Editor’s Note: The WDW Radio Blog is pleased to welcome Daniel Morris to the writing team! He will be bringing a series of posts focused on the Disney Parks found in Asia.
“So, which Disney Park is your favorite?” A question that is all too common. Yet, it is a question that I honestly cannot answer. Throughout my time as a Disney Fanatic, I have been fortunate enough to visit all six Disney Resorts that are scattered across the globe. But, I still cannot pinpoint my favorite. Walt Disney World was my first and is well…Walt Disney World, so I always half mumble that as my answer.
However, over the last few years, that question has become even more difficult to answer. That being due to three simple answers: Hong Kong Disneyland, Tokyo Disney Resort and Shanghai Disney Resort. Before I delve into why, I will quickly answer who. As in, “Who am I?”
My name is Daniel Morris, and over the next few months, you will see a certain trend with my articles. Mainly, the majority of them will be about the Asian Disney Parks. I currently reside in Hong Kong, and before that, I spent two and a half years living in Shanghai. During my time here in Asia, I have become very familiar with the parks found here, and I have fallen in love with all three of them. The fact that I band all three together is doing them a disservice as all three places are very different, meaning my love for them is very different, too.
However, one thing they all have in common is that if the opportunity becomes available to you, it should not be looked over, and it should not be missed.
The following are my Top 5 reasons for why you should visit an Asian Disney Park:
#5 – The Locations
Now, by locations I don’t mean Asia in general. I mean where the park is situated in its country. The original Disneyland in California is unfortunately landlocked by everything around it, and while Orlando has its moments of beauty, it was built there out of convenience more than aesthetic value.
That is not so much the case in the Asian Disney Parks. All three of them offer up stunning views exterior of the park itself. Shanghai Disney Resort, was built far away from the urban areas of the city itself. Meaning there was not a lot of natural beauty around the space. However, the empty space provided the Imagineers an opportunity to create beauty around the resort for themselves. With this, they created a massive lake and park (Wishing Star) for guests to admire when they first arrive at the resort.
Tokyo DisneySea is situated next to a harbor and really does offer breathtaking views that complement the rest of the American Waterfront and Cape Cod sections of the park. The theming is so on point in DisneySea already, but the surrounding locations only help enhance the Imagineers work.
I may be biased, but it is certainly Hong Kong Disneyland’s location that offers up the most incredible views. Built on Lantau Island, HKDL is in the middle of a mountain range. As a result, when you do the “walk down Main Street,” a huge mountain protrudes behind it. For me, the location maximizes the charm of the park and offers up a completely unique experience that you won’t find in any other park.
As an extra tip: if you ever do go to HKDL, ride Toy Soldier Parachute Drop for some incredible views of the surrounding Lantau area.
#4 – The Attractions
This is the obvious one. In my opinion, these parks are so much more than their attractions. However, they are certainly a reason to go to these parks, and for so many people, will probably be THE reason to go.
I won’t spend too much time delving in depth into all the great attractions that these parks have to offer (I’m saving that for future articles), I will outline a few of them to try and convince you that these parks are worth the trip.
Mystic Manor is arguably my favorite attraction in any Disney Resort, Pirates of the Caribbean: Battle for the Sunken Treasure is now heralded by many as the best Disney attraction ever created, and thousands of people got incredibly giddy when TRON Lightcycle Power Run was announced to be replicated in Magic Kingdom Park.
These attractions are famous for being great, however there are plenty more attractions that aren’t as often spoken about that I highly recommend. For example: Buzz Lightyear Planet Rescue (Shanghai Disney Resort) rivals any ‘shoot-em-up’ dark ride, Big Grizzly Mountain Runaway Mine Cars (Hong Kong Disneyland) is a perfect mix of Seven Dwarfs Mine Train and Expedition Everest, and Sinbad’s Storybook Voyage (Tokyo DisneySea) is one of the best dark rides I have ever ridden.
Not only that, but the duplicate attractions offer something unique, too. Tokyo DisneySea’s Tower of Terror offers a completely unique and different story that links into the Society of Explorers and Adventurers, the Jungle Cruise in HKDL has less of a focus on puns and more of a focus on thrills and Peter Pan’s Flight in SDR has been completely updated and offers up some stunning animatronics and imagineering throughout the ride. These revamps alone are worth a trip over here.
#3 – The Characters
Every park offers up a different culture and with that culture comes different tastes and within those tastes come different characters.
