Once upon a time in a land far far away, there lived a little girl who fell in love with a Magic Kingdom called Disneyland. Such a joyful place of happy music, fun rides, glorious lights and fireworks… But above all, she treasured the beautiful moments with her family.
My earliest happy travel memories are from being with my family in Disneyworld in Florida, and I wanted my little princes’ first experiences of this special place to be just as magical.
Tyler is not Disneyland newbie, as he has visited Paris Disneyland and Hong Kong Disneyland, all under the age of two. But it’s only been on our last two trips, now that he’s three, that I feel he’s now really able to appreciate and understand what’s going on on the park.
Hong Kong Disneyland is the smallest of all the Disney parks in the world. It even has a tiny little castle, which looks more like a turret than a castle, when compared to the soaring Disney palaces in Paris (the prettiest) and Orlando (grandest), but it’s still a Disney castle!
In terms of rides, the park can be covered in one day. There are only two thrill rides – Space Mountain and Grizzly Gulch, so this probably isn’t too exciting a park for teenagers, but it’s great for toddlers as many of the rides don’t have height limits or can accommodate toddlers – such as Dumbo, Cindarella’s Carousel, Winnie the Pooh, It’s a Small World, Mad Hatter’s Teacups (Fantasy Land), Orbitron, Buzz Lightyear (replaced with Ant Man ride, but it’s still the same format of laser gun game ride), Autopia (this has now been replaced by an Iron Man VR ride) Slinky Dog and Parachute Drop (Toy Story Land).
Orbitron (below) which is like Dumbo, but the line moves slightly faster as each flying saucer can take four guests.
Cindarella’s Carousel – a classic Disney favorite.
The carousel in Disneyland Hong Kong has short wait times, I’ve never seen the line longer than 15-20 minutes even when it was crowded in the park. Dumbo is the ride with one of the longest lines. I’ve never seen it shorter than 45 minutes, the quintessential classic ride, which makes of course for iconic photos.
Your first question is probably how much time do I need to cover the park, should I stay in a Disney Hotel?
The answer is – if you’re there for the rides and just to take some photos, a day is enough, but if you’re there to really soak in the buzz and enjoy that Disney Magic – I would stay overnight, and I’ll tell you why.
I’ve done the day trip version of HK Disneyland, arriving in the morning to try to do all the rides, shows and catch the fireworks. It felt hectic, like we were constantly rushing place to place in FOMO mode. I didn’t enjoy it as much. It wasn’t about the queue for rides – you’ll find that if you’re lucky, like I’ve had friends visit in September and October that said they walked on to all the rides and there was no queue at all – HK Disneyland doesn’t have the extremely long over-an-hour wait queues like Tokyo or Paris Disneyland can have.
The longest wait I saw this trip (and we went in December which is a peak season) was 50 minutes. The rides that will likely have queues are Dumbo, Winnie the Pooh and Autopia, but none exceeded an hour. You can also plan your day to avoid the crowds and use the FastPasses, but it will still be tiring – honestly a little too intense to be enjoyable or fun, especially with a toddler in tow.
So, if you decide to stay overnight in a Disney hotel, there’s only one I would recommend you should stay at – The Disneyland Hotel.
The view from our room at the Kimgdom Club (below.It’s a gorgeous Disney hotel, much nicer than the Disney Hollywood Hotel where some of our party stayed, then when they came over and saw the Disneyland Hotel, they regretted not paying that little bit more for the upgrade.
There’s the Enchanted Garden with the hedge maze by the sea, there’s a playroom with soft play areas, a boat, a mini cinema (ok, a big TV, I’m a little partial to Disneyland!) where they play Disney films and cartoons and an activity corner where they have programs where the kids can learn to draw Mickey Mouse etc.
The Kids Club playroom (below).
If you’re a huge fan of character photography and want to meet all the classic Disney stars (like Mickey, Minnie, Goofie, Pluto etc), I suggest you book the Character Breakfast at the Enchanted Garden in Disneyland Hotel (two seatings per day with one at 730am and another at 930am). The characters come to your table while you’re having breakfast, and cover the room methodically so you just sit tight and wait for them to approach you. The minders do shoo you back to your table if it’s not your turn, so manage the expectations of your little ones who try to run up to Mickey or Minnie to give him a big hug. And you’ll constantly hear this “Boop Boop Boop Boop” call nearby, as the photographers seem to use it to attract the attention of errant babies and toddlers who fail to pose for photos.
Our earlier trip was in December last year so all the characters are in Christmas costumes. This time round (April trip), they were in their regular clothes.
