Like most girls from my generation, I grew up on a steady diet of Disney films and have spent much of my girlhood engaging in deep, heated discussions on who’s the best looking princess (everyone except Mulan), who needs more makeup (Mulan) and who needs to work on their personality (Cinderella).
So just imagine how stoked I was arriving at the Disney Explorers Lodge, the newest and most aesthetically appealing of the three Disney hotels in Hong Kong.
I found this hotel to be a lot less extravagant compared to its Orlando counterpart, Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge – it’s not located on a wildlife reserve, for one, nor are there original African art decking the hallways. It also comes at a fraction of the price, so you get what you pay for.
It still contains safari style in spades, including a magnificent lobby that is reminiscent of a luxury game lodge and staff dressed in khaki uniforms and equipped with an arsenal of stickers, which they dole out to younger guests to reward them or shut them up.
This level of detail and care, however, did not extend to the rooms, which were quite characterless and bare. Layout is fairly typical for Disney even though it’s a superior room: two queen sized beds, a shower instead of a tub and no balcony even though the view is lovely, maybe because this is Hong Kong and the people are perpetually grumpy and depressed? There are also vanity kits and bedroom slippers for the whole family, down to your young ‘uns.
We also received a priority admission into several rides upon checking in – it’s a perk one receives when staying in any of the three HK Disneyland hotels.
We skipped the overpriced character buffet breakfast the next morning – actually, the next three mornings – and instead dined at the Chart Room Cafe, which serves pretty decent Western staples like waffles, fruit salads and takeaway sandwiches.
It did have a ho hum cafeteria-style atmosphere and the breakfast menu never changes, but it’s ok since we eat very little and I’m a creature of habit – though to be honest, I was gagging at the sight of their signature poached eggs and spicy chorizo in puff pastry by the fourth day.
We didn’t have to wait long for the free shuttle to Disneyland Park. Most unfortunately, the drivers are the least helpful twats I’ve ever encountered (good luck with the stroller, if you do have one). Expect to be packed in like sardines in a can, especially during peak periods.
HK Disneyland’s Main Street is at its craziest and busiest right before the park opens and closes. We arrived half an hour before opening time but the park was already filled with visitors, mainly from mainland China, who seemed to have read Sun Tzu’s Art of War and were tackling the Disneyland attractions with the vigor and determination of military men.
To pledge their undying allegiance to Disney, these die-hard East Asian specimen can be spotted wearing at least one Disney / Duffy (Who TF is Duffy anyway!?) item and employing dodgy strategies such as sprinting in once the gates open, bumping into anyone who might accidentally get in their way and of course, pillaging the Disney stores for limited edition Disney merch aka spoils of war. I guess you can’t blame them for lacking in the #DisneySpirit.
There were plenty of photo opps: While our adversaries were speeding like thunderbolt towards their respective goals, we queued up for a picture with Goofy and Pluto, because I mean, it’s Goofy and Pluto you guys, and also because the line for Mickey and Minnie was five times longer. The iconic Sleeping Beauty Castle – which seemed teeny and even a tad miserable from what I saw – was under construction, maybe because they knew we were coming.
Warning: plenty of pictures ahead!
Unlike Legoland, many rides did not have height restrictions, so our 2-year-old could join in the fun. This isn’t necessarily a good thing: Mystic Manor and The Many Adventures of Winnie The Pooh, two dark ride attractions that looked harmless enough from the outside, actually scared the bejesus out of our little one. We had to console him by buying him a bubble wand after a particularly terrifying experience in the manor.
We also cast aside any dignity we had to squeeze and shove our way into two shows – Festival of The Lion King and Mickey and the Wondrous Book. Tight choreography, beautiful costumes and highly sophisticated background sets make both shows worth the effort and time.
Our 4-year-old wouldn’t shut up about the Jedi Training Experience – we went to Tomorrowland, only to be told that tickets were all snapped up for the day. We were advised to wait in line for ticket-holders who didn’t show up so that’s what we did.
And his ultimate fantasy came true that day.
I hadn’t expected a comedy: I laughed so hard tears ran down my legs when I saw the look on half the children’s faces the moment Darth Vader appeared on stage. Clearly, half of them couldn’t even go to bed by themselves, let alone engage in arm-to-arm combat with the Sith Lord. It was brilliant!
Although I did have a nice time exploring the Fairytale Forest and revisiting my favorite princess cartoons, I did not manage to meet Tinkerbell – or any of the Disney princesses.
