Wowwee! I finally made it to the “happiest place on Earth”. And, you bet it made me feel like a kid all over again.
The place I am raving about is Hong Kong Disneyland, the magical wonderland that occupies Penny’s Bay, the most happening corner of Lantau Island.
Hong Kong Disneyland may be the smallest of all the Disneylands, but being the nearest and most accessible to South-East Asians, it beckons with an allure unlike any of the others. The park is just as packed during weekdays as on weekends, with many tourists decked out in cutesy Disney gear from head to toe.
What really got my attention was that practically every little girl I saw there was dolled up as a Disney Princess. Later I spied a Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique at Hong Kong Disneyland Hotel where a Fairy Godmother would transform little girls, between the ages of three and 12, into their favourite Disney Princess.
Apparently, the movie Frozen is such a craze in Hong Kong and China that every little girl there wants to be either Queen Elsa or Princess Anna. Otherwise, your little girl can choose to be Ariel, Belle, Rapunzel, Snow White, Cinderella or Princess Aurora. A professional makeover package at the boutique comes with hairstyling, makeup, accessories as well as a photoshoot so you can relive the magic when you get back home.
Although tourists from mainland Chinese alone make up more than half the bulk of visitors, our party of nine media members (thanks to Hong Kong Disneyland who flew us there) easily crossed paths with lots of visitors from our part of the world. A young Malay couple on a backpacking holiday from Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, made it one of their must-see stops despite being on a tight budget. A Singaporean Malay family of 11, including three precocious kids, came all the way just for Disneyland.
Little wonder that Hong Kong Disneyland is already celebrating its 10th anniversary with a year-long extravaganza to introduce a myriad of new attractions, and a new theme – Happily Ever After.
For those with little ones who love song-and-dance shows about their favourite fairy tales, the latest musical at Disney’s Storybook Theatre at Fantasyland is the 28-minute Mickey And The Wondrous Book. The show takes viewers through seven well-loved Disney tales: The Jungle Book, The Little Mermaid, Tangled, Brave, Aladdin, The Princess And The Frog, and of course, Frozen.
A major addition is the Fairy Tale Forest, where you can step right into a fairy-sized living storybook garden with interactive miniature scenes from five Disney Princess stories: Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs, Cinderella, The Little Mermaid, Beauty And The Beast, and Tangled.
If you are still in the park area in the evening, then do stay on for Disney In The Stars, a vibrant fireworks show with lighting effects and video projections. Keep your eyes peeled and see how many of the 49 Disney friends you can spot.
If you decide to stay the night, or wish to book a room for a special occasion, Hong Kong Disneyland Hotel has a Happily Ever After package (until March 31) where you can have your room customised with your favourite Disney character or theme. I’ve been told that you can take all the decorations home with you, including the stickers and overlay on the windows and doors, if you can actually peel them off, but please do not cart home the framed artwork and bedside lamps while you’re at it.
Also new and very welcome is the complimentary WiFi which is available at various hotspots in the park so the power bloggers amongst you can upload your latest Disneyland adventures in an instant. The best thing about it is that no passwords are required to access the service. But remember, selfie sticks are not allowed in the park. So, bring a friend instead.
We went shopping for gifts at the shoppers’ haven which is known as Main Street, USA, and found out that there were up to 220 items specially designed to commemorate the 10th anniversary. Among these, it was obvious the adorable Disney Tsum Tsum plushies were the most-wanted items. The stores could barely restock the shelves fast enough. And, with the Star Wars franchise releasing one movie every year until 2020, it will be a veritable wonderland for Star Wars fans as there are 250 different Star Wars-themed items.
I was really impressed with how everything moves along speedily in Hong Kong Disneyland, even the long queues for the rides. Since I had never gone on any extreme rides before, I was persuaded to take the most adventurous path.
Our super-expressive guide, who said we should call her Chickenwing as it was fun and easy to remember, got us the absolute best seats at every ride. “For the most thrilling rides, sit right in front for the roller-coaster, sit right at the back for the racer”, she would remind us, as we queued up for our rides.
Here are the most exhilarating rides that I recommend for the stout-hearted. Check out Toy Soldier Parachute Drop and RC Racer at Toy Story Land for gravity-defying fun. If roller-coaster rides are your kind of thing, then go for Big Grizzly Mountain Runaway Mine Cars at Grizzly Gulch for pulse-throbbing outdoor adventure, and Space Mountain at Tomorrowland for warp speed indoor glow-in-the dark fun.
By the way, please leave your slippers on the ground during the Toy Soldier Parachute Drop. You don’t want to lose your footwear while swinging in mid-air.
If you don’t want to miss out on fun rides but would rather steer clear of the heart-stopping or brain-numbing variety, here are some cute ones to try: Slinky Dog Spin at Toy Story Land, Mystic Manor at Mystic Point, Jungle River Cruise at Adventureland, Dumbo the Flying Elephant or Mad Hatter Tea Cups or even Cinderella Carousel at Fantasyland.
Don’t forget to stop by the Assay Office where you may just strike gold after a selfie with the humongous Lucky Nugget.
To help you plan your trip, remember to grab a map of the park at the entrance. It clearly marks out the seven themed sections and lists out the rides, eateries and other attractions.
If you are staying at Hollywood Hotel or Disneyland Hotel, breakfast at these two hotels is a meal well worth waking up for, and your kids will definitely appreciate you for it.
If you begin your morning at Chef Mickey of Disney’s Hollywood Hotel, you can queue up to have your picture taken with Mickey. While at Hong Kong Disneyland Hotel’s Enchanted Garden, all sorts of Disney characters will visit you at your table for selfies while you sit down to a leisurely breakfast.
Tenth anniversary food items are available from snack booths and eateries at the hotels and every themed section. Options are aplenty, even if you have special dietary requirements. I’m vegetarian and my Muslim travel-mates required halal fare; so, we were assured that there was always something suitable on the menu.
Just so you know, there are many ways to transport yourself to Hong Kong Disneyland but the cutest, by far, is via the MTR (Mass Transit Railway) from Sunny Bay to Disneyland Resort, otherwise known as the pink line. The train ride itself is part of the fun because the carriages are specially designed with Mickey Mouse windows and handrails as well as a varied display of Disney character figurines in each of the carriages.
Having hosted 7.6 million visitors in 2014, Hong Kong Disneyland is set to expand further. There are plans to increase the park capacity to accommodate up to 10 million visitors a year so a third hotel is currently being built for this purpose. Known as Disney Explorers Lodge, the luxury hotel will have 750 rooms and is set to open next year.
For this year, there are plans for an Iron Man experience at a Marvel-themed area inside Tomorrowland, where there will be a new ride, dedicated merchandise as well as an area where visitors can take pictures with Iron Man.
Admission tickets are available online (www.hongkongdisneyland.com), at the Hong Kong International Airport and Circle K convenience store outlets in Hong Kong.