My last visit to Ocean Park was seven years ago, shortly after the announcement of a HK $5.5 billion investment plan presumably introduced to compete with Hong Kong Disneyland. This plan has proceeded largely on schedule despite the worldwide recession, and has resulted in several new themed areas, each featuring a number of attractions. The changes begin just inside the front gate, with a massive new aquarium and musical fountain show, and the Ocean Express, an underground train through the mountain that must have cost an absolute fortune to build.
The largest of the new sections is named Thrill Mountain, an area at the top of the park which is anchored by Hair Raiser (#1810), a B&M floorless coaster and the first new example of the type in several years. Unfortunately, the ride experience is fairly suboptimal thanks to a continuous and frankly unpleasant rattle that is completely unlike anything I’ve experienced on a B&M coaster before. Riders in the back row can actually see the train bouncing unevenly upon the track, and it’s not a small bounce either; it looks like one that will do permanent damage to the track, the rolling stock, and the passengers. There's no question that some older B&Ms can be a little shaky in outside seats, but Hair Raiser has been operational for less than a year, so that excuse doesn't apply; whatever the root cause, this ride does not feel like a B&M coaster.
The layout and length of the ride were both fine, but the violence of the experience was enough to drastically limit rerideability. My limit was three laps on a day when I didn't even have to leave the train between rides, and there was no way I'd have managed more. Furthermore, the staff would not allow secured glasses, which regular readers will know is a particular bugbear of mine.
Another new attraction in Thrill Mountain is the powered Arctic Blast, which definitely falls into the family ride category. Though it covers a large area, the overall top speed is too slow to be thrilling, and while it wasn't exactly boring it also wasn't worth repeating. I was much more impressed by the two new nature exhibits close by; the South Pole Spectacular and the North Pole Encounter, featuring penguins and assorted fish respectively.
With the new attractions out of the way, we spent some time looking for a decent photo angle for Hair Raiser. The only half decent spot we found was from the Ocean Park Tower, which was too far away for much beyond the overview shot pictured above. With the end of our planned park time approaching, we caught one lap each on the Wild West Mine Train and the Dragon before catching the cable car to the park exit.
Hong Kong Disneyland
15th September 2012
No sensible enthusiast would ever deliberately schedule a visit to a Disney park on a weekend, especially when a significant new attraction has opened in the previous month. In the planning stages of this trip we'd hoped to spend two days in Hong Kong, but that plan was thrown by inconvenient flight schedules. To minimise the damage, we elected to optimise our time by purchasing a VIP Tour from Disney, where a member of staff arranged us front of line access to all attractions for a three hour period. Though not cheap, this proved well worth the money, as we managed a total of thirteen rides and one show on a day when the park was rammed with people. Best of all, we were able to enjoy five laps on the brand new Big Grizzly Mountain (#1811), three in the front seat and two in the back.
In its simplest terms, Big Grizzly Mountain can be thought of as a cross between the Big Thunder Mountain ofyourchoice and Expedition Everest, but to describe it that way oversimplifies what is, in many ways, the most ambitious roller coaster to be built at a Disney park to date. Visually, the new coaster is extremely impressive, if somewhat challenging to photograph. The track occupies a huge area, with the interesting portions hidden from view to oncoming riders. One area features three parallel sets of track belonging to different portions of the ride, which allows for some nice duelling moments when the dispatches are timed correctly.
The ride experience begins with a turnaround leading to an enclosed lift hill that appears to climb about 50ft in a straight line before turning a corner to the right. Instead, however, the train drops off the lift hill to the left. This visual deception is executed very well, as I wasn't able to see the real ride track despite making a special effort to do so from both the front and back seats. This attention to detail is a hallmark of Disney, concentrating on things that very few guests would pay attention to.
A few gentle turns taken at relatively low speed lead to a second lift hill, which is much larger and located next to a cable winch that gives the appearance of lifting the train, although a traditional chain lift does that job. At the apex, the cable appears to snap abruptly, and the train rolls backwards into the next portion of the ride, where a few more helices are taken at a noticeably faster speed than before. The backwards section finishes with a stop inside an underground tunnel, where an animatronic grizzly bear cub can be seen playing with a dynamite charge.
Moments later, a loud bang and a blast of air from behind the train coincide with a powerful LIM launch that accelerates the train to its fastest speed, turning the gentle family ride into a thrilling and forceful coaster for a final series of helices. This section is long enough to be thrilling, but not long enough to terrify younger riders. The same grizzly bear can be found at a block brake located right before the station, where he recites fairly predictable messaging about that “wild ride!” coupled with the usual “remain in your seats,” announced both in English and in an unidentified Chinese dialect. Moments later, the train returns to the station.
The back seat had a slight edge over the front, mainly because from there it was possible to see more of the theming and visual effects. The launch felt better seated here, thanks to the blast of air and the walls on either side of the train. Furthermore, from here it was also possible to see the track section at the base of the second lift hill switching position, which might be of further interest to some enthusiasts. My favourite feature of the layout was the way that each of the three distinct sections was faster and more intense than the previous one, rather than gradually slowing down as most coasters do. This grading makes the ride perfect for a younger audience, gradually introducing them to the world of roller coasters without being too scary too quickly.
Our guide suggested we should do the Toy Soldier Parachute Drop. The queue today was over an hour and I'm honestly not sure why, as the ride felt like a filler to me; it wasn't that exciting, and the view from the top was limited to trees and a partial view of the construction site for Mystic Point, a new land that is due to be added to the park in 2013. This area will finally bring a local version of the Haunted Mansion ride, rumoured to feature a trackless ride system and a new soundtrack composed by Danny Elfman.
The next stop was at the RC Racer (#1812), a clone of the version in Paris that I wrote about earlier this year. Our guide described this as the most thrilling ride in the park, which does a disservice to the other two coasters, but it is certainly stomach-churning. We were given the opportunity to ride a second time but chose not to.
I'd managed to forget how good the Festival of the Lion King show was. Our tour allowed us some reserved seats right at the front, so it was possible to see everything up close. Furthermore, the problem of continuous photography that I noted on my last visit was nowhere near as bad today; there was an occasional camera flash, but that was all.
On exiting the show, we went for a lap of the remaining significant attractions. We managed quite respectable scores on Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters, mostly because the ride broke down twice while we were directly in front of targets. My first ever ride on Autopia was interesting from the angle that the ride that once used gasoline powered cars has now been fully electrified, which fits the Tomorrowland theme quite well even if it feels odd to "drive" an almost silent vehicle. We discovered that Space Mountain had been rethemed for Hallowe'en, with a creepy new soundtrack and some evil looking ghosts instead of the usual planets and thumping rock track.
We caught a quick lap on The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh before heading for It's a small world. Opening four years after the rest of the park, this version of the famous ride was the first to include characters from the various Disney films in the locations where their stories originated. Riding served as a reminder of just how good this type of ride can actually be when all the animatronics work correctly; I've probably ridden about a dozen clones at this point, none of which are quite up to the standard of the original.