“Disneyland”. When you hear that word as a parent, it invokes the same dread as, say, “McDonald’s birthday party” or “indoor play centre”, complete with visions of a crowded shrine to commercialism overrun with bloated ratbags, being constantly hit in the Achilles by prams laden with junky showbags and being pushed by fat screaming bogans in tight shorts and big t-shirts, and every item for either ingestion or entertainment being grossly overcapitalised in value terms. Hardly the happiest place on Earth.
In reality, Hong Kong Disneyland, despite having all those things (except the bogans aren’t fat here, but they DO wear terrible suits all the time which about cancels out any non-fat credibility), is indeed the happiest place on Earth! I know, I’m as shocked as the next judgmental inner-city proletarian.
Going to Disneyland has never held any interest for me. It’s not been a position I’ve held with blase indifference either: I once shamefully hoped I’d never have cause to use the services of the Starlight Foundation, not because of the tragedy of having a seriously ill child but because it seems 96% of the wishes they grant involve trips to Disneyland. I don’t particularly like Disney movies, though this isn’t really Disney’s fault – I don’t actually particularly like many movies, I hate fantasy, and I don’t have much time for cartoons. A production house like Disney starts off at a disadvantage with someone with my very limited and specific tastes in entertainment. I openly despite Mickey Mouse and his stupid Clubhouse. Why is his voice so annoying? Why is Minnie Mouse such a twit? Why is Pluto a real dog but Goofy a creepy man-dog? What is that “Oh Toodles!” thing they all say when they need to summon the clues, and why is it so incongruous with the rest of the show?
“Walt” is a silly name.
So we’ve put off going to Disneyland as long as we could, which wasn’t hard when we lived in Australia since (a) there’s no Disneyland in the southern hemisphere and (b) Mickey Mouse doesn’t air on TV there, with its odiously squeaky yet influential infiltration of my kids’ brains. Here, road signs on the freeways have Mickey Mouse ears showing the way to Disneyland. Mickey Mouse’s Clubhouse screens about every 45 minutes on the Disney Channel. And my kids have slowly become more insistent.
And this week we had a real excuse to go, with our newish wonderful friends in the village (hi EMR!) suggesting it as a holiday activity.
Joel and I, having spent the previous month frantically occupied with medical appointments, overseas travel and house decluttering, certainly felt in need of a great day out with the kids. So, with low expectations for our own enjoyment but filled with excitement about how excited the kids would be, we took a personal overdraft to fund the expected cost and broke the news to our shorties and MaryJane. Rufus squealed like a girl, MaryJane squealed like a girl, and Zadie tipped her cup of water all over the floor because she had no idea what Disneyland was, and she’s 2 and dumping water is apparently pretty satisfying.
It was a gratifying response and we sent them all off to bed early, perhaps too early because the next morning the kids woke up at 6.30am instead of their usual 8. Here we are in the taxi on the way. Zadie’s already flagging.
Out the front. Note the bozo in the suit. When you’ve lived here for a while, you can pick the Hongkongers from those from the PRC. This guy is definitely a mainlander. They were plentiful at Disneyland, walking around in large groups comprising all adults. In bad suits.
Our first stop in Main Street was at the pram hire place. It wasn’t a good start to the day, standing in a queue behind groups of the aforementioned mainlanders who queue with their whole party, and then inspect every pram when they get to the front, even though they’re all identical, and insist on leaving the deposit in renminbi. But we eventually obtained a pram and were off.
Our companions Ruby and Eric are veterans of both the Hong Kong and California Disneylands and suggested we start at Tomorrowland. Rufus was already having the time of his life pushing the Disney pram, so much sturdier and more three-wheeled than ours; his head nearly spun off when a “magical” bin rolled past of its own accord. I was happy for his childish joy but perhaps doubting the price of the entry ticket when clearly he would be happy to spend an afternoon with the proverbial empty cardboard box. The doubts evaporated when we went on our first “ride”, a Buzz Lightyear thing where you ride in carriages around a darkened building shooting laser guns at the enemy (Zorg? Zork?) I rode with Zadie and my goodness it was fun. She outshot me 600 to 700, the embarrassment of which was heightened when Joel told me afterwards that he and Ru had scored upward of 37,000. WHAT-EVER.
