It was certainly a different Ocean Park (www.OceanPark.hk) that I visited this year as part of the IAAPA Asian Expo. My last visit was in 2006 and things have changed, in the ten years since my last visit the venerable Asian park has undergone a metamorphosis. Upon entering Ocean Park one notices right away that the property looks fresher than it ever did. The main gate was moved to the front and offers beautiful fountains and animal exhibits. The new “old Hong Kong” area great and has a fantastic assortment of food, I had noodles at Chan’s Noodle. As guests relax and enjoy lunch they can take in the beautiful Wood Design carousel.
Tom Mehrmann, the Chief Executive at Ocean Park, told me, about the thought process behind the change, “[The] goals were to stay true to Ocean Park core values, to put more ‘Ocean’ into Ocean Park, to focus on differential values (location, animals, Hong Kong essence) offered by the Park, be culturally relevant to the markets we serve, work with the strength of our generational value (those who came as kids were now bringing their kids), and ensure we did not lose site of the fact that the difference is real and Ocean Park should remain focused on Conservation, Education and Entertainment.”
After lunch I wanted to head to the south end of the property. Park-goers now choose between two ways to get to the back of the park. One is a classic, the Cable Car, which offers unparalleled views of the park as it runs along 1.5 km (.93 mile) of cable. This lengthy sky ride attraction stretches over the hills and Deep Water Bay. The other is an amazing feet of engineering, the Ocean Express. This is a funicular that tunnels through the mountain, it is 1.3 km (.8 miles) long and 71,300 square meters (233,923 square feet) of earth were excavated in order to construct the ride. The time and expense that must have gone into this project is astounding.
Tom told me that engineering the Ocean Express was indeed a complicated process. He said, “We had to blast on the site, to remove large sections of rock each morning, then send the rock to an onsite rock crusher, which was then placed on a conveyor that went from the top of our site (122 meters [400 feet] above sea level) to the receiving barges waiting below to haul the soil and rock away for fill projects in China. Each morning when the blasting was done, the animals that were considered sensitive to ground vibration were trained to position in areas that would not be affected by the blasts to ensure their health and well-being. The animal keepers and curators did an outstanding job ensuring the development work did not impact the animals and introduced some innovative and meaningful operant conditioning to ensure the animals were not affected.” A picture of the breakthrough ceremony (below) shows just how large of endeavor this project was.
I know that a funicular is not as sexy as a roller coaster, but the Ocean Express truly is an amazing piece of engineering. On the back side of the park one sees the new Thrill Mountain area, which offers several new attractions. The best of these is a B&M floorless coaster, the Hair Raiser, which has a completely custom layout. The lift hill runs up along a cliff and the ride dives back down, through a uniquely-shaped loop. The biggest surprise of the layout is the bunny hop which generates a lot of airtime and the unique banked turn right before you twist back into the brakes. On the tamer side of things, the North and South Pole exhibits showcase a great collection of cold-weather animals and allow guests to watch the animals in a great habitat.
The park still has a lot of charm in the older (lower) area of the park with classics like an early 1980’s Arrow looping coaster, a Huss Pirate, Huss Condor, and Huss Enterprise. With its sea life displays, shows, and collection of rides Ocean Park has certainly gone from a great local enterprise to a world-class amusement park. Many thought that with “the mouse” opening across town the park would suffer. However, nearly a decade later the property has reinvented itself by going back to its roots and offering a day that combines the best sea life displays with exciting rides, and provides its guests with a unique experience. Ocean Park truly is Hong Kong’s theme park.