Celebrating 100 Years in Castles: Exploring Castle Parks with Author of 100 Disney Adventures of a Lifetime — Hong Kong Disneyland

There are twelve Disney parks worldwide; six of those are Castle Parks. Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland Park led the way, followed by Cinderella representing Walt Disney World and Tokyo Disney Resorts. Next came Le Château de la Belle au Bois Dormant at Disneyland Paris. Hong Kong’s Disneyland’s original castle (opened in 2005) was transformed into Castle of Magical Dreams in 2020 to represent all of Disney’s princesses and queens. Enchanted Storybook Castle at Shanghai Disney Resort is the latest (and the greatest in terms of sheer size and scale).

I’m a lifelong lover of all things Disneyland, an avowed Disney geek, and now, a Disney author of 100 Disney Adventures of a Lifetime, Eat Like Walt, and Walt’s Disneyland. In this six-part series, I’ll highlight some of my favorite adventures and magical experiences around the Disney world. Let’s go castle hopping together! Together, we’ll visit each park after their recent anniversary. Just the way that Castle-hopping is one of the adventures I highlight in my book, I invite you to virtually visit each park with me!

Inspired by 13 tales of beloved Disney princesses and queens, the Castle of Magical Dreams at Hong Kong Disneyland is the first castle to focus on multiple heroines, rather than one princess. The diversity and individual stories of each are told in clever architectural elements. The finials atop the castle’s spires are icons unique to the characters: Merida has a bow and arrow; Pocahontas has her faithful companion Flit the hummingbird. The colors of the towers are representative, too. Jasmine’s, for instance, is turquoise, a nod to her signature attire. Other aspects help interpret the heroines, such as the cherry blossoms embossed on Mulan’s tower. Aurora’s is the tallest tower, a tribute to Sleeping Beauty (1959) and Walt’s original castle in Disneyland.

If you really want to plus a park experience, spend it with a retired Imagineer! I did just that in February at Hong Kong Disneyland with my pal, Kathy Mangum. Kathy has a rich 42-year legacy with Walt Disney Imagineering, but Cars Land in Disney California Adventure Park may be her most epic achievement. (At least in my book.) No surprise, I am a rope dropper, and Kathy was up for an early arrival, too. While we were waiting outside the gates, the Disneyland Band and characters entertained us; that’s a first for me at any of the Disney parks. Another first is the lush and verdant environment of the park on Lantau Island —truly breathtaking.

When Marvel joined the Disney family, Iron Man became the first superhero to star in a Disney theme park attraction: the Iron Man Experience. Tomorrowland is about the future, and that’s fittingly where you will find the 3D thriller at Hong Kong Disneyland. The action-packed premise has Iron Man’s alter ego, Tony Stark, choosing Hong Kong (a center of world technology) to host Stark Expo. His company is known for changing the world for the better, thus he’s displaying his latest high-tech inventions and innovations. The Expo’s halls also serve as the ride’s queue: The gravity-defying Iron Wing is found in the Hall of Mobility; the Hall of Protection features an up-close look at the Iron Man Mark III suit; and the arc reactor, which produces enough energy to sustain an entire city, is located in the Hall of Energy. One of Kathy’s former colleagues gave us a tour of the attraction and this insider tip: The desk in the queue has a Walt homage—spilt coffee. Walt loved his coffee. Black, always.

Once through the pre-show, we received our 3D StarkVision glasses and boarded the Expo Edition Iron Wing flight vehicle. I am not a thrill ride person, but I bucked it up on this special occasion, even after learning that our seats—in the back right—tend to be the bumpiest. (To work up the courage, I reminded myself what retired Imagineer Eddie Soto famously said: Fear – Death = Fun.) With Iron Man (and his characteristic sense of humor), we soared over Hong Kong, past mountains, above Victoria Harbour, under bridges, and along the streets, battling the evil forces of Hydra. Thumbs up from me!

