Tokyo vs. Hong Kong – Disneyland

Disneyland: where dreams come true. For Brits, Disneyland Paris is obviously a very popular holiday destination, and the Disney resorts in Florida and California, though further away, are also well known. The Asian Disney resorts, however, are much less talked about. I didn’t know Tokyo even had a Disneyland before arriving there, and had no idea there was also a resort in Hong Kong. So what are these parks like, how do they compare, and are they worth it?

TDL is only 20 minutes by train from central Tokyo station (though an hour on top of that from my old house). However, though Tokyo station is geographically central, my situation of living an hour from it was far from uncommon, so journey times in excess of an hour are also the norm.

Though Hong Kong is smaller than Tokyo, the journey to HKDL from the centre of town actually takes 10 minutes longer, though from our house it was much nicer than the hour and a half it took in Tokyo. Built on Lantau island, the resort has its own train line and also its own Disney train, decorated with Mickey Mouse silhouette windows and hand rails, getting you into the Disney mood long before you reach the park.

Hong Kong Disney train

Though the location of TDL is actually pretty good, the enormous size of Tokyo itself proves a massive hinderance, so the location point would have to go to Hong Kong.

At 115 acres, TDL is much bigger than its Hong Kong counterpart at only 55 acres (I tried finding comparisons for parks in England: Google tells me Thorpe Park is a massive 500 acres, but I can’t believe that, it seemed similar to TDL in size).

Simply put, more area means more rides, whilst at the same time (for adults at least) still being manageable to see everything in a day, so Tokyo wins here.

Although TDL is twice the size of HKDL, the greater Tokyo area contains five times the number of people of Hong Kong, and the park was PACKED. On both occasions we went on October weekdays, so it was a fairish test in that respect, but HK was as good as empty, whilst we regularly had to queue over an hour (more than two on Space Mountain) at Tokyo. Our biggest queue at HK was no more than 20 minutes, with most attractions at less than five.

Hong Kong wins here.

Tokyo has the advantage of having twice the available space, so theoretically could contain twice the number of rides. However, Tokyo wins hands down anyway.

I imagine HKDL is aimed more towards satisfying the children – I don’t blame them, Disney is after all for children. However, there were only two rides aimed at older people (Space Mountain and a Runaway Train) compared with more in Tokyo (Runaway Train, Space Mountain, Splash Mountain, Go Coaster).

There were plenty of the same tamer rides at both parks, including It’s a Small World, Buzz Lightyear’s Astro Blasters, Treehouses (Tarzan at HK, Swiss Family Robinson at Tokyo) and the gentle teacups and Dumbo carousels for the tots. More thrills at Tokyo though.

The Disneyland Castle
Be it either Cinderella’s or Sleeping Beauty’s, the castle at Disneyland has always been an iconic image, forming the basis of the Disney logo for over 50 years. There again is only one winner here: Tokyo‘s Cinderella castle is the centrepiece of the park, dominating the skyline from the moment you enter at 58m tall. Expecting this as the norm, Hong Kong’s Sleeping Beauty offering was a considerable let down, though this website says it’s an identical replica of the original castle in California and thus only 23m tall, but only appears smaller because of the surrounding mountains.

Tokyo’s Cinderella Castle

A day ticket to Tokyo will set you back 6200JPY (£48), and the same one day ticket to Hong Kong is 399HKD (£32), making Hong Kong the clear winner here.

As a comparison, Thorpe Park is now a staggering £45.60 and Alton Towers is £45, putting the UK parks in the same bracket as Tokyo.

Though I doubted it myself before I went for the first time, Disneyland is a great day out. They know what they’re doing, and they do it well. The parades are fantastic, the characters walking about (whilst admittedly not for me) are great for the kids, and everyone is very friendly and welcoming. Even for someone who’s not that interested in Disney, I doubt you’d come home from either park thinking you’d had a bad day, or that it was money badly spent. If I had to go back to one of the two parks, I’d pick Tokyo; it was much busier, but the rides were better, the castle was more impressive, and you can’t fault the Japanese for putting on a good show. Shanghai Disneyland opens in 2016 – maybe we’ll see how that one turns out too!


A night at the races

Wednesday nights in Hong Kong are racing nights, where the locals (and so it seemed more tourists) flock to the Happy Valley racecourse, a 10 minute tram ride from Causeway Bay MTR station. Built over 150 years ago, it’s become almost hemmed in by skyscrapers in the last 30 years, and they provide a spectacular backdrop to the course. This also means it’s one of the few racecourses in the world which is truly in the city centre.

Being the only legalised form of gambling in Hong Kong, everyone at the course seems to be having a bet. We only made measly 10HKD wagers (about £1), but saw discarded betting slips of thousands of dollars! Their official website says that one night’s racing can often match an entire years betting at Western race tracks, but I suppose people in Hong Kong are driven by making (and presumably here, losing too) money so it’s mere childsplay to them.

After paying a 10HKD entry fee, you’re immediately at trackside, surrounded by bars, bookies and McDonalds. An enormous seven-tier grandstand lines the finishing straight and looms fantastically overhead, whilst big screens have the latest odds and the cameras focused on the horses, and speakers shout out commentary and tips for the next race. The grass is lush and a green only rivalled in colour in my memory by the first day of the season at Selhurst Park.

Picking up a brochure of the day’s runners and riders, you look at the form and condition of the horses before picking the one with the best name or the prettiest jersey to spend your 10 dollars on. Betting slip in hand, you wait for the horses to enter the stalls before spending the next few minutes squinting in vain at the big screen for the numbers of the leaders, following the horses round the bends before screaming at what may or may not be your horse to get a bloody move on as they thunder down the home straight before more squinting at the big screen to see that the horse you thought was yours was actually someone else’s, and that yet again that’s 10 (or many thousands) of dollars down the drain. You never see a poor bookie!

The Mid-Autumn Festival

Over the past week, lanterns and lights have been going up all over Hong Kong in celebration of the Mid-Autumn Harvest festival. Traditionally on the 15th day of the 8th month of the Chinese calendar, the day is a public holiday and families spend the day together before heading to parks or beaches in the evenings with their brightly coloured lanterns and watching fireworks over Victoria Harbour. In Victoria Park there is a carnival atmosphere as the park becomes laden with lights, lanterns, puppeteers, and dancing performers. The highlight is the parade of the fire dragon, a 220 foot long dragon with segments stuffed with straw and stuck full of incense sticks, first seen to drive away plague from the small village of Tai Hang, and continued by residents of the village in memory of the incident.

We headed to Shek O beach on Hong Kong island to watch the lanterns (and these days hundreds of glow sticks too!) as dusk descended, before heading to Victoria Park to catch the festivities and the fire dragon later on.

The Fire Dragon

Victoria Park

Shek O Beach