Ocean Park

Ocean Park is a nice day out for a family in Hong Kong. It is small enough to enjoy in a day without feeling rushed, but big enough that you don't feel ripped off or get stuck repeating rides to try and prolong that theme park feeling.

Depending on your personal theme, it is a little of many good things, or a bit much of trying to be all things to all folks, but in the end I'd bring my family back, and have a good time doing so. It beats the heck out of the sugary artificiality of that other Mouse-driven Hong Kong theme park.

If you think of Hong Kong Island as a clock with Central and all the downtown stuff at the "12" position, Ocean Park is seated at the "6." From Central you can get there for about HK$10 in 20 minutes via the Number 6, 6x or 260 bus, or the Number 5 or 6 mini-bus. A taxi from Central will cost about HK$60 through the Aberdeen tunnel right to the front gate.

Getting in is also easy (you can see prices online), as they accept US$ cash, RMB, HK currency, credit cards and probably barter-able livestock. Most of the guests are there on prepaid tour groups so those of us left paying regular admission should not face long lines. Inside the gate are coin lockers, toilets, one of two in-park McDonalds and of course souvenir shops a'plenty. One price buys you unlimited rides like in most similar places.

One of the best parts of Ocean Park is the cable cars, both as an attraction in its own right and the only practical way to get from the entrance area to the rest of the park. Before you go, there are some things to see and do in the entrance area. Don't miss the pandas, and for those with smaller kiddies, the kiddy rides. Do miss the cheesy video arcades and virtual reality ride you do have to walk past to get on the cable cars.

The cable cars take you on a very pleasant ten minute ride over two mountains. Each car seats about five people. You need to enter a moving car, but it is creeping by and a small step up. Smaller kids will need a boost and you should have the stroller folded ahead of time, but otherwise it is not difficult. Aboard the car it is weirdly quiet (few places in Hong Kong are as quiet; worth the price of admission). Two sides of the car are glass, and two are barred openings. I don't think your kids can fall out, but do watch as they can easily throw things out. The ride is high but not scary, and the views out over the South China Sea are absolutely breathtaking and unavailable anywhere else in Hong Kong. I really wanted to ditch the kids over the side (when they are older) and just hold hands with my wife for the ride.

Once off the cable car, if you want fish turn right with the crowd for a l-o-n-g walk toward the big stadium with dolphin shows and toward the space needle grandpa-paced tower ride. If you want rides without the walk and can handle some stairs, turn left and cut through the seedy Seaview cafÃÆ'©.

The rides are a mish-mosh of stuff, feeling like Ocean Park bought up a bunch of unrelated attractions at some huge theme park yard sale. They are older, and not like the stuff you are used to at five star places like Busch Gardens or Six Flags, but still a good time. We went on an autumn weekday and never waited more than 10 minutes for anything. Standouts include the "Abyss," which raises you on an open seat about ten stories before dropping you, a lot of swinging around and back and forth rides, and a looping rollercoaster. As a whole the rides are too scary and rough for lower elementary kids, pretty thrilling for a ten year old, and heading into cheesy territory for teens.

For the fish course, you have a side show level shark tank, a decent but tries too hard to seem educational when it is just fun reef tank and a big-scale dolphin and sea lion show, pictured here. Of course you have seen this show done better at Seaworld somewhere, but it is entertaining, occasionally funny in that lame theme park way, and does feature a warm up mariachi band, something you don't see all that often in Hong Kong. Your life is incomplete until you see a three piece band of non-Chinese speaking musicians try and get a stadium full of Chinese to sing along on a spirited version of "La Bamba."

As in theme parks everywhere, you will never lack for things to eat, though a few choices such as Mr. Squid may be less familiar than the golden arches. Prices are typical for Hong Kong, and along with the squid and burgers you can find ice cream, sweets of all kinds and Coca Cola by the river. Ocean Park has its signature characters strolling about for photos, and of course you can buy plush versions of the same all over the park.

As I mentioned, one of the highlights of Ocean Park is the view of the surrounding area. The Park sits on a small peninsula, and from all over you encounter sweet views of the nearby islands, ships at sea and wipe-out beautiful sunsets. Nearby Aberdeen harbor never looked as good, and the sea air is a very nice change of pace from dusty Central.

An Alternative View

That said, our 14 year old has her own view of Ocean Park, which is worth a read as well:

Your whole time in Ocean Park, just remember one thing—it was built in the 80's (Parent Note: our 14 year old thinks of the 80's as a really long time ago). Hence the sad looking, well, practically everything. From the bathrooms to the Mr. Squid stands most things in Ocean Park need a paint job. But keeping that fact in mind throughout your trip to Ocean Park, it is not too bad.

The rides are good and the animals don't appear to be tortured like you get at some zoos. Some rides to look out for are The Dragon, a great roller coaster that has its loops and hill, and the Abyss, which is you falling from 80 feet. in the air barely strapped onto a leather seat. There is also that swinging boat thing, and a flume ride we did not go on which didn't look to bad. As for food, unless you're like me and hate McDonalds, stick to what's familiar. The food at some theme parks can be unpredictable and Ocean Park is no exception.

But one of the best rides you can get on at Ocean Park is the cable cars. The great thing about these cable cars is that your not locked into a stuffy little room with dirty windows, but the windows are open (ok, yeah you are barred in) and you get a great view of the suburban side of Hong Kong. After you pass that bit you see Middle Island and just oceans for miles around. On really clear days you can see all the way out to Tai Tam and Shek-O!

All in all, the rides are great and its usually not as crowded as Disney. The animal shows are well done and there are no tiring lines and endless waiting. A great way to get away from the craziness of the city. One warning: be careful of randomly strewn mariachi bands.

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