Hong Kong Disneyland had its grand opening ceremony on Monday September 12th, some five days before our planned visit. Visiting a major new theme park on its first operational weekend is, at least in theory, a recipe for stupidly long queues. The reality proved somewhat different; the longest wait we had during the day was twenty five minutes, and that was only because all the guests charged to the same attraction at park opening.
Even still, queueing is in fact the biggest single problem with Hong Kong Disneyland, and it is important for the reader to understand this so that the rest of my trip report for today can be seen in context. The local population are extremely aggressive about getting to rides in front of everybody else, and are quite prepared to push other people out of the way to do so. They will walk in front of you without so much as an acknowledgement. They will push you out of the way while they jump half the queue to stand with their friends. I have never seen anything like it in any of the nearly two hundred amusement parks I have visited, and though it may come across as overtly harsh, I can only describe it as like flies on faeces.
The next major problem with the park is the attractions, or rather the lack thereof. Hong Kong Disneyland is the smallest of the chain by a fair margin. Many of the major crowd pleasers are missing; there is no It's a small world, no Pirates of the Caribbean, no Haunted Mansion, no Big Thunder Mountain, no Peter Pan, and so on. In reality it is not at all difficult to complete every major attraction in the park in only a few hours even on a busy day, and on a quiet day we'd have been finished even more quickly. More attractions will definitely be necessary if the park is to attract visitors from further afield.
Our first stop was the same one as everyone else; Space Mountain (#668). I had been expecting a clone of the version in Paris, but this was nothing of the kind. The ride is more reminiscent of the original than anything else; there is no launch and no inversions. There are three lift hills, all at the start of the ride, and a thumping techno backing track that I tried my best to purchase on a park soundtrack CD, but it was nowhere to be found. The ride was absolutely excellent and well up there with the very best indoor coasters I've been on.
With the coaster ticked off we made our way to The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, which in other circumstances I might have described as a fairly decent dark ride. Unfortunately I'd ridden a much better version at Tokyo Disneyland two weeks earlier, rendering this one a disappointment; presumably budget constraints came in to play here preventing a duplicate installation.
There were two major attractions in the park that were totally new to me, and are as far as I am aware are unique to Hong Kong. The first is Festival of the Lion King, a reasonably lengthy show of music and dance that was well up there with the best park shows I have seen. However, once again the behaviour of the locals effectively ruined any potential enjoyment. Before the performance began, it was announced over the PA system that flash photography and video recording with lights was not permitted. Lest anyone fail to comprehend this message, it was repeated in two flavours of Chinese as well as English. For the first ten minutes of the show, there was at least one camera flash per second, and many more light measurement indicators going all around the auditorium. The cast members were doing their best to give out to people for this, but as soon as they'd turned their backs the cameras came right back out again.
If I had been in charge here, I would have filmed video with a security camera for two or three minutes, before halting the show and removing from the park every single person who had been caught taking flash photography. It is entirely possible that the only people left in the auditorium in this situation would have been me and George, but at least then we might have been able to watch the show without blinking lights everywhere. Such a policy might be considered draconian, but it seems that just about everybody in the park today needed reeducation in manners and basic etiquette, and a policy like this would be one small step towards that goal.
After catching another ride on Space Mountain we made our way over to the Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters attraction, a fairly standard shooting ride. We had been waiting in the queue for nearly five minutes when a man, not in the queue, lifted four children over the barrier into a space in front of us, and attempted to climb over himself. It was at this point that both of us went absolutely ballistic. Regular readers will be aware that I am often argumentative and grumpy in my trip reports, one of my character traits being that I always speak my mind without any consideration of the consequences. Nevertheless, I do not enjoy arguing with people, and I will generally avoid creating a scene unless I am really angry. Naturally, both George and I were projected as the bad guys in this.
- Those are my children, I need to be in the same place as them. That's fine buddy; the back of the queue is round the corner; you and your children are welcome to go down there.
- You are a man, these are children. Damn straight I'm a man, and I'm a very angry one. I've paid full price admission for this park, I've paid a bucket load of money to be in this country in the first place, and I've been waiting five minutes in line. You are not going in front of me. Oh, and you're a man too, albeit an impolite one.
- Stop being so unreasonable. Okay, so it's unreasonable to expect other people to queue up for an attraction in the same way as I have?
