Hong Kong Disneyland reopened on June 18 after a five-month closure
The sun is shining and ‘A Whole New World’ is blaring down Main Street, where hundreds of delighted staff members have lined the pavements to welcome back guests. As the rope drops, excited fans, many of them in mouse ears and polka dot clothing, stream into the park. The only people who aren’t wearing masks are Micky and Minnie Mouse.
I’m at Hong Kong Disneyland for its grand reopening after an almost five-month long coronavirus closure. Everyone entering the park, myself included, has already bought a ticket, reserved our spot online, and completed a health declaration form. A temperature screening tent is the final barrier between us and the Magic Kingdom.
Among the many enhanced health and safety procedures, social distancing markers have been laid along the red brick roads, outside of rides, and inside of restaurants. Human reminders cheerfully advise people to keep apart and wear their masks. Disney won’t say how much they’ve reduced visitor numbers by but with plenty of wide open spaces, empty corners and no queues for rides, I’m guessing it’s about 20 per cent of the usual load. Socially-distanced Disneyland is my dream Disneyland.
I head straight past the golden spires of the new Sleeping Beauty Castle (which is still under construction and due to open at the end of this year) to an eerily quiet Adventureland for a quick no-queue Jungle River Cruise. Coasting through the water while encountering wild animatronic animals guests are usually splashed with water along the way, but all the cooling jets have now been redirected away from the boats to prevent people’s masks getting wet.
A wet mask is an inefficient mask, as everyone in Hong Kong knows (almost 100 per cent of the city has been wearing masks since news of the virus first broke here in late January). Should you need another face covering you can pick one up at the Disney Emporium for HK$3/£0.30.
Next, I walk to the Dumbo Flying Elephant ride, where I’ve been told some of the Characters will be making an appearance. Interactions with the Characters are usually a top photo op and highlight of any day at Disney, but to meet with social distancing guidelines they’ve been stopped for now. Instead Micky and Minnie make an appearance on some of the rides, and other photogenic spots around the park, giving guests the opportunity to take a long-range selfie.
Later, I snap the Chip and Dale chipmunks darting through Fairy Tale Land surrounded by what looks like a team of minders in red Disney shirts. It’s less fun than hugging your favourite cartoon but at least Disney have come up with an inventive, almost game-like, solution for now.
Before lunch, I walk straight into the Star Wars-themed Hyperspace Mountain rollercoaster and am given a seat in the front row of an empty train. The usual 45-minute queues for the Big Grizzly Mountain Runaway Mine Cars, the Ant-Man and the Wasps Nano Battle, and the Toy Story Land RC Racer and Toy Soldier Parachute Drop are also non-existent. This is better than any expensive Fast Pass.
It is sweltering being out and about in Hong Kong during the peak of summer, though, when temperatures regularly soar above 30-degrees Celsius, never mind when you’re wearing a face mask, sunglasses and a hat. But, a seat at one of Disneyland’s shows offers a chance to cool down and relax for a while.
As with all of the rides, there are no-touch hand sanitiser machines positioned at the entrances and exits of the Festival of the Lion King, Moana’s Homecoming Celebration, and PhilharMagic, while inside, seats have been blocked off into groups of four (the most common number of Disney visitor groups) with empty seats in between.
Restaurants have a similar set-up, with tables spaced at 1.5 metres apart, and QR codes which can be scanned to read menus on your phone. Throughout the day every single Cast Member is reassuringly on the ball, obviously delighted to be spreading the Disney magic again – it’s just a shame you can’t see their smiles.
But hidden smiles, less water jets and no chance to hug Elsa feel like a minor price to pay for the joy of an empty park, with plenty places to sit, no snaking queues or long waits to see the shows – it is certainly ‘A Whole New World’, but how long will it last?
Walt Disney World Florida will reopen gradually from July 11. California’s Disneyland plans to reopen on July 17. Disneyland Paris will remain closed until at least July 14.