Monday, August 29, 2005

Disneyland Hong Kong: Much Ado about not much to do

[with due apologies to Bob Dylan]

How many people must at one spot stand
before Disney finds there's a crowd?
And just how many rides and shows must it make
to get them involved and move out?

The answer, unfortunately, is still blowing in the wind and Disneyland is yet to hear any of it.

photograph credits: ME

Dunno how many visitors sunburnt themselves under the unexpected sun yesterday, but the number sure rivalled Bombay's Victoria Terminus rush hour, or for that matter, HK Central's lunch hour. The trains to the park were packed in the morn when we joined the throngs, and I would guess, right through the day too. But that's all right, and well-expected. At least there was the air-conditioning to save one's sanity.

The real assault to my senses began when the sun broke out as I entered the park - though I would blame the theme park's logistics, and not the climate, for the fiasco. Disney's done a fine job with its modelling - the Main Street's quaint, with all the air of a Hollowood set. And the different 'lands' (tomorrow, fantasy and adventure) aren't bad (nope, not great). But how could the architects forget that this is not Europe where people die for every glimpse of the sun but the sunny locale of Asia? There are no shaded paths to walk under, and at some attractions (such as the not-so-attractive Tarzan Treehouse) no shades as you queue up! In short, unless you carry your own umberella in the manner of sun-phobic women, it is not possible to avoid getting slowly roasted.

The problem gets worse, of course, when there're too many visitors around. To my mind, their number may have exceeded the theme park's reported capacity of 30K when I visited. The resultant long queues extended out not just from the major attractions, but even the 'fast-food' restaurants! Imagine waiting one hour for chips and burger, and you know why I'd had my fill of the place by just 4 pm (as did quite a few others judging by the number of people in my compartment during the ride back home in the evening), though the place was open till 10 at night.

To be fair, it wasn't entirely a nightmare. But the small windows of enjoyment at the colourful Broadway style Lion King musical or the fancy roller coaster in space were simply not worth the hassle. And half the time, it was clearly bad logistical planning that was the root of the problem. For instance, to visit Tarzan's abode, we had to take a 1 minute boat ride through a water body - which would not have been such a slow affair if they'd just built a bridge across. After all, why create a bottleneck for no reason? Then at the Lion King, we had to wait for 35 minutes in a packed enclosure, thankfully shaded but not air-conditioned, before we could enter the auditorium to be able to get any seating - and that's when I had a fast pass!

All in all, it was 200 bucks down the drain. Once the park officially opens on Sep 12, (I visited early thanks to the discounted passes distributed to Standard Chartered for the weekend) I don't see how Disney plans to avoid the overcrowding, the resultant chaos, and ultimately, the disappointment of its guests. There is simply not enough to keep people of HK interested for long, or induce people outside of HK to specially make a visit.

The experience reminded me of Appu Ghar (Delhi) when I was a kid - some 15/20 years ago: More of waiting, less of playing. That place clicked despite the problems because there was no other choice available in the city that time - but HK has an up and running Ocean Park. It seems to me that the moneyhole Euro-Disney will soon have a buddy to debt-up with.

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