Hong Kong Disneyland vs. Anaheim: How does the theme park differ abroad?

It’s around 7 p.m. and the techno sound of the Paint the Night Parade plays overhead. Visitors with cellphone cameras in hand snake along Main Street, U.S.A., up to the front of Sleeping Beauty Castle, and along the outside walkways separating Fantasyland and Tomorrowland.

The smell of cotton candy and popcorn waft in the air.

As “Baroque Hoedown” plays, Owl City’s “When Can I See You Again” begins – in Cantonese.

As the familiar electric light parade winds its way along Main Street, U.S.A., its mix of Cantonese and English soundtrack highlights the similarities and differences between Hong Kong’s Disneyland and that of Anaheim.

RELATED: View the Register’s Disneyland site

Traveling abroad, I found myself stuck on a 10-hour layover in Hong Kong. Rather than try to sleep on uncomfortable lounge chairs or explore the giant international airport, I decided to check out Asia’s second Disneyland (Tokyo Disneyland was the first. Shanghai Disneyland, when it opens in June, will be the third).

The airline I flew in, Cathay Pacific, has a special offer for people with long layovers. Available until the end of March, the In-Transit Easy Pass ticket allows passengers whose flights are leaving later the same day to visit the park for about $45 – regular admission is $70. It’s a promotion offered throughout the year.

Disneyland is about a 15- to 20-minute, $15 cab ride from the airport. Tickets are purchased by showing your airline ticket at the guest relations booth in front of the entrance and Disneyland will even store one piece of luggage for free.

Owned jointly by the Hong Kong government and The Walt Disney Co., the park opened in 2006. It’s the smallest of Disney’s theme parks and sits on 123 acres in Penny’s Bay, on Lantau Island.

Massive mountains surround the theme park, and aside from the neighboring Disneyland Hotel and Disney’s Hollywood Hotel it is nearly isolated from the rest of Hong Kong.

Visitors enter the park under a large “Welcome to Hong Kong Disneyland” sign, and are greeted by a water fountain and a statue of Mickey Mouse surfing a giant whale waterspout.

Inside, there’s a Mickey Mouse floral presentation and the Main Street Railroad Station, omnipresent displays in Disneyland.

Walk out from the tunnel and the similarities to Disneyland in Anaheim are uncanny. Hong Kong’s Main Street, U.S.A., is a near spitting image of the Anaheim version. Some names are different, but the distinct architecture of City Hall, the Emporium retail store, the Opera House and Sleeping Beauty Castle are near identical.

The layout has familiar destinations – Fantasyland, Tomorrowland and Adventureland. But Hong Kong also has Toy Story Land, Mystic Point and Grizzly Gulch. Similar rides include Space Mountain, Autopia, Dumbo the Flying Elephant and Mad Hatter Tea Cups.

There is one very noticeable difference between the two parks: Hong Kong is less crowded. The wait for one of the park’s premier rides, Mystic Manor, was a mere five minutes. The theme park last year drew 6.8 million people, nearly 10 million fewer visitors than what Disneyland in Anaheim sees annually.

The theme park is celebrating its 10th anniversary, marked with red and pink decor on lightpole banners, merchandise and other displays.

Unlike other Disney theme parks, which are multiday resorts, Hong Kong Disneyland could easily be navigated in one day (depending on the day and season – like holidays here, the Lunar New Year gets more crowded).

I would, however, recommend staying for a second day to fully experience the park’s every nuance.

With a layover like mine, you’ll get a good four or five hours at the park. These several “must do” attractions will make the trip enjoyable:

“Festival of the Lion King” and “Mickey and the Wondrous Book”: These 30-minute live shows are worth the price of park admission. The dialogue is a mix of Cantonese and English, and the songs are performed in English.

An interpretation of “Lion King,” “Festival of the Lion King” is a large-scale production with giant animal puppets, acrobats, flame eaters and dancers. “Mickey and the Wondrous Book” is a collection of musical performances by Disney animated characters and princesses.

If you have more time, also check out “Donald and the Philharmagic,” a 4D animated music show.

Mystic Manor: The theme park’s version of Haunted Mansion is a trackless ride. Visitors hop on a carriage and tour the rare artifacts inside the manor of explorer Henry Mystic and his monkey sidekick, Albert. A magic music box has brought inanimate objects to life.

Big Grizzly Mountain Runaway Mine Cars: Set in the mountains amid gold miners and bears, this roller coaster starts off slowly around a track, but just as the train cars head up an incline, they fall backward before sling-shooting forward again around a different track at a much faster speed.

Crystal Lotus: The restaurant at the Disneyland Hotel offers a Signature Disney Dim Sum lunch that features characters such as Olaf, Little Green Men, Duffy and Three Little Pigs made out of steamed buns. Reservations and at least two days notice are required.

Paint the Night Parade and fireworks: This is the original Paint the Night Parade and is similar to Anaheim’s with the exception of a few missing floats (no “Frozen” here) and some of the music is in Cantonese. The “Disney In The Stars” Fireworks show takes place in front of Sleeping Beauty Castle. A montage of Disney animated films are projected onto the castle while music plays and fireworks shoot overhead.

Contact the writer: 714-796-2443 or jpimentel@ocregister.com

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