The highlight of our trip: Disneyland, and the reason why we went to Hong Kong. I didn’t realize it has been 10 years since it was opened until my husband told me. But both my husband and I had not thought of going there until we have Buddy.
It’s the smallest of all Disney theme parks, and even then, we didn’t manage to visit all the sections, least alone took all the rides. I bought two-day passes for us, but we didn’t arrive until past noon.
For convenience, I booked a one-night stay at the Disney Hollywood Hotel, one of two available onsite. Still, the two hotels are not exactly close to the park, and guests have to take the shuttle bus to get there. But the frequency is rather high, at 10-minute interval during the operational hours. There were not many guests at the lobby when we arrived but it still took a bit of time to check in. I requested for a room with a view of the fireworks, as advised by a colleague, and the upgrade cost an additional HKD 100.
The bus dropped us off near to the main gate, where the signage (see picture below) is located.
It turned out it was nowhere near the park entry. In fact it was a long walk before we reached a mickey mouse fountain and another distance away before we finally reached the ticket checkpoint.
It’s highly advisable to wear good walking shoes when you come here. Lucky for us, we were there in early November, and the weather is not very humid. Though it was quite warm, there was a cool breeze. In fact I could still wear a cardigan.
At the checkpoint, anybody with bags had to open them up for checks. But because we were there on a Wednesday, there was not a lot of people and so it wasn’t a long wait. (In fact, I found out in Google that, according to historical data, Wednesday has the least crowd at the park.) But during high season and weekends, be prepared for very long lines.
Finally, we were inside Disneyland! It’s like a quaint little American town. The whole place was dressed up in Christmas decorations, complete with a tall tree next to the town square.
The pavilion at the square is where visitors can take pictures with the main Disney characters, Mickey and Minnie Mouse. Unfortunately Buddy was not interested to do that. In fact, over the stay there, we saw lines forming for photo shoots at various locations within the park, but Buddy did not show interests in any of the characters.
A word of advice for those with young kids: it’s best to bring along a lightweight and compact stroller. A couple of friends had given us the advice, but we didn’t take it regrettably. Though guest can rent a stroller from the park, it’s rather bulky (probably to prevent anyone from stealing it). We had wanted to rent one initially, but after we were told we couldn’t take it on the Disney train we decided to forget about it. We planned to go on a train ride to Fantasyland, the opposite end of the park, which is close to Toy Story Land. So my husband ended up being the transport carrier for Buddy again.
We took a vintage train, modeled after the turn-of-the-century locomotive found in America, and this is available at Main Street Station. When Buddy first spotted the train, he called out, “Samson!”, referring to the Thomas Train character.
At Fantasyland, there were the Dumbo elephant ride, the Cinderella carousel, and the Mickey Mouse PhilharMagic show, etc. The line for the Dumbo ride didn’t look long, and the sign indicated wait-time was 20 minutes, and we decided to join the queue. (I think 20-minute is considered no big deal at the park because my colleague, who was here with her family in June, had to ensure at least an hour wait in the heat and humidity.)
Only two passengers are allowed on each elephant; my husband took one with Buddy while I rode another to take pictures of them. During the ride, I was wondering how come many of the elephants (including the one they were in) were going up and up, while mine was way below . It turned out there was a lever that the passenger can use to pull the elephant up, and Buddy kept pulling at it.
There were lines at the other rides and shows, and so we proceeded to Toy Story land.
Buddy was fascinated by the colored blocks and climbed onto them. In fact he was not enticed by the rides or even the toy shop (only played with an animatronics T-rex), instead he was mostly fascinated by the non-attractions like the domino boards, domino benches and the colorful trash bins.
He was not keen to take pictures either, not even with T-Rex. He said he was scared of the huge figure, which was susprising considering that he was interested to come to Disneyland because of the green T-rex inToy Story.
The next ride we took was one of the highlights of the trip. A colleague strongly recommended that we went for the “It’s a Small World” ride at Fantasyland, and I’m glad I took her advice.
It’s a boat ride that takes guest through different continents of the world with the song “It’s a Small World” sung by children in different languages playing in the background. It was a joyful experience, like being transported back to childhood, seeing the dancing dolls in different costumes, the multi-colored settings and lightings. It’s really like being in a fantasyland. I know I should have taken in the moment during the ride, but like many others, I scrambled to take pictures to capture that joyous experience. But the photos just don’t do justice. This is one ride which you have to go for, no matter which Disneyland you’re at.