“Hey boy, I like your T-shirt!” They’re also insistent on taking photos of you and your kids on their own camera, as their goal is to sell you their pics (which they leave on your table all printed out in glossy folders, and I expect they’ll charge you if you walk out with them), but you don’t have to buy their photos, they do also help you take pics with your iPhone.
The Princess characters aren’t as easy to locate. They take photos with guests at fixed times in Fantasyland (next to the Disney Castle). They weren’t able to tell you exactly where to find each princess until the morning of each day itself. So if you were looking for say Sophie or Belle, you would have to try your luck and just check with information desk when you arrived in the park, as there’s a different roster every day (I suppose based on which princess showed up for work haha)! Anyway, we scored photos with Anna and Elsa – bumping into them just before they closed the queue.
Shy guy.On several visits to the park, we booked the VIP Private Tour. This was to ensure we got to try all the rides and experience the park without losing time on lines (or grumpy toddlers). The tour allows direct access (via the exit) to all rides, and takes up to six people – kids under three don’t count, and goes for three hours. It costs HK$4688 or about US$600 (SGD850) and can be worth it if you share between 2 or 3 families. The best time to book the tour is to plan it on a three hour block ending at the start of a show time as they reserve the best seats in the house for guests on the VIP tour. I wouldn’t do the shows during the three hour tour itself (they’ll take up about 45 minutes each between seating and show times), so I recommend you check the show timings before booking the tour (you can choose from two shows – Lion King or Mickey’s Wondrous Book). Timings may change depending on time of booking, so best to check before you travel on the Disneyland Show Schedule and coincide the end time of your VIP tour with the start time of the shows you can then maximize your time on rides instead of sitting through shows. Note: the VIP tour doesn’t let you cut the lines for character photography, you still have to wait your turn for those.
Even if you do not to book the tour, I can share some useful tips from our tour guide.
First, if you want to avoid the crowd and hit the park early, start by turning left of the castle, towards the Jungle and Adventureland area. Our guides shared that everyone usually starts by turning right towards Tomorrowland (I guess most people are right-handed so it’s a natural instinct to turn right instead of left?)! Strange, but these insiders believe you can avoid the crowd pattern if you work the park backwards from what most people are doing!
Another big tip… There’s a secret spot to catch the “Paint the Night” show (not the fireworks which are at 830pm, but the electric float parade that comes just before the fireworks, at 730pm. Instead of joining the crowds that line the streets, head to the area just next to the theatre that’s currently playing Mickey’s Wondrous Storybook. Just on the right (if you’re facing the theatre) there’s a gate where the parade starts and all the floats will come out of here.
You can have the best view from here as its not crowded (the general public haven’t seemed to figure out that this is the starting point of the parade), so you should have a front row view and the little ones will have a fantastic time seeing their favorite floats and characters up close! Here are some of our favorite floats, from our view at the gate where the parade begins (Photo credits for the series of night shots to my friend Mark Shaw)
On our last trip to Disneyland (April 2016), we also discovered the best way to watch the “Disney in the Stars” fireworks. As I mentioned earlier, the Hong Kong Disneyland castle is teeny-tiny… Which means it’s hard to get an unobstructed view of the castle where you can also see the video projections that accompany the fireworks. If one or two inconsiderate people stand up or put their kids on their shoulders for a better view, it blocks the view of every person behind him. Many people sit and wait early in a designated area right in front of the castle. This can fill up with squatters an hour or more before the show, but it can be hard to sit and wait out there with restless toddlers in tow, so that wasn’t an option for us.
And then we discovered that there was a special, reserved space with an amazing view, right in front of the castle (just behind the designated seating area), in an area cordoned off for VIP guest viewing. You get access to this area if you take up the Fireworks VIP dinner package. It was pretty good value, like a 6-course Chinese dinner at the Maxim’s-operated Plaza Inn (the Chinese restaurant), and you get a wrist band that gives you access to this cordoned-off VIP area which isn’t crowded at all. We rocked up fifteen minutes before the fireworks and got an awesome spot with a dead-centre, 100% unobstructed view of the castle and fireworks.
A final tip- Do HK Disneyland when the weather is cool if you can, I can vouch that it’s a much more pleasant experience. It can be so uncomfortably hot in the summer months. We went in April and December when it was fairly cool, and found it much more enjoyable than a previous trip we made in the hot summer months. High summer temperatures can make toddlers sweaty and cranky- and it may not be the most enjoyable experience for everyone, so do check on the average temperatures before you go, if your little one like mine, gets grumpy when it’s hot.
Until our next Disney trip then… (We are planning LA year – this time with Jakey too, who will then be 18 months old).