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Hong Kong Disneyland Trip Report - Part One
DisneyDan  Friday, July 29, 2011 12:05:49 PM
Hi all,
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.

The stunning view over Hong Kong

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.

Arriving at Hong Kong Disneyland Resort

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 Enchanted Garden Restaurant

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.

Meeting Chef Goofy, Mickey, Chef Daisy and Chef Pluto

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.

In my next report I shall go into more detail about the lands within the park, including all the attractions, shows, restaurants and everything else!
It might take me a few days to write, so stay tuned over the coming week!

Ok that’s all for now,

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