• HONG KONG DISNEYLAND 101: A big girl’s first time in a little child’s theme park

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    No one is ever too old to enjoy Disneyland.

    This is what I realized when I joined the Philippine press contingent invited to experience Hong Kong Disneyland Resort’s holiday offerings from November 18 to 20.

    A proud 23-year-old first-timer, I still had the energy to go on the fun and thrilling rides, as well as the unadulterated excitement of meeting the eternally happy characters of generations of Disney. Indeed, the magic of the wonderful Walt Disney preserves the child in all of us.

    Nevertheless, going to Disneyland also has its challenges no matter how old you are, and especially if it is your first time to visit the magical kingdom. Specifically in Hong Kong Disney, the challenge is how to maximize your theme park experience for a day or two with seven themed areas to enjoy, endless shows to see, and countless meet-and-greet opportunities with Mickey and friends.

    Thankfully, I had my wits about me despite the wide-eyed fascination plastered on my face from beginning to end, and guarantee any first time visitor like me the most memorable experience at Hong Kong Disneyland with this special 101 guide.

    The ‘Flights of Fantasy Parade’ features Disney characters aboard beautiful floats

    The ‘Flights of Fantasy Parade’ features Disney characters aboard beautiful floats

    Get to know the theme park
    Hong Kong Disneyland (HKDL) is one of only five locations in the world that is home to a Disney-themed park. Opened in 2005, it offers immersive and unique Disney experiences for all families, generations and ages to enjoy.

    To date, the park has received over 38 million guests from all over the globe, with a large number coming from the Philippines. It is also notable that besides delivering a strong tourist force to HKDL, Filipinos also provide the park with many cast members featured in the daily schedule of shows and parades.

    Over the last three years, HKDL has gone through expansions with three modern and unique themed attractions to provide guests with new experiences. These are the Toy Story Land (2011), Grizzly Gulch (2012) and Mystic Point (2013), all of which are original concepts created solely for HKDL. This trio of expansion adds the park’s already popular attractions like the Tomorrowland, Fantasyland and Adventureland.

    The park opens at 10 a.m. and closes at 8 p.m. or 9 p.m., so it’s best to come early and leave only at closing time!

    This Christmas tree lights up with 90,000 LED lights at night

    This Christmas tree lights up with 90,000 LED lights at night

    Enjoy ‘A Sparkling Christmas’
    Since Christmas is the merriest time of the year even at Disneyland, the worldwide network of Disney parks is currently running a promotion dubbed “A Sparkling Christmas,” which runs until January 5, 2014. Indeed, the magical kingdom becomes even more enchanting with touches of Christmas everywhere.

    The Main Street-USA for example has been transformed into Christmas Town with all storefronts dressed with festive garlands, lights and ornaments. Walking further up, one will also see the brand new Mickey, Minnie, Donald and Daisy sculptures at the Sleeping Beauty Castle hub.

    Yuletide cheer extends to the three new themed areas that showcase “Puppets in the Park.” Though performed in Chinese for the majority of mainland Chinese tourists, the puppet shows are entertaining as can be for everyone. These are “Let’s Tell A Toy Story” adventure at Toy Story Land; a hand puppet show titled “The Winter Wish Happens” at Grizzly Gulch; a shadow puppet show called “Adventures with Lord Henry” at Mystic Point.

    Now for tropical country folks like us, “Christmas Illumination” at Town Square and Main Street must not be missed if you want to finally experience snow! A nightly lighting of the park’s giant Christmas tree of 90,000 LED lights, the event also features songs from Christmas carolers, and the special appearance of Santa Goofy, Mickey and Minnie on their silver sleigh.

    While there will certainly be more visitors at HKDL during Christmastime, a weekday outing will be your best bet for a relatively lesser influx of guests.

    Riding the Toy Soldier Parachute Drop gives one a full view of the Toy Story Land

    Riding the Toy Soldier Parachute Drop gives one a full view of the Toy Story Land

    Experience the newest attractions
    Prioritized in our HKDL itinerary is the familiarization of the three newest themed areas, Toy Story Land, Grizzly Gulch and Mystic Point, which allows guests to discover other Disney stories and characters besides the more famous ones.

    As a fan of the Toy Story movie series, I was ecstatic to go to Toy Story Land, which happens to be an area exclusive to Asia. The experience brings the movie to life as the idea is for guests to be shrunk to the size of Andy’s toys, and go on the Slinky Dog Spin, the Toy Soldier Parachute Drop, and finally, the thrilling RC Racer ride. Other activities in this area include the Barrel of Fun, the Toy Soldier Boot Camp, and playtime with Cubot. For hungry toys, Jessie’s Snack Roundup is also just around the corner.

