Grizzly Gulch: Bears, Blow Holes and Bandages

Hong Kong Disneyland’s New “Land” opened this past weekend.  For those who don’t have kids who follow this sort of thing, let me explain it to you.  Disneyland here is in the midst of a bit of a needed expansion.  Why do I say needed? Because one of the major complaints leveled against Hong Kong Disney has been that it is too small.  Personally, I don’t have a problem with small.  If you have young children, it is actually much easier NOT to have to navigate your way around 162 ACRES of public space (as is the case with Disneyland Paris)…particularly as you are likely to be carrying them for at least part of that time.   That being said, I think the park has been designed to appeal to just that crowd…the just walking crowd.  Many attractions are geared towards those under 6.  That’s great for those of us who have children that age, but it is a fairly narrow customer group.   Hong Kong Disney’s 3 part expansion plan seem to be aimed at remedying that situation.

Grizzly Gulch is the second part of this plan.  The first new land that opened was Toy Story Land, which opened on November 18th, 2011.  The last area, known as Mystic Point is scheduled to open sometime in 2013.   In terms of rides, Toy Story Land brought 3 new rides to the park, those being RC Racer, Slinky Dog Zig Zag Spin and Toy Story Parachute Drop.  Grizzly Gulch only brings us one new ride, but the one that it brings is destined to be a “must do”, particularly for the older grade school kids and tweens…but more on that later.   Mystic Point should also bring one new “ride”.   While one new ride for each area may seem a bit small,  the addition of these three lands takes the total number of actual rides (not attractions) from 10 to 15.   This makes it roughly comparable to the “Parc Disneyland” side of Disneyland Paris.   While it may still be small in comparison to some of the other parks, you can tell that the addition of Grizzly Gulch and Mystic Point are aimed at attracting an audience beyond the toddler and pre-schooler crowd.  There are also some rumors that this is not the end of the expansion.  But enough of the geeky info stuff, now on to the park. 

Grizzly Gulch

Grizzly Gulch is the Hong Kong Disneyland version Frontierland or Critter Country. It is designed to look like an abandoned mining town set in the desert Southwest. The major landmark is Grizzly Peak, which rises above the town. Disney has also created a mythology around their newest land.  Grizzly Gulch was supposedly founded August 8, 1888 — the luckiest day of the luckiest month of the luckiest year — by prospectors looking to discover gold.   It doesn’t seem likely to be a coincidence that they chose to open this land in the Year of the Dragon.   Grizzly Gulch is also inhabited by Grizzly Bears, not a big stretch given the name.  However, it seems that the bears, who you see in character interactions in the Runaway Mine cars, are potentially the characters from Brother Bear.  To be honest, I would never have made this connection, but my 6 year old did…with lightening acuity.    Mickey and Minnie also make appearances in their western attire.


What’s Cool:

1) Big Grizzly Mountain Runaway Mine Cars:  (Spoiler Alert:  If you don’t want to know the details of this ride, stop reading now.  If you are a parent, keep reading as this may help you determine age appropriateness.) 

Theme:  This is a roller coaster that seems to be a mix of the “Big Thunder Mountain” in Disneyland and “Expedition Everest” found in Walt Disney World.  The general theme is that one is riding in mining cars through a goldmine.  However, the railway car gets diverted to the wrong track by a bear scratching his behind on the railroad switch.  You are then switched on to another track and into tunnel, where glowing eyes peer at you from holes in the walls.  After this there are some twists and turns, and a few screams from passengers,  until you start ascending up what you think will be the summit of a hill.  When you reach the top, rather than going down the other side, you see a metallic cable break and your train starts speeding backwards, back down the track.   More twists and turns ensure, in addition to a few more screams from passengers.  You finally stop when the car backs into a cave.  On a ledge at the top of the cave, you see two bears.  The smallest one is next to a TNT detonator , which he immediate pushes.  This is the most intense part of the ride.  There is a flash of light, a loud explosion and just as you feel wind at your back you are catapulted back out of the cave and on to some very cool, stomach drop twists and turns.  The ride is unique in that it takes you all around the “town” of Grizzly Gulch.   If you  have children between the ages of 6 and 13, this will likely be a “must do” for you.   Even for an adult, it is a good coaster.  It’s not a high adrenaline type, but it’s not designed to be. 

