A day dream before sundown, a night in shining armour after, you tend to remain removed from reality in Disneyland Hong Kong, until angry wake-up callers in your hotel room remind you about your flight to catch, writes Nishiraj A. Baruah
Can I do an interview with Minnie Mouse? This question seems to have thrown the marketing manager off guard. “No,” he says, “The characters are not available for interviews. If you want to interview the CEO or the Vice President or an Indian chef, we can be arranged that.” Indeed, it can be a PR disaster if Minnie and Mickey, Donald and Daisy Duck, Goofy and Pluto subject themselves to probing questions from the world media. Loose canons and motor mouths all, not acquainted with the fine art of diplomacy, a slip of tongue may well lead to politically incorrect quotes and explosive sound bytes that may well make tomorrow’s headlines: Mickey’s stand on Kashmir, the Israel-Palestine conflict; and human right violations in Sri Lanka. Fair enough, as we decide to leave them to their own good humour and foul whims, as they chat and shout their lungs out in Disneyland resort, Hong Kong, one among the five Disneylands in the world.
The other Disneylands are in California (the first one), Florida, Paris and Tokyo. But this one in Hong Kong is special for us Indians. It is the closest from our country with direct under-six hour Air India flights. Besides, Indian citizens enjoy hassle-free visa-on-arrival. Even minor details are worked out for the Indian tourist. There is, for example, a special Kirpan (religious sword of knife) storage assistance for guests from the Sikh community. And if it is 2 inches or less, you’re free to wear it around your neck.
On the first day, I spot very few Indians and a lot of Chinese, Filipinos and Malaysians. But in Disneyland you are not there for man watching, instead, you are there to interact with the alternative life forms a single man’s paint brush has created. And there are ample opportunities for that. At the Hollywood Hotel (our place of stay), you step into the elevator and Mickey quake quakes to welcome you in. You walk into your room and a circular Mickey frame greets you while the bed has hankies and napkins folded neatly to resemble one of the many Walt Disney characters complete with eyes and lips and oversized ears. Open the bathroom door and there stands a Mickey Mouse disposable glass. Shampoo and moisturiser bottles come with caps that look like Mickey’s giant ears. I reach for the wake up call early one morning only to find a very angry Mickey shouting at me “a lazy bum” to get up, rise and shine, else, miss the flight. You go for breakfast and Donald, Goofy, Pluto and Co. are all there to meet and greet and be photographed with. They dance, they hug, they wave, creating a generally jovial atmosphere. Forget the kids, even us adults behave like we were born yesterday. And lo, even the waffles, the cakes, the sandwiches and the soup bowls look like one or the other from the boisterous bunch.
Step out of the hotel and the back rest of the bus-stand bench is a Mickey head; the special train that connects Hong Kong city to Disneyland has Mickey windows and grips. There is no getting away, really. And all these even before you set foot on the real Disneyland. But no one is complaining – why would you? Instead, you queue up patiently for a photograph with the rock stars.
Soon we enter Disneyland. I walk past an impressive gateway only to be greeted by the first Mickey of the day: This one is on a surfboard floating on high pressured jet stream. I buy my ticket and enter “a world of yesterday, tomorrow and fantasy.”
It’s like living inside a 3D movie. A movie you can do in a day if you are alone or a couple. But who would want to hurry up unless you have a high speed boat to catch for Macau? Each of the rides, shows and thrills are to be enjoyed and savoured slowly like a swirl of good wine. A day dream before sundown, a night in shining armour after, here’re some experiential nirvanas.
It will give you goose bumps as co-ordinated, choreographed fireworks blow your mind away. It happens over a shiny, colour-changing castle of Sleeping Beauty. As iPhones and Galaxy Notes and iPads try to catch it live, you can see a sea of illuminated screens from behind with silhouetted hands holding the devices up to capture it all. Should I take a still photo or should I put my camera on a video mode to share it with family and friends? Or should I just shut it all and enjoy the spectacle with my naked eye? A tough question really, in the face of the sky-balzing brilliant pyrotechnics over the castle. Collective oohs, and wows escape from the thousands assembled. This is soul stirring, near spiritual, the likes of which I have never seen before. That’s the end of the day.
The fifth dimension
Prior to that, of course, you have 101 things to do: In the Mickey’s PhilharMagic show that takes place within a cinema theatre, you take a ride with Mickey in five dimensional realty. Which means, your chair rocks, moves, spins and leaps, even as the loveable mouse offers you a piece of cupcake. A whiff of aroma hits your nostrils, as you move your hand up to grab it, only to find yourself clutching thin air. Mickey also dives under water on screen and there is real water all over you. And then suddenly, Mickey bursts forth from the screen, takes a giant leap over the audience and hits the wall behind you. A loud sound as you turn your head back only to find the bricks giving way with half the mouse dangling his legs on our side and the rest of him dangling from the other side of the wall.
River ride across a rainforest
While the above will have you in splits, the next adventure I go through leaves me white with terror. At Adventureland section of the park, it’s dark and eerie with the windy chill of the South China sea. A primitive looking boat anchors and I board it with a Fillipino tourist. The navigator uses a megaphone to talk and sails you through a rainforest. He steers the boat past the dim lights of the Tarzan House. Soon the boat stops to take a closer look at a baby elephant frolicking in the water, its mother standing guard. You get a bit apprehensive as the boat comes too close for comfort.