Each of the Asian Disney Parks offer up different characters that are hugely popular. Let’s first talk about the Bear in the room: Duffy and Friends are littered across all three Asian Disney Resorts and are hugely popular characters to visit. The line for Duffy can be longer than almost any attraction in Hong Kong Disneyland.
However, the hugely popular bear aside, there is also an array of other unique characters that are available to meet. For example, you can go meet Nick and Judy from Disney’s Zootopia at the Happy Circle Meet and Greet station in Adventure Isle (Shanghai Disney Resort).
These two parks pale in comparison to Tokyo Disney Resort in this category. Characters are almost the reason to visit TDL and TDS. The extensive amount of characters you not only see, but are able to meet, are impressive to say the least. I have met Scrooge McDuck, Max Goof, Jose and Panchito, The Fairy Godmother, Cruella De Vil, Gepetto with Gideon and Honest John (FoulFellow) just to name a few. Added to that, there isn’t necessarily a set time and place for these characters; they normally just roam certain areas of the park, which makes finding them like a giant game of Pokémon Go.
#2 – The Food
I promise that this isn’t here just to appease Lou. I honestly think the food at these parks, is a reason to go by itself. Normally, going to a different country means experiencing the culture, and a big part of that is experiencing the food. This can be quite a daunting task for some people who would consider themselves to be a bit on the fussy side. The Disney Resorts in these countries offer up a perfect solution to this: you can try stepping out of your comfort zone, within the safety of a Disney Park.
Not only that, but I am a vegetarian. With this in mind, I thought I would struggle to eat real food that isn’t French Fries when visiting these parks. I was incredibly wrong. In each resort, there are several full meal options to choose from for vegetarians. If you’re a curry fan, I implore you to try the vegetable curries in both the Explorers Club Restaurant (HKDL) and The Hungry Bear Restaurant (TDL); they are two of my favorite curries I have ever eaten.
As a quick side note: I also have a peanut allergy and any time I have asked at any restaurant on Disney property about allergy concerns, everybody has been incredibly helpful and friendly. So if you do have an allergy, don’t let that deter you from trying the delicacies that these parks have to offer.
Before I move on to number 1, I would be foolish to leave out the plethora of different snacks that are available at these parks. Snacking is more than a necessity, it’s a recreational activity and you will be amazed at the different types of popcorn, pretzels and more traditional Asian delicacies that are available on every corner.
#1 – The People/ The Culture
OK, so my first list for WDW Radio and I may have already cheated. But, for me these two elements complement each other and are definitely the number one reason for you to visit an Asian Disney Park.
I was hugely surprised (naively so) that each of these parks has a completely different atmosphere and ethos, not just compared to the Western Disney Resorts, but also to each other. Even though these parks are only roughly a two hour flight from each other, there is a completely different fandom and culture to each one.
Now some of this culture can be a little jarring at some of the parks. In my experience, Shanghai Disney Resort can be a little overwhelming due to crowds and pushing, but as long as you are prepared for that and expect it, it shouldn’t be too much of a problem. Disney is still relatively a new product to a lot of those in Mainland China, meaning that they are still getting used to experiencing a Disney Park and their methods of doing so are a little different.
In Hong Kong Disneyland, you will see a very large pin trading community. Not only this, there is a large number of Magic Access (Annual Passholders) at HKDL making it feel almost like a locals’ park. This only adds to the atmosphere and really does bring a sense of community spirit to the park that even rivals Disneyland in Anaheim.
Again, the different cultures of a theme park have never been more prevalent than at Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea. There is a level of fandom there that rivals anything I have seen. People will get dressed up and DisneyBound (dress to represent a different Disney character). Not only that, you will see large groups of people coordinated in the same costumes or themes. There is also a very evident love and respect for their Disney Parks, and it is clear to see that the majority of people that visit these two parks have a lot of admiration for where they are.
It’s these people and these cultural differences that make all three of these parks truly special places, and in my eyes, a must do for anyone that can.
So, these are my top 5 reasons why you should visit an Asian Disney Resort. If you have already been to one or all of these parks, did I miss anything that you would include? If you haven’t been, what’s the one reason you want to visit these parks?
(Images from the personal collections of Daniel Morris and Sophie Parry. Permission given by Sophie Parry.)
To learn more about Daniel, visit his author page by clicking the link on his name at the top of this post!