After that one ride, I was completely sold. I’m like that – cynical and critical, but when it comes down to it, so easily won over. Everywhere we turned was something else well-organised and super-fun! It’s like Walt knew just what he was doing with his fantastical attempts to depart reality! It was just so good! The Buzz ride was fantastic – I wanted to ride it again, and not just to exact revenge on my 2-year-old for outshooting me. Just like that, I LOVED DISNEYLAND. Even being inappropriately upskirted by an underfoot geyser on our next stop at the nearby water playground wasn’t enough to “dampen” the experience (though it was uncomfortable).
Rufus has been off the chart in height and weight ever since birth and while his supersized physique is becoming handier as he gets older, in the past it’s been pretty inconvenient for all sorts of reasons – for example, BIRTHING HIM; getting nappies to fit him past the age of 1; finding a car seat that enabled the driver to see past him in the rearview mirror etc – but most of all that he couldn’t use a lot of kids’ playground equipment. He never really fit in those safety swings they have now in parks. Seesaws creaked under his weight, I struggled to hoist him onto high playground apparatus, and he got stuck in tunnels. But for the first time, at Disneyland he was at a fantastic advantage because he was taller than all the “must be this high to ride” regulations. This led to Joel taking him on the wildly unsuitable Space Mountain rollercoaster, just because he could. Joel said later that as soon as they were strapped in, he had doubts, but Rufus had been very brave. Apparently it’s in the dark, and steeper, faster and scarier than my only previous experience on a rollercoaster (which was on the quaint old wooden one going around the perimeter of Melbourne’s Luna Park, and which I found frankly terrifying).
“It’s A Small World” was something I hadn’t heard of before. Stuff my kids, they were lucky to stay in the boat as I negligently took my eyes off them so I could crane my head around each corner to spy the next wonderful scene. The highlight was Africa, I think. Australia was sadly the lowlight, with three weird dolls that looked like two-legged wallabies juggling eggs. Joel thought they were platypi but I’m not convinced.
I took the kids on this separately so
I could see everything twiceI could enjoy some quality time with them separately.
After my second trip around “It’s A Small World”, Zadie had miraculously (by the powers of Walt, or sunstroke) fallen asleep in her pram, so like absolute gits we left her with our helper while we went on the iconic spinning saucers. Is this ride only really famous because Princess Di went on it? I dunno. We waited for 45 minutes to get on it. Ru and Ru practiced their spinning in the line.
There’s a book you can buy in Hong Kong called “Sleeping Chinese”. It’s pages and pages of photos of people asleep on trains, benches, footpaths, on footpaths, in supermarkets etc. They love a nap. This dude paid the price of an entry ticket and then snoozed on a park bench like a hobo.
We made a return visit to the waterpark. Having a waterpark there was a genius idea, especially in an environment like Hong Kong’s. In fact they should have them everywhere. I’m going to petition for one in the foyer of the court precinct.
I’d just broken the news to Zadie that we were leaving. You can lipread her pretty well here: “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO”. It’s uncanny, she looks exactly like Donald Duck while pulling this face. It worked though, we stayed for another couple of hours – and we bought memberships.
The kids harassing Pluto on the way to his photocall. Jumping the characters as they came out of the staff quarters was definitely preferable to lining up for two hours behind 40-year-old mainlanders in hysterics.
Main Street lighting up at dusk.
Apart from the incredibly useful skill of being able to tell mainlanders from Hongkongers, after you’ve lived here for a while your fingers automatically peace in photos.
Have you ever seen a post like this before in my seven years of blogging? It’s about as unlikely as it gets.
I know I’ve been down and uninspired because of medical stuff. Is that the reason I loved Disneyland so much? It is just because I have kids to watch enjoy it? Or is it really that good? It’s up there with my 30th birthday trip to Macau as a go-to happy memory that I think about nearly every day. I have a new respect for Mickey (or at least Minnie). I’m pretty sure I’m going to take the kids back this Friday.
The happiest place on Earth. For me, surprisingly, it was one of them.