Wednesday, December 25, 2013

The Increasing Magic of Hong Kong Disneyland

Sleeping Beauty Castle, the iconic structure of Disneyland, during a fireworks display after the Flights of Fantasy parade.
 As the silhouette of Mickey Mouse became clearer with the sun rising and the spurts of water glinted in its rays, elation also rose. Then one by one, other Disney characters such as Donald Duck, Goofy, Minnie Mouse and Pluto appeared around the fountain at the entrance of Hong Kong Disneyland Resort. Yes, there was a part that decried the Disneyficationthat largely mercantile process of sanitization to make things safer, more pleasantbut that was set aside and relegated as just a vestige of the cynical self. Then there was this part that was delighted. I was a newcomer to this world, but at the same time I felt like I was returning, returning to that place in childhood that largely saw the world as full of wonders. 
Although, Disney promotes a formula of wholesomeness that can be restrictive and out of touch of reality, it is part of almost everybodys childhood and has a special place in many hearts, a place of comfort, magic and fun. The worlds the Disney films create vanish as the movie ends, but they stay in the hearts. These worlds are made tangible in its theme parks in several parts of the world, enabling people to enter the beloved stories and experience new things. 
        The first Disneyland opened in Anaheim, California, in July 17, 1955, followed by the ones in Florida; Paris, France; and Tokyo, Japan. For many Filipinos, these are too far away, the magical kingdoms that they are. But with the opening of a Disneyland in Hong Kong in September 2005, just about two hours of plane ride from the Philippines, the kind of magic they offer is reachable.
      Located on Pennys Bay on Lantau Island, the 27.5-hectare Hong Kong Disneyland offers many attractions to delight the senses such as rides, shows, parades, food outlets, dining and meeting the characters, deftly created for people to have experiences uniquely Disney. Aside from the park, which has several areas with different themes, the complex has two themed hotels: Hong Kong Disneyland Hotel and Disneys Hollywood Hotel.
Hong Kong Disneyland features some of the best attractions and entertainment from other Disney parks around the world. (It) is designed for guests to leave their troubles behind and enter a world of yesterday, tomorrow, adventure and fantasy, the bulletin in the hotel room states.
Yes, outside, the city can be daunting, but here, everything seems orderly, shiny, new, yet familiar. Everyone seems friendly, especially the 5,000-plus employees, which they call cast members.
The bulletin further says: Hong Kong Disneyland features original Disney attractions with elements designed especially for Asian audiences. This is reflected in our Broadway-style shows, signature attractions, restaurants, parades and fireworks. We use creativity and technology to tell our classic stories.
So far, Hong Kong Disneyland has received more than 38 million visitors from around the world. Yes, there are people from different countries but here it seems we are all citizens of this first-rate republic. And at the same time, we are all children. We met two cheery Japanese women who attracted us because they were dressed all over in Disney design clothes with bags encrusted with Disney plush toys. They have gone to many Disneyland parks, they said, and we thought they were a kind of Disney groupie. But we saw a lot of little girls dressed as Disney princesses. Actually there is special salon where girls can have a makeover as a Disney princess.
Painted all over in pink, the dainty Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique is at the Hong Kong Disneyland Hotel and features a showroom of Disney princess costumes, fitting rooms and rows of vanity dressers for makeup.
We hereby invite you to step into the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, where your Fairy Godmother-in-Training will magically transform you into the princess of your dreams though the magic of shimmering makeup, Disney Princess costume and dazzling accessories. It is our sincere hope that all of the dreams that you wish will come true here at the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, its flyer in pink says.   
For HK$1,320, the Castle Package includes hairstyling with crown, Princess costume, Princes sash, shimmering makeup, fingernail polishing and eight by 10 inch photo with premium photo folder. Aside from six looks, the boutique is adding the Minnie Mouse look. Unfortunately, there is no Ariel, the Little Mermaid.
By the Cinderella Stairway of the hotel, a live Disney princess, Snow White, greeted us and obliged for photo-taking sessions. Characters can pop up like that. During breakfast at the restaurant here, Goofy, Pluto and Daisy Duck went around the tables. At Chef Mickey, the restaurant of the art-deco Disneys Hollywood Hotel, one can take pictures with Mickey Mouse in a chef costume. At Disneyland, there are several stations where people can queue up to have their pictures taken with the characters. The most popular is, of course, Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse at a gazebo at Main Street, USA. The waiting in line can take up hours. Across the street, you can find Chip and Dale. The teddy bear Duffy, a new character that originated from Japan, is just around the corner. Buzz Lightyear is at Tomorrowland. There were no Tarzan and Hercules, unfortunately. 
Those who cant be princesses or any other Disney character can buy T-shirts, and they have a wide variety of designs. The park is riddled with stores and the stores offer a wide variety of products from key chains to plates. The biggest is Emporium, which is aptly at Main Street, USA. This is the first themed area to greet visitors, a recreation of a quaint American small town. They have old-style mailboxes that are actually trash bins. At one end of the main street is the iconic Snow White Castle, the center of the park and an entrance to Fantasyland, the world of the Disney princesses. 
The Cinderella Carousel is at the center of Fantasyland, but I was fascinated by the Mad Hatter Tea Cups, a ride of giant spinning cups that had attracted me as a child. Here, we watched Mickeys PhilharMagic, a Fantasia-inspired 4D movie which stars Donald Duck. In addition to 3D images onscreen, audience can feel real wind blasts and sprinkles of water, as well as smell the fragrance of food together with images of a banquet.
On the other hand, The Golden Mickeys is a live show that follows the awards show format with live performances inspired by Disney films. Tarzan is included and one can see a live Tarzan dancing onstage in loincloth. Many performers are Filipinos. In fact, the musical director of the park is Filipino, Rony Fortich.

