountain. These two things are park icons, but are mere dots against the lush green mountains behind.
Second, I don't ever recall there being tropical vegetation towering high above any city in the mid-West where Walt based Main Street on!
But nonetheless it makes for interesting photos.
Entering under the train station into Town Square again it feels familiar yet different.
There is a City Hall, a Fire House, an Emporium, an Opera House, and yet they all seem to have something a bit different about them. I'm not talking anything major, but they just look newer, fresher, and have slightly different colours or brickwork.
I certainly didn't dislike it, but I can't say I favour it over any others (Paris's is my favourite).
Like the street in Paris, it is tiled rather than flat concrete.
On Main Street there are two restaurants, plus a quick outdoor eatery and the bakery. We ate at one, and walked into the bakery and outdoor place, leaving just one we didn't see.
Main Street in HK is very short, and what is interesting is that there was nothing akin to Casey's Corner or an ice cream parlour. I have always felt that an ice cream parlour on the top corner of MS was somewhat a staple of the park.
The bakery was themed with cooking utensils and photographs on the walls. The counter was long but the store overall was very narrow and became quite crowded at peak meal times.
Overall the theming of the bakery was nice, certainly better than the Magic Kingdom in Florida, but not as nice as Paris's beautiful Cable Car Bake Shop.
The outdoor place was sandwiched into the space that is Center Street on the right hand side of MS.
It mainly sold Mickey waffles and snacks as far as I could tell, and wasn't much more than a covered counter with some seating, though it was very popular.
Center Street was also home to the locker rental room. Like California, the lockers were electronic, but the room had to be the smallest locker rental location I have seen at any park!
Back to the restaurants now, and the remaining two eateries were the Plaza Inn and the Corner Cafe.
We didn't eat at the Plaza Inn but from what I understand it is a Chinese restaurant with the Disney Characters. The restaurant also has a more distinct Chinese theme and feel inside, as opposed to a 1900's America eatery.
The Corner Cafe is where we ate dinner the first day, and I have to say it was quite nice.
In terms of theming it was fairly basic, but had that Main Street feel. Old fashioned wallpaper and wall lamps helped set the scene.
The food was good too and mainly consisted of what I would consider a mix of traditional Chinese food with some Western influences thrown in.
The stores on Main Street were interesting because they were so tiny. They have to be the smallest Main Street boutiques ever, and there are very few of them too. I have to admit that what they did have was nice, and I liked the themes and design, but they were so small that it actually detracted from the overall feel of them. I realise that on all the Main Streets the stores generally tend to run into one, or multiple stores that are not accurately represented on the outside. The facades tend to make you believe that there are about ten stores when in fact there are say just three; but HK was in a league of its own!
The buildings outside were condensed to begin with, but on the inside instead of going with a running them throughout and having just one or two larger stores hidden behind the facades, they tried to actually squeeze in four or five different stores. This basically failed because the small individual spaces became super crowded, and also instead of making you believe you were in a 1900’s boutique, you just felt like you were in a miniaturised representation of what it was meant to be. Just because there are multiple facades on the outside, they didn’t need to cram the same number of stores into the inside to make it feel authentic – in fact, it achieved just the opposite.
In total there was I think five main stores on Main Street that were all very small. The merchandise they offered was good, but seemed somewhat limited compared to Paris. Much to my happiness HKDL seem to be bigger on pins than Tokyo are, and pins were easier to find and they had a wider selection than I was expecting. Still not as many as the US or Paris, but still a good amount. I think last year from Tokyo I ended up with about four pins, but in HK I managed to buy at least fifteen that I liked, probably more – and there were of course more on sale than that too.
They also seem to be big on those magic towel things that expand when wet, and had a large selection of those.
Main Street also features a number of attractions, much the same as the other parks. There are Main Street Vehicles, which consist of an Omnibus and a Paddy Wagon (I don’t recall seeing anything else, though there could be others), and the Disneyland Railroad. There are no Horse Drawn Street Cars (rails for them were never laid).
Paris was the first and only park to have a Paddy Wagon, but I guess they felt HK needed one too!
The Railroad in HK is very limited, and only has one other stop in Fantasyland. Also, as we discovered, they do not let you travel all the way around the park! You can only go Main Street to Fantasyland, or Fantasyland to Main Street. You have to exit the train and queue up again if you wish to travel the extra length.
