For the twins’ 7th birthday, we decided to go as a family to Hong Kong Disneyland. We wanted to make sure that we had the optimum amount of good time while maximizing our stay without making the entire trip so regimented and military. So, we scoured the internet for guides and reviews and recommendations by other parents who have been to the place to compare notes and gather “intel” on how we can make the trip better.
Let me tell you now that nothing that I’ve read that has been written could have prepared us for the trip. It wasn’t realistic and at the end of the day, it was only helpful by 15%. The whole experience has made me realize that I should write a guide – a REAL guide on what to expect. This means that I want you to be prepared not only for the fun stuff but also for the possible hiccups along the way.
This guide is not called ULTIMATE for nothing. I have to warn you that this post will be several pages long but if you’re a parent with kids and you’re going to Hong Kong Disneyland, the read is worth it. I’ve divided the guide into sections: Pre-Trip Prep, Your Itinerary, At the Park, Important Tips.
You can always have the whole shebang arranged for you by your travel agent or you can plan the trip yourself. If you want to save a bit more money, you can DIY it but make sure to plan the trip way ahead of time (like 3 months before) Most travel agents would include a city tour with the package. I would honestly just opt out of it and just save all the time you have on Disneyland especially if you told your kids you’re taking them to Disneyland. You’ll never hear the end of “When are we going to Disneyland?” until you get to Disneyland.
Important words of advice: If your kid is between the age of 0 – 4 years old, it’s best not to take them yet. They won’t remember it and you’ll just be with a very cranky toddler. The best age to take them there is between 5 – 11. At 12, they would still be able to appreciate some of the rides but by that time, they’ll want something more or something different.
If your kid/s have never been on a plane ever before, it’s best to prepare them before the trip. Don’t make the mistake of thinking your kid is going to be fine. It’s best to be ready for any situation rather than to be stressed and ruin the trip. My suggestion would be to have one adult “buddy up” with one child. This ensures that each kid (if you’re traveling with more than one) will always have a companion. If this is their first time to fly, buddy the child up with someone that they like or trust. Remember that they might get a bit nervous or scared so it’s best to have an adult that they trust and like with them so that they can calm down faster and better.
Pack a first aid kit for each child you’re traveling with. Give one set to the adult buddy. Just in case you get separated and the child needs their allergy meds or asthma inhaler, the adult buddy has it at hand and you wouldn’t have to worry. Just make sure the adult knows which is what. Some other items you have to pack to give to the adult buddy are the following:
1. ID cards of their child buddy
2. A small pack of wet wipes and tissue
4. Boredom Busters – Their gadgets, a book or a toy.
One of the most stressful things a person can experience is a flight – the security checks, the rush of people trying to get to their gates and their flights, the enclosed space, etc. Preparing your kids for the trip ensures that you’re going to have less trouble and less stress. For first time fliers, take the time to talk to them and let them know what to expect. Visit the airport and have a meal there or something. This will expose your kids to what an airport looks like and what the different areas are. This way, they won’t be too overwhelmed when you do fly out for real. If possible, get seats by the window for the kids. They would love the experience of being able to see outside during the flight. Prep your kids about flying etiquette and explain the importance of safety.
This is another country you’re going to so it’s also advisable to prepare them on the basic cultural do’s and don’ts. Learn how to say “thank you” and use it liberally. Here’s a video on how to say it in Cantonese and another on how to say it in Mandarin. This is a great time for your kids to learn another language and culture. Plus, manners will always be appreciated anywhere.
Check the weather. Most people easily forget about this but there’s a great benefit of knowing how the weather would be like during the time you’re there. This way, you can prep for the clothes you have to pack. I’d leave the wedges and the heels and anything that lifts you about 3 inches off the ground. You’ll be doing a LOT of walking so you need comfortable closed toe shoes.
Where should you stay?
There are two schools of thought here, three if you add the “luxury option”. The Luxury Option is basically staying within the resort itself. The pros are: you get to be there at the park itself and you can have the leisure of waking up just an hour before the park opens. You also have the comfort of either walking back to your hotel or catching the shuttle. The downside? Prepare to shell out a lot of money and you have to book your room MONTHS in advance.
