‘Here you leave Today and enter the world of Yesterday, Tomorrow and Fantasy’– Plaque at the entrance of every Disneyland Resort in the world
Everything about Mickey Mouse – the large shoes, the little red shorts with two buttons and the white gloved hands – is iconic, but nothing more so, perhaps, than the perky little rodent’s ginormous black ears. I mean, you can simply draw three circles – one large and two small ones – on a piece of paper and a child will tell you it’s Mickey.
At Disney properties all over the world, you will find this three-circled representation of Mickey Mouse inserted subtly just about everywhere – in rides, architecture, décor and even the food. At the Hong Kong Disneyland Resort, where I went for a three-day trip, it was no different: the windows of Disney’s Hollywood Hotel where I stayed were Mickey-shaped; Mickey and Minnie designs jumped at you from the carpets when you least expected them; the alarm clock in the room announced "Hello! This is your pal Mickey and it’s time to wake up!" in a squeaky Mickey voice every morning; the dollop of ketchup served in the café (called Chef Mickey’s, what else?!) was a little red Mickey; heck, even the tiny vegetables in my soup at lunchtime were Mickey-shaped.
Of course, to fans like me, there’s a lot more to Disney than just Mickey. I have lost count of the number of times I have watched evergreen Disney classics – Bambi, Sleeping Beauty, Pinocchio, Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, The Lion King and the newer collaborations with Pixar like Toy Story, and Wall-E; I know the lyrics to most songs from Disney movies by heart. And so, spending three days in Disneyland was like spending three days in another world.
Nearly 31 million visitors have visited the Hong Kong Disneyland Resort ever since it opened in 2005. If you’re a Disney fan in India, it’s the closest Disneyland you can visit. Walking past the ticket booths is like entering Diagon Alley – no, you won’t see any owls or brass-bottomed cauldrons – but it’s equally magical. Popular Disney characters stand at strategic corners for a hug and a snap; colourful benches dot the cobbled streets; throngs of people dressed in Mickey caps and stockings jostle for space; in the distance, a majestic Sleeping Beauty castle flecked with pixie dust shimmers in the afternoon sunlight; and tunes from Disney movies waft over the scene (this music, I’m told, is NEVER turned off, not even when the park closes at night). Yes, it’s a ‘manufactured’ world, but with such finesse and attention to detail that it’s almost surreal. By the end of my third day in Disneyland, I was dying to go out and muddy my hands in the ‘real’ world.
The Hong Kong Disneyland Resort is divided into four themed lands: Main Street USA, Fantasyland, Adventureland, Tomorrowland and the newly opened Toy Story Land. At about 320 acres, it’s considerably smaller than the original Disneyland in Anaheim, California. But nevertheless, it does take about three whole days to experience completely. I spent most of the first day walking about Main Street USA (a long street that resembles an early 20th century American town dotted with quaint buildings, eateries, bakeries and souvenir shops choc-a-bloc with overpriced Disney merchandise), losing myself in the sweet-as-candy atmosphere and wolfing down Mickey-shaped waffles (with maple syrup filled in each gigantic ear).
As evening descended, Disneyland became even more magical. It shimmered in the glow of a thousand lights, spilling out over the cobbled streets. As the crowds settled down in front of the Sleeping Beauty Castle for the 15-minute fireworks extravaganza, the air crackled with anticipation. A hush fell over the audience as the lights dimmed for the show. And as the sky behind the castle lit up with the light of a hundred fiery stars to the strains of When You Wish Upon A Star from Pinocchio, we all gazed straight up in rapture.
The best view of Hong Kong Disneyland is from 90 feet in the air, strapped to a raging red machine known as the RC Racer. If you can keep your eyes open and stop screaming, that is. The tall, U-shaped ride is the one of the most thrilling ones in the park and speeds you along a deadly-looking semi-circular track till you are almost parallel to the ground… and then pulls you back down at top speed. By the time you get off, your legs are a wobbly mass of jelly. Yes, day two was all about what I cared most about – rides and attractions.
There aren’t too many scary rides in Hong Kong Disneyland, which makes sense since it pulls out all stops to be kid-friendly. To adults, most attractions will simply seem like nostalgia trips into the world of their favourite Disney characters and elicit the occasional “Wow” (or “Aww” depending on how cute things get). After a quick Chinese lunch at a rustic-looking restaurant called Tahitian Terrace, I was ushered in to a show of Mickey’s PhilharMagic, a 12-minute 4-D film projected on a 150-feet wide screen filled with effects, scents, water and a number of characters from Disney movies. If you want to live out Disney, there’s nothing better than this show: the wind sweeps back your hair as you ride the magic carpet through the clouds with Aladdin and Jasmine; and you’re drenched as Donald plummets into the ocean.
A cutesy ride called ‘It’s a Small World’ that features over 300 brightly costumed audio-animatronic dolls in the style of children from different ethnicities all singing the eponymous song followed (we cheered when we saw what were meant to be Indian dolls, doing bhangra against a backdrop of the Taj Mahal). And just when I thought things were getting too sugary for comfort, I was whisked away to witness the highlight of the day: the Festival of the Lion King.
The Lion King, perhaps the best known of all Disney movies, has been a big part of my growing up. It’s an evergreen film, one that you never ever get tired of watching and the Festival of the Lion King is an original interpretation – a live stage musical that uses puppetry, songs, dance and visual effects to portray a tribal celebration in an African setting, filled with giraffes, lions, elephants and birds. It’s a little like Zangoora, the musical, if you’ve ever seen it, full of dance, drama, colour, stunts and special effects – just on a spectacularly grand scale.
After 45 minutes of what I can only describe as a Lion King fan’s dream come true, we headed back to the Hollywood Hotel and that night, I dreamed of an African savannah.
Back on track
Even if you’ve never been to a Disneyland park before, I can tell you this: your last day there will be one of mixed feelings. On my third day, a part of me was dying to burst out of the place and come back to the real world. But another part wanted to stay back, walk the cobbled streets at leisure, help myself to caramel popcorn from shiny pink carts that dot every corner, hum along to the catchy Disney tunes and become a child again.
But this was no time to be glum. I was perched on the edge of my seat in a ‘rocket’ with my heart in my mouth in what was the most thrilling ride in Disneyland: an indoor roller coaster known as Space Mountain. What’s so scary about it? The entire ride takes place in pitch darkness! You sit in the car, hanging on for dear life as you zip along the invisible track at top speed, twisting and turning sharply when you least expect it. All around you, stars, planets, galaxies and asteroids loom, sometimes menacingly close. The wind whips your face and halfway into space, you realise you’ve been screaming at the top of your voice for about five minutes non-stop.
When it ends and the adrenaline rush slows down, you want to do it all over again, of course.
The writer’s trip was sponsored by the Hong Kong Disneyland Resort
Facts & figures
Getting there: The airport is on Lantau Island near the Hong Kong Disneyland Resort. By train, it is about 20 minutes away.
Hotels: There are two hotels in the Resort with 1,000 rooms. The Hong Kong Disneyland Hotel, a 400-room Victorian-era themed hotel and Disney’s Hollywood Hotel, a 600-room property themed to 1930s Hollywood.
Currency: The official currency is Hong Kong Dollar. 1 HKD was about 6.5 Indian rupees at the time of writing.
Visa: Visa on arrival for Indians.
Park fee: Once you’re in, all rides are free (really!). Here’s what it’ll cost you to get in, however: General admission (ages 12-64): HK$399. Children (ages 3-11): HK$285. Seniors (65 and above): HK$100. Children under three go in free, the lucky munchkins.
From HT Brunch, April 8
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