Hong Kong Disneyland's Hotels, Rides, and Food: Worth a Visit?
Unlike other Disney resorts, Hong Kong Disneyland is a breeze to manage. In fact, it's probably the world's easiest Disney park to visit. Not only is it connected to town by a simple subway ride, but it's also so compact and uncrowded that you can see its best attractions in six hours or less. Ticket prices are sane (about 33% less than the American parks), and because it was built between Hong Kong Island and the airport, it's easy to pop in for a few hours before a flight. Come take a tour of Hong Kong Disneyland—find out what makes it unique (like the groundbreaking Mystic Manor ride, pictured), how it's similar to the classic Disney parks you may already be familiar with, and what you need to know if you only speak English.
Hong Kong Disneyland opened in 2005 as the fifth Disney theme park resort in the world. It was the first Disney property to be constructed for the Chinese market, but in many ways, it's drastically different from 2015's much larger Shanghai Disneyland, a two-hour flight away (see our full photo gallery of that park by clicking here). In Shanghai, the designers worked hard to make something that felt distinctly Chinese. But Hong Kong's culture has been entertwined with Great Britain's for nearly 200 years—ingrained colonial traditions mean that English is widely spoken and American-style food and entertainment are familiar to local guests. Hong Kong is also an international-minded city, so many of its residents may have already visited the parks in the United States, and they expect to see something like the American version. The Main Street, U.S.A. railway station, for example, looks a lot like the original in Anaheim. Here's Hong Kong's take during the Halloween season, another American-style export that is observed here.
This part is different from the U.S. parks, though. Hong Kong Disneyland was built in partnership with the local government, so the city was able to connect the resort to the main subway system. You can reach the attractions, which are on the same island the airport is on, from anywhere in the city for the price of subway fare. All you have to do is connect to the special line that serves the Disneyland Resort station. All signage is in English. The resort is tucked into a cozy corner of Lantau Island on what was once a body of water called Penny's Bay. Mountains buffer the spot from the fray of the urban thicket just outside and there are nearly no private cars (few people in tiny Hong Kong need them), lending a cozy feeling to the entire property.
There are few experiences that are more emblematic of Hong Kong than the beloved Star Ferry, which has been shuttling people across Victoria Harbour since 1888. The company operates a special service that goes from Hong Kong's busy Tsim Sha Tsui district to a ferry dock in the back garden of the Disneyland Hotel. While the MTR trains arrive every few minutes, the ferry usually only goes once a day—you'll have to plan accordingly, but the skyline views are unforgettable.
This is the feature that makes it so easy to enjoy the resort if you have time to kill before a flight. Hong Kong Disneyland is just a 30-minute train ride from either the city or the airport—it's located between the two. When you get off the MTR and head to the park gates, you'll pass this luggage valet kiosk where you can simply drop off your bags when you arrive and reclaim them as you go. The per-piece storage fee is HK$110 (around US$15).
HKD is the only Asian Disney resort that didn't re-theme the first land to be less all-American. Here, it's the familiar Main Street, U.S.A. Some details, like the cigar store Indian that's in both American parks, are the same. There are some deviations, however, such as the emphasis on Duffy, a cuddly bear character that's only popular in the Asian market. Architectural proportions are much like they are in the original Disneyland in California.
When the original Disneyland opened in 1955, it started small, with nowhere near the number of attractions it has today. The same has been true in Hong Kong Disneyland, which had only nine rides in 2005 (two of the early ones have already been replaced) and has been adding new stuff at a slow pace. HKD can still feel as simple as Anaheim Disneyland before its building boom. There's now a total of about 15 total rides, plus a half dozen shows (not always in English) and a railroad circling the park. That's not a lot, especially when wait times are short. Thus you get a true rarity: a leisurely day at a Disney park.
Fantasyland has just five rides: the carousel, Dumbo, the spinning teacups, "it's a small world," and the same Winnie the Pooh dark ride that's in Florida's Magic Kingdom. As at Shanghai Disneyland, there's plenty of room to grow, because, as in Shanghai, the government's controlling interest is conservative about expansion. As Hong Kong loses business to the newer Disney park on the Chinese mainland, executives have approved US$1.4 billion in additions to be added between now and 2023, including a Frozen land with a kiddie coaster and easygoing trackless sleigh ride, a Buzz Lightyear-style blaster ride based on Ant-Man and the Wasp, and a total redesign of Sleeping Beauty Castle to be something unique to Hong Kong.