Another option is to stay in a hotel near the area. This way, you can still be within the vicinity or the district and save a bit more money. The last option is to stay in a hotel a bit out of bounds. This may be the cheaper option but you would have to wake up a bit earlier and leave a bit earlier as well – just so you won’t be too harried catching the MTR.
We stayed at the Silka West Kowloon hotel. The room was small and had nothing fancy but it was comfortable and served its purpose as a place to put our bags, sleep and bathe in. There were small restaurants and noodle places along the streets and a McDo can easily be accessed as well. It was also a ten minute walk to the Temple Street Night Market and Nathan Road. The breakfast buffet was adequate and nourishing – just what we need for our daily adventures. One secret that I’m sharing is that they usually allow small children to “sneak-in” the room.
Okay, I’m booked. What do I do now?
Now you have to plan your days and run the strategy to your traveling party. Involve the kids as well – it’s a great time to teach them about team work and personal responsibility. To fully enjoy Disneyland, it’s best to spread out your trip for two (2) days. The lines for the rides can get very long so you might end up just going to 2 rides in the span of half a day.
The Park usually opens at 10 in the morning during most days but they do change the times the park opens so it’s best to check the calendar on their website just to be sure. They close at 8 in the evening, right after the fireworks display. Download a map of the park and print it. I know there are maps there at the park when you get there, but then if you plan your route when you get there, you lose precious time that could have been spent on a ride. You prep your party to the route so they can build familiarity with the map and the location.
Learn about the different areas. The park is divided into 6 areas so we learned about what each area had to offer and if it interested the kids at all. Everyone goes through Main street which is basically where all the shops are. This is also the point where you can catch the train that goes to Fantasy land. Adventure land is all about Tarzan and The Lion King. Main attractions in that area are the River Cruise, Tarzan’s Treehouse and The Lion King show. Grizzly Gulch is all about the Wild West and it has the roller coaster attraction Runaway Mine Cars. Toy Story Land is about…well, Toy Story. Rides include the Slinky Dog, RC ride and Parachute drop. Fantasy Land is like a medieval land and has attractions for very young children. Tomorrow land has the Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters, Space Mountain roller coaster, the Orbitron and Autotopia. It also has the Stitch encounter which may be good for young children.
Plan your routes and set meeting points just in case you get separated. Set buddies again and I suggest you have new buddies. This way, they can build a new bond with their new adult buddy (if they’re not that close). Mark toilets and other important areas such as food stalls or phone booths.
How do we get there?
You can book this with your travel agent so that you’ll have transportation going to and from. If you want to DIY, you can take the MTR as one goes straight to the resort. Check with your hotel’s front desk as they may have a map ready or they can show you how with a hotel provided map. You can also take the bus but check with your hotel’s front desk with instructions.
If you have money to spare, you can always take a taxi. Don’t forget to ask for a card from the hotel that has instructions in Chinese on where to take you.
At The Park
The Park is very strict with their “No Outside Food” policy. They will carefully check your bags and will ask you to dispose the items they find before they allow you to enter. They do allow water and small biscuits or cookies for your younger kids. Depending on your kids’ tolerance to walking, some people suggest that you rent a stroller for your child even though the kid is beyond stroller age. The strollers for older kids are actually okay but we didn’t get one as the kids liked walking and they will be too distracted by the sights and sounds to realize that they’ve walked a long way. They do have lockers available for rent so that you can put your larger bags in there that you don’t really need yet. I would suggest to just bring the necessities. If you’re going there when the weather is cold, I would suggest that you bring an extra coat as it can get very cold.
Also, decide as a team as to what your intent is. If you plan on just going on the rides, make a collective decision. If you want to see the shows as well or go to the Animation Academy to learn how to draw characters, you have to compromise with your team. Maybe you can do stuff as a team on Day 1 and then do individual stuff on Day 2. Our family decided on rides and it was a unanimous decision so it was easy.
