Coronavirus: Hong Kong Disneyland reopens to fans eager for rides, socially-distanced selfies with iconic characters

Fans and park employees show their enthusiasm for Friday’s reopening of Hong Kong Disneyland after more than two months.
PHOTO: South China Morning Post

Diehard fans finally got their chance to return to Hong Kong Disneyland on Friday, as the Lantau Island attraction reopened its gates after being closed for more than two months amid a third wave of coronavirus infections.

About 100 guests rushed into the park as it opened at around 10.15am, with many making a beeline to take pictures in front of the Castle of Magical Dreams – still partially under wraps as it undergoes an upgrade – or snap selfies with their favourite Disney characters while observing social distancing.

Shelby Lai, 4, and her mother Olivia Ng, 40, arrived at the resort by about 9.30am. The little girl, dressed in a T-shirt featuring Minnie Mouse, said she hoped to ride the Dumbo the Flying Elephant attraction, as she had seen the character on a show previously.

Selfies with popular Disney characters are still allowed, though with social-distancing rules in place. 
PHOTO: South China Morning Post

“I want to tell Minnie ‘I miss you!’,” Lai said.

Annual pass holder Ng said they typically visited the amusement hub once a month in pre-coronavirus days. But as the pandemic intensified, she could only bring her daughter to the city parks near their home.

“She once asked me if she could not go to small parks any more,” Ng, who works in the aviation industry, said.

Learning the park had recently lost the privilege of securing a nearby site for potential expansion, Ng said she was unbothered, as the resort’s current size was large enough for its primary audience.

“Hong Kong Disneyland is small and caters to young children more,” she said.

The theme park will remain the smallest among the world’s six Disneylands for the foreseeable future after its option to purchase an adjacent site expired on Thursday.

The government cited current economic conditions in deciding against renewing the option, which would have allowed the joint-venture that owns the resort to scoop up a 60-hectare plot in neighbouring Penny’s Bay for future expansion.

The government, which owns 53 per cent of Disneyland operator Hongkong International Theme Parks, said the resort should instead focus on existing internal expansion plans.

Hong Kong Disneyland was forced to close twice due to precautions around the Covid-19 pandemic.
PHOTO: South China Morning Post

The Walt Disney Company, which owns the rest of the joint-venture, expressed disappointment in the decision, but sources had told the Post it could not commit to building on the site in the near future.

Some visitors on Friday said they wished the park could be expanded.

Student Yoyo Lee, 14, who came to the reopening with three other friends, said it was a pity the business had lost the option.

“I wouldn’t say the park now is not fun. But if it gets bigger, it’s better,” she said.

She added she hoped Hong Kong Disneyland would introduce other attractions, such as a Toy Story-themed ride she had enjoyed at Tokyo Disneyland.

Mandarin teacher Lucy Liu, 35, said her daughter had frequently asked her when the park would be reopening.

Dressed as a princess, her daughter was among those taking photos in front of what was once known as Sleeping Beauty Castle, which will be officially relaunched later this year.

During this initial stage of reopening, Hong Kong Disneyland will be open five days a week, remaining closed on Tuesdays and Thursdays, with the exception of public holidays and special occasions designated by the resort.

The park must run at half capacity and all visitors must book ahead online and make a health declaration. Wearing masks is compulsory.

Hong Kong Disneyland first closed on January 26, resumed business on June 18, then shut again in mid-July. Its only rival in the city, Ocean Park, reopened last Friday. 

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This article was first published in South China Morning Post.