You sail further along the narrow ‘river’ and this time real dangers stare at you. We hear shrill voices and drum beats and turn to find a group of head hunters with maces and spears running towards us. Our navigator speeds up, expertly maneuvering the boat away from them, even as we scream. But that’s not the end of it. Now we’re attacked by crocodiles that attempt to jump at us. Again you do a crazy about turn. Indeed, there seems to be no end to dangers. This time the water our boat is on catches fire and spreads all over so that we are practically floating on a sheet of fire. You can feel the heat on your body as it threatens to burn our boat down. Well, the expert navigator with a running Chinglish commentary steers us from this clear and present danger and congratulates us on our provincial escape. At the end you are left a little shaken, but thrilled. After all, the lifesize lifeforms are so real looking.
Another highlight was the Lion King show. It’s a melodrama complete with mega spectacles, moving stages that change shape, trapeze artists, and so on. A high-voltage performance with lights, lasers, music, dance, this is high drama with emotions and electronics. Then there are the roller coasters, the parachute drops (you are taken high up and dropped), Space Mountain (an indoor rollercoaster journey through a dark galaxy), the flying elephant and Slinky Dog spins. However, I chicken out of these, choosing instead to derive sadistic thrills out of the frightened faces and the blood-curdling screams of the riders.
NextI head for Tomorrowland, a futuristic arena where robots, aliens and strange looking objects move around on their own without even acknowledging our presence. I also spot a post box, a juke box, an unidentified object and a humanoid on a cycle going about their activities, ant-like, as if they are on a mission, as if it is perfectly normal for post boxes and juke boxes to walk around on sidewalks. These machines are also talking to each other in alien languages, accents and sounds. Naturally, I’m feeling a bit disoriented, and try to escape on an underground boat. The ride is called Astro Blaster. Unfortunately, it’s the asteroids, aliens, space monsters and meteorites that attack me. I’m given a gun, sort of a bazooka, and entrusted with the stupendous responsibility of saving our planet. Like Men in Black.
Become a Lilliput
Everyone’s tongues and tails are wagging about the Slinky Dog Spin as you join Slinky is a rollicking spin to catch his own tail. That’s in Toystory Land, the Park’s latest attraction, based on the blockbuster movie Toy Story. The larger than life, 6-metre high Woody at the entrance makes you feel like you have been shrunk to the size of a Toy Soldier. There is music too, based on the original theme songs from the Toy Story movies, composed by Randy Newman. Here, you are the toy. The toys, your master.
Shopping, eating, shopping, eating…
You would want to buy everything and anything. That is until you look at the price tags and start converting HK dollars to Indian rupees (about Rs 7 makes a Hong Kong Dollar). Like in all souvenir shops, these are no cheap deals. I should know for I bargain-bought a kid suitcase shaped like a Ferrari from the city’s Ladies Market the price of which is triple the amount in a shop within Disneyland. But most items are exclusive to the resort and the quality is first rate.
So what can you pick up? Here’s a list: Disney T shirts, frocks, skirts, water bottles, pencil boxes, school bags, toys and vanity bags and suitcases and key rings, caps and balls and posters and chocolates and musical instruments and cars, and doll houses and castles and earrings and neckpieces and magic slates and home décor items, story books and comics and chocolates and candies… You can keep browsing for hours in the shops and still not get tired. These are feel-goods you don’t really want for yourself, you would rather so-want-to gift out to people you love. And enjoy the returns: My little one refuses to part with the Minnie Mouse look-alike handbag that I bought her, taking it to her bed to sleep with every night and every morning she insists on carrying it to her nursery school to flaunt. Or that princess frock which she wants to sport to every goddamn function.
As for eats, there are so many restaurants around different themes and ambience that you will be spoilt for choice. Being a desi eater, I stick to the Indian restaurants.
The paradeAnd finally, we all gather at the Hollywood themed Main Street. The interactive, gravity-defying Flights of Fantasy Parade is on its way. Vibrant, colourful, loud and lively, this is where all the Disney characters assume a life of their own and march (read, dance) past. Some walk, others come in giant tableaux. It’s like a movie minus the screen. And suddenly, as I sit wide-eyed, Goofy dashes towards me, hugs me and just wouldn’t leave me, planting a peck on my cheeks, his whiskers tickling my skin.
The bottomlineOur two days in Disneyland are packed with so much action and so many experiences that one tends to remain removed from reality. You nearly forget the real world. Until wake up callers in your hotel room remind you about your flight to catch. At the end of it all, you come back home with stories. Growing up on a desi diet of Chota Bhim, my little one is yet to figure out the monumental characters of Walt Disney, but she sure seems delighted by the stories and the photographs I share with her. With a Minnie bag, a Daisy Duck T-shirst and a Winnie the Pooh pencil box, she sure has a few more friends to hang out with. And I’d not be surprised if she demands on her fourth birthday: “Papa, take me to Disneyland”
Hong Kong Disneyland is located on Lantau Island, located 20 minutes from Hong Kong International Airport and is a 30-minute MTR (Mass Transit Railway) ride from Central, Hong Kong.The resort is 310 acres and includes four themed lands: Main Street, U.S.A., Fantasyland, Adventureland, Tomorrowland and Toy Story Land.Visa on arrival for IndiansLog onto: HongKongDisneyland.comAir India flies: