Hong Kong Disneyland has never been the crown jewel of Disney’s Asian market. When it first welcomed guests in 2005, it was already overshadowed by its older, more unique Japanese cousins, and while it has come into its own in the decade since then, the opening of Shanghai Disneyland in June 2016 introduced stiff competition for the prized mainland Chinese tourist dollar. Hong Kong falls closest to Disneyland Paris in the theme-park pecking order: it’s a smaller, slower-paced experience, with a few genuinely stunning exclusive attractions and a host of “clones” that will feel familiar to any Disney die-hard.
That doesn’t make Hong Kong Disneyland a skip-able destination. Thanks to easy public transportation access and the trademark Disney polish, the park is a must-see for visitors to Asia’s international hub, and the just-announced massive expansion plan—including a Frozen world, a larger castle and an impressive integration of the Marvel brand—bodes well for Hong Kong’s continued importance in the Disney park ecosystem. Still, as the list below makes clear, Hong Kong Disneyland is best approached as an all-inclusive experience rather than as a mad dash between must-rides. Unless you visit on a Hong Kong holiday or a particularly busy weekend, expect to walk on to most attractions with little wait time, and take advantage of ample opportunities to see and do all that the park has to offer.
Like Tarzan’s Treehouse, the Garden of Wonders is a themed walkthrough area and not an actual attraction, but its perspective-twisting art installations add greatly to the off-kilter vibe of Hong Kong’s unique area, Mystic Point. An extension of the Winchester House-like Mystic Manor, Garden of Wonders offers guests a chance to inspect some of Lord Henry Mystic’s many magical artifacts up close before or after experiencing (spoiler alert) Hong Kong Disneyland’s best attraction, Mystic Manor itself.
Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters is a near-identical match for the Magic Kingdom and Disneyland attractions of the same name, but doesn’t seem to inspire the same maddening lines as its American lookalikes. Ride-goers strap into a Star Command pod and take up arms against the evil Emperor Zurg and his outer-space minions, zapping designated targets with a laser pistol. Like the American iterations, aiming is somewhat futile, but the Toy Story brand has become a Disney park tent pole over the years. Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters remains the most fully realized Toy Story attraction at the Hong Kong park. (The actual Toy Story zone is cute, but geared toward younger visitors with its carnival-like attractions).
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Again, this dark ride is a near-clone of the Walt Disney World version in Orlando, but it’s also the one of the only traditional dark rides at Hong Kong Disneyland, and wait times reflect that. On most days, it’s actually one of only two attractions at the park to utilize the FastPass system. Its popularity is also likely due to its appeal amongst the very youngest Disney visitors. Riders enjoy a well-designed queue that brings them into the books before journeying through the Hundred Acre Wood alongside Pooh, Piglet, Tigger and the rest of the cast. While the old-school dark ride experience has been improved upon with the trackless rider system, there’s something intrinsically Disney about following a rail through a 3D interpretation of a classic property like Winnie the Pooh. Just don’t expect anything close to Tokyo Disneyland’s world-best Pooh’s Hunny Hunt.
Yet another cross-park staple, Hong Kong Disneyland’s Jungle River Cruise distinguishes itself with a nice finale: a confrontation with an impressive fire/water God animatronic that looks like a simple rock face upon first approach. Tokyo Disneyland similarly gussied up its Jungle River Cruise by adding a shifting lightshow and a longer cavern portion, but Hong Kong Disneyland’s gets points for offering the ride in Mandarin, Cantonese and English, which ups the wait times but allows guests to experience the dad-level humor of the boat captains in a familiar tongue. One caveat: how has no one at Disney reconsidered the outdated “cannibal savages” segment of this ride!?
Hong Kong’s “it’s a small world” was the first in the world to take the controversial step of integrating Disney characters into its international ode to cross-country unity. Thirty-eight Disney stars ranging from Nemo to Aladdin to Pocahontas have joined their fictional countries of origin. (Amusingly, Ariel and her undersea pals get a small Atlantis section all to themselves, which may mislead young students of geography). Ride purists might cringe at the update, but it’s a treat to see recent additions to the Disney canon like Lilo and Stitch rendered in illustrator Mary Blair’s signature style, and “it’s a small world” is a nostalgic, calming must-ride at any park.