The other highlight for the day was the evening parade, which everyone was absolutely crazy over. It was amazing and magical, and epitomizes what Disneyland is about. The multi-colored LED lights and the catchy music made us want to jump up and down like a kid. The parade is called “Disney Paint The Night”, where special technology is used to light up the floats and performer costumes using fully LED lights, and the parade is made interactive as guests are able to buy the “Mickey Mouse Paint Brush” which can change the colors of the costumes. My husband remarked that it was a representation of Hong Kong, because the city is gorgeous at night with its colorful neon lights, complete with the theme song in Cantonese. He was convinced that the evening parade was unique to HK Disneyland because only the HKers could carry this off. (It turns out that he was partially right. HK Disneyland is the first to have this special evening parade in September last year. The main theme park in LA followed suit for its 60th anniversary in May this year. The parade music was first written for HK, based on a mix of the Disney parade song and an adapted Owl City’s song “When Can I See You Again”, but translated to Cantonese for the local residents. The Americans adopted the same song but it’s in English of course. I haven’t heard the English version, but I love the Cantonese one!)
Before the parade started, there were staff selling fancy balloons, and Buddy wanted one with a pink Mickey Mouse shaped balloon inside a round transparent one that also comes with LED lights and a mickey mouse shaped weight. Since he didn’t get any toys at the park, I thought it would be nice for him to have a balloon. I asked the staff, “How much is it?”, and she replied, “HKD140” (USD 18). OMG! That was a really expensive balloon! But I got it for Buddy anyway. When we were back in the hotel room, my husband looked at the balloon closely and there was a tag stating: this balloon is not allowed on board the airplane.
Here are some of the pictures of the parade I managed to take. Again, they really don’t do any justice to the event itself, and don’t reflect the emotional high I experienced then. It was as if I had taken the happy drug. Seriously, just the night parade alone is worth a visit to the theme park.
At the end of the parade with Mickey Mouse dressed in a wizard costume atop a float, two performers hold a LED-lighted stick to signal the end of the parade, and kids started following them. Even Buddy wanted to follow Mickey Mouse, and we did so, like children following the Piped Piper.
Another highlight of the evening: fireworks! Though to be honest, it’s nothing to shout about. Perhaps for Buddy, it was interesting, but I thought our National Day fireworks were more spectacular. I guess Disneyland can’t be putting up special pyrotechnics every night because that would have cost an arm and a leg.
We returned to the park the next morning where we only had a couple of hours before departing for the airport. Luckily, there was not a lot of people around. We went straight for Adventureland for the River Cruise.
We were here the day before for the Lion King show. It was another highly recommended show by the same colleague, who loved it so much that she even brought her kids to the full musical in Singapore. For me, though it was entertaining, I wouldn’t say I fell in love with it. My husband thoroughly enjoyed it because of the two Cantonese-speaking monkeys. Nah, they’re not real monkeys, but performers in the ape suit. The 30-minute show is mostly in English, but with a smattering of Cantonese providing some translation of the storyline. The main English actor would tell the story, “Sinba is in great trouble here, and he doesn’t know it!”, followed by the Cantonese narration spoken in the singing tonality of the Cantonese language, “Sinba有很大的困难,但是他还不知啊!” (Sorry, can’t reproduce the written Cantonese here.) My husband was half-irritated, but mostly tickled by it because it sounded really comical against the backdrop of the safari story.
Anyway the River Cruise only started operating at 11.30AM, so we went for the Mickey Mouse PhilharMagic Show and the Winnie The Pooh Show first. The fact that since we were there early, we didn’t have to wait long for either one. The former is basically a 3D show, which was enjoyable enough but nothing special. (I’ve been to a few of them, and so was not terribly hyped up over it.) The Pooh ride was quite fun, though not as magical as the one in Small World, and it was also shorter.
Back to the River Cruise. There were lines arranged by language, one for English, Cantonese and Mandarin. We went for the English line since Buddy and my husband would have difficulty with the Cantonese and Mandarin introductions. There were lots of Indians around because of the Deepavali holiday. We guessed many of them were in HK for the vacation.
On our boat, the Indians were a boisterous lot. They were whooping at the animatronics of elephant and snake figures, the special effects showcasing explosions and hot springs, and were so excited by the “hidden dangerous creatures in the water” that it seemed like we were really on an adventurous boat ride. Midway through, the some kids would move across the boat to switch seats with the adults, and the guide would call out, “Sit down, sit down! Don’t stand up! The boat might tip over!” And any splash of water or thick mist would be greeted with lots of noise. In contrast, the other nationalities (including us) were rather passive and spent our time gawking at them instead. My husband later remarked the Indians were more entertaining than the boat ride itself. (He also revealed that the boat was likely firmly attached to a rail underneath the water, and not steered by the guide. So the likelihood of it tipping over is nil.)