In Hong Kong, the Jungle Cruise doesn't have its own river. Instead, the ride traverses the body of water used by riverboats in the American parks, and instead of depending on corny jokes that may not translate, there's a big finish with a fiery display. Tarzan's Treehouse—and nothing else—is on the island the ride circumnavigates. As proof that there are few real language barriers for English speakers here, riders can choose from three queues, depending on what they want the skipper to speak: English, Cantonese, or Putonghua (Mandarin). Meanwhile, most of the live shows are presented with a mix of English and Chinese so that everyone can follow the plots.
This version of "it's a small world" was added in 2008 to drum up attendance, and it's by far the most colorful of all the ride's iterations around the small, small world. Parts of the attraction are unique to Hong Kong, including an appearance by the Star Ferry. Here, the children sing a lot in Cantonese, which, for English speakers, has the happy side effect of preventing the song from lodging in your brain and driving you mad.
The three rides in Toy Story Land are exciting but not especially creative. They're thrills you might find at a county fair: a parachute ride, a carousel themed to Slinky Dog, and a roller coaster that zips back and forth on a giant "U." None of the attractions are the same as the ones in Orlando's version, but they are like the Toy Story Land rides you'll find in Shanghai and Paris.
Instead of the Star Wars-themed Star Tours, which is at all other Disney parks, HKD's motion simulator ride (a replacement for Autopia in Hong Kong Disneyland's Tomorrowland) is about Iron Man saving Hong Kong Island from marauders. Marvel Comics legend Stan Lee makes one of his final cameo screen appearances in the pre-ride safety video.
Hong Kong's idea of Space Mountain is patterned after the Anaheim version—nearly the same track layout, with speakers in each headrest—but with a fun twist: Lighting and projection effects follow your coaster car around, making you feel like you're whizzing around outer space blasting First Order spaceships. (And yes, the park has regular parades and fireworks shows, as you can see here in the background. It wouldn't be a Disneyland without those.)
Hong Kong Disneyland's other major roller coaster is this one, which is hidden from view in a system of manmade canyons so that guests don't catch glimpses of its surprises. This is the sole ride in a small, only-in-Hong Kong land called Grizzly Gulch. Big Grizzly Mountain is not like Big Thunder Mountain, which other Disney parks have—it has its own storyline, track design, and tricks, plus some really great Audio-Animatronic characters along the route.
Certainly the most unique ride at Hong Kong Disneyland—in fact, it's unique to all Disney parks everywhere—is the fabulous Mystic Manor, an indoor ride in English with a score by Danny Elfman. For cultural reasons, Disney's Chinese parks don't have Haunted Mansions. Here, it's an enchanted mansion, and the main character is a prototypical Chinese storytelling trope, a mischievous monkey. The family-friendly ride is trackless, with electric vehicles scurrying via sensors from room to room on their own paths and timing, so you can go again and again with a new perspective on each trip. That technology is most like Pooh's Hunny Hunt at Tokyo Disneyland, and it's unlike any other Disney ride Stateside. Without question, this is the ride that theme park nuts most want to visit Hong Kong Disneyland for. And rightly so—Mystic Manor is fantastic.
Now for some downsides. The weather in Hong Kong can be brutally hot and humid for people who aren't used to it. (To avoid that, go in fall or winter.) Locals are used to it, so there are more indoor/outdoor spaces than a sweltering person might wish for, like this Jedi Temple in Tomorrowland and a few of the places to eat. The park's general aversion to air conditioning can make this Disneyland feel low-budget or unfinished. I prefer to think of it as Disneyland Lite.