The customized welcome for us by the Main Street.

Adjacent to Fantasyland is Tomorrowland, the space themed area where Space Mountain is the star attraction. Space Mountain, one of the top five favorite rides of Filipino visitors, is an indoor rollercoaster ride that simulates shuttling through outer space. It is dark with only stars and other heavenly bodies serving as lights, adding to the thrill of the whole speedy ride. 
On the other hand, Adventureland has one main feature, the artificial river where guests can go on an adventurous cruise pass wild animals such as hippopotamuses, elephants and crocodiles and scenes of men being chased by savage tribesmen and exploding volcanoes. This is perhaps the closest to the real thing among the rides and the scariest. A kid cried after our ride.
To these, Hong Kong Disneyland has added three new areas in recent years at the southern portion of the park, representing a 25 percent growthToy Story Land, Grizzly Gulch and Mystic Point.

Toy Story Land
Opened on November 18, 2011, Toy Story Land is inspired by the popular and acclaimed Toy Story movies and lets us into the world of Andys backyard where things are oversized and larger-than-life. You are surrounded by giant toys. Visitors are greeted by a giant six-meter statue of Woody, who you will meet at the Barrel of Fun along with the cowgirl Jessie.
In this area, you will bump into Sarge and his Toy Soldiers, men painted all over in green, who proceed to the Toy Soldier Boot Camp, where can guests are enjoined to participate in their drills as they look for new recruits. Cubot is also going around, a spinning and speaking block toy with multiple faces and voices, which visitors can play with.
There are three rides in this area. The 51-seater Slinky Dog Spin is like the caterpillar in the shape of Slinky, running around to catch his own tail. The Toy Soldier Parachute Drop has six parachutes with six seats each. Visitors are taken 25 meters above the ground, affording them a commanding view of Toy Story Land, and then are suddenly dropped. But the RC Racer is the most exhilarating of the rides here, in which guests ride on a giant toy race car that goes back and forth on a U-shaped track so fast and going to as much as 27 meters high an adrenaline rush is inevitable.
A giant statue of the endearing dinosaur Rex bids visitors farewell at the exit.

