The political situation had changed considerably in the week since we’d spent a night there on our way from Toronto to Phuket. Then we’d easily avoided the protests in and around Kowloon. Now schools were shut down, people had been hospitalized, and even the airport was on high security alert. The threat of increased violence permeated both the media and our imaginations as we considered our options for passing through this international hub on our way back home to Toronto.
We knew there was a Disneyland in Hong Kong, and that it was near the airport. And while we’d made a wide berth around it during our previous overnight a week earlier, now it was looking like actually possibly the safest and most convenient place to spend a night, given that we’d need to be at the airport again the next afternoon for our flight home (standby loads were looking good for the flight we had in mind, so we were pretty confident we’d get out).
Plus we’d read that there were all kinds of specials currently available, because of the significant decline in tourism to the area. Which also meant a basically deserted park. Which meant no giant crowds and long lines full of sheep. Which meant that at least some of the “issues” I had with places like Disneyland were no longer quite as significant. We also considered that for all its faults, Disneyland provides a huge number and diversity of jobs for the local economy. Supporting the resort at at time like this is probably important to the many people who work there and are wondering about their future job security.
So, we booked a room for one night, and threw in a character buffet breakfast and three tickets to the theme park. For the first time in all our lives, we were going to Disneyland!
There were three hotels to choose from, all fairly similar in price. One featured an outdoor maze and a pool with a water slide. We picked that one, and although we never did get to the water slide pool, we were not disappointed.
Apart from the beautiful view from our window and the incredibly comfortable beds (which were very much appreciated, given the 15-hour flight ahead of us the next day), the many whimsical touches such as Seven Dwarves toiletries and shampoo and conditioners caps adorned with Mickey Mouse ears instilled a childish delight, even in those of us already over the hill!
Each character had their own handler, and also a photographer who followed them around, taking pictures on professional cameras and scanning a card code that could be used throughout ones stay at the resort. This latter detail was intended to ease the pressure of recording the adventure, so that you could just feel free to enjoy said adventure. (This came at a price, of course, should one want to order actual prints later on, and we instead availed ourselves of the fact that the photographers also happily took photos of our little group on our own personal phones if requested. Still, it‘s a neat touch for those who want and can afford to just live in the moment for a day.)
A Perfect Day in Paradise
After breakfast and a meander through the hotel maze, we hopped aboard the free shuttle, and set off to the amusement park. We had about 6 hours before we had to head back to the airport for our flight home to Toronto, and we intended to make full use of every minute!
At low twenties Celsius all day with a light breeze off the water, it was the perfect temperature in which to be outside enjoying this beautiful masterpiece. Moreover, without the usual throngs of people, we were able to not only hop on whatever ride we wanted with little to no wait time, but were also able to see the incredible set up of the park‘s architecture so clearly. It‘s truly a magnificent place, with attention to detail in pop culture whimsy, physical accessibility and natural beauty around every corner.
Perhaps my favourite part of the whole adventure, or what contributed significantly to the stress free experience, was the noticeable absence of loud, annoying pop music. Instead, a Fantasia-like soundtrack played throughout most areas of the park, with the vast majority of music being classical and/or without words.
For my wildly distractedly auditory mind, it was a relief of enormous proportions, and allowed me to feast my eyes of the many visual delights that surrounded us.
Even the candy floss is more fluffy in Disneyland, I swear!
Disneyland: What you Expect, and yet Unexpected
As I hinted at before, I do have some issues generally with Disney - it‘s all the usual stuff, like the perpetuation of gender, race and sexual stereotypes, plus all the big consumerism polluter stuff. And that‘s all alive and well at Disneyland Hong Kong as it is anywhere else,no question.
On the other hand, I was pleasantly surprised at how much greenspace the park includes, and how much attention they have given to highlighting and promoting the local culture. For example, in addition to the typical North American breakfast foods at breakfast that morning, the buffet was also brimming with more traditional local foods and delicacies appropriate to the geographic area. Another example is the Mystic Mansion experience. Apart from being probably the coolest technological ride I‘ve ever experienced, it reimagines the traditional North American „haunted house“ to make it more culturally appropriate... if somewhat exotically glamourized and leaning towards the imperial obsession with „orientalism“!
Look, if you‘re hoping for an eco-adventure led by a black lesbian, you won‘t find that here. But if you‘re looking for a little magic and some unexpected bonuses, Disneyland is the place for you - especially if you can find a way to enjoy it as we did, on a nearly empty day.