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The fifth happiest place on earth

A skeptic falls under the spell

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It's easy being cynical about Disneyland. It's expensive, commercial and crowded with shrieking children and adults shrieking like children. But in the face of fur and fancy dress, I was willing to suspend disbelief because it's more fun that way.

However, my co-passenger on the flight to Hong Kong wasn't impressed with the colourful literature I was flipping through (he was happy with Paul Thoreaux's The Elephanta Suite), though the bunch of 37 kids on board couldn't wait to touch down. Their excitement was understandable - they'd bagged a trip after winning a television contest run by the Disney channel in India and they were dying to meet Mickey and his mates.

After all, it is called "the fifth happiest place on earth" - the other four being California, Florida, Paris and Tokyo that house Disney parks. The Hong Kong Disneyland, which opened in 2005, was Disney's first foray into China though Shanghai is expected to get one soon.

A short, 20-minute drive from the airport and we're in Lantau Island where the park is located. The landscape is lush and among the 80 species of trees the Park boasts are the silver date palms that one of the locals in the bus proudly tells us have been bought all the way from Hawaii at a cost of $ 20, 000 (a fact laughed off by the Disney staff - "We haven't heard of this, " said one).

As we settle down for lunch at the conveniently located Hollywood Hotel, Wendy Chu of Hong Kong Disneyland Resort said she hopes to entice Bollywood here soon. "This place has beautiful backdrops, it'll be nice if Indian filmmakers use them in their movies. " A Tamil film has already been shot here and the staff happily recall the time when HK Disneyland played host to the child actors from the Oscar-winning film Slumdog Millionaire. "They were wonderful and so excited to meet Mickey and Minnie, " smiles Chu. "We've also had guests like Arshad Warsi, Maria Goretti and Raveena Tandon. "

Slipping into a pair of comfortable walking shoes, we venture out to sample some of the over 100 attractions on offer. A new attraction, Grizzly Gulch, tells the story of grizzly bears looking for gold. Riders on Big Grizzly Mountain Runaway Mine Cars will board mine-train themed cars, which will race around a series of twists and turns as animatronic grizzly bears menace the guests.

Then there is the iconic Sleeping Beauty castle with its tall spires forming a picturesque backdrop against the orange-hued evening sky. It's also the setting for the daily fireworks display.

Suddenly there's a burst of activity and we are quickly herded to one side to make way for Mickey's Water Works parade, created exclusively for the Hong Kong Disneyland. Take care of your camera and phone in case you get splashed though a sprinkling would have been a relief on that hot summer day. It's not just a costume parade but comes with a lesson. It tells you how Mickey and his team of over 30 Disney characters, including the Big Bad Wolf and Pinocchio, keep the park green and beautiful.
We proceed to the dark woods for a date with the Lion King. The half-hour Broadway-style show has a constant stream of floats, dancers and acrobats. Simba's life comes alive and we find ourselves cheering as he vanquishes his enemy to reclaim his father's throne and become the Lion King.

After the shows, it was time for some adrenaline - and we're off on a thrilling, roller-coaster experience in the Space Mountain. You just hold on to dear life as the three-minute ride - it seems much longer - twists and turns and brings you back to earth. But not before two clicks capture your petrified expressions for posterity. As we walk out, a young girl hands us a coupon telling us to go collect our photos clicked by their camera. But priced as they are - at $HK130 - we decide to give them a miss.
The park has special shows around Halloween, Christmas and the Chinese New Year. "The number of Indians coming here is growing, but we want more - not just kids but grown-ups too, " says Chu. Not a far-fetched plan since even my co-passenger from the flight "caught the Disney bug" and put Thoreaux aside for later.


Cost of tickets to the park: HK$ 399 (for those between 12-64 years), HK$ 285 (3-11
years). HK$ 100 (65 years and above)

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