The world’s only Iron Man ride and five other reasons why Hong Kong Disneyland stands apart from other Disney Parks

Hong Kong Disneyland may be the company’s smallest theme park (the recently opened Shanghai park – whose development was memorably slowed to give the Hong Kong Park more time to grow an audience – is no less than 14 times larger than its Southern counterpart), and the only park not to have a true water ride (e.g. Splash Mountain or Roaring Rapids – though I’m sure they’d count the Jungle Cruise to disagree with me there), but it’s not without its own unique experiences. Here’s just five attractions at Hong Kong Disneyland you’re not going to get anywhere else.

Experience world’s only Iron Man ride!

Iron Man: The Experience made its debut at Hong Kong Disneyland at the start of 2017, making it the first Marvel themed ride to open at any Disney theme park (the only other ride currently in operation is a Guardians of the Galaxy ride in California, which opened last year as a refit of the classic Tower of Terror).

Located in Tomorrowland, the ride is modelled after the popular Star Tours ride, where passengers line up to be taken into a motion simulator disguised as a flying transport vehicle. The loading procedure is pretty much identical, except here you journey through the “Stark Expo” en route, and the ride incorporates fantastic 3D technology to really make the experience all the more realistic.

As in the original Star Tours, you start in a hanger which is located in the park, when a malfunction kickstarts the experience. While in the Star Wars themed rides you’re taken at light speed to different locations in the fictional universe, here you’re taken through the skies of the very real theme park and neighbouring Hong Kong Island; the ride mixing real world and computer graphics to amp up the experience. It’s also why you’re never going to see the ride anywhere else, at least in this form (there are reports a version may open in Orlando in the future).

Tony Stark – voiced in English by a Robert Downey Jr sound alike, communicates with Jarvis (who here speaks in Cantonese), as they fly you to Stark HQ, which has opened in Hong Kong, only to get caught up in a battle which sees the 3D technology (and some 4D additions) used to its fullest. Honestly, the ride isn’t as strong as the Star Wars counterpart – though the 3D effects are just as good, if not better, but it’s a fun experience – and the only place you’ll get to experience an Iron Man ride anywhere in the world.

And in terms of Hong Kong’s commitment to the Marvel Universe, this ride is only the start. The ride will eventually form part of a Marvel dedicated area alongside Tomorrowland, which will continue growing through to 2023; part of a $10b expansion announced earlier this year. Next up will be another exclusive ride to the park, tied into the just-released Ant-Man and The Wasp Film. They’re building that right next to the Iron Man ride, with signs promising an expansion of the Stark Expo experience, and some indications have it opening as early as next year or even later this year. The ride is essentially a refit of the Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters ride, where riders will be able to shoot their way through an interactive Ant-Man experience, receiving a score at the end of the ride.

Disney’s first official Moana attraction

Moana: A Homecoming Celebration opened at the end of May, which was the first attraction of the aforementioned planned run of new openings at the park through 2023. Sadly I didn’t time my visit well enough to check out the new experience, which is an interactive theatre show you’ll find in Adventureland. But you can get a taste of what you’ll experience here:

Ride one of Disney’s most impressive attractions: Mystic Manor

Because of the sensitivity in Chinese culture to ghosts, it wasn’t possible to port the popular “Haunted Mansion” ride to Hong Kong – so they designed something new for the park, the innovative Mystic Manor. It’s easily one of the more technically impressive rides of its kind you’ll find at any of the parks – and the references to the original Haunted Mansion ride are enjoyable for those of us who have ridden it more times than they can count (the three singing heads; a magic mirror for your cart… see what else you can spot).

The ride takes you on a family friendly experience through a manor filled with antiquities, as a monkey unleashes a magic box that brings everything in the manor to life. From projections to animatronics, lasers and other great sound and lighting effects, the ride is a world class experience.

Two exclusive themed areas (and more to come)

The Mystic Manor sits as the centrepiece of Mystic Point, one of two themed areas that opened in 2013, remaining exclusive to the park, along with Grizzly Gulch. The latter is home to the park’s version of Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Big Grizzly Mountain Runaway Mine Cars, and the “cowboy” elements that form part of Frontierland in other parks. Reminiscent at times of Splash Mountain (minus the drop at the end), this version of Disneyland’s iconic railroad rollercoaster may be my favourites of all the Disney parks I’ve visited, incorporating special effects, a surprising backwards route and a Grizzly Bear and her cub who just want to get their hands on some fish.

In 2020, a new Frozen themed area will open, before anywhere else in the world (Tokyo DisneySea is expected about a year later, and Orlando may get a look in in the future too), while the aforementioned Marvel section will be developed here before anywhere else – but you’ll have to wait until 2023 to see that in full flight.

The only downside of the sections is due to the park’s small stature; while it keeps growing with additions to the park like Grizzly Gulch and the Frozen area, each area has limited attractions. But like with any other Disney park, it’s not just the rides that make a new section of a park exciting; it’s all the detail that goes into every nook and cranny. This is a park that rewards exploration, and no section comes without its fair share of surprises.

The opportunity to enjoy Hong Kong cuisine

While I’m sure their Shanghai location will say the same thing, I can only vouch for Hong Kong: the food here is fantastic. You can’t go anywhere in this city without finding great food, and Disneyland is no exception – though it of course comes with a heftier price tag. For instance, a plate of duck and pork with rice and a drink will set you back about AU$18, but given its actually decent food, served in a fast food style, this makes it steps above anything I’ve experienced at the other Disney parks around the world – outside perhaps the Epcot Centre in Orlando. It’s fair to say though being in Hong Kong. they couldn’t get away with anything less…

It’s the closest Disneyland park to Australia (and the only park right by an airport!)

The real exclusive here for Australian travellers is that the park is the closest to our shores. And it’s just around the corner from the airport when you arrive! If you’re ever looking at Hong Kong as a stop-over destination, it’s worth considering making the visit to the park, even for the afternoon. As long as it’s not crazy busy (and you can download the Hong Kong Disneyland App to keep an eye on ride line duration when making you decision whether or not to pay the park a visit), you can tick off most of the rides in 4 or 5 hours. And if you can ride the MTR (Public Transport Train) to the park, you’ll even get to experience a one-of-a-kind Disney themed train!

Plus, with return flights as low as $470 return out of Sydney with Cathay Pacific, Virgin or Qantas, thanks to the new route from Virgin out of Sydney kicking off a new price war for the territory, you’re looking at the trip costing less than half what it would to get to the LA location. And the ticket price is cheaper too!

For more details on Hong Kong Disneyland, head to their official website. And keep your eyes out for online discounts, particularly around pre-paid two night visits and family deals – including on site accomodation options!

The author visited Disneyland at his own cost, and flew to Hong Kong courtesy of Virgin Australia, who just launched their new route from Sydney to Hong Kong. While in Hong Kong, the writer stayed at the brand new hotel The Murray, as a guest of the hotel and Virgin Australia.