There is also an Opera House that features a very small animation exhibit and models and information about the expansion project, as well as an Art of Animation Academy where you can learn to draw your favourite characters (much like at the Studios in bot Paris and Florida).
Finally for Main Street, the hub does not feature a Partners statue.
Overall I liked Main Street but do feel like it lacked some of the basic concepts from the other parks. I realise that all the parks should retain some individuality, but in this case it definitely is in need of some more inspiration.
Now we venture into the jungles of Adventureland to see what it has to offer.
You approach Adventureland on the left hand side of the Hub much the same way you would at all the other Magic Kingdom style parks.
Adventureland in Hong Kong is the sole land on the left hand side of the park. No Frontierland, no Critter Country… Just Adventureland.
You enter under a sign that is similar to the one in Florida and Tokyo, find yourself in an area completely surrounded by trees and vegetation. Adventureland in HKDL takes a lot of its inspiration from DLP’s Adventureland with the tree filled more intimate and winding walkways.[more]
There are several major differences with Adventureland in HKDL though compared to the other parks. For a start, much like the rest of the park, it has an extremely limited number of attractions, boutiques and restaurants. In fact, there are just three attractions, two restaurants and one store (this is compared to DLP that has five attractions plus the new Peter Pan show, four restaurants plus two window locations, and five stores).
What is rather sly of HKDL is that they list on the map things that are simply not attraction-worthy. This is also again echoed across the park. For example on Main Street City Hall is listed as an attraction! Here in Adventureland the Liki Tikis are listed, despite them being no more than a glorified fountain (also, the Magic Kingdom has the same Liki Tikis and are not listed on the map!). They also list the Rafts to Tarzan’s Treehouse and Tarzan’s Treehouse itself as separate attractions. I count them as one. The rafts are the sole transportation method across the Rivers of Adventure, and the only way back again. The only attraction on the island is the Treehouse. Therefore logically they are one attraction. Does anyone count the elevator up to the Astro Orbiter in the Magic Kingdom as a separate attraction? No. Do they count the movie at the end of the Maelstrom in EPCOT as a separate attraction? You get the idea. Unless someone plans to swim across the River, then it is one attraction.
The one single boutique is called Professor Porter’s, and I have to say it is a nice store. Well themed and sits well within the land. It shares a doorway to the left with the Tahitian Terrace counter service restaurant. The Tahitian Terrace again is a really well themed dining location, and one of the best I saw in the park to be honest. The food looked good, which mainly consisted of Chinese dishes and there was shaded outdoor seating. I just liked it and thought it was a great place.
The only other dining location in Adventureland was further round the River and nearer the Fantasyland entrance. River View Café faces the Jungle River Cruise and is perched higher up to give good views, albeit through the dense jungle, over Adventureland. It is a table service restaurant and to my knowledge (we didn’t eat there) offers Chinese and other South East Asian food. It was covered but had an open air feel to it. There were no windows, but instead the sides were all open. It looked nice, but I think they cut the theming back in favour of just allowing the surrounding vegetation to give that wild feel.
Moving onto the attractions now, and we begin with the Festival of the Lion King. I was actually expecting this show to be the same as the one in the Animal Kingdom.
In fact, it was completely different. The sets were more interesting, the story flowed better and was more of an accurate retelling than Florida’s is, there were more interesting animal performers and there wasn’t the stupid audience participation that they have in Florida.
Sadly we did not get to go over to Tarzan’s Treehouse, but from afar it looked fairly similar to its counterparts, except I suspect the views over the park would have been neat.
The last attraction for Adventureland is the Jungle River Cruise (Jungle Cruise for easiness).
As you know by now, HKDL lacks a lot, and one thing it lacks is a Frontierland. When the Imagineers designed the park though they still wanted a Rivers of America like area, where traffic moves and it gives more of a sense of depth and reality to the land. So they came up with the Rivers of Adventure.
The Jungle Cruise and the Treehouse were to be integrated and be the centrepiece of this new concept.
The Jungle Cruise in HK is a different take on the classic US attraction. I have to say that overall I thought it was interesting, and had some cool new special effects, but it wasn’t better or worse than the US versions. I felt that maybe given how new it was it maybe could have been better, but like I said, it was at least on par with its predecessors.
For those wondering about the language barrier, well they have actually got three lines that you can enter, one I believe is Chinese, one a variation such as Mandarin and the other is in English.