BUT GUESS WHO WE MET INSTEAD!!
We rubbed noses with Chewbacca and R2-D2 at the Star Wars: Command Post! I was completely mind blown. They looked and sounded so realistic it’s hard to believe that they are actually human beings in disguise!
As much as I wanted them to autograph my chest, I had to remind myself that my sons will live with this mental trauma for the rest of their lives, so I had to settle for a high five instead. But on a more serious note, this clearly under appreciated nook in HK Disneyland turned out to be the highlight of our day (and the husband isn’t even a Star Wars fan).
Many people have complained about how small it is – Hong Kong Disneyland is the world’s smallest Disneyland, after all – but I thought the size was perfect for families with young children. You can take it easy and still see it all in one full day, which is what I love. We even managed to sneak back for an afternoon nap, and return for the evening parade.
We spent the next day just chillin’ at the hotel. The poolside was gorgeous, with several private cabanas and lifeguards and also life vests for aquatically challenged children. However, it isn’t heated and we almost came down with hypothermia in the early spring morning.
Lunch in the World of Color Restaurant was great: we had seafood paella and a Mickey sundae and the boys were showered with dozens of stickers for good behavior. I was jealous by these double standards. I mean, what about me? How come I don’t get any stickers for sitting quietly in my chair and not spilling hot chocolate all over the table??
There were several organized activities throughout the day, including a small poolside party with a Disney character, but I was disappointed to discover that the Explorers Lodge lacked a good number of facilities compared to the Hong Kong Disneyland Hotel and Disney’s Hollywood Hotel. The former has a heated indoor pool, spa and a kid’s club, while the latter has an arcade. Both hotels also have small and very similar playgrounds.
Although the Explorers Lodge has neither of these things, you are allowed to use the facilities in the other two hotels, which were a peaceful ten minutes walk away on the waterfront or a five-minute shuttle ride. We checked out the Storybook Playroom, the kid’s club in HK Disneyland Hotel, and found the place to be extremely underwhelming in terms of size and number of activities offered. There was a big screen playing Disney cartoons to occupy the more restless children, but yeah, we’d stay at home if we wanted to watch cartoons.
The boys, however, did have a rollicking good time in Malibu Games, Hollywood Hotel’s unsupervised games room. Most of the games were free and did not require any tokens, so we spent quite some time brushing up on our arcade skills. There was also a small play corner, and some books, which were in Chinese and falling apart.
I mean, it’s Disney, you can’t really go wrong here.
Evenings were a lot quieter. We skipped the evening story time (because nobody beats mommy when it comes to that!) in favour of a Disney Movie Premier at the Hollywood Hotel. Held outdoors once every night, this was Disney’s version of the American drive-in – although most of us were too big for the battery-powered cars they provided. Frozen was playing to our boys’ dismay, and even the cars couldn’t sustain their interest. They were off and running after 15 minutes.
Aspiring princesses could head for the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique for a makeover. Unfortunately, I was about 30 years too late. It was still lovely to see little Belles, Snow Whites, and Annas scampering about, living the dream. Not a Mulan in sight though.
- There are 3 hotels in Hong Kong Disneyland, each with a unique theme. The Victorian-themed Hong Kong Disneyland Hotel, HK Disneyland’s first hotel, is the most expensive of the lot because there are more on-site facilities. These facilities are open to guests of the other two hotels though.
- There is no need to reserve a spot in advance for breakfast, lunch or dinner unless you are interested in the character dim sum offered by Crystal Lotus Restaurant in Hong Kong Disneyland Hotel. There are a total of 9 restaurants in the hotels – although a few share similar menus – and plenty more in the park so there is never a shortage of things to eat. You can have ala carte one day and buffet the next.
- It takes about an hour by public transport and half an hour by taxi to get to Hong Kong city – but it’s really not worth the hassle.
- You need 3 nights in the hotel to fully experience all there is on offer. 2 nights is sufficient if you’re pressed for time but you’ll spend most of this time in Disneyland Park, leaving you very little time for winding down in the hotel. Only have 1 night? Don’t bother and save it for your next trip.
- Keep in mind that the outdoor pools are seasonal – meaning it is closed in winter – and while you can use the indoor pool in Hong Kong Disneyland Hotel, it would too small to accommodate a large number of guests that are sure to trickle in on cold days.
- Don’t miss the Mystic Mansion and Iron Man Experience (height restrictions apply), two of HK Disneyland’s headlining attractions. Priority entrance for both rides is available for guests staying at any of the Disney hotels.