Height / Age Restrictions:  This NOT for children under the age of 6 or so.  The height requirement is 112 cm, which is roughly the size of your average 6 year old from the UK or the US.  However, don’t assume that just because your child meets the height limit,  that all will be OK.   My normally fearless 6 year old found the TNT detonation part of the ride loud and  a bit startling (although it didn’t keep him from going on it 7 times!)  As he is not afraid of much,  and in fact loves coasters with inversions,  you might even want to err on the side of caution with any child under the age of 8.  You know your child, so you will be the best judge of what may or may not scare him or her.   If you can ride this first, without your child, that would be ideal.  But most parents don’t have that luxury.  For most of us, going on a ride tends to be a spur of the moment thing.    I say that euphemistically because the “getting on a ride” situation is actually more akin to either a a) heated negotiation or b) a foot race…depending on the age of the child.   Be that as it may, make sure you do a little research first.  If your child is too scared to go on Space Mountain, then he or she will be too scared for this ride.  But for children who like coasters and meet the requirements, this is a fantastic

Patience Requirements:  There is no Fastpass for this Ride.  I repeat, NO FASTPASS.  So expect the lines to be extremely long on weekends and holidays.  You might want to try getting to the park and heading to this ride as early as possible in the morning,  to possibly beat the crowd.  But to be honest, I am not sure how much this will help in the beginning when interest is so high.   So, in addition to meeting a certain height, your child will also need to have a fair degree of patience.   If you don’t take this into consideration, be prepared for a fairly difficult experience for all.  Bring Iphones.  Bring Ipads.  Bring an entertaining friend.  But prepare for the wait. 

2) Geyser Gulch:   

This is the water play area of Grizzly Gulch and it SHOULD NOT be discounted in your planning.   There are NO air conditioned areas in Grizzly Gulch, so in the summer this area is needed to cool off…and not just for the kids.  So dress accordingly or expect to be hot!

Theme:  The theme is fairly simple, it’s geysers.  But it is very well designed and crafted.  There are several distinct areas here.  One area consists of two small houses which hold water guns.  The goal, of course, is to splash the people on the other side.  The second is a “water tower” sort of structure.  In this one, pulling a rope causes the tower to spill its contents on those standing in front of it.  The last is an area of geysers that erupt at odd moments spraying mist on those close by. 

Universal Appeal:  Kids love playing with water.  Some love getting a little wet.  Some love getting completely drenched.  Some love watching others get a little wet or completely drenched.  But no child is ambivalent to a water play area.   Both of my boys are of the “watch others get drenched” school of enjoyment, particularly if one of them was holding the rope.  But they stayed and played in this area for at least an hour.   As a parent, you should encourage this and plan for it, as it is an absolute requirement when devising a heat reduction strategy for your day.   In fact, you should plan to get wet yourself, as you will need this to mitigate the heat in the summer, as previously mentioned.

A Word of Caution:   Unlike the water play areas in the rest of Hong Kong Disney, this one has a walking surface that is not uniform.   There are areas that look like rock, and there are areas that look like wood.  OK, both are probably some other substance unknown to nature, but suffice to say that the texture is different in different areas of the play area.  And this makes it easier to slip when things get wet….which is exactly what happened to Lucas, my oldest son.  Admittedly, he was running despite the numerous “don’t run” suggestions from his Mom.   But he slipped and went down fairly hard, resulting in a nicely bloodied knee.   So, you should keep an eye on your kids and try, however unsuccessfully, to keep them from tearing up and down the play area.  If nothing else, this will give you the “well, I warned you” argument when they do get hurt.