Depending on the guide’s command of the English language, you sometimes might feel as though you were better off on the Mandarin boat. Listen carefully and you may hear some classic jokes from the US attraction, but otherwise just sit back and enjoy the slightly new take of this much loved ride.
What makes Adventureland and the Jungle Cruise a little more interesting is that there seem to be a lot more vantage points from which you can see the boats going round the Rivers of Adventure. In the US the attraction is completely hidden away, but in HK is a lot more visible. Nothing spectacular, but interesting nonetheless.
Thrown into the mix there is a secluded area right before Fantasyland that has some cool looking drums for the kids to bash to their heart’s content, as well as a waterfall with a back viewing area (the idea being your friends stand behind and you can take pictures of them behind the waterfall).
With a few other random walkways and lush greenery Adventureland in HK DL is neat, and has some cool things, but again as with the rest of the park, definitely needs more.
I would probably rank their Adventureland above the Magic Kingdom’s, for the lushness, the neat integration of the Treehouse with the Jungle Cruise, and the Lion King show.
Next up on my tour around HKDL is Fantasyland.
From Adventureland you can enter Fantasyland from near the Liki Tikis and the drumming area.
Alternatively you can go back to the hub and wall through the Castle or via the parade route to the right.
Fantasyland in HK like the whole park is in need of more.
Overall it is a pretty land and has some good attractions, but it does lack a lot.
I would say in terms of design and theming it is better than the Magic Kingdom (once the expansion is done this statement will no doubt change), and it is certainly far better than the miserable Fantasyland in Tokyo![more]
However it is not as pretty as Paris's or California's.
There seemed to be a lot of wasted opportunities in HK as there was a lot of open space, and given the fact the park lacks a lot, every inch should count.
The Castle doesn't have a walkthrough and there are no Peter Pan, Snow White or Pinocchio rides.
It does have the three spinning rides, a Winnie the Pooh, "it's a small world" and a PhilharMagic.
It also has an excellent musical revue show called the Golden Mickeys.
The land had some topiaries, and was made more interesting than Florida's because things are a bit more broken up.
"it's a small world" is in an area outside the train track, which meant you had to go under a bridge, and has an ice cream stand and a grand façade like California’s and Paris’s – but not quite as pretty as either of those two.
The actual attraction is on par I would say with California's, and features no less than 35 Disney characters in various forms. The queue and exit aren't as pretty as California or Paris though as it is situated indoors and, well, lacks something.
PhilharMagic was set in a much nicer looking theatre than in the MK, and the Tea Cups, although not as nice as Paris's, overlooked the Small World plaza area and were in a better setting than the MK.
Dumbo was quite basic and lacked the inspiration that they had for the Paris one, and the Carousel was fairly standard too.
The Pooh ride felt a bit fresher than the US versions, but had the festival tent entrance like the old version in Florida. Why when they built the park they didn't make this a Pooh's Hunny Hunt I do not know. Pooh Hunny Hunt in Tokyo far exceeds any of the other three Pooh rides (And most other dark rides for that matter), and should have been copied over into such a new park.
The Golden Mickey's is at the Storybook Theater near "it's a small world", and is meant to be an awards ceremony for the greatest Disney Classics. In amongst the loose storyline are stunning musical scenes from mvies including The Little Mermaid, Lilo and Stitch, Mulan, Beauty and the Beast, Tarzan and The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
An excellent show, and definitely worth seeing more than once.
There are two more things Fantasyland does offer, but I don't consider them attractions in the usual way.
There is the second stop for the Railroad, but really that is part of the whole Railroad attraction that begins on Main Street.
The design of the train station is a fairly simple design, but has bright colours and topiaries surrounding it.
The last one is Fantasy Gardens, which is a character meet 'n' greet area. Although not particularly extravagant, the little themed huts are set in nice surroundings, complete with topiaries. Each hut has a different personality of it’s own, and reflects the characters you can normally meet there.
There is a Mickey hut, complete with Mickey head ornaments on the rails and a Mickey statue on the roof. The colours are the same as his house in California, and also from the Mickey Mouse Club House TV show.
There is also a pink house with hearts that Minnie occupies, and sometimes (I have seen photos) some of the other female characters too, such as Lilo.
