Mr Tall's Hong Kong Disneyland review

Mrs Tall and I are pathetically weak. Daughter Tall had just learned that familiar-to-all-parents whine that goes:

Iwannagotodisneyland Iwannagotodisneyland Iwannagotodisneyland

[biiiiig breath]

Iwannagotodisneyland . . .

So we caved right in and took her.

We paid homage to The Mouse Before Whom All Bow In Hushed Adoration this past Friday. Daughter Tall's kindergarten was holding interviews for next year's moppet crop, so she had room on her calendar.

Before we plunge into a little account of the day, allow me briefly to pay homage to Disney's planning and vision: as we approached the park entrance from the MTR, Daughter Tall was transfixed by something down on the pavement. She stopped and pointed to -- a manhole cover. The depressed spot in its center for pulling it up was in that famous mouse-head shape. Daughter Tall proclaimed, with a disturbing degree of reverence, 'That's Mickey!'.

We walked in right on the 10:00 am opening bell, after queuing about five minutes to buy tickets. Once we entered the park, we spurned the mute appeals of the be-costumed Disney characters who lie in wait. More on these foul bubbleheads later -- for now, let's go get our money's worth from 'Fantasyland'!

Fantasyland features several of the park's most popular attractions: Mickey's Philharmagic, The Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, and the Flying Dumbos ride. We went on all three right away, and good thing we did, because they all had long lines from about midday onward. Unfortunately, Daughter Tall didn't approve of either the Pooh ride or the Mickey show, as the former had darkness and simulated thunder and lightening, and the latter is a 3-D movie in which objects appear to fly out of the screen at your face. Too much excitement for our three-year-old's tender sensibilities.

After this initial tour of duty in Fantasyland, we had just enough time to run over to the 'Golden Mickeys' stage show at 11:30. This was about right: although it was enjoyable, it wasn't something you'd want to line up half an hour for.

We then sneaked in some lunch in one of the Fantasyland restaurants. The rumors of under-capacity feeding facilities appear to be true: this place was already full when we came in at about 12:15 (we waited about 10 minutes for a table), and completely overrun by 1:00. The food quality was acceptable, and only mildly overpriced -- dead things on rice or soup noodles for about HKD40 per pop.

We finished eating just in time to see the 1:00 pm parade, during which I felt very, very sorry for many of the participants marching in ridiculously heavy and elaborate costumes under the pitiless sun.

After a ride on the Jungle River Cruise over in Adventureland, we again waited till the last minute, but still got into the 2:00 pm Lion King stage show. Here, in spite of the ear-hemorrhage-inducing 'Circle of Life' played at an actionable volume (this is the song the US Army should deploy for siege-breaking), Daughter Tall fell sound asleep, and we got a well-deserved little break -- our schedule to this point had been very tight.

Unfortunately, Daughter Tall's nap lasted exactly 23 minutes, at which point she popped up wide awake and hollered 'I want to go on the Dumbos again!'

This was now implausible, as a huge line had formed. We therefore went over to Tomorrowland, and substituted the flying saucers ride. This was a hit, too. But even better, as we waited in line (about 20 minutes), Mrs Tall and I made an invaluable discovery.

We noticed that the nearby Space Mountain ride had a sign up that stated 'Single Riders: 10 minutes'. Did this mean that if you showed up on your lonesome, you'd only need to wait 10 minutes to ride? Mrs Tall went over to investigate, and returned about six or seven minutes later -- having done the ride! She walked right in, literally not breaking stride until she stepped into a rollercoaster car. I then immediately went and had a ride, too.

I can't overemphasize how sweet this 'single rider' option is for parents with kids. It's just like a Hong Kong minibus queue -- why leave empty seats when the numbers of those in the ordinary queue don't come out even? We didn't see this option offered on any other attraction, but then Space Mountain is the only ride in the park that holds any serious interest for anyone upwards of 8 or 9 years old anyway.