With elbows tensed up we were able to do an effective job of blocking the queue area so that nobody was able to get past us. For the next few minutes we listened to a diatribe of complaints about what (censored) we were for not allowing the man to queue with his children. We ignored it completely. Unfortunately, as we passed a turn in the queue there was enough space for him to slip past us anyway, rendering the entire scene above void. I made a mental note to go to guest services at the end of the day to ask about their policy on line jumping, but unfortunately it slipped my mind until after I'd left. The park staff never replied to my e-mail asking for an official statement on the matter.
After all that hassle, the ride was nothing special; the gun I had was badly calibrated, making it only possible to hit targets by aiming about two feet to the left of them. Once I figured this out I did well enough, but we were already about two thirds of the way through the ride at this stage, leaving me with an embarrassingly low score. On exiting, I broke the habit of a lifetime and took up position to watch the Parade. For the uninitiated, this is a moving show of dancers and large floats with animatronics on board, and provided an amusing diversion for a few minutes.
One of the staple rides that was present even in this cut down park was the Disneyland Railroad. Like the other versions, this took riders on a slow tour around the boundaries of the park. Other than that, though, the experience was somewhat different to the norm. The design of the cars on board was unusual, with seats facing sideways and one side of the car closed off completely, so riders could look out into the park but not beyond its borders. There wasn't much to see regardless, other than an impressive collection of foliage and the occasional animatronic animal.
The Mickey's PhilharMagic attraction was a straight clone of the version in Florida. The major interest point for us here was in watching the locals attempt to grab at all the three dimensional projections coming from the screen. The 3D effects were among the best I have ever seen, with items leaping a long way out of the screen on a far more regular basis than in similar shows. I have visited so many other parks since seeing the show last that I cannot say with certainty if the effects were working as well in Florida, but my suspicion is that they were not.
After a lunch break, I decided I might as well go for some rerides on Space Mountain using the single rider queue. It seems that the other guests had yet to figure out how this works. All the ride entry points had tickers on them to indicate how many people had gone through, and the fast pass entrance had been used approximately one hundred times for every use of the single rider entrance. In the space of an hour I got in ten rides, and would easily have doubled that had I not been required to watch the full safety video every time I went through.
After the third time, I decided to point out to the operator that I had already seen it repeatedly, but I was told that I had to watch it again anyway. Switching to sardonic mode, I enquired politely if this would be to catch any changes made to the procedure since my last ride five minutes ago. This earned a well deserved response from an operator with surprisingly good English; If you want to be cheeky then you are welcome to leave. Nevertheless, surely I could have been recognised after the third or fourth time? Besides, later in the day when I rode again there was a different operator who did not even suggest I wait to watch the video. Go figure.
The Jungle Cruise attraction was available in Cantonese, Mandarin, and English. We followed the signs for an english-speaking boat. Once the cruise began, however, we came to the conclusion that we would have understood as much or more on one of the flavours of Chinese; our host, though well meaning, spoke with such a heavy accent as to be utterly incomprehensible to both of us. We caught the occasional word, but that was it. On a somewhat related note, visitors to Hong Kong Disneyland should be aware that the local pronunciation of the famous mouse name is mye-kay.
We spent some time in the Disneyland Story attraction, allowing me to augment my substantial store of completely useless Disney knowledge still further. There was a sneak preview video of forthcoming attractions running on loop, with information on the Autopia ride (which everyone knows about) and then a brief picture of another which was quickly obscured by a big "CONFIDENTIAL" marker. I wonder what it might be!
The park map describes Golden Mickeys as a twenty five minute awards show that's also a musical celebration of Disney's best loved films, songs and characters. The whole thing was narrated in Chinese, albeit with music sung in English, but as far as I could tell there was no obvious awards presentation. The show was, instead, a collection of staged Disney songs with one or two additions that I hadn't heard before. The quality of the music and dance was absolutely first rate, and as with the Lion King earlier in the day it was among the best I have seen in a theme park anywhere, second only to the shows at Tokyo DisneySea.
We had already decided to wait for the firework show at the end of the day, reasoning (correctly) that the Chinese are the undisputed masters of pyrotechnics. This necessitated a little waiting around; George went off to explore the various shops, while I notched up five more rides on Space Mountain. I had seen good fireworks before, but these were in a league of their own. It was intriguing to notice their relative proximity to the flight path from Hong Kong International airport; it must be really cool to watch fireworks from a plane!