Daniel Scott catches up with old acquaintances at Hong Kong Disneyland.
Since opening in 2005, Hong Kong Disneyland has had a staggering 31 million visitors. Yet I doubt many of those entering its grounds are as reluctant and grouchy as me.
We have been at the theme park in Hong Kong's broth-like humidity for about an hour when I have a meltdown. It comes after we are almost run over by a stampede of excited guests when the Disneyland gates open at 10am; after a 40-minute wait to board the train that travels the park's perimeter; and after disembarking at Fantasyland, at the opposite side of the park, only to queue for another 30 minutes for the chance to ride prancing horses on the Cinderella Carousel.
No matter how much I tell myself that we are here for my daughters - Mila, 4, and Freya, 2 - and that Disneyland provides them with a perfect interlude on our journey to Europe, I can't help feeling gruff.
I swear that if that cast member - one of 5000 staff at the park - dressed as Mickey Mouse comes near me, I'll do something regrettable with my daughters' fairy floss. I grit my teeth, ignore cries of "We want to go to Sleeping Beauty Castle", and frogmarch my family to some glittery towers and minarets, where we join a blessedly short queue.
Then, from speakers mounted at the ride, I hear a familiar song:
"It's a world of laughter, a world of tears
It's a world of hope, it's a world of fear
There's so much that we share
That it's time we're aware
It's a small world after all."
I'm transported back to a day 30 years ago when, as a sulky teenager, I was dragged to Disneyland in Anaheim, California, by an overenthusiastic host. I was just as determined then not to enjoy myself, but the moment I stepped aboard the US park's It's a Small World ride, with its schmaltzy representation of the many faces of our planet, the magic of Disney somehow reached inside the attitudinal adolescent to uncover an enchanted child.
Decades later, aboard the "happiest cruise that ever sailed", I have a similar epiphany: there are some places - Wiggles concerts, Disneylands, Santa's grotto - that I must willingly enter because I'm a dad. So as we progress through Hong Kong Disneyland's regions of the world on a water-borne boat - with its representations of Eskimos fishing, pink giraffes in Africa and gawky kangaroos in Australia - I gradually shed my cynicism.
Then I begin to enjoy myself. On go the rose-tinted 3D glasses to watch Mickey's PhilharMagic adventure; I delight in a journey through the Hundred Acre Wood with Winnie the Pooh; and I even smirk at a Mickey character strolling down the park's Main Street, USA.
If we didn't have a flight to London to catch, we would stay at Disneyland well beyond dusk. Our young children are not quite ready for the roller-coaster rides of Tomorrowland or Toy Story Land so we spend the last hours of our visit at Adventureland, taking a jungle-style cruise past bathing animatronic elephants and yawning hippos before attending a musical based on The Lion King.
The show's acrobatics and dancing, elaborate costumes and familiar songs (by sirs Elton John and Tim Rice) leave the biggest impression on the family. Indeed, it remains my daughters' abiding memory of our eight-week sojourn in Europe.
Before we leave Hong Kong, however, we slip back to our accommodation at the Regal Airport Hotel, where the children rest while my wife and I indulge in massages at the hotel's OM spa. The Regal is remarkably quiet for an airport hotel, yet it couldn't be more convenient for stopovers as it's just a five-minute walk from the passenger terminal via an airconditioned link bridge. Even beyond the confines of Disneyland, it's a small world after all.
Daniel Scott travelled courtesy of Hong Kong Disneyland and the Regal Airport Hotel.
Virgin Atlantic has a fare from Sydney and Melbourne to Hong Kong from $1220 low-season return, including taxes. See virginatlantic .com.
Disneyland is on Lantau Island, a 20-minute taxi ride from the international airport. Trains to Disneyland Resort Station run from Sunny Bay Station, connecting with the main line between the airport and Hong Kong and Kowloon.
The Regal Airport Hotel has 1171 rooms, several restaurants, pools and a spa. It is 30 minutes by train from central Hong Kong. Rooms are from $HK3400 ($419) a night. See regalhotel.com.
Day tickets to Hong Kong Disneyland cost $HK399 for adults, $HK285 for children (three-11). Park hours vary. See park.hongkongdisneyland.com.