On Sunday, we continued our theme of “things we could have done had we brought the toddler” and hit Ocean Park Amusement Park. According to Wikipedia, Forbes says that Ocean Park is the world’s 7th most popular amusement park, and 33rd most visited tourist attraction in the world. It is far more popular than its rival, Hong Kong Disneyland, attracting more visitors per year.
One explanation for this is that Ocean Park costs $32 USD for entry, while HK Disney is $45. Another is that Ocean Park has been around for almost 35 years (thus people our age remember going as kids and now want to bring their kids) while Disney has only been in HK for 5 years.
We decided to spend a day at an amusement park because of accessibility issues. Ocean Park (and Disney, which was our back-up plan) advertises that they have wheelchair friendly facilities and that guests in wheelchairs can get onto rides without a lot of trouble.
What wasn’t clear to us is that while Ocean Park is technically quite accessible, it’s a nightmare for anyone pushing someone else in a wheelchair….because it’s built into both sides of a mountain. There is very little in the way of flat ground..it’s all pushing someone up a hill or down a hill, which gets exhausting. Sadly, unlike places like the zoo here in Singapore, they don’t have electric carts to rent to remove the burden from the person who is otherwise pushing the chair.
For us, though, the big draw was that Ocean Park has Pandas. While Singapore is supposed to be getting a Panda for the upcoming River Safari attraction (which will be our fourth zoo after the main Zoo, the Night Safari, and Jurong Bird Park) opening sometime next year, we don’t currently have one…and Ravi and I love Panda bears (well, we’re big fans of bears in general).
After some panda watching, we got on the cable cars, which go up over the top of the mountain and down the other side to reach the second half of the park. There is a special car that is made to be wheelchair accessible, but it is a tight fit with the wheelchair and a second person. The trip took maybe 5-15 minutes (I wasn’t paying attention) and the views are INCREDIBLE, even with the heavy fog we say on the day we visited.
Once on the other side, we found the McDonalds (what? it’s tradition to eat a McDonald’s in every country we visit!) and had a quick lunch. We wandered toward some of the rides I really wanted to visit, bypassing the Yangtze River Sturgeon exhibit, and accidentally missing the dolphin show. I was pretty sad that I had to pass up the big roller coaster (which also goes upside down) because of stairs…and the secondary consideration that a rollercoaster like that probably wasn’t the best thing for my foot, even if I *am* almost 6 weeks out from the break. We did hit a few rides…and the staff were very nice…in a wheelchair you often enter through the exit gate, and by-pass the line.
From the back end of the second half of the park, there are two ways to reach the rides back to the first half…up a series of escalators or by hiking back up a steep hill. Rather than force Ravi to push me back up the hills, I got out of the chair and rode the escalators, while he folded the chair and pushed it in front of him on the escalator behind me (in the same way we take the stroller on the escalators here in Singapore). This saved us a great deal of time, and allowed us to reach the funicular (the other transport option between the two parts of the park) for the ride back. On the funicular, there is an attempt using blacklight and music to give you the experience of being on a submarine passing through deep water…it was okay, but either due to lack of Cantonese or because it’s just genuinely not made clear, Ravi and I both felt like we’d missed the real “point” of the experience (other than transportation).
We arrived just in time to catch the big show of the day…Symbio. Shown each day at close of day, Symbio tells the story of the fight between the water and fire dragons for supremacy and how they learned to work together. The show is done with music, projections on the main fountain, pyrotechnics and other special effects. The video is just over six minutes, and sadly there is someone blocking part of the view on the left because I was shooting it from my chair, but it’s worth watching at least some of…at one point a few minutes in, they light the lake on fire.
Having spent the day there, I am a bit surprised that HK Disney isn’t more popular than Ocean Park. While they’re trying, Ocean Park is difficult to navigate with a wheelchair (and wouldn’t be a picnic with a stroller, either), the park is showing it’s age (it’s a bit run-down and dirty), and while it does have some big attractions (Pandas, dolphins, giant aquarium), I think Disney would probably give more bang for the tourist buck.
On the other hand, it’s not just admission that’s cheaper. I haven’t been to HK Disney, but I’ve been to Disneyland, and I know that food in the park isn’t cheap, while it seemed reasonable at Ocean Park. I HAVE been to an HK Disney hotel gift shop (guilt gifts…E has recently gotten into Mickey Mouse, and we wanted to get her an authentic one) and the merchandise is priced MUCH higher at Disney. Like I noted, Ocean Park has been around for over 30 years, so I can see how for people nearby, it’s somewhere you went as a kid, so you want to take your kids (much as I wish Whalom Park were still open, so I could take E and how we’ll likely take E to Canobie Lake Park in New Hampshire at some point…both were/are fairly lame, but they have nostalgic value for us).