Once upon a time Princess Isabella and her mother travelled in a big silver bird to a magical land, far from home. They checked in at a fairytale hotel, all bright and gleaming in Art Deco splendour and everywhere they looked there were ears. On the curtains, on the carpets, even on the fire hydrants: this place was a veritable monument to Mickey, the best-known mouse on the planet, and for the next two days, the two of them lived very happily ever-after indeed!
At Hong Kong Disneyland you can absolutely immerse yourself in the experience and that’s exactly what we’d come to do. From our base at Disney’s Hollywood Hotel we soon mastered the shuttle bus service to the park.
“I’ve got that déjà vu feeling,” announced Issey as we approached the magnificent wrought iron gates leading to Main Street, USA.
“Possibly because we were at California Disneyland not long ago?” I suggested.
It’s true. Many things here are the same, yet somehow they’re different. We revisited our favourite attractions from Anaheim but found new thrills too. The recently completed Grizzly Gulch – a frontier town filled with adventure and spine tingling rides – and the Toy Story, Toy Soldier Parachute Drop where Issey’s screams had me helpless with laughter.
We drove the Autopia cars, rather badly but it didn’t matter, sailed slowly through the spectacularly beautiful Small World and whirled around crazily on the Teacups. It was hot and I begged for a break, so the intrepid adventurer went off, leaving me to people-watch. Allowed only one child, the Chinese indulge him or her to the hilt, and these adorable little princes and princesses were clearly delighted by their Disney experience!
Both days we lunched on our new favourite food, a sweet bread roll with a frankfurter inside, and guzzled gallons of water as we sat in the sun watching the spectacular daily Flights of Fantasy Parade down Main Street. Sure, there were thousands of visitors, but the park is vast and there’s always a seat in the shade when you need it. After the end-of-day fireworks, dinner on our last night was at the nearby Disneyland Resort Hotel. There, we were lucky enough to meet Mickey himself and I’m pleased to report that he’s an absolute gentleman – or perhaps that should be “gentlemouse”!
Over at Causeway Bay, for the urban part of our Hong Kong adventure, Issey and I started with a trip to the night markets in Mongkok where she quickly honed her bartering skills and bought lots of goodies for her mates. Next morning we met our lovely guide Vivian and within minutes we were all firm friends. What a thrill it was to see the sights through a proud local’s eyes, with interesting and often amusing explanations and anecdotes – and her extremely skilful mastery of the island’s transport system, starting naturally, at the Peak Tram, a practically vertical journey into the sky. I’ve done it a number of times before, but it’s always heart-stopping and you simply can’t fail to be amazed by the incredible views from the Sky Terrace.
Having been warned about our theme park addiction Vivian took us to Ocean Park Hong Kong. This sprawling complex houses a massive aquarium and is home to an amazing collection of animals – including both panda and polar bears. Needless to say there were rides – and some involved getting very wet – as well as very scared – but she egged us on and we managed to get around most of them!
Vivian is passionate about Chinese food and she knew all the best places to find it. Issey’s chopstick skills – and mine – soon got up to speed and we enjoyed new tastes as well as traditional Chinese favourites. Even at breakfast the choice was vast. Issey fell in love with the animal shaped dim sum at Super Star restaurant in Wan Chi and I thought they were pretty cute too.
Locals are always keen to point out that for all its towering skyscrapers, and narrow streets teeming with people, Hong Kong has enormous green areas, but I’d never realised just how enormous until we took our seats in the glass-bottomed Ngong Ping cable car for a breathtaking 5.7km journey up to the Giant Tian Tan Buddha statue. It felt incredibly relaxing, gliding slowly over the rugged landscape below – with panoramic views in every direction At the little mountainside village we enjoyed yet more delicious noodles before seeing a lovely interactive show telling the story of the first Buddha’s path to enlightenment.
As luck would have it, that night on the harbour there were fireworks to celebrate China’s National Day. With her insider knowledge Vivian got us a great vantage point – which was relatively uncrowded – and the scene was quite spectacular.
Next day was our last, and Issey and I embarked on a super speedy shopping spree through Zara and Gap, Shanghai Tang and of course, Marks and Spencer. There I bought a jar of my husband’ favourite 4 cheese pasta sauce and without thinking, popped it in my carry-on luggage. Needless to say I was hauled aside at the airport that night and forced to surrender it!
Never mind. I won’t make the same mistake next time we’re in Hong Kong – and having only just scratched the surface of Asia’s World City, I’m really hoping that next time comes soon!
Cathay Pacific flies to Hong Kong twice a day from Auckland.
DiscoverHongKong.com/nz Tel: 09 3072580.
Hong Kong celebrates the Chinese New Year Festival 2013 Year of the Snake (February 10 – 12).