Our China adventure continues with our full day in Hong Kong. Here is the official description of the day from Disney:
For many decades, Hong Kong was the bridge between China and the West, a major seaport for trade and outpost of cultural exchange. It retains its importance today as an international hub of finance and commerce. You'll plunge into the rhythm of this dynamic city, from a morning excursion through a world-renown mecca of retail - bustling Stanley Market - to the stunning panoramic views from your lunch venue atop Victoria Peak. Tonight you'll venture to Hong Kong Disneyland. Discover the thrilling attractions, beloved characters, terrific shops, exciting celebrations.... and the Disney magic that is Hong Kong Disneyland.
While the official name of the day is "Hong Kong Top to Bottom," my name for today is "Walt Weather." For those that don't know, it is a term used in the Disney community when you think the weather is going to be miserable for a Disney experience, but then everything clears up just in time for the experience to happen without a hitch.
As I mentioned yesterday, we were in a Typhoon Warning No 3. The hotel even had doormen at each door holding them to prevent them from blowing in, so I was a bit nervous about how the weather might impact our trip. During a Warning No. 3, all outdoor attractions at Hong Kong Disneyland close. I was a bit bummed, but I made peace with it.
We were set to meet our group at 8:30 so we decided to meet for breakfast at 7 to give us plenty of time to eat and return to the room and gather our belongings. The breakfast buffet was fantastic, with a wide variety of options and exceptional service. I think most people in our room had a similar idea. I decided to be a bit adventurous and try the Octopus on Udon Noodles as well as the Asian-style soft-boiled egg.
After breakfast, we went upstairs and grabbed the umbrellas provided by the hotel and went back down to the lobby. Bruce, the same gentleman that assisted us at the airport, was our local guide for Hong Kong. We marched to a coach that was parked on the side of the hotel.
We then began our journey to our first stop: Stanley Market. Along the way, Bruce discussed Hong Kong's culture and history while also pointing out interesting locations along the way. Due to the Typhoon Warning, the traffic was very light and we made it to the Stanley Market in record time.
As we were informed, the Stanley Market is one of several markets in Hong Kong and can be quite popular. While it might have seemed odd to start our first real day with a shopping opportunity, this would be our only chance to buy souvenirs in Hong Kong before we headed to Mainland China and we wanted to get there before it got crowded. Due to our early arrival, we had ample time to explore and be there as shops opened up in front of us. The experience was very much an effort in finding "diamonds in the rough," as there was a lot of pointless items but some neat things as well. Most folks were not initially impressed but ended up returning to the bus with a shopping bag or two. The big item here were chops, seals made of stone or wood. You could get them customized with your English name, Chinese name, and Chinese Zodiac as they were engraved while we explored the rest of the market.
It was then time to journey to the top of Victoria Peak. We were once again in luck with the weather. While foggy, we got a chance to take a picture of the Hong Kong skyline right before the fog got really dense. We then had a very brief time to explore the Peak Galleria, an adjacent shopping mall. It started to rain so I tried to kill some time in the mall. I am glad that I did as I discovered some pretty neat Disney souvenirs.
Lunch was at Peak Lookout across the street. We had pre-selected our options here so I had the salad and the burger. (I wasn't sure the balance of Eastern and Western foods during this trip, so I picked the comfort option). Everyone had some ice cream for dessert as well. The food was good, but I was itching to get down the mountain and head to Hong Kong Disneyland.
We road the Peak Tram funicular railway down the mountain. It was kinda neat that we descended backwards. It gave the experience a bit of a thrill as the gradient reaches 27 degrees. As we learned, in 1881 the enterprising Scotsman Alexander Findlay Smith devised a plan to speed up the development of new residences in The Peak districts with the introduction of a funicular railway. The tram opened in 1888, with the current cars opening in 1989.
Once we got to the bottom, it was time for Hong Kong Disneyland. Our Adventure Guide told us that he had never had a group so Disney-focused before, so he knew how important the park was to many of us on the tour. It was raining when our bus parked, but it ended by the time we had gathered for our group picture in front of the entrance archway. This meant that the park was virtually empty.
