My Experience Witnessing Hong Kong Disneyland’s Growth From Infancy Till Now

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Hong Kong Disneyland's History

Hong Kong Disneyland’s History, Thoughts & Overview

As I have mentioned before, I am currently on an around the world trip where I will visit every single Disney park in the world! My family and I just finished at Disneyland and now in about 10 days our sights are set on Disney’s 5th resort, Hong Kong Disneyland!

Believe it or not, Hong Kong Disneyland is actually the resort I have visited more than any other except for the original Disneyland. I have now been to Hong Kong Disneyland a whopping 5 times (2008, 2013, 2014, 2016, 2017) and this visit will be my 6th, although my first with Ellie. I have visited once with Jasmine and Shawn Reece, twice by myself, once with my dad and once with my friend Dave. Wow, that’s a lot of visits for a park that opened in 2005!

Since I know this park very well after visiting it many times over the years I am uniquely qualified to talk about Hong Kong Disneyland’s History. I have seen it grow vastly over the years and will give some thoughts and overview of the park as well. I plan to follow up with a post detailing any changes after my upcoming visit. I’ll also be writing full guides to each of these resorts following the trip. Make sure to follow all of my Disney (and many other) adventures on our Miles to Memories Instagram account.

Hong Kong Disneyland's History
Jasmine, Shawn Reece and I at Hong Kong Disneyland during our first visit in 2008.

Easy To Get To

Let’s talk location. One of my favorite things about Hong Kong Disneyland is how easy it is to get to/from the city or even the airport. I have visited the park on an 8 hour stopover and multiple times while staying in the Kowloon or Hong Kong Island areas. Either way the park can be reached fairly quickly and easily via MTR. They sometimes even have layover tickets with special prices and luggage storage included!

Hong Kong Disneyland’s History

Hong Kong Disneyland opened in 2005 as a disappointment to many. Disney’s then CEO Michael Eisner had cut the project’s budget back so far that the park opened with only one single “E Ticket” attraction. In fact, it didn’t open with many rides at all. Maybe I am missing something, but as far as rides go, on opening day you only had: Buzz Lightyear, Space Mountain, Winnie the Pooh, Disneyland Railroad and The Jungle Cruise as non-spinny carnival rides. Yup, that’s it. Well, unless you count the Main Street vehicles.

Hong Kong Disneyland's History
It’s A Small World in 2013. This was one of the first expansions of HKDL. Los Tres Caballeros FTW! Excuse my creepy eyes. Many days of long haul travel with less than 24 hour layovers took their toll.

But the park has invested heavily and is in the middle of another big expansion. In the years after opening, Hong Kong Disneyland did its best to grow despite lackluster attendance. They quickly added Autopia and It’s A Small World to their lineup for example. One of the most magical experiences EVER for me was listening to a little child sing It’s A Small World in Cantonese on the Disneyland MTR train during our first visit. Disney Magic is universal.

Despite that magic and those additions, the park was still MUCH SMALLER than other Disneyland parks and didn’t warrant long visits. Disney and the Hong Kong government finally agreed to a massive expansion which brought three new mini-lands and some much needed rides. This multi-year expansion brought Grizzly Gulch, Toy Story Land and Mystic Pointe with its beloved ride Mystic Manor. (Known as the Monkey Ride by Ellie.)

Hong Kong Disneyland's History
Toy Story Land (2017) is perhaps my least favorite of the 3 new mini-lands added to Hong Kong Disneyland.

Continued Growth

That expansion helped, but with Shanghai Disneyland now open they need to do more. Now the park is in the middle of yet another huge expansion. A couple of years ago they added Iron Man and re-themed Space Mountain to Hyperspace Mountain. This added a Star Wars overlay similar to what was done at other parks, however this one seems to be permanent or at least it’s sticking around a lot longer than some of the others.