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It’s possible to “ride” Hong Kong Disneyland’s newest attraction—Disney’s first Marvel ride—without leaving the comfort of your desk, thanks to an abundance of POV videos on YouTube. Like Star Tours, a Disney staple not present at HK’s park, Iron Man Experience corrals guests into a flight simulator, here known as the “Iron Wing,” that jostles along as Iron Man saves the city of Hong Kong from the threat of Arnim Zola and Hydra’s rampaging robots. And, like its Star Wars-themed predecessor, Iron Man Experience is a middle-of-the-line ride bolstered by the rose-tinted glasses of fandom: it suffers from not featuring the variably generated paths of the modern Star Tours rides, but is a neat-enough treat for True Believers and junior Avengers. Hopefully the proposed Ant-Man ride and other future Marvel attractions aim higher.
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This nighttime parade debuted in 2014 and remains a technical stunner thanks to more than 740,000 individual lights across seven massive floats, including an EDM festival-ready Cars semi-truck, a Monsters, Inc. rotating door extravaganza and a Slinky Dog seizure-inducer. The daytime “Flights of Fantasy” show is an acrobatic delight as well (and with only two parades, it’s really worth it to watch both), but the dazzle of “Disney Paint the Night” would be a welcome addition to any park’s entertainment roster.
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There’s no denying that the semi-permanent Star Wars makeover of Hong Kong Disneyland’s Space Mountain was a bit of a rush job. All that’s changed is a booming John Williams score, screens set up inside the ride with TIE Fighter attack squadrons, an Admiral Ackbar intro video and an X-Wing prop parked out front. But it’s also pretty darn cool if you’re a fan of the franchise. The lights from the TIE Fighter screens do reveal more of the coaster skeleton than is ideal for Space Mountain, a ride most thrilling when you can’t see six inches in front of you. But by the second or third ride, it’s hard not to pretend you’re a Rebel pilot fighting the good fight against the Empire. And this may be anecdotal, but the ride itself feels a bit more breakneck than its stateside and Tokyo cousins, leaving you pleasantly dazed when you disembark.
Now we’re getting to the really good stuff. Hong Kong Disneyland doesn’t have Orlando, Paris, Tokyo and California favorite Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, but it does have the clumsily named Big Grizzly Mountain Runaway Mine Cars, an outdoor coaster that works as a hybrid between Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and the Animal Kingdom’s Expedition Everest, which similarly throws riders backward at an unexpected moment. Big Grizz also boasts some of the best animatronics in the park thanks to its amusing, accidentally destructive family of bears. Despite being a world-caliber Disney coaster, wait times can be nonexistent on moderately busy days. It’s absolutely worth riding both in the day and at night, to take advantage of the view and the ride’s impressive mood lighting.
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Was there any doubt that Mystic Manor would nab the top spot? Often cited as Hong Kong Disneyland’s answer to the classic Haunted Mansion, Mystic Manor shares much more in common thematically with Tokyo DisneySea’s Tower of Terror. Like DisneySea’s Harrison Hightower, Lord Henry Mystic is an adventurer and collector of oddities from across the globe. His eccentric home is stuffed with monstrous statues, man-eating plants, obscure weapons and his latest acquisition—a music box rumored to bring inanimate objects to life with its song. Of course, this music box is an irresistible curiosity to Lord Henry’s companion, the mischievous monkey Albert, who accidentally unleashes its chaotic powers and summons Mystic Manor’s many artifacts to stunning motion, from an immense volcanic Tiki god to a wrathful jade sculpture of China’s legendary Monkey King. Opened in 2013, Mystic Manor makes use of the “trackless rider” system that allows Imagineers to jettison tracks and send riders on a much less predictable jaunt through attractions. With a detailed queue (including a nod to composer Danny Elfman, who provided an original score for the attraction), a charming animated style and genuine surprises around every corner, Mystic Manor is quite possibly one of the top five Disney attractions in the world, and easily the highlight of Hong Kong’s modest but polished lineup of attractions.
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Also check out our guide to the best attractions at the Magic Kingdom.
_Steve Foxe is the assistant editor of Paste Comics, has a secret day job in children’s publishing and writes comics and licensed books in the wee small hours of the morning. He lives in Queens and tweets about horror movies, cats and gay stuff at @steve_foxe._