3)  The First Aid Station:

I know it must seem a bit strange to list a First Aid Station in the “What’s Cool” category but I found our trip there  quite comforting.   In general, I have to give Disney, as a company, big points for their response to even the smallest injuries.  When we lived in California, I took Lucas to Disneyland one summer.   He was only 18 months old at the time, and was very curious.   At some point I made the grievous error of looking away from him for something like 30 seconds.  During this time he managed to make a bee line for the nearest flower bed where he then did a spectacular face plant.   I wasn’t 5 feet from him, and had him up in about 3 seconds.  However, that was 2 seconds later than not 1 but 2 Disney cast members.  Big smiles, lots of joking and a few buttons saying “Champion” (or something like that) and he was fine.   When Lucas fell at Grizzly Gulch this past weekend, it was the same situation.  By the time I made it to him, two lovely Disney folks (Alvita and Natalie)  were already there.  They insisted that we go to the First Aid station just to make sure that he was OK.   Said Station was clean, cool and seemed well equipped.  There was a waiting area in front, and several rooms in the back for patients.  As a mother who has seen the inside of more clinics and emergency rooms than I like to think about, I was surprised at how professional this area appeared.  Once in the back, Iris, our nurse, was very patient as she examined Lucas’ knee, checked for broken bones / pulled muscles and eventually bandaged him.  She also insisted on an ice pack to make sure there was no swelling.  After 10 minutes or so, we left and Lucas went back to playing …with no harm done.  Throughout all this I was fairly sure he was fine.   Lucas is one of those “I laugh at danger” kind of kids, and so cuts and bruises are a fairly regular occurrence with him.   But the lawyer part of me appreciated the attention paid to this by the Disney people involved.   While one never WANTS to have to go to a First Aid Center, it’s nice to know that a good one exists if the need arises.   The fact that several of these centers are scattered around the park is a soothing fact to know for those of us who subscribe to the “but what if?” philosophy of parenting. 

What Could Be Better

Nothing is ever perfect, and if it was it would be boring.   So, yes, there are things here that could be better.  Generally, the lack of anything with air conditioning can be a bit difficult in the long hot summer.   But below are a few things that I would specifically note.

1) No Fast Pass for Grizzly Mountain:  This is going to be a popular ride, and Disney knows it.  The space set up for lines is huge and maze like.  A  Fast Pass would be extremely useful on this, to mitigate tempers driven to the breaking point and familial meltdowns.  Perhaps one is planned in the future, but as of now it seems not.   Disney folks, please, think about it for the sake of theme park peace.

2) The Lucky Nugget Saloon is Fast Food Takeout:  I don’t really have a problem with the food or the fact that it is takeout.  The problem is that the seating is outside.  This means a lack of an air conditioned place to sit down and regroup.   I had also hoped that this might be a chance for Hong Kong Disney to introduce a character meal in the actual park.  But no such luck. 

3) Welcome Wagon Show:  This show is a street show.   It is not a sit down show, at least not yet.  I suspect something will be done with this.  However, even if there is, it seems that any show will NOT be in an air conditioned space.  Once again,  this could be better.  Also, and I admit that I am nit picking  here, the song that the saloon girls sing drives me crazy.  It is a form of the Hokey Pokey, except they’ve changed the words to ” You put your right paw in. You put your right paw out. You put your right paw in. And you shake it all about.   We like the lucky bears because they helped us find the gold.  That’s what it’s all about.”.  Or something like that.  The point is, couldn’t they find a rhyme on that fifth line?!?!  How about ” We up and found the gold because the bears all helped us out”? I am sure there are plenty of options for a simple rhyme.   I know it’s a small thing but Disney is good at details and this is just grating…like fingers on the proverbial chalk board.  

And More To Come:

Despite whatever criticisms I have, I really enjoyed Grizzly Gulch.  My 6 year old loved Grizzly Gulch.  My 3 year old loved Grizzly Gulch.  My husband and I found it charming to watch the kids play in the “Geyser”, and I must admit to having no problem with riding Big Grizzly Mountain multiple times.  Overall, my perception is that this area adds a much needed element of thrill to the Hong Kong Disney catalogue of attractions.   Once again, the attention to detail and the customer service was beyond reproach.  Disney, as a company, has a reputation for being ruthlessly efficient.  And for a place where my family will be putting our safety in the hands of someone’s employees, I am more than happy with ruthless efficiency… I expect it.    This efficiency allows Disney to deliver on what they promise.   This, more than anything else, is why I have spent so much time at Disney parks and on Disney cruises.   None of it is cheap, but you get what you pay for, and then some.    Hong Kong Disneyland, although still growing, is following this Disney tradition!

Now we are just waiting for the opening of Mystic Point in 2013!