The Grizzly Gulch
        The one-of-the-kind Grizzly Gulch was opened in July 2012, a charming recreation of a mining town in the mountain, complete with a geyser; an assay office, where one finds the biggest gold nugget said to have found here, the Lucky Nugget; the Grizzly Gulch Old Jail with graffiti, messages and wanted posters from former prisoners, where guests can make personalized wanted posters with photos of themselves; and the snack joint Lucky Nugget Saloon at the Gold Dust Hotel. The Grizzly Gulch Welcome Wagon Show is regularly mounted for visitors.
Stories are, of course, the soul of places, and Disneyland knows this by heart. Thus, the Grizzly Gulch has a history. The fact sheet tells: On the afternoon of August 8, 1888, a family of grizzly bears was scratching their backs against a boulder on Big Grizzly Mountain. A villager passing by shortly after spotted something gleaming in the rock. All that scratching had worn down the surface and revealed a bright vein of gold!
So, on this day, the first discovery of gold in Big Grizzly Mountain was made. And from that moment forward, ever-increasing numbers of people came to Big Grizzly Gulch to seek their livelihoods in gold mining, sparking a gold rush. The Big Grizzly Mountain Mining Co. was established, bringing life and prosperity to the surrounding area and turning it into the bustling town of Grizzly Gulch we know today.
The Grizzly Gulch has one ride, the Big Grizzly Mountain Runaway Mine Cars, a multidirectional, terrain-style coaster running throughout the mining town. As the coaster forwards, one sees a grizzly bear accidentally triggering dynamite and launching the coaster rapidly. Another bear flips a track switch that leads the coaster to Shaft No. 4. At one-third of the ride, the mine cars reach the peak of Big Grizzly Mountain and then suddenly plummet backwards.

Mystic Point
The original Mystic Point is the newest feature of Hong Kong Disneyland, opening in May 2013. It features the most immersive and most sophisticated ride, and tells a fascinating story with an eccentric explorer and adventurer named Lord Henry and his monkey companion Albert as main characters.
The guidebook narrates: Set in 1908 and deep within miles of uncharted tropical jungle stands an estate known as Mystic Point, home of the renowned adventurer and explorer Lord Henry Mystic. Lord Henry has built a private museum to display his entire collection of paintings, statues, weaponry and musical instruments gathered from around the world. As the founder of Society of Explorers and Adventurers, he has invited VIP guests to visit Mystic Manor to view his collection
Lord Henrys latest acquisition is an ornate music box covered in intricate carvings of monkeys, which is of particular interest to Henrys trusted travel companion, a mischievous monkey named Albert. It is said that box possesses the power to bring inanimate objects to life through the touch of its enchanted Music Dust.
The curious Albert opens the box, releasing Music Dust, said to be the third character in the story, and the Mystic Manor ride shows us what Music Dust can do as well as Lord Henrys astonishing collection of antiquities and even some oddities. 
Mystic Manor is built in the Victorian style but has design elements from different cultures around the world such as the domed towers reminiscent of Moscow and St. Petersburg; and Moorish details.
Upon entering Mystic Manor, one is led to the Presentation Room where a portrait of Lord Henry introduces the attraction and his latest acquisition, the Music Box. The one rides the Mystic Magneto-Electric Carriage, which carries guests from one room to another. The five-minute ride uses the first trackless system with radio-frequency identification. The carriage moves as if magically. Additionally, state-of-the-art 4K HD cinema projectors are used to create 40 types of special visual effects. The ride is accompanied by a soundtrack composed by Oscar-nominated composer Danny Elfman as Music Dust weaves its way through the rooms, bring the objects to life. Among the wondrous things to witness at Mystic Manor are exotic musical instruments coming to life; a mosaic of a young woman transforming into the Greek mythical character Medusa; a giant, carnivorous plant at the Solarium; the Slavic god of winter blowing an icy breath to transform the landscape to winter; bugs flying out between the wrappings of a mummy; and Chinese paintings on the walls flapping and swaying in the wind.
Outside the Mystic Manor is the Garden of Wonders, where one finds the Lamassu Bas Relief, which is whole when viewed at one point and disjointed at another. Other optical illusions can also be found here.
Mystic Manor also has the Explorers Club Restaurant with five themed dining areasEgypt, Russia, Morocco, India and Chinaand offering 16 popular dishes from Indonesia, Japan, Korea and Southeast Asia such as the Korean ginseng chicken soup, the Hainanese chicken rice, the nasi goreng, and the baked salmon bento box. Try the Blueberry Myst drink with a glowing ice cube. Mystic Point always fascinates.
The Mystic Manor

