If there’s a better place to celebrate FINALLY scoring a Chinese visa than Ocean Park Hong Kong – at least when you’re a single mother and a twelve-year-old boy – I’d like to hear about it.
OK, so I had my eye on the very reasonably priced lunch buffet at the Shangri-La, — with, fact fans, UNLIMITED SASHIMI — but Zac wasn’t missing out on Ocean Park for nowt.
For Ocean Park is indisputably Hong Kong’s finest theme park, on one of the best locations in the world (apart from the rides atop the Stratosphere in Vegas — do they even count?!).
It’s set atop and around a peak overlooking the sea, which means you need to take either a cable car or a funicular, cunningly styled as the submarine from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, from the base to the peak, and then escalators and walkways down the other side.
It’s the sort of creative land use that you only really get in tiny, crowded places like Singapore, Hong Kong and Macau — truly amazing.
And a whole new area, Thrill Mountain, which was so close to opening last time we visited that a couple of Cantonese popstrels – think pre-Psy K-Pop, but with more makeup – were shooting a promo there, has actually opened.
Zac is, of course, team leader. “The rapids!” he says, setting off at a run, as I lumber after him – I really need to get on the ski slopes fast, or all my Everest Base Camp benefits are going to be lost.
And so we ride the Raging River, a quite gigglesome raft ride, blissed out by the fact that it’s warm enough not to mind getting wet. (The secondary flume, which we loved last time, is undergoing pre-New Year maintenance.)
Next up? Thrill Mountain.
Zac loves bumper cars, so we ride those, and a whirligoround, and a tame but entertaining coaster called the Polar Express, but eschew one of those terrifying swings that lifts you 50 feet above the ground before it starts to rotate.
There’s a particularly terrifying-looking coaster there, called Hair Raiser, which has, we think, the potential to join Battlestar Galactica in Singapore and Crystal Valley at Happy Valley Bejing in our canons of best rollercoaster ever.
But it seems to be running only once every three hours.
And, anyway, Zac wants to make it to the Mine Train, and have another go on the Raging Rapids first.
The Mine Train, in fact, is one of my favourite rollercoasters. It’s partly because it feels old-fashioned: you’re in a car, with a rigid lap-belt, but none of the full body restraints you get on the more technical new-school stuff. It rattles and bangs like old rollercoasters always did.
And so there’s a real sense of drama to it, as well as an illusory danger: it feels, frankly, almost flimsy as it rattles away, looping out and over the South China Sea, exposing dazzling views of the sorts of tropical islands most people associate more with Thailand than Hong Kong, and, in a rush of adrenaline, down, down towards it, then up the other side.
It’s rather splendid. We have a couple of goes on it, then pause for Korean squid (me) and hotdogs (Zac).
We’re not quite into the Chinese New Year crazy, so the crowds are relatively controlled, and the queues are slight.
Night begins to fall, and the lights go on. After thousands of years of lanterns, it’s not surprising that the Chinese do illuminations as well as they do fireworks.
There’s already a Chinese New Year theme to them – like Christmas, which it resembles, Chinese New Year gets started well ahead of time.
I’m a sucker for glitter and glitz and pretty lights. (And I ooh and aah at dolphin shows, too, for which I get my wrist slapped heavily by my spawn, who correctly refuses to watch such things on principle.)
And, as we head down in search of ice-cream through that warm, purple Hong Kong evening, a light and water show, rather – how can I put this?! — “reminiscent” of the Bellagio in Vegas, illuminates the lake on the lower levels in shades of fuchsia, scarlet, lilac and gold.
We discover Haagen-Dazs’ new “Secret Sensations” range includes Crème Brulée and Chocolate Fondant, AKA, ice-cream with ice-cream topping in the middle, AKA pure deliciousness.
“Ooh!” I say, again. “Acrobats!”
We sit and watch a troupe of old school acrobats doing their thing, springing perilously high into the air, and an old-fashioned padded clown, so over-inflated he feels like a Mister Wibbly toy – “Is it childish to just want to push him over?” asks Zac – and, in a very old-fashioned way, it feels like a lovely end to the day.
Or, as Zac says, “Theme parks are EPIC!”
I still wish we’d gone on the Hair Raiser, though. Next time…