Despite detractors and small size, theme park has plenty to offer

by Reiji Yoshida

HONG KONG — Ask the average Hong Kong resident whether you should go to Disneyland and the typical response goes something like this: “Disneyland? It’s too small, and Tokyo Disneyland is much better! You should go to Ocean Park in Hong Kong instead!”

Ocean Park is a much older but still very popular amusement park featuring a big aquarium, rides and cable cars with terrific ocean views.

But is Hong Kong Disneyland as bad as many sharp-tongued residents often complain?

Indeed, Hong Kong Disneyland is small when compared with the Tokyo resort complex.

At 126 hectares and 28 attractions, it’s the smallest Disneyland in the world. Tokyo Disneyland meanwhile boasts 40 attractions while Tokyo DisneySea has 27. Combined, their size exceeds 200 hectares.

But the Hong Kong version may not be so bad for tourists from Japan if they are fed up with the notoriously long lines in the extremely crowded Disney parks on the outskirts of Tokyo.

On a weekday morning last month, the wait for many attractions at the Hong Kong park — even for the popular Space Mountain and the Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh — was only five minutes.

In Tokyo Disneyland, you might have to wait more than two hours for either of those two attractions.

A less-crowded park covering a smaller area is definitely a plus for a mother bringing small kids who can’t stand waiting in lines, said Yoshiko Nakanishi, a 33-year-old housewife who came to the Hong Kong park with her sons, aged 6 and 2.

“My children are small, so (Hong Kong Disneyland) is very easy to walk around,” said Nakanishi, who is from Tokyo and now lives in Hong Kong.

“I lived in Tokyo and went to Tokyo Disneyland three or four times before having kids. But now I wouldn’t be able to go there unless another adult comes along to take care of my children,” she said.

But Nakanishi also observed that older children might find the Hong Kong park a bit boring because it has few exciting roller-coaster-type attractions, while Tokyo Disneyland and DisneySea have several.

“Children in elementary school or older may feel short on fun here. But my kids are still small,” she said.

As Nakanishi correctly pointed out, attractions at the Hong Kong park are of the classic Disney type, targeted mainly at families with children, while Tokyo Disney Resort is focusing more on young adults.

Tokyo DisneySea, which opened in 2001, features more realistic American and European streets so adults can enjoy walking around, and restaurants inside the park, unlike Tokyo Disneyland, even serve alcohol.

Other features visitors from Tokyo may find interesting in the Hong Kong Disneyland include an annual celebration of Chinese New Year’s starting sometime between mid-January and early February.

This is probably the best period for Japanese tourists to enjoy something entirely different from Tokyo Disney Resort.

Visitors can see Micky Mouse and other Disney characters in red Chinese clothes dance and march, with streets in the park all decorated with red ornaments in “feng shui” and Chinese zodiac designs.

This year’s celebration of the Year of the Tiger starts Friday and will run through Feb. 28.

Also at Hong Kong Disneyland you can visit Mickey’s PhilharMagic, a 3-D animation theater featuring a number of popular characters and tunes from Disney’s huge catalog of animated films.

Tokyo Disneyland plans to open a similar attraction next year, so you can brag to your friends how you’ve already seen it.

At shops, you can buy souvenirs with a Chinese flair that can be only found in the Hong Kong park, although they are few in number.

Among them are a Mickey Mouse clock with the numbers written in Chinese, a Chinese teapot and cups with Disney characters and a flying dragon, a stuffed doll and a T-shirt of Mickey Mouse wearing an exotic Chinese opera mask.