Aqua City: The ocean within the Ocean Park

By Karen Galarpe,

Posted at Feb 01 2011 06:28 PM | Updated as of Feb 02 2011 07:38 PM

MANILA, Philippines - Lion dances, clowns on stilts, a fire-and-water show shown on what is said to be the world's first and only 360-degree water screen, and a first peek at 5,000 marine animals made the grand opening of Aqua City, Ocean Park Hong Kong's newest attraction, truly a grand and festive affair last Wednesday, January 26. 

The Symbio show at The Lagoon in Aqua City

The event marks a major milestone in the theme park's master redevelopment plan--the halfway point in the entire HK$ 5.55 billion (US$750 million) project undertaken by the park, which is owned by the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR).

As an oceanarium, Ocean Park has been around for 34 years, giving guests an opportunity to get up close to animals and nature, and enjoy thrilling rides while looking out to the South China Sea. Park management decided to redevelop the park to bolster the park's positioning as a premiere international travel destination.

Donald Tsang, Chief Executive of the Hong Kong SAR, graced the unveiling ceremony with his wife and said, "Ocean Park has provided a great deal of joy to the Hong Kong public and visitors from overseas for over 30 years. The new Aqua City, featuring cutting-edge design and state-of-the-art facilities, showcases rare fish and marine creatures in one of Asia’s largest aquariums. I believe it will be loved by children and adults alike and I hope that Hong Kong’s attractiveness as a tourist destination will continue to be enhanced.”

Ocean Park chairman Dr. Allan Zeman, who stunned guests by arriving at the ceremony on a jet pack, added: “The opening of Aqua City represents the birth of the New Ocean Park as it gives us a new flagship aquarium and a new iconic entrance. Ocean Park has been connecting people with nature for over 34 years by showing unconditional love for the animals under its care, extending educational opportunities to the public, opening our eyes to the wonders of nature and offering world-class theme park experiences.

"Aqua City will enable us to set new standards in all of these areas, bolstering Ocean Park as the premier international travel destination that combines conservation advocacy with the best theme park enjoyment.”

Walk-through of the new Aqua City

Guests are in for a "new" Ocean Park experience, park officials said, as soon as they arrive at the brand new main entrance called Ocean Square, which also serves as the exit point. Whimsical 2-meter high sea creature sculptures add to the marine theme of the area.

Upon entering Ocean Square, guests will see The Lagoon, site of the new nighttime show called "Symbio!" The 10-minute show delves on the symbiotic relationship between humans and nature through the story of the Water Dragon and the Fire Dragon. Flame jets, dancing fountains, and images flashed on "the world's first and only 360-degree water screen" move in harmony with the musical score created by Oscar-winning composer, sound designer and mixer Peter Lehman.

The egg-shaped Grand Aquarium right behind The Lagoon glows like a precious blue jewel at night, with its 244 trapezoid panes of glass "held" by 8 yellow tentacles.

Inside the Grand Aquarium, some 5,000 marine animals representing 400 species "from the sea floor to the sea shore" can be viewed. Among the species present are the scalloped hammerhead shark, the manta ray, the Pacific bluefin tuna, and the Japanese skipjack tuna. The aquarium is said to be the 9th largest in the world.

The major highlight of the Grand Aquarium is the Panoramic Ocean Gallery, which sports a 13-meter panoramic acrylic viewing panel, touted as one of the largest in the world. It is 8 meters deep.

Inside Neptune's Restaurant, diners can still see marine animals swimming.

 It also has a Bubble Tunnel, which has viewing dome with 5.5-meter diameter, allowing guests to see marine creatures swim overhead.

Aside from that, it also has the Swirl Tank, home to schools of fish.

At Aqua City's Neptune's Restaurant, guests can continue to marvel at the marine animals swimming in front of them as the dining area shows the Panoramic Ocean Gallery.

The restaurant offers Continental cuisine, and carries the marine theme in its specially designed tableware and stemware.

At the Aqua City Bakery, guests can taste Hong Kong pastries, such as the pineapple bun and egg tart. It also offers panda cakes as Ocean Park is home to some real pandas.

 Some 15,000 square feet of retail space offer various souvenirs, including jewelry designed by Hong Kong brand Chocolate Rain.

Building Aqua City

It took 1.5 years to design the Aqua City, said Tom Mehrmann, chief executive of Ocean Park. Then it took another 1.5 years to build it.

Mehrmann said they were conscious of the need to integrate conservation, education and entertainment, the 3 core values of the theme park.

"Aqua City delivers our core values through immersive designs, presentations, and experiential encounters, a lot of which are based on tactile experiences such as that offered in the touch pools," said Mehrmann.

"With Aqua City, we bring back the ocean to Ocean Park," he added.

The park also allows guests to participate directly in conservation effort by allotting HK$1 from every paid admission (day admission fees are HK$250 for adults and HK$125 for children) to the Ocean Park Conservation Fund which undertakes research projects in the region.

Over 95 million people have visited Ocean Park since it opened in January 1977, and its other attractions include the Giant Panda Adventure (home to the giant panda and red panda), Goldfish Treasures (over 300 goldfish of all shapes, sizes, and colors), Sea Jelly Spectacular (exhibit of over 1,000 sea jellies), cable car ride, among others.

A new ride dubbed The Flash opened on November 24, 2010. It takes 24 passengers to the top and down at a top speed of 60 km/hour.

Three hotels -- the Ocean Hotel, the Fisherman's Wharf, and the Spa Hotel -- will be built in Ocean Park as part of the master redevelopment plan.

Photos courtesy of Ocean Park Hong Kong