Tarzan’s tree house. Nothing special, just a flight of steps leading all the way up and then down.
As for the hotel stay, the room was alright and it’s not as big as the one from Crowne Plaza Hotel. The bathroom was really squeezy though. The door, when opened, almost touched the toilet seat.
The toiletries are kept inside a cute Mickey Mouse paper cup complete with a cute cover. We found out the room was meant for 4 adults, because there were 4 pairs of room slippers provided. I cannot imagine 4 adults squeezing into the room which has a king-sized bed, least alone sharing the bathroom. Maybe to some, it would be like having a pyjamas party.
As for food, we had a late lunch at the Mickey Royal Hall next to the PhilharMagic theatre. My colleague had told me the food was average and not worth it. Perhaps it was because her family had the Chinese food, whereas we ordered a burger which was quite tasty. There was no chili provided, so I asked for it and was given this Guilin chili sauce (see picture below), which is completely inedible.
We went for an early dinner that night as we wanted to go for the evening parade at 6.30pm. My colleague had recommended Plaza Inn which serves Chinese food albeit a little pricey. We ordered a set dinner for two at HKD 180 each, and the quality is indeed pretty good. In fact I would say it was a good deal because there was more than enough food for us. The only beef is that the HKers don’t know shit about Hokkien cuisine. One of the dishes was a Hokkien fried rice with diced chicken. When it was served, my husband (who is a Hokkien by the way) thought we were given the wrong dish because it looked like braised rice with meat, and I informed the wait staff. She promptly confirmed that it was indeed the Hokkien fried rice. My husband cried, “No way is this anything close to a Hokkien cuisine!” But the service was pretty good, because they actually came round to check with the guests if they were attending the parade and would arrange for the check accordingly.
We had breakfast the next morning at Chef Mickey restaurant. As I was with the reception staff, I had told my husband to first check out the available dining options. He noticed that Chef mickey, which offered breakfast buffet, was popular and so selected it. The restaurant requires prepayment and the buffet prices were about HKD 200 per (USD 25.80) adult and HKD 150 (USD 19.35) per child. The prices come with a tag which allows the guests to have photos taken with Chef Mickey (of course). Maybe this is why there was a crowd.
There was a large spread of food ranging from western, Chinese, Japanese and even Indian cuisines. Unfortunately, quantity doesn’t equate to quality. In fact, the food SUCKS big time! My husband even went as far to describe it as “pig slop”. Worse, it was absolutely expensive to pay for crappy food. My husband had some scrambled egg which tasted horrible, and he advised me not to get it but to order the omelette which was cooked on the spot. I’m not sure why, but there was no proper stove in the kitchen for cooking the omelette. Instead the young staff had to cook it on a hotplate, and it was a long wait for it. When it was my turn, an older staff took over, and she told me to come back a few minutes later for it. The omelette was bland, and it seemed that no seasonings were added.
My husband went back to the eggs counter again. There was an Indian man waiting for his omelette, and barking orders at the staff, “More oil! More heat! Flip it now!” The female staff gave him a sullen look, probably wishing she could whack him on the head with the spatula. Still, maybe his omelette would turn out better though.
Anyway, it was a complete waste of money at Chef Mickey since Buddy didn’t want to have any pictures taken with the mouse. He rather played with the expensive balloon, his last chance before we had to give it away. I told him to choose a kid or baby in the restaurant. He looked around, and pointed at a little Chinese girl a distance away. However, when I reconfirmed with him, he was undecided. So I told him I would decide on his behalf. There was this little Indian girl seated next to our table, and I asked her if she wanted the balloon and she nodded. When I was about to hand it to over, Buddy cried, “No!”. I looked at him, and he continued, “I don’t want to give to her!” I had to retract my hand and the poor girl looked forlornly at the balloon. I asked him again if he wanted to give it to the Chinese girl, and he agreed. By then, the girl and her family were leaving the restaurant. Luckily they stopped at the door to take pictures with Chef Mickey, and I quickly went over to explain to the mother, and gave her the balloon. My husband, who spotted them when he returned from the bathroom, told me the little girl was so happy with it.
After the trip, we asked Buddy if he had enjoyed himself and whether he wanted to return to Disneyland. He said no. My husband quipped, “mama is disappointed because she’s hoping to come back.” I asked Buddy again if he would return if I gave him a Thomas train, and he agreed. I couldn’t believe I had to bribe him to go to Disneyland. But luckily, now he’s keen to go to Disneyland without the bribe.