To be frankly and brutally honest, Hong Kong Disneyland has much to learn as far as celebrating Halloween for those under the age of 10.. Although I must admit, Halloween is a bit of a sticky wicket. It’s supposed to be a “scary” holiday, and yet it is aimed a kids. It is a “night time” holiday, but most of those who will get the most out of it can’t stay up late enough to enjoy it. For those who have ever planned a Halloween party for multiple ages, you know how difficult event planning can be for this. Even with your best laid plans, and party activities designed to entertain all ages without frightening the preschoolers, some idiot will show up as Freddy Kruger and send the younger kids into attacks of tachycardia. So, trying to set up Halloween in a theme park probably requires more skill and diplomacy than some middle east negotiations. Strangely, every Disneyland seems to handle this differently. At Hong Kong Disneyland, they have tried to manage the scare factor geograpchically rather than temporally. They tend to designate certain lands as the “scarier” areas, e.g. Adventureland. While Fantasyland is aimed being more “gentle” for the younger crowd. But this only works so well, as there is a lot of cross activity as people roam from one area of the park to another.
However, it should be stressed that the general theme of Halloween at Hong Kong Disneyland is more aimed at teens and adults. I think this is a bit of a shame, as there are easy ways to delineate activities so that everyone can have a good time. But before I put my “how to change the world” cap on, let me elaborate on the events per land for this past Halloween, just to give you an idea of how Halloween is celebrated at this Disney.
Fantasyland: Disney’s Halloween Corral for Toddlers and Preschoolers
Fantasyland was clearly set up for the preschooler and toddler set in terms of the Halloween activities. Theoretically, one could see characters in costume, although they were a bit hard to come by. There was also a certain “mystery” element of trying to find the spots where candy was given out. However, all things considered, this was a bit of a letdown. The cast members giving out candy were not in costume. They rarely made eye contact with the kids. It ended up being simply an exercise in getting in a line to get some candy. For my boys, age 3 and 7, they bored of this activity fairly quickly. The inability to find characters also added to the disappointment. I suppose that they appeared at particular times but that wasn’t really marked anywhere, so we missed out. So, we really only stayed for 30 minutes in this area before the boys wanted to go. To contrast this to Disneyland Paris, there were numerous shows going on all through Fantasyland on Halloween. In addition, the villains were on display almost constantly throughout the park for autographs and handshakes. We were lucky to drag the kids out of the park by 11 pm during Halloween there. This was missing at Hong Kong Disneyland, and I think it would have added a lot to the celebration for the younger folks. Instead they went for a Vampire vs. Werewolf “theme”..which has almost no brand tie in to Disney at all. Personally, I am very suspicious of “themes” anyway but I will elaborate on that later.
Also in Fantasyland, there was a Motion sensing game near the Royal Banquet hall that was presented by Xbox, but as I am trying to steer my kids AWAY from that stuff, I chose to employ massive distraction techniques the moment it was in eyesight.
For this land, better notification of timing, a few more activities and cast members who were a bit excited about the whole thing would have made all the difference.
Tomorrowland: Panem, Circenses et Yo Yo’s
Tomorrowland is a bit of a mish mash, in terms of Halloween. It’s like they didn’t quite have a theme or know where to go with it. On one hand, my husband was fascinated by the activities in Tomorrowland because they had some fairly impressive, I don’t know what you call them, “yo yo athletes”? Everything yo yo related was glow in the dark and the tricks were amusing, but once again, it didn’t hold the attention of my actual kids for very long. There was an exciting ride event for my 6 year old, as they had turned Space Mountain into Ghost Galaxy. He loved this, but he is really fearless, and there were some very frightening imagery that is probably NOT for those under the age of 8. There is also a Bootique for face painting that lends itself more toward terrifying and less toward fantasy. So, it is not great for toddlers or preschoolers. To add to the thematic confusion, Tomorrowland is also set up as the “party zone”. Which means loud music and DJ’s. Which makes sense……why? Because we all really wanted to be able to take our young kids to Ibiza for Halloween, but just didn’t want to pay the plane fare?!?! My guess is that this may be aiming for the tween group. But I found it mainly annoying and the kids weren’t interested. Still, it was a bit hard to pull the husband away from the hypnotic glow of the yo yo’s. So they must have done something right on that.
Adventureland: Future Therapist Bills Guarenteed
For young kids, this whole land is just a “no”. There were two Halloween activities in Adventureland. Both were pretty much guaranteed to induce post traumatic stress disorder in any child under the age of 5. I wonder if Disney provides counselors on sight for this. If not, they should consider it. Let me consider them both, in case you see something similar next Halloween.
