From the famous Star Ferries and the squawking of parrots in a giant walk-in aviary to the hustle and bustle of its street markets, Hong Kong has always been a great family destination.
And now that Hong Kong Disneyland has opened its doors - the third Disney theme park outside the USA and the one closest to our shores - the glittering city has another jewel in its crown that will be sure to entrance kids. Certainly, Hong Kong is now firmly on the map as a great family destination!
Hong Kong Disneyland is located on Lantau Island near the airport and is easily accessible on the Tung Chung Line of the MTR. In no time at all you'll be strolling down Main Street USA to the sounds of marching bands and the smell of freshly-baked cookies. Head first to the iconic Sleeping Beauty's Castle in the heart of Fantasyland, where you'll bump into all your favourite Disney characters, from Mickey to Cinderella. Unique to Hong Kong are the Fantasy Gardens as well as the parades and entertainment that celebrate local Chinese culture - don't forget to say hello to Mulan!
Next, head for Tomorrowland, which includes shops and restaurants filled with robots and rocket ships. Its adventures are literally out of this world: you can rocket through a whirling constellation of planets on the Orbitron, hurtle through Space Mountain on a rollercoaster, and blast away at enemies as part of the hilariously good fun at Buzz Lightyear Astroblasters.
In Adventureland you venture deep into the heart of the jungle, where you can cruise down a hippo-filled river and cross to Tarzan Island. Here you can explore Tarzan's Treehouse, covered in vines and moss. Also in Adventureland, the visually stunning Festival of the Lion King introduces a different slant to this timeless tale, in a live performance that is absolutely fabulous.
At 310 acres, Hong Kong Disneyland is small compared to its US counterparts; in fact, this is the smallest Disneyland in the world. Although not on the same level as the other parks, combining it with everything else that Hong Kong has to offer certainly makes this a terrific family holiday hotspot. Take time to explore the city's famed street markets, which are crammed with all sorts of cheap treasures, from brand-name T-shirts to designer sunglasses, costume jewellery and watches, toys and CDs at much less than Australian prices. The best street markets are in the alleyways that run between Queen's and Des Voeux Roads in Central and along Temple Street in Kowloon.
When you get tired of the street bustle and have gazed at the splendid harbour (a ride across in a Star Ferry is a must), you can always relax in several excellent gardens. The best for kids is Kowloon Park, not least for its flock of flamingos that loiter incongruously in the ponds. There's also a fitness trail, aviaries and three outdoor swimming pools linked by wandering canals and a waterfall - just the thing if Hong Kong's humidity hits. Hong Kong Park in Central is also terrific. There is a maze and kids' playground, but the highlight is the huge walk-in aviary with a suspended walkway in the trees from which to admire 600 types of birds.
Reserve a full day for Ocean Park, which despite its name is actually a theme park. If your kids have never seen a panda before, they'll be thrilled; there are two here in their own specially-designed enclosure. There are also aquariums, dinosaur exhibits, rollercoasters and other rides, all laid out in lush landscaped gardens. A special Kids' World features playgrounds, children's rides, and remote-controlled cars.
Ocean Park is slated for some new development, so should get even better over the next few years, as will Disneyland, which also has plans for expansion.
No visit to Hong Kong is complete without a ride on the rack railway up The Peak. At the top there is plenty more for kids, including a Madame Tussauds.
There are also mind-boggling views, both day and night, over skyscrapers and harbour: the whole of Hong Kong spread below, and full of attractions.
By Cathy Wagstaff