There is a very distinctly Pooh themed hut, complete with beehive over the door, and of course all the Pooh friends meet here on a rotating basis.
Then there is a very Chinese looking hut. It has Li Shang’s horse in statue form out front of it, and Mushu’s worked into the hut’s design. Mulan sometimes meets here, but normally it is Chinese Pluto or Goofy.
The last hut has a more princess-y feel to it, and has crowns worked into the design, but when we went Duffy was meeting there. I have seen photos of the princesses there, and Duffy normally on Main Street, so I am not sure why this changed when we visited!
The Pooh Corner boutique is at the exit to the Pooh ride and suffers the same fate as the Tomorrowland stores at the exits to Buzz and Space Mountain - immensely small for such a busy place.
Overall the theming of the store was nice, but after experiencing Pooh's Hunny Hunt last year, none of the Pooh rides and exit stores will ever compare!
Merlin's Treasures is the store at the exit to PhilharMagic, and quite appropriately too.
I really liked this store a lot. You never see anything to do with Merlin anymore and so to have a store themed after him is neat. Complete with his magic bag that spews the contents across the ceiling of the store to his desk, the store offers a good range of merchandise, and appeared to have some good sale items while we were there also.
The third store is the Storybook Shoppe. This is a surprisingly large store (it looks small like the rest from the outside), and offers a good selection of merchandise. The theme something akin to a dress making workshop – for the princesses - and has the various princess icons dotted around the store (Belle’s rose, Cinderella’s glass slipper, for example).
Moving onto the dining options now, and there are two restaurants in Fantasyland. There is the cleverly named Clopin’s Festival of Foods, and the Royal Banquet Hall.
Clopin’s Festival of Foods overall is ok. I think that they cheated a bit by choosing something carnival-like where they could use the old fashioned tent style to “theme” it. There are some nice touches though, and overall is it a nice place, but I do think that they could have done better, as really it amounts to not much more than an undercover counter with some outdoor seating.
The Royal Banquet Hall is a lovely restaurant, and has murals and statues of all the Disney Princesses. It felt a bit like a cross between the Akershus from EPCOT and Cinderella’s Royal Table at the Magic Kingdom, but somehow a bit better.
There is one thing I did not like about this restaurant though, and that’s its location. It is just off to the left of the Castle Courtyard, not directly in it, but closer into the Courtyard than any other restaurant is at any other park. I am not sure how I feel about this intimate space, where you walk through the Castle arches into this magical realm, suddenly being overwhelmed with tables and chairs complete with people eating Chinese fast food. It just doesn’t sit right with me. Great restaurant, but bad location.
Both restaurants as far as I can recall serve Chinese and/or other Asian dishes.
Finally, there are a number of characters that meet throughout the land on top of those features at the Fantasy Gardens. Rapunzel, Tinker Bell and any number of the other Disney Princesses can be found either at set locations or wandering about.
Overall, as with the rest of the park, I liked Fantasyland but it just needs more. It needs more detailed theming, more waterways, more attractions and more – bigger - boutiques.
I know you probably think I sound like a cracked record by now, but I'll say it anyway! Like the rest of the park Tomorrowland has some really good features, but definitely needs more. It has just five attractions, two restaurants and two minuscule stores. This is compared to say the Magic Kingdom that has eight, two and three respectively (you could even count the Lunching Pad which would make three restaurants).
Let us begin with the overall look and feel of Tomorrowland.[more]
Considering the park is only nearly six years old, it is curious as to why they decided to go back to the Tomorrowland concept, although they have changed the concept slightly. In the US the future has always become outdated very quickly, and now the attractions at the US parks seem to have become less tomorrow-like and more space themed or alien themed, which isn't necessarily futuristic.
In HK they have actually took that failure into account, and the theming is more space themed than futuristic, so the attractions, which are really hardly futuristic, don't feel so out of place with their surroundings. Jon used the phrase Spaceland to describe it more accurately.
On saying all that, sadly the theming is quite basic, and the land does feel a bit bland. Tomorrowland in HKDL is also very small physically. The entire land is centered around a courtyard area that could easily be swallowed by Space Mountain from DLP alone. This gives the land a very enclosed and circular feel. If you are standing at given point in the land you can pretty much turn your head around and see just about everything else in the land.
The buildings in Tomorrowland are also somewhat grey and sterile looking, although they do have some splashes of colour to them here and there.