The Jungle Cruise, which is based on Disney’s True-Life Adventures films (1948-1960), was an Opening Day attraction at California’s Disneyland in 1955. Walt was involved with every detail of this epic adventure, which may have been partially inspired by a trip to South America in 1941. Initially, Walt wanted to have real animals, but practicality prevailed. When it came to fabricating the critters, he was known to act out their movements for his Imagineers to replicate, even suggesting exactly how an elephant’s trunk should move. The attraction has evolved and transformed, also appearing at the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World and Tokyo Disneyland. But the king of the jungle, many believe, is located at Hong Kong Disneyland. The eight-minute cruise on the Rivers of Adventure is different in that it runs clockwise. Some of the classic gags from the American parks are featured, as well as some specific to Hong Kong. However, the finale of the Hong Kong park’s attraction sets it apart from the others: the showstopping eruption in the legendary Canyon of the Gods. Dodge exploding springs, be dazzled by pyrotechnics and colorful lighting, and observe the wrath of the fire-breathing deity before returning to the dock.  

Once again thanks to Kathy, we were treated to a backstage overview of the forthcoming World of Frozen. It gives serious Cars Land vibes, in that it looks and feels like you are stepping into the animated classic. Wandering Oaken’s Sliding Sleighs were testing and even from afar it’s easy to see this is definitely an E Ticket attraction. The centerpiece, of course, is the 131-foot (40-m) snow covered mountain with Elsa’s Ice Castle perched on top. Opening later this year, there is no doubt in my mind that the Kingdom of Arendelle will be an experience worth melting for.

I was thoroughly entertained by all the live productions, however I do play favorites. The Festival of the Lion King debuted at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park when it opened in 1998 and became an instant guest favorite. It was soon followed by a version in Hong Kong Disneyland. And Hong Kong’s version does not pale by comparison by any means—it’s an extravaganza! Set in an indoor amphitheater, the Circle of Life comes alive on a circular stage as you swing with Timon, Pumbaa, Nala, Scar, and the title character. The massive animated floats tower above the audience and are a spectacle unto themselves. Aerial performances, fire dancers, acrobats, and stunning special effects are other highlights of this first-rate show.

Over in Fantasyland, Mickey and the Wondrous Book thoroughly delighted me! (It wasn’t originally on our agenda, but once again, Kathy had the hook-ups.) Set in a modern-day library, the musical revue features an array of Disney characters with nods to several classic Disney books. As an author, I was thrilled to see all of the children engaged with the storytelling and on their edges of their seats—just like me.

Mystic Manor and its tribute to Society of Explorers and Adventurers has many Easter eggs, but I’d like to point out the one where you can find Walt and Roy: In the black and white photograph celebrating the Grand Opening and Dedication of the attraction on January 1, 1896 (wink wink).

Speaking of Walt—this news just in—and for me, it’s a career highlight! Walt’s Cafe in the Hong Kong Disneyland Hotel just debuted an “Eat Like Walt Disney” menu. Featuring authentic vintage recipes from my first book, Eat Like Walt: The Wonderful World of Disney Food, the stalwarts are there —chili and Scotch Mist —but also Macaroni Mickey Mouse and Tahitian Terrace Punch. The culinary tribute also includes historical anecdotes that connect guests with the world’s greatest showman.

Last and certainly not least: Happy 18th anniversary, Hong Kong Disneyland!

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Marcy Carriker Smothers
Marcy Carriker Smothers is the author of the fan favorite Eat Like Walt: The Wonderful World of Disney Food, a New York Times New & Noteworthy selection. A noted radio personality, she hosted several programs, including The Food Guy and Marcy Show with the Food Network’s Guy Fieri. In celebration of Walt Disney World’s 50th anniversary, she co-authored Delicious Disney: Walt Disney World. Her love of all things Disney―especially Disneyland―inspired her to write Walt’s Disneyland: A Walk in the Park with Walt Disney. Her latest release is National Geographic’s 100 Disney Adventures of a Lifetime: Magical Experiences From Around the World. When not strolling on Main Street, U.S.A., Marcy can be found exploring food and planning her next adventure.