This month they are also opening up their replacement of Buzz Lightyear, an Antman & Wasp themed shooting dark ride. But it doesn’t stop there. By next year the small castle will get a huge expansion which will be followed by a Frozen Land and then a huge Marvel attraction going in where the Autopia stood for its brief run. The future is bright for this park.

Hong Kong Disneyland's History
HKDL Main Street 2016. It’s modeled very closely after the original in Disneyland. This castle is under the process of a massive transformation for 2020.

Is Hong Kong Disneyland Undervalued?

I think Hong Kong Disneyland probably wrongly gets the least amount of acclaim compared to other Disneyland parks. In many ways this smaller Disneyland was built to look like the original in Anaheim. Some of that is going away with the castle redesign, but there is still so much of what reminds me about the original Disneyland in Hong Kong. In other words, the park has always had good bones, but just lacked rides.

Hong Kong Disneyland’s Best Rides

Speaking of rides, Hong Kong Disneyland has a few you must try. Mystic Manor is the park’s updated and completely different version of Haunted Mansion. It uses modern technology to tell a compelling story in what many consider to be one of Disney’s best dark rides. Next door you’ll ride Big Grizzly Mountain which is a mixture of Expedition Everest and Thunder Mountain. It’s a ton of fun, not too scary and crazy smooth.

Hong Kong Disneyland's History
HKDL Jungle Cruise 2014. They give the Jungle Cruise in English, Mandarin & Cantonese. The English version is so bad, so starting in 2014 I began doing the Cantonese version. I don’t understand but its a lot of fun!

I mentioned the Space Mountain overlay and the new Iron Man attractions before and both are worth a visit. Iron Man is a completely unique story to Hong Kong, although as mentioned before the Star Tours vehicles will look familiar. I am hoping Ant Man opens a few days early for my visit, but that looks like another winner as well.

You won’t need more than a day at Hong Kong Disneyland unless you visit during the craziest of days. The resort has three hotels if you want to get the on property experience, but it is close enough that you can just pick your favorite city hotel and make a day of it. You’ll feel the magic as soon as you switch to the Disneyland MTR line whether or not a small child sings It’s A Small World.

Hong Kong Disneyland's History
The Iron Man Experience added in early 2017 looks a lot like Star Tours but is completely unique to Hong Kong Disneyland.

Conclusion

I struggle where to place Hong Kong Disneyland within my own personal realm of Disney rankings. I saw this park first in 2007 when it was just an infant and have watched it grow in stages since then. Every addition from Mystic Manor to Iron Man has improved the experience and I suspect this new expansion will make it not only a full day park, but a nice competitor to both Shanghai Disneyland and the new Universal Beijing Resort being constructed as well.

So there is my history and thoughts on Hong Kong Disneyland BEFORE my upcoming visit. My last time there was in 2017, so not much has changed, but I’ll report back on the construction and how this park is continuing on its 20 year path towards becoming “World Class”.

2 COMMENTS

  1. One of the hottest places I’ve been was walking through Hong Kong Disney Toy Story land on a hot humid Summer day. I thought I’d die of thirst before I got to the other side. I hope they can add some shade in that area of the park. Other than that I like it a lot. I like Paris a bit better and think of them as about the same size.

  2. I’ve been to all the Disney parks except the original in California (Orlando, Paris, Tokyo, Shanghai and Hong Kong) and I love HKDL. Whilst on paper it’s one of the weakest, I find it to be the most charming. That’s largely down to its scale, as well as its unique setting nestled between the mountains and the sea. I’m worried whether this will change with the new castle, as I thought the previous one was perfect for this park. HKDL is also one of the easiest to see, down to the lack of long lines. I think Grizzlh Gulch and Mystic Manor are some of Disney’s best rides.

    Unlike other Disney resorts, it’s not intended to be a destination for a week or more. It’s supposed to be a day or two as an escape for locals or an add on to the city for visitors. Seem through this lense, it’s great.

    By contrast, Shanghai Disneyland is massive, and has some great rides, but I find it to be curious lacking in charm (due to its scale) and somewhat lacking in Disney magic.

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