Hong Kong Disneyland is, at the moment, Disney's smallest and least popular park. It's important to keep that in mind while reading this review, but it's also important to keep the future of the park in mind.
Hong Kong Disneyland is in the midst of a six year transformation, ending in 2023, that will significantly change the park. The biggest current shortcoming of the park is that there just isn't much to do. But that will obviously change by 2023, with the addition of Marvel Land and Arendelle (Frozen Land). It remains to be seen how those will impact some of the intangibles at the park, like the "intimacy" many reviewers (including us) praise the park for.
Hong Kong Disneyland - Park Layout and Theming
Our visit to Hong Kong Disneyland came on the heels of our trip to Shanghai Disneyland, which definitely informed our experience. While Shanghai Disneyland was defined by the tension of grandiosity and modernity, we felt Hong Kong Disneyland was a more intimate, but much simpler, experience.
Hong Kong Disneyland has, along with Disneyland (Anaheim) the smallest of the Disney castles. Unlike the Anaheim park, however, Hong Kong Disneyland has not erupted beyond the size of that castle. It fits. The park is small enough to see in a single day, the rides are mostly straightforward and not overly innovative, and the crowds are more than manageable.
The park comprises seven lands: Main Street, U.S.A., Tomorrowland, Fantasyland, Adventureland, Toy Story Land, Grizzly Gulch, and Mystic Point. While that might seem like a lot, Grizzly Gulch and Mystic Point actually only have one attraction each, and the other lands are also smaller than their counterparts at other parks.
Waking down Main Street, U.S.A. (which we recently noted Shanghai Disneyland lacks) is as enjoyable as ever, and while a castle like that of Magic Kingdom imposes the scope of the challenge ahead, Hong Kong Disneyland's castle is more comforting. The mountains of Hong Kong's Lantau Island also create a beautiful backdrop for the castle.
Tomorrowland is the most disappointing land, offering no original theming and a very cramped environment. We're not huge fans of Tomorrowland in any park, but Hong Kong Disneyland's Tomorrowland is almost a bit sad. The newer lands, Grizzly Gulch and Mystic Point, are more intricate and modern in their design than the older lands. There is more attention to detailing in these areas, but they are disappointingly small. This is an unfortunate part of a trend of Disney parks to lean heavily on lands with single attractions. This works in some cases, where the lands have a unifying theme (Disney's Animal Kingdom being the most notable), but in most cases it leaves the park feeling disjointed.
The Attractions of Hong Kong Disneyland
Hong Kong Disneyland is a bit plagued by the proportion of clone rides it carries. Even one of its newest attractions - Iron Man Experience, is a relatively uninspired take on Star Tours. The attraction just doesn't work without multiple courses and worlds, and it may just not work without Star Wars.
Some clones transfer well, though. Jungle River Cruise, offered in three languages, is one of these. Hyperspace Mountain is another. The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh and "it's a small world" are (mostly) as good as ever, though "small world" is a tad disappointing.
Then there is Toy Story Land, which is identical to Toy Story Land at Disneyland Paris. We are not fans of Toy Story Land. RC Racer is a good ride, but the other two are underwhelming, and the theming always just feels a bit underwhelming.
The original attractions are a high point of the park. Big Grizzly Mountain Runaway Mine Cars is the most notable in our mind, but other, more esteemed reviewers praise Mystic Manor, which we also loved. The attraction lineup isn't overwhelming, but the original rides are worth multiple rides, which makes a one-day itinerary easy, but fulfilling.
Entertainment at Hong Kong Disneyland
Where we felt Hong Kong Disneyland shined brightest was in its entertainment offerings. PhilharMagic is an attraction we skip too often in Magic Kingdom, and we enjoyed being able to visit it in Hong Kong Disneyland. The Festival of the Lion King may not be as strong as the Animal Kingdom show, but it is a worthy interpretation. And Mickey and the Wondrous Book is a well-performed musical show.
While the 3 o'clock Flights of Fantasy Parade was standard fare, the "Disney Paint the Night" Nighttime Spectacular parade was truly spectacular and easily the best parade we've seen in years.
Most bittersweet was the nighttime firework show, "Disney in the Stars" which will be ending soon as Hong Kong Disneyland expands its castle. While we think projection shows can be cool, they are way overused and, in the cases of Disneyland Paris and Shanghai Disneyland, poorly executed. We were so happy to see a show lean more heavily on fireworks, as the small castle cannot support a full projection show. That they are ending the firework show to "expand" the castle does not bode well for the future of the entertainment. Even if the castle looks pretty cool.
Unlike Shanghai Disneyland, which is new, modern in design, and still finding itself, Hong Kong Disneyland seems a little more settled in its identity. Settling, however, is often a bad thing for a theme park, which explains why this park is getting such a massive facelift over the next five years. We'll be waiting until 2023 to return.
In its current state, Hong Kong Disneyland is a one-day park. It's worth two days to spend a night at one of the Disney hotels, but just barely. Is it worth visiting as part of a trip to either Tokyo or Shanghai Disney? Probably. As a day-trip from Hong Kong? Definitely. On its own, visiting from the US? Ehhhh, probably not, even for hardcore Disney fans. Then again, 2023 is right around the corner.