    Over at Grizzly Gulch—the most spacious among the three—the sole ride called the Big Grizzly Mountain Runaway Mine Cars goes all over the place. Forward, backward and sideways! A prosperous community, the gulch also has its Assay Office, the Old Jail, the Geyser Gulch for photo opportunities, and the Lucky Nugget Saloon for dining.

    Lastly, there is the Mystic Point, which not only serves as the newest attraction at HKDL, but also its most advanced and unique. It is tells the original story of the journeys of Lord Henry Mystic, a renowned traveler and explorer and his companion Albert the Monkey.

    The tour of the Mystic Manor is where the mysterious journey begins by riding the Mystic Magneto-Electric Carriage, which will show Lord Henry’s antiquities and oddities. Suddenly, Albert will open a newly acquired, magical music box, which will unleash endless surprises.

    Besides the manor, there the area also features the Garden of Wonders, Explorer’s Club Restaurant, the Archive Shop and the Mystic Point Freight Depot.

    The author meets Minnie and Mickey

    The author meets Minnie and Mickey

    Meet and greet Disney characters
    At 23, I never thought meeting Disney characters would still count as a magical experience for me. But to see, touch and play with Mickey Mouse is simply that no matter how old you are.

    Now, one of the best places to meet Mickey up close is at the Chef Mickey’s at the Disney Hollywood Hotel. Here, Chef Mickey greets guests while they eat their power breakfast. Over at Hong Kong Disneyland Hotel, Mickey also shows up at Enchanted Garden Restaurant, but with the his fabulous gang of four, Minnie, Donald, Pluto and Goofy too!

    Back at the park, Mickey and Minnie are always waiting for guests at the Town Square Pavilion, dressed in their festive best this time of year.

    For more photo opportunities for other larger than life characters, head on over to Tomorrowland where Buzzlightyear is busy saving the universe; to Fantasyland where Sleeping Beauty is wide awake; or to Toy Story Land where Woody and Jessie never cease to play.

    And always keep your eyes open as you’ll never know when Stitch, Chip and Dale, Duffy the Bear, Tinkerbell, Snow White and all the other beloved Disney characters will suddenly walk on by.

    The art deco-themed Disney’s Hollywood Hotel

    The art deco-themed Disney’s Hollywood Hotel

    Stay at a Disney hotel
    In my 2012 interview with former HKDL vice president for operations Noble Coker, he recommended guests “not to cheap themselves out” and “find time to complete the whole Disney experience.” What he meant by this is not just to visit the park, but to also stay in one of the two Disney hotels. These are the Hong Kong Disneyland Hotel and the Disney’s Hollywood Hotel.

    And while a little bit more expensive, you will see that in the long run, you’ll actually get a better deal. For starters, the room can accommodate up to four people for big groups or families travelling together. Secondly, you’ll save money on transportation because travelling to and from the park is free of charge with round-the-clock shuttle service. And finally, convenience is at the utmost for parents with children who need a midday nap, or those who constantly forget things, since the park is just 10-minutes away from either hotel.

    For snack, grab a Mickey waffle, hot, fresh and delicious

    For snack, grab a Mickey waffle, hot, fresh and delicious

    Ride, watch and eat all you can
    If you do stay at the hotel for three days and two nights, then you can have ample to time to experience as much rides and shows you can.

    The Flights of Fantasy Parade that goes around Main Street USA begins at 3:30 p.m. It features characters from different Disney shows aboard beautiful floats. Besides the Fab Five, you’re sure to see Lilo and Stitch, Dumbo, Winnie the Pooh, Lion King and the Disney Princesses.

    At 8 p.m. at the castle forecourt, the Disney in the Stars fireworks show lights up the entire park and signals the end of the day. Reminisce your childhood as the fireworks display dances to the music of timeless Disney theme songs.

    For the thrill seeker, do not miss the Space Mountain, which is ranked as one of the Top 5 attractions by Filipino guests. It is an exhilarating voyage through the dark universe on an indoor rollercoaster!

    Other favorites include the Jungle River Cruise at Adventureland, and Mickey’s Philharmagic at Fantasyland.

    Lastly, a must-see is the “Golden Mickeys,” a Broadway-style musical where many Filipino cast members performs. By the way, take note that the music director of the entire resort is a Filipino by the name of Rony Fortich.

    For energy, countless food and beverage outlets are all over the park, with my personal favorite, the Corner Café on Main Street. For “A Sparkling Christmas,” it serves a special menu this year in partnership with Coca-Cola.

    Try to avail of the Fastpass available at participating attractions to save you time from lining up. This wise tip may just earn you extra time to board the Hong Kong Disneyland train and go around the entire park.

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    There is no time but now to experience the magic of Hong Kong Disneyland. Just a two-hour flight from Manila, a mere 15-minute from the airport, Filipinos should take advantage of the no-Visa entry to Hong Kong—while it lasts.

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    For more information, visit www.hongkongdisneyland.com.

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