For Day 1, we planned to go through Main Street straight to Adventure Land and visit Tarzan’s tree house. The River Cruise usually has very long lines so we skipped that. The younger kids (aged 5 – 7) may like Toy Story Land, which was our next stop. Though the place is definitely for younger kids, the older ones may still like to visit the place for the RC ride and the parachute drop. Have your photos taken with Woody or Jessie if you spot them in their corner. Lastly, we went to Grizzly Gulch to try the Runaway Mine Cars roller coaster. Depending on how they are, the ride may be a bit scary for the younger kids but the older kids, myself included, will love the effects and thrill. Visit Tomorrow Land at dusk to fully enjoy the futuristic experience. Everyone (except those with light sensitive epilepsy and vertigo) will love the Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters. Shoot targets for scores and make the car turn 360 degrees! I felt so bad ass in one car by myself with two guns!
Then there’s the fireworks. It’s up to you if you want to experience it on the first day or the second day. As with real estate, it’s all about location, location, location. The best spot is at the benches on the round-about facing the castle. To secure that spot, you have to be there at least 30 minutes before the fireworks display which is at 7:00PM. The next best spot is at the Main Street Train Station landing. The castle is at full view albeit a bit away. I prefer this spot for two reasons: one, I get to see all the fireworks and effects in full view and two, one the fireworks are done, there is (literally) a stampede of people trying to get out. This location is closest to the exit which means we can get out before most of the crowd comes rushing through.
We totally skipped Fantasyland on Day 2 as the kids felt that they were too old for the rides and the attraction. We did go to the Fantasy Gardens to meet the mascots and have our photos taken with them. Usually the longest lines are the ones for Winnie the Pooh and Mickey. I strongly suggest meeting Goofy. He is the most accommodating one of the lot and is willing to do silly poses with you. We suggest that you make this the first item of your day 2. Day 2 can be a “paired up” day. This means that you can wander along without the group and just meet at a pre-set location at a set time. This way the older kids won’t have to endure the “small kid” rides and the younger ones won’t have to wait impatiently on rides they can’t or won’t go into.
1. You will encounter a lot of rude people who will try to cut the line. A lot. A whole lot that it will piss you off no matter how nice you think you are. Don’t lose your cool. Just tap them at the shoulder and point to the back of the line. They don’t usually respond to verbal cues as we’ve learned on the first day we were there.
2. If you’re more intent on riding the rides, I suggest that you skip eating at the restaurants altogether. Go to Tomorrow Land and have a quick bite of burgers and fries at the Astro Cafe instead. Or have a turkey leg, waffle or a corn cob at the food stalls scattered around the park.
3. Yes, you will have to spend for food when you’re in the park and yes, it is very expensive. Just pay the man and get your meal. Trust me, you’ll need it.
4. Don’t use the toilet near the Space Mountain ride. It’s absolutely filthy!
5.Bring water with you. If possible, get a liter for each buddy pair. You’ll get thirsty with all the walking you’ll do and even water is so expensive in the park.
6. Go to the park early. If possible, be there 15 minutes before the gates open. If you’re taking the train back, it’s best to leave earlier. I would suggest arranging for transportation on the first day so that you can watch the fireworks without getting stressed over the train ride home. On the second day, come early and leave early as well. Best time is just before the sun sets. This way, the trains aren’t too packed and you’ve pretty much been on most of the rides anyway.
7. You will be taking a lot of photos so make sure your camera battery is fully charged. Bring your charger just in case you run out. You can go to Main Street City Hall and ask them to charge your battery for you. They’ll ask for a photo ID just so they can record which item is yours. Come back after 30 minutes and voila! Fully charged batteries ready for you.
8. Check their website and show the kids the rides and what to expect. It could be the other way around and ask the kids what rides they want to go on. The website also has recommendations for couples, friends and older kids.
The most important thing is to have fun! Let your inner child go and enjoy the time you have with your kids and family.
Remember that it’s not about the stuff you bring home but the memories that you keep with you that’s important.