It was the afternoon of the Luckiest Day, August 8, 1888, when a family of grizzly bears stopped to scratch their backs against a boulder on Big Grizzly Mountain. A villager passing by shortly afterwards spotted something gleaming in the rock. All that scratching had worn down the surface and revealed a bright vein of gold. Once the news got out, hordes of people began descending on Big Grizzly Gulch to seek their fortunes, sparking a gold rush that brought much prosperity to that luckiest of towns, Grizzly Gulch.
That's the heart-warming (and totally fictitious) backstory for Hong Kong Disneyland's latest venture, Grizzly Gulch, a new zone suggested by colourful tales of gold prospectors and lawless frontier settlements in the US back in the 19th century.
"The interesting thing is the idea for Grizzly Gulch began in 2006 when we'd only been open for nine months or so," said Noble Coker, vice-president for park operations at Hong Kong Disneyland Resort. "We started thinking about what our expansion was going to be. As the park grows, we want to understand what our guests in Asia are specifically focused on."
HK Disneyland's newest attraction before this, Toy Story Land, was suggested by feedback from visitors who said they were looking for something related to Pixar, which they identified with Disney brand. The genesis of Grizzly Gulch is a little more unusual, however. While other zones in the amusement part were built around pre-existing stories, in the case of Grizzly Gulch a tale was freshly minted to go with the concept for this new venture.
"One of the stories that everyone is very aware of is the Old West in the US. The other thing that people love is anything related to gold and getting rich," Coker observed.
Visitors to the Old Jail can get personalised ‘wanted’ posters printed.
A brand new story to incorporate these elements was thus created. The new zone offers seven attractions, including the Big Grizzly Mountain Runaway Mine Cars, a ride on a network of railway tracks with built-in links to the story of the grizzly bear clan living in this fictional mountain town.
While other rides might feel like they've been imported from elsewhere, Coker said, this one feels more like it's been tailored to fit its environment. And there are lots of fun story elements to this ride. For instance, the grizzly bear cub, being very naughty, may sometimes set off dynamite that makes the rail cars go rapidly forward, or inadvertently flip a switch that sends the cars off down another section of track. The ride is full of surprises but not too frightening, just enough to create a few thrills _ for adult passengers as much as the children. The ride is actually a good way to tour the little town but, in anticipation of toe-curling surprises, many passengers keep their eyes squeezed shut throughout and so don't get to fully appreciate the beautiful scenery. Walking around would probably be a better idea for the more faint-hearted.
Geyser Gulch, where there are artificial geysers and water-guns are supplied for friendly battles, is just what the doctor ordered on a hot, sunny day. Those who don't enjoy getting soaked can always stand back and watch the impromptu show put on by other visitors. "There's always a small show going on at Geyser Gulch: little kids getting underneath, pulling the rope and get doused with water. There's always someone getting soaked," Coker said.
Another popular spot for taking photos is Grizzly Gulch Old Jail which is covered with graffiti, messages and "wanted" notices for notorious criminals. Visitors can pop their heads under the jail sign if they want to see how they'd look as an outlaw on a wanted poster.
If you're lucky, you might get to Grizzly Gulch just in time to see the Welcome Wagon Show. You might also get to meet Disney characters Mickey, Minnie, Chip and Dale dressed up in their new Wild West-themed outfits, or newcomers Koda and Kenai from that Walt Disney animated feature film Brother Bear.
And speaking of luck ... anyone who's been down on their luck lately might like to touch the Lucky Nugget. Billed as "the largest gold nugget ever unearthed", this can't be seen in the town's Assay Office, housed in an Wild West-style wooden building.
While on the subject of nuggets, another nugget, though one of an entirely different kind, is also worth mentioning. Lucky Nugget Saloon, a small dining outlet, serves chicken nuggets, as well as more hearty fare like fish and chips. Coker explained that the food here is freshly made, not the re-heated frozen type. It is easily one of the best choices in the park for a meal.
Grizzly Gulch is the largest expansion in Hong Kong Disneyland since its opening. And the park management has more magic up its collective sleeve. The final stage of the expansion plan is expected to unfold some time in 2013 when a new area called Mystic Point will open to the public.
Anyone visiting Oct 4-31 will enjoy a special treat as the park goes into Haunted Halloween mode, with decorations, additional shows, extended opening hours and scarier versions of existing attractions. The Glow in the Park Parade will also return to wow visitors throughout the festival.
About the author
- Writer: Napamon Roongwitoo
Position: Outlook Writer