Let us take a closer look now at the individual offerings across Tomorrowland.
As I already mentioned, there are two stores - Star Command Suppliers and Space Traders. These are probably the two smallest and worst designed stores in the whole park, and probably any Disney park!
They are so cramped inside that you can barely move at the best of times, but remember these stairway are a the exit to two of the most popular rides in the park - Buzz Lightyear and Space Mountain.
Space Traders at the exit to SM I would say is actually smaller than most people's living rooms!
There isn't really theming to this store either, apart from some pictures of Mickey and friends riding SM and some Stitch light up panels. With train loads of people exiting the ride every couple of minutes this is one store you do not want spend too much time in!
Star Command Suppliers at the exit to Buzz is a little bigger than the SM store, and has a bit more theming, complete with a mural and a giant Little Green Man spaceship looking thing hanging from the ceiling.
Again though, given the amount of people that exit the ride all day everyday, this is another store that you will not want to hang about in.
The two restaurants of Tomorrowland are Starliner Diner and Comet Cafe.
The Starliner Diner features the story of a yellow spaceship. Outside the restaurant the ship sits above the main entrance, and inside there are murals of it's travels across the universe.
Despite the pictures on the walls and even a random side room that looks like a futuristic bar, the restaurant is somewhat basic. There are indoor and outdoor seating areas and the food is a little more Westernised than other eateries in the park, but still with a lot of Asian influence (their burgers claim to be "American", but have things like char siew pork in them!).
Over at the Comet Cafe, theming was, well, lost in space I think!
Apart from the the neons on the outside roof that add more to Tomorrowland than the Comet Cafe, this restaurant was basically a walk up counter with a lot of seating, all outdoors. Lacking in inspiration, this is probably one of the worst "themed" restaurants at any Disney park. The menu was all Chinese.
There was also a snack window over by Space Mountain called Flying Saucer Snacks that was something akin to say Mrs Potts Cupboard or the former Friar's Nook in the Magic Kingdom, or Cafe de la Brousse at DLP. Again it was of a basic design.
Moving onto the attractions now, and we'll begin with the Orbitron.
If there was one thing that Jon, Loren and I all agreed on, it was that the Orbitron here was a much nicer version. It had a blue central section with a galaxy motif running through it complete with stars, and the vehicles were flying saucers. It just looked nicer than the rockets at the other parks and was more colourful. The saucers were side by side seating too, whereas all the other versions around the world are bobsled style seating (one behind the other). This I think makes for an overall better ride experience, but essentially is just another spinning attraction.
One thing I did notice, and I haven't studied videos to see why this happens, but it didn't appear to go as high as it's counterparts.
Next up is the Stitch Encounter.
The Stitch Encounter cleverly utilises some dead space under Space Mountain to house the attraction.
The attraction is essentially the same, complete with the chase at the end with Gantu though the theatre is smaller than in Paris. Of course some presentations are in Chinese and some are in English, whereas in DLP they rotate between English and French.
As for Space Mountain itself, it is probably about the same physical size as the one in California, and also has the same basic all over white paint.
The queue area before the loading dock is somewhat boring looking, with "dark and metal" being the "space" theme.
The loading area has some light-up planets overhead, but again is more dark than anything else. There is only one loading platform, so only one train can leave at a time, and the trains are incredibly small physically. Two grown men with our camera bags could just barely squeeze into the carriage side by side. Not very comfortable!
The ride itself is a mixture between California's and Paris's. The track layout is very similar to California, and doesn't have any loops or anything. The special effects in the ride are similar to Paris, with projections of supernovas and other spacial anomalies.
The launch tunnel uses a similar idea to the US parks where it is multicoloured flashing lights, but they are different in their own way.
The re-entry tunnel is actually designed very similar to Paris whereby there are multicoloured flashing square arches (it's hard to explain, but if you know Paris's you'll know what I mean!).
Overall as a ride it is fun, if somewhat cramped. The first half of the ride can be disappointing the first time you ever ride it though as it feels incredibly slow, but about half way through the speed picks up and is more like a roller coaster.
The next attraction is Autopia. In HKDL Autopia lies outside the boundary of the park and features for the first time electric vehicles, which means the familiar noisy revving sounds as heard at the other parks is absent in HK.
The last attraction for Tomorrowland, and the last one left on my list for the whole park in fact, is Buzz Lightyear.