You can get a Coke if you want one, but the menus also have plenty to suit local tastes, like watermelon juice (pictured), a popular and surprisingly effective natural refresher on a hot day. Americans sometimes worry that the food will be challenging, but actually, menus are not much more daunting than the one at your Panda Express: BBQ pork with rice, Nanjing beef noodle soup, steak, surf-and-turf, corn on the cob, and hot dogs are all readily available alongside fish balls and bao. There's such a modest number of deeply Chinese recipes that you soon realize that Hong Kong residents flock to their Disneyland to escape the usual menu and indulge in American-style food.
In fact, sometimes there are choices you wish were on the menus back home. This stuff is good, but the caramel corn is even better. Let this put to rest the American fear that Hong Kong Disneyland's food will be off-putting to Western taste buds.
Even the ice cream bars would fit right in at home. But eat them while the sun shines. The Chinese sweet tooth seems to run on a different schedule—ice cream kiosks may be closed at dinnertime, particularly when it's not summer. (Also, if you were wondering, you'll be using Western-style toilets. This is Disney, not some gas station outside of Bangkok.)
The best hotel at Hong Kong Disneyland is the safari-themed Disney Explorers Lodge. Not only is it the newest property (2017), but it's priced in the middle range among the three hotels here (rates are usually HK$1,600–$2,400, or in the US$200–$300 zone). Rooms, more or less the same as in a basic corporate hotel, have hutches instead of closets, which makes them feel worth considerably less than what you get for the price. You can almost always save more money by staying in the city instead.
The pool at Explorers Lodge is the hands-down best of the aquatic offerings at the three Hong Kong Disneyland hotels. With sweeping views of the islands around Hong Kong, the spot feels like the pool zone of Disney's Aulani in Honolulu (see the Frommer's gallery on that resort here), except that Hong Kong's version is scaled down and much more intimate. Inside, a soaring lobby atrium calls to mind the Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge in Orlando (again, scaled down). Some rooms have views of the sea or the garden. The food options here and at the other two hotels are standard Disney—you'll have at least one quick-service counter with both Chinese and Western options, and a sit-down restaurant that hosts character meals. One thing you won't find, however, is a fourth floor. The number 4 is unlucky in China. (Think that's weird? Look for the 13th floor in an American building.)
Disney's Hollywood Hotel, with a Streamline Moderne look that borrows a lot from Disney's Burbank studios, is a notch cheaper (usually HK$1,600–2,000, or US$200–$250) than Explorers Lodge, making this the most "affordable" hotel on the property—though it's still not exactly a bargain. The pool area is rather staid and the rooms are not that special. You're paying for convenience.
Priced for honeymooners and bucket-listers, the Hong Kong Disneyland Hotel is the resort's top of the line. Borrowing heavily from Disney's Grand Californian in Florida (but not quite as grand and without the sense of occasion), the hotel's common areas are replete with echoing marble and chandeliers. There's a Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique on the premises for kiddie princess makeovers, and the Star Ferry dock is steps away. The hotel may be the nicest one here, but its energy doesn't match the luxe hotel options at other Disney resorts—or the 5-star properties in central Hong Kong.
Chinese children are overjoyed at the little touches that are tailored to them, like these themed desserts. But Westerners may find the hotels lack some things they're used to, such as bars. In the entire resort, as a matter of fact, there's only one bar you could fairly call full-service, and it's at the Hollywood Hotel. (There's also a tiny pre-dinner cocktail bar in a restaurant at the Disneyland Hotel, but the hours of operation are spotty). Chinese guests simply don't value evening cocktails as much as Westerners tend to. Service at all three hotels is hit-or-miss; in true Disney style, what's labeled a five-star hotel is really more like a three-star hotel with prettier details.
In addition to weather, consider the local holiday patterns when you visit. The park attracts repeat business from local guests by continually rolling out seasonal decorations and changing novelty menu items. To find the best time to go, think like a local: Weekdays will be less crowded than weekends, when most people aren't at work, and the park is swarmed with Chinese vacationers during Golden Week and the Spring Festival (just after Chinese New Year, pictured here in 2017). Those dates change each year, so look up this year's Chinese holidays first. Also steer clear of summer, when the kids are out of school and the humidity can make for tough going. Generally speaking, though, the crowds here are not nearly as thick as they are year-round at the U.S. Disney parks. At times, this theme park can feel as leisurely and mellow as—gasp!—a real park.