“The Revenge of the Headless Horseman”. I don’t know about the rest of you, but that story scared the bejesus out of me when I was 8. Some weird headless guy running around looking for his head and throwing a flaming pumpkin at hapless victims. That was good for a least a month of nightmares…and it was just a story. This ride takes it a bit further with a creepy sideshow barker hoarding and displaying head of said Horseman. Once again, NOT FOR KIDS. Nor adults who have bad childhood memories of this.
“The Cursed Jungle” Think Jungle Cruise ride, but even scarier. I have issues with the appropriateness of that ride for kids under 6, even without the Halloween theme and creepy grim reaper characters. Might be OK for kids over 10, as long as they are not too skittish. But then again, maybe not.
Main Street U.S.A.
“Clash of Evil”: Actually, this was more like “Void of Evil”. It was supposed to be some Main Street U.S.A battle thing that supposed pitted vampires vs. werewolves. I was envisioning an undead version of the “Jets” and “Sharks” from West Side Story. “When you’re a vamp, you’re a vamp all the way” and such. But honestly, we saw none of it while we were there. We got there at 7:30 and didn’t leave until 10:30 but saw no sign of anything. Oh wait, I am wrong. We did see some fairly “swishy” looking girls model walking down Main Street as werewolves. To be honest, I was relieved about this, as I was afraid that it would be too scary for the boys, but no worries there. Once again, there was little to no explanation of timing, so it was hard to know when anything was happening.
“Graves Academy:” For those under the age of tweens…once again, just no. Why? It’s about a teacher at a prestigious learning academy that develops “hobbies” and goes mad. Think Norman Bates. So my question is, do we really need to give young kids any additional reasons to be distrustful of, and creeped out by, their teachers? Answer: Nope. Hollywood and the news has got that angle pretty well covered.
Oh, and just for the record, I DID NOT take my kids on either of these. At least I have learned some lessons from my past Disney experiences and paid attention to the names of the rides. I went, and was glad that I did the preview so as NOT to traumatize my young kids.
However, given all this, there was ONE redeeming grace for the Halloween festivities, in terms of young kids, and that was…
THE GLOW IN THE DARK PARADE
This was one of the better Disney parades I have seen in any of the Disneylands. The humongous, and moving, Jack Skellington perched atop a pumpkin at the beginning of the parade is worth going all by itself. It is an incredible visual, particularly for the beginning of a parade. I thought my youngest would be really scared by this, but not so much. Other characters from “Nightmare Before Christmas” were also prominently displayed, including the weird brain exposed scientist guy who created “Sally”, as well as “Sally” herself.. Maleficent had her own float as well. But there were also appearances by Captain Hook and Jafar. I was quite impressed by the cast members portraying these characters, as they did a great job of making eye contact and engaging without being too scary. The only thing that put him off was the sound…which in truth was un-necessarily loud.
So, in short, the parade is worth the trip, even if the rest of it was a bit lackluster. If you have small ones, consider arriving for the parade, trick or treating in Fantasyland and then making a hasty retreat. Unless, of course, Hong Kong Disney decides to make Halloween more of a family affair…which I hope happens. And to that end, I have a few tips if the Disney folks are listening.
Tips for Hong Kong Disneyland to make a better Halloween:
I was impressed with the level of work that seemed to have gone into this Halloween but sad that almost none of it was aimed at parents or kids under 10. And it wouldn’t be hard to include us, so here are some suggestions.
1) Separate out your celebrations. Have a few early on in October that are aimed specifically at the younger kids. A lot of your park is aimed at younger children so why shut them out at Halloween. The other Disney parks do a “Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween” throughout several lands and this works fantastically. They do this at night and they include some very scheduled character shows and events around the park…with maps to help you know what is where and when. Consider this. Then you can have a couple “regular” Halloween events closer to actual Halloween for adults and tweens. You can even have a super scary one on Halloween night itself. It would be very little additional work, as you are trying to do all of it on one night anyway. Just separate things out a bit temporally rather than geographically.
2) Rather than picking random scary characters, let the Disney Villains loose to meet and greet people…for all occasions. The whole vampires vs. werewolves thing doesn’t work with Disney. It reeks of “Twilight” which is a bit campy and not a Disney franchise. With so many other Disney franchises to choose from, why go with this? Dr. Facilier trumps a vampire any day!! And let’s face it, tweens are no longer scared of vampires…they want to date them.
3) Be more precise in your scheduling. Saying under Character Greeting times that “characters appear occasionally at Fantasyland” from 6:30 to 10:30 pm just doesn’t cut it. You’re Disney, you can plan better than this!!! Plus, better scheduling allows parents to control what kids do and do not attend. It’s not really that hard to do this, but it makes all the difference in the world.
4) You are a new park, so you have all the room in the world to make changes and incorporate feedback, which is why Disney is such a strong brand. Please consider all of the above as the “gift” of feedback. 🙂 Here’s hoping next year will have a little more Mickey and a little less “Twilight”.