Days 1 & 2: Disneyland
How to become a ‘first family’
Being time-whacked travellers, having only arrived at our hotel late the previous evening, we were up early and at the gates well before the opening time of 10am. This put us up near the beginning of the queue on the left hand side of the gates (significant? maybe) and we were happy to just be there, even if that meant killing another thirty minutes waiting.
Then we were approached by three members of staff who asked us if we would like to be the day’s ‘first family’. Adam and I looked at each other with ‘what the hell does that mean?’ faces, until they explained that the first family gets the honour of being the first people through, as well as being handed the ceremonial locks and keys to symbolically open the park.
Well, they had me at ‘first people through’ – although I was a little apprehensive once I discovered the full extension of how this would play out, and how publicly.
For starters, the staff line up and welcome you in (photos taken by a staff member on my camera, but there was a professional guy dancing about taking snaps too):
Then Mickey and Minnie turn up in a car and we got our pictures taken with them – kind of worth it alone, if that’s your thing, because later we saw families line up for a long time to get the same.
My kids didn’t hate it at all, as you can see…
To say we felt conspicuous is an understatement, with hundreds and hundreds of people pressed up against the gates, iPhones up and snapping away. I was experiencing a few emotions, a combination mostly of gratitude and bashfulness.
Then we were coached to say the lines, “Welcome to Hong Kong Disneyland. 3, 2, 1 … open!” And then nobody cared about us anymore, the lines surged through the gates, Mickey and Minnie and departed, and we were waved off and wished well for our day’s adventure.
Did things end there, though?
But more on that later.
As I’ve been lucky enough to have visited Disneyland before (in Los Angeles), I knew I wanted to make a beeline for Adventureland, which was my favourite land as a child, and certain other rides I particularly enjoyed back then. Of course, the experience here, or at any other Disneyland I expect, is going to be distinctively unique.
For example, I swear these teacups go faster when you spin them than they did when I was twelve years old.
Now this is called Tarzan’s Treehouse, not the Swiss Family Robinson’s Treehouse like when I was there. (Does this make me old?)
I admit, the kids have never really been ‘into’ Disney movies or characters. They needed help remembering, in some cases learning, the names of the major players. Keira has never been into princesses, even as a toddler, not really, so was looking at all the other little girls swanning around in their Belle or Cinderella ballgowns curiously. They felt more comfortable in places that had a more generic period feel – like Grizzly Gulch (warning, if you click through, I think the music is set to auto until you turn it off) – or were about movies they had seen, like Toy Story Land.
The beauty of going in their winter was that the lines were short. Many had a less than five minute waiting period. The kids jumped off a ride, ran around to the start, and went straight back on in many cases. This wasn’t so common after lunch when the full numbers started arriving and the waiting periods started creeping up on some rides to 45 – 60min. Still this was nothing compared to Los Angeles – in high summer – when we avoided some rides because you had to wait up to two hours.
When the numbers got too high, we went back to the hotel to kill some time until evening, when we went back to see the fireworks display. It’s a true highlight, perhaps the best example of explosions choreographed to music I’ve seen. I loved it.
Being picked to be a Grand Marshal family
Going back to our first few moments on our first day, which after we’d left the gates and began strolling down Main Street didn’t think could start much better, another staff member came up and asked us if we’d be the grand marshal. Just like that. Since returning home I’ve done some googling about being a ‘first family’ and getting to be a Grand Marshal and I’ve been a little shocked at the amount of people out there who are busting and desperate to be picked when they go to this park, or the others around the world. There are even forums and bulletin boards discussing strategies! So imagine how even more lucky I feel now!
(Just to be clear, hand on heart, honestly, none of this was orchestrated because I’m a ‘blogger’ etc. Hamlet defines honesty “is to be one man picked out of ten thousand”. This is pretty much exactly what happened here.)
What does being a Grand Marshal family mean? You are put in the Grande Parade! You kick it off, about a half-hour before the actual parade starts, but before then you have to wait in a green room, then you’re escorted to the staging area, more pictures are taken (see below), and then you set off. Down the main street! Where everyone is staring at you! It’s weird! Fun, but weird!
Here’s a snippet of video I took when I was wondering what the hell I was doing to remind myself just where I was. Going past Sleeping freaking Beauty’s castle! Not many other people get to do it. Not many people even are lucky enough to get to go to Disneyland. So I kept waving and had a great time.
This isn’t a great photo, by any stretch. But I took it to show the line of the high hills that surround and typify the islands of and around Hong Kong. Hawks circled the air above us constantly, living in these hills, picking off the wildlife in the waters and the fields. The fusion of cultures (all announcements and written instructions are done in English and Cantonese) was exciting and I couldn’t wait to see more once we were finished here and went into the city.
Then Riley broke his arm.
But more on that in the next update!