We were given three priority entrance passes which could be used at most attractions. We also got a priority pass for the 6:15 performance of Mickey and the Wonderous Map, as well as a wristband that allowed us into a reserved section of the hub for the evening's fireworks, which would also be our meeting point at the end of the park's operating day. Since it was the off-season, the park closed at 7:30 with the Disney in the Stars fireworks show. This gave us a bit over 5 hours to explore Hong Kong Disneyland.
I am not going to go into full details about the park as this site has covered Hong Kong Disneyland for years. Instead, I will share my experience in the park with Adventures by Disney.
As we entered Main Street, I noticed that the park was beginning to be decorated for Halloween. Apparently, Halloween Time is a huge deal here as well. I asked Joe if Halloween is important in China and he said that it hadn't been, but it is rapidly growing in popularity as they love any reason to party.
My first stop was Grizzly Gulch where something I learned today played an important role. In China, the number 8 is lucky and the number 4 is unlucky. It is more expensive to get a phone number with 8s and phone numbers with 4 are usually discounted. In fact, if you look at the phone numbers of the hotels we are staying at, there are a heck of a lot of 8s. In Grizzly Gulch, you are supposed to go through mine shaft 8, but when you are accidentally sent into shaft 4, everything goes wrong.
I then headed into Mystic Point to experience Mystic Manor, which I rode twice, and then did a quick walk-through of Toy Story Land. I then crossed over through the hub to Tomorrowland. Buzz Lightyear's Astro Blasters recently closed to make way for a new Marvel experience, so I took the mandatory "construction picture." I experienced The Iron Man Experience and then went into Fantasyland to ride their version of "it's a small world." Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh was closed for refurbishment so I returned to Main Street for some shopping opportunities.
The park was in the midst of its 12th Anniversary celebration, so there was a lot of product with that theme. Also, Duffy and his friends are HUGE here. Their products were in nearly every store and many of the guests were adorned in Duffy, Gelatoni, or Stella Lou merchandise. In fact, the only line I saw was to meet Duffy and Gelatoni. Speaking of merchandise, they had a promotion that based on how much you spent they would bring out tablets with a "wheel of fortune" type game. The tablet would then tell you what prizes you won. I got a merchandise discount coupon, a buy-one-get-one popcorn coupon, a trading pin, and a Made with Magic Paint Brush. It was kind of neat to get extra stuff, but totally against the "no purchase required" laws of the United States.
I should point out that we never had to use our passes. There was never a moment when we didn't just walk right on to an attraction. In fact, I had to keep letting guests pass me as I was taking in some of the details of the queues. I appreciate Adventures by Disney offering the passes, but I really appreciate that I didn't even have to use them.
We then headed to our designated show time for Mickey and the Wonderous Book. I was amazed at how full the theater ended up being considering how empty the park was. This show really does have a fanbase. The show is about a magical book. Mickey and Goofy let Olaf out of the book, so they go through various Disney worlds so they can get Olaf back before he melts. This show was really impressive. The characters were mostly in Cantonese, but one of the books served as subtitles. All the singing was in English. The show has a similar vibe to Mickey and the Magical Map but uses the Happily Ever After song from the fireworks show at the Magic Kingdom in Florida. The live singing and stagework were fantastic and the show was perhaps my biggest surprise in Hong Kong Disneyland. Mystic Manor was fantastic as well, but the show was unexpected.
Shortly thereafter, we returned to the hub and our designated fireworks viewing location. The show is more of a combination of fireworks and projection mapping as the actual amount of fireworks product is limited, but the show is still fun. Perhaps the most impressive part was how light the crowds were in the hub. It reminded me of Disneyland on a slow day, 25 years ago. Once it concluded, we waited for the crowds to die down as we got our instructions for tomorrow.
As we excited the park, I realized I had fallen in love with another Disney Destination. While small, the charm of Hong Kong Disneyland cannot be denied. I can't wait to return to see how their upcoming projects turn out.
We returned to the bus and headed back to the Peninsula Hotel. Tomorrow we are set to head to Beijing. We have only just completed one of our six cities and I have already had the vacation of a lifetime. I can't wait for the rest of the journey.