The shadow puppet presentation
The shadow puppet troupe

The Blueberry Myst drink
The Hainanese chicken rice set

The Garden of Wonders

Dining Disney
I never thought you could find good food in a theme park, but Hong Kong Disneyland surprisingly offers a delectable selection aside from the usual fare of popcorn, cotton candy and corn on the cob. What more, there are Mickey icons on the food! If youre the one who delights in searching for hidden Mickeys, which are all over the place from manhole covers to benches to grill works, then eating will be a double delight.
We had to try the Mickey-shaped waffles at the Main Street Market. The outdoor café is delightfully visited by numerous Eurasian tree sparrows, most of them fat from food scraps thrown by diners. Do not feed the birds, warns the park, but one cannot help it. The waffles come with whipped cream placed on both Mickeys ears and topped with candy sprinkles. Beside Main Street Market is the Market House Bakery, operated by Maxims, that offers pastries including Mickey shaped tiramisu.
Also on Main Street, USA is Main Street Corner Café, which offers Western comfort food with international twist, and I had seafood laksa, which was filling and so delicious. The café has the Coca-Cola themed restaurant, the first in Hong Kong, which serves Coke-infused dishes.
We were treated to a special dinner at the Chinese restaurant of the Hong Kong Disneyland Hotel, the Crystal Lotus, where the chefs created a special menu for us incorporating the Mickey icon and other Disney characters. The menu included roasted deboned short rib and sweetened barbeque paste in steamed piggy mask buns; stuffed whole dried scallops in Mickey winter melon chicken soup; wok-fried shrimps and Disney root vegetables; wok-fried tenderloin of beef cubes, mushrooms and bell peppers; wok-fried vegetables and mock chicken in taro basket; fried rice with Tasmanian crab meat, conpoy and egg white; and double boiled whole Chinese pear topped with aged mandarin peel accompanied by fresh fruit.

Waffles at Main Street, U.S.A.

The Eurasian tree sparrows at the cafe
The appetizer of scallops at the Coca-Cola Cafe.

Christmas Season, Disneyland style
Hong Kong Disneyland is doubly delightful this season as it puts on Disneys Sparkling Christmas from November 14, 2013, to January 5, 2014.
Main Street, USA becomes Christmas Town as storefronts are dressed with festive garlands, lights and ornaments, but the highlight is the giant Christmas tree with 90,000 programmable LED lights at Town Square.
Every evening when it is lit, carollers sing favorite Christmas tunes then Goofy, Mickey and Minnie appear on a giant sleigh with dancers holding luminous giant snowflakes marching down Main Street, USA. When the Christmas tree is lit to a lively musical score, fake snow falls, coming from the roof tops.
This is in addition to the regular Flights of Fantasy Parade around Snow White Castle capped by a fireworks display.
As part of the Christmas activities, the three new themed areasToy Story Land, Grizzly Gulch and Mystic Pointpresent new puppet shows collectively called Puppets in the Park. At Toy Story Land, Lets Tell a Toy Story tell the stories of Woody, Jessie or Buzz Lightyear. The Winter Wish is a hand puppet show at Grizzly Gulch that tells the loving story of the bears from Big Grizzly Mountain. Adventures with Lord Henry is a shadow puppet show at Mystic Point operated by a Southeast Asian puppetry troupe and tells the adventures of Lord Henry and Albert at the Mediterranean city of Pisa, Egypt and the Great Wall of China, where they meet fascinating people and gather a collection of new artifacts.
Shopping for Christmas gifts is not a problem as Hong Kong Disneyland offers over 110 Christmas collectibles from confectionery to plush toys and warm winter wear to personalized Disney Christmas ornaments.
Buffets or set meals are offered at the park, Hong Kong Disneyland Hotel and Disneys Hollywood Hotel for Christmas dining. The Coca-Cola Café, in particular, offers interesting Coke-infused dishes for Christmas, which include seared scallops with mango salad and Coca-Cola molecules as appetizer; braised beef cheek with Coca-Cola barbecue sauce on mashed potatoes and roasted root vegetables and poached sole and salmon fillet in Coca-Cola veloute vegetable fettucine as main course choices; and Coca-Cola crème brulee with fresh berries for dessert.
Christmas ambiance extends to the Hong Kong Disneyland Hotel, where guests who reserve a Kingdom Club Suite enjoy festive holiday room decorations. For other room bookings, guests can request the same decorative room offer for an additional HK$600.
As you retire for the night here, it seems you will not be visited by nightmares except The Nightmare Before Christmas. This, after all, is said to be the happiest place on earth.

Disneyland's Hollywood Hotel

The Jungle Cruise at Adventureland.

The Flights of Fantasy parade

The Golden Mickeys

For more information, visit or click on to