We then thought about going on the Buzz Lightyear ride, but the queue was also very long, so we got 'fastpasses' for later. We had a little snack, did the saucers-and-Space-Mountain routine again, then took the train around the park, alighting back near the park entrance. This area -- 'Main Street USA' -- is the domain of the costumed characters. Our daughter was unfortunately quite astute in grasping the bitter essentials: if you line up, you can take photos with Goofy and Pluto, or with Donald and Daisy . . . if . . . you . . . line up.

This was by far the worst part of the day. Queuing up just to take photos is bad enough -- we wasted 45 minutes -- but trying to tolerate the behaviour of other photo-takers was almost too much to bear. It's sad enough that the family of five up the line has waited half an hour to take one photo with pantsless ducks. But then after their group shot, it's time for 'just the three kids' to take one, and you think, okay, I'm still sane here, I can understand this . . . and then each kid takes an individual shot, as a large clock starts ticking incessantly in your brain, and then Mom steps in to take one to show the girls at mahjong, and your tolerance meter is spinning so fast it's smoking and then Dad steps in and you shout 'Hey, buddy, if you need some manliness, you can borrow some of mine' -- but not really, because Mrs Tall would kill me if I did that.

After the photos, we were well into our Buzz Lightyear fastpass time window, so we went over and got right on that one, and it's great fun -- the highlight of the park, I thought. Eat hot laser beams, Zurg!

The rest of the day we had some dinner, and still had time to repeat several of Daughter Tall's favorite rides, including another excruciating stretch waiting for the Dumbos. This time we were in line just ahead of a group from, ahem, our esteemed and beloved Motherland, and they did not fail to exhibit some of the charmingly quirky behaviors that have won her tourists such renown. Mostly, this group -- four adults, in their 50s and 60s -- just kept trying to get ahead of us in the queue. Over and over and over. And over. And since the Dumbos line is one of the slowest in the park, they had lots of opportunity. I started standing in a chicken-like pose, with my hands on my hips and my elbows stuck waaaay out to cut off potential passing lanes. Eventually, Mrs Tall had to ask them to cool it, which they mostly did.

As the end of the day neared, we scrambled through the crowds -- which seemed immense -- and watched the fireworks. Meh. They were okay, but not a patch on Hong Kong's New Year's display.

We made it home by 9:45 pm, tired but fully, umm, mousified.

Final verdict on the park: likely nothing you've not already heard. It's too small, and it's got too few attractions for older kids/adults. If you've got small children, however, it's ideal.

Postscript: Just before we left Disneyland, we went into a souvenir shop to look for a set of mouse-ears for Daughter Tall. In a moment that melted Daddy's heart, however, she insisted that instead we buy a box of Disney cookies so she could share them with her kindergarten classmates. Well, the day she brought them in to school, I got a call from her: she reported that her classmates had ordered her to return to Disneyland the very next day, with her Mommy and Daddy, in order to get them some more cookies! Ah, the power of The Mouse . . . .

You may also want to check out some practical tips on making your HK Disney visit as painless as possible.


Lileks on Disney

In the general spirit of Disney reviewing, I offer you James Lileks' review of Orlando's Disneyworld. Lileks is one of my favorite bloggers, indeed one of my favorite writers of any sort. Here's a sample:

Bus to the Magic Kingdom. Our bags are given a perfunctory look; we enter our index fingerprints into the database. The park isn’t open, so we join the throng of hardcores and neophytes, waiting for . . . what? The answer comes in a few minutes: a train, an actual steam train, appears above, with all the Beloved Licensed and Trademarked Characters leaning out and waving. Including Cindyrelly! A welcome song is sung; everyone waves back (including me, I note – I haven’t even set foot in the place yet and I’m almost weeping at the sight of Goofy.) The music! The architecture! The trains! From the very first moment, it’s like a live wire jammed into your Disney Lobe, a part of your brain that’s been rewiring since you were very small, just so it could release endorphins at this very moment. All that’s missing is Disney himself in a white robe and sandals, carring a lamb, projected against the sky. If they’d done that I would have bloodied my knees.

Lileks has only just gotten started on his family's visit, so be sure to check back at his Daily Bleat for more in coming days.