Hey there, Park Journey readers!
During a recent trip to Hong Kong I was able to knock a new park off my bucket list: Ocean Park! Situated on a mountainous peninsula that jets into the South China Sea, Ocean Park is known as one of the most scenic and unique parks in the world.
The park, which opened as one of Asia's first major modern theme parks in 1977, is currently undergoing a large expansion that is transforming the property from a regional park to a multi-day resort. Come along as we check out the park from a first-time visitor's perspective and discuss the future of Ocean Park!
Written by Andrew Cunningham
For a first-time Hong Kong visitor, Ocean Park couldn't be any easier to reach. As part of Ocean Park's multi-year transformation, the park got it's own dedicated MTR (subway system) station in 2017. Park attendance reportedly jumped over 30% that year, in large part due the park now being a quick 4 minute subway ride from downtown Hong Kong. Previously, a 25-minute bus ride was required to get to the park from the city.
In fact, with the new MTR stop in place, Ocean Park is decidedly easier to reach from downtown Hong Kong than its main competitor- Hong Kong Disneyland. As Ocean Park is currently building itself out with a on-site hotel and second gate (a massive new-for-2020 waterpark), it's natural to make comparisons to Hong Kong Disneyland, who has its own metro stop, three on-site hotels, but only one gate.
Above you can see the view of the park entrance and hotel from the MTR station.
Directly next to the park entrance is the new-for-2019 Marriott Ocean Park. Many of the hotel's 471 rooms overlook the inside of the park, similar to what you'd see at many other popular theme park resorts, such at The Grand Californian rooms at DCA or the Hotel Matamba and Ling Bao rooms at Phantasialand.
When you enter the park, the first thing that you see is The Royal Aquarium- Ocean Park's "Cinderella's Castle", so to speak. There is normally a lagoon that sits in front of the aquarium, but it is currently undergoing a refurbishment, hence the construction walls.
As far as aquariums go, The Grand Aquarium lives up to it's name fairly well. There are several interactive exhibits, large glass walls, tunnels, and themed rooms to walk through.
The other major attraction in the front section of the park is the panda exhibit.
The exhibit features two giant pandas and actually has a bit of interesting history behind it: the pandas housed here were gifts from the government of China to Hong Kong in celebration of 10 years of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.
Aside from the Aquarium and Panda exhibit, the front part of the park doesn't house much else in terms of attractions. One of the unique things about Ocean Park is that the main park lies up a mountain and down a long peninsula, about 1.5 kilometers (.93 miles) away from the front section. There are two ways to get from the park entrance to the main park: gondola over the mountain or train through the mountain.
I decided to take the gondola on my trip out to the peninsula. The system loads pretty efficiently- it has two stations with continuously moving gondolas. The left side will give you unobstructed ocean views while the right side will take you a bit higher.
Oh, and note to DisTwitter: Hong Kong is a hot and humid environment and these gondolas don't have air conditioning. The horror of it all!!!!
(They were totally fine, the windows provided plenty of ventilation)
The gondola ride is breathtaking and is a definite must-do at Ocean Park. The views from the ride are one of the things that makes Ocean Park so unique.
With that said, being positioned on a mountainside right next to the sea, there were a lot of high winds that swung and bounced my gondola around like a little toy. As someone who does not deal particularly well with heights, I found this to be one of the most unnerving rides I've ever been on.
From a movement standpoint, the main park on the peninsula is broken into three main sections: the top of the mountain, the north side, and the sound side. Due to the elevation changes between the sections, it's easiest to clear an entire section before moving on the another area of the park.
The top of the mountain (pictured above) is home to Thrill Mountain (a B&M floorless coaster + assorted flat rides), The Rainforest (rapid ride + conservation exhibit), and the Polar Adventure (a Mack powered coaster + animal exhibit) themed areas. The south side of the peninsula is home to Marine World, the park's original ride collection. The north side of the park is home to Adventure Land, where you can find the park's log flume and famous mine train coaster.
Since the gondola drops you off near the top of the park, I decided to start there and work my way down.
Hair Raiser sits at the top of the "Thrill Mountain" section and is the park's newest coaster, opening in 2011. It's a compact B&M floorless that features some fun snappy moments and even a decent airtime hill. Like everything at Ocean Park, the views from the ride are absolutely insane, especially since this is the coaster situated at the highest elevation in the park.
Immediately next to Hair Raiser is the park's custom Mack powered coaster, Arctic Blast. It's a fun family ride that is themed to the adjacent arctic animal exhibit. Its decently long for a family coaster and you get two laps per ride, so I'd recommend giving it a go if the queue is reasonable.
After clearing the top section of the park, I decided to head down to check out the attractions on the north side. As you can see, there is a noticeable elevation change between park sections.
Much in the style of Universal Hollywood, there are a series of lengthy escalators that bring you down to the north end of the peninsula.
Oh, and that massive construction project? That's Ocean Park's new waterpark. It will feature both indoor and outdoor sections that will be suitable for year-round operation. The construction site is huge!
The park's log flume was closed for refurbishment while I was there, so the only operating attraction the north side was the park's Wild West Mine Train coaster, often cited as the coaster with the best views in the world.
The coaster with the best views in the world... now featuring VR headsets....
Luckily, you can opt out of the VR headsets.
I have to say, Wild West Mine Train was probably my favorite ride in the park. It was some really great moments of airtime and, obviously, an unbelievable setting.
After doing a few laps on Wild West Mine Train, I decided to head over to the south side of the park. Unlike the north side of the park, there were no escalators to bring you over here, so be prepared for a bit of a hilly hike!
While walking down to the south side of the park, I passed this McDonald's that easily had the longest queue out of any food location I saw all day.
In American parks, the longest queue is almost always to get terrible Chinese food at Panda Express. In China, the longest queue is to get terrible American food at McDonalds. Can't help but get a laugh out of that...
The south side of the park is home to Dragon, the park's classic custom Arrow looper. Opened in 1984, this was Arrow's first custom coaster to be installed outside of North America and was Ocean Park's most famous ride for many years.
Dragon was also the first coaster to use the "Sidewinder" element, which is the precursor to the modern day immelmann that can be found on many looping coasters today.
Overall, the ride experience is predictably rough, but it does have a few fun moments.
Between the ride's first and second loop, there is a turn that takes rides at high speeds right next to a cliff that drops into the South China Sea. This was probably my favorite part of the coaster, it was really cool and unique.
After spending some time on the peninsula and enjoying all of the rides, I decided to head back to the front of the park. I'm not sure my heart could handle another ride on the gondola, so I opted to check out the train.
The inside of the train is themed to a submarine and features video screens that tell a story as you go through the dark mountain tunnel. The screen-based approach used on this is said to be the inspiration for the Hogwarts Express train now operating at Universal Orlando.
Back at the front of the park, I did a quick run through the gift shop before heading back into the city. They sell miniature replicas of the gondola ride- how cool!
And that's all I have!
I definitely recommend visiting Ocean Park if you're a theme park fan visiting Hong Kong. Of the 100+ parks I've visited, it definitely clocks in as one of the most unique parks in the world, just based off of the setting and layout alone.
I'll be back soon with a look at Hong Kong Disneyland. Thank you for reading!