Family Trip to Lantau Island

 

Spending The Day In Lantau with Family

For traveling families that visit Hong Kong, taking a day trip to Hong Kong’s largest outlying island, Lantau is recommended. Apart from Disneyland Hong Kong, the island Lantau is famous for its untouched nature, luscious green valleys, and the giant outdoor Buddha statue.

This island of fishing people, Hong Kong’s largest, has grown into a tourist hub with the Tung Chung New Town, Lantau Link, Ngong Ping 360, and Hong Kong International Airport.

Spending The Day In Lantau with Family shaolin

Getting There

To get to Lantau from Hong Kong, the best and fastest method is to take the Tung Chung metro line to the island. Subways in China are well organized, clearly labeled and color coordinated so one shouldn’t feel any anxiety if this is their first time traveling. If worst comes to worst travelers can always try to ask someone for help.

Transportation

There are plenty of interesting ways to get around while in Lantau. We felt it would be pertinent to list some of these methods here, both for water and land transportation.

Spending The Day In Lantau with Family skyline

Ferry in Discovery Bay and Water Taxi

Tourists can use the ferry services provided by New World First Ferry to get around Lantau. This ferry service runs between Mu Wo and Central. It takes about 30 to 50 minutes to make a trip.

Travelers can also enjoy a 24-hour ferry service operated by HKR Internation Limited. These ferries run between Pier 3 in Central and Discovery Bay, with a 25 minute travel time.

Spending The Day In Lantau with Family sky

One can also utilize inter-island ferry services on a Kai-to. A kai-to is a small ferry that links the smaller islands and the mainland.

Travelers who are looking for something a little different can use a traditional water taxi aka the walla walla. These water taxis typically depart from Cheung Chau Island.

Taxis

It is important for travelers to know the three types of taxis available in Hong Kong. The taxis are color coded according to their service areas. The red taxis travel the urban areas. The green taxis service the New Territories. Finally, all Lantau Island taxis are blue. These blue taxis take travelers anywhere on Lantau Island as well as to the Hong Kong Airport and Hong Kong Disneyland.

Spending The Day In Lantau with Family ocean

New Lantau Bus 

For bus services, the New Lantau Bus provides island transportation. There are many bus routes, nearly all of which end at Mui Wo pier and Tung Chung.  Depending on the destination, fares can range from three dollars to forty-three dollars.

Cable Car

Travelers seeking a relaxing transportation method can enjoy a cable car. One such cable car is the Ngong Ping 360, a gondola lift operated by the MTR. This cable car runs over Tung Chung Bay between Tung Chung and Ngong Ping. The Cable Car now offers Crystal Cabins with see-through floors.

Spending The Day In Lantau with Family cable

Permits for Dangerous Roads

Lantau Island has many dangerous roads, particular in the southern areas. Those with vehicles need a temporary permit to travel these roads. These have a strict use time limit of eight am – seven pm, and are only available on the weekdays.

What to See

Ngong Ping Plateau

The Ngong Ping Plateau is a great stop with access to a lot of interesting sights. Visitors can find the Po Lin Monastery here and enjoy its famous vegetarian restaurant, the Po Lin Monastery Vegetarian Restaurant. The best way to get there is to take the Ngong Ping 360 from Tung Chung.

Spending The Day In Lantau with Family tree

Once travelers get off the cable car, they can explore the tourist street in Ngong Ping Village. Here, visitors can enjoy some familiar favorites like Starbucks before heading out to explore.

Giant Buddha

This 34-meter tall statue is a sight to behold on the island. The Giant Buddha, also known as the Tian Tan Buddha, is one of the five large Buddha statues in China. Interestingly, this statue is the only one of the five that faces north, while all other others face south. The statue sits on a lotus, which sits on a three-platform altar, and is surrounded by six bronze statues offering gifts to the Buddha, called “The Offering of the Six Devas,” which symbolize the Six Perfections.

Spending The Day In Lantau with Family buddha

Travelers can explore the three floors under the statues. These levels, called the Halls of the Universe, of Benevolent Merit, and of Remembrance, feature relics. One of these relics is the supposed cremated remains of Gautama Buddha, which can only bee seen by those who purchase an offering for the Buddha.

To see the Buddha up close, travelers need to climb 268 steps or drive up the winding road for the disabled. The journey is well worth it as travelers can get fantastic views of the island.

Spending The Day In Lantau with Family statue

Tai O

Tai O is a fishing town in the northwest part of Lantau Island. This place features stilt houses or homes on the water that tourists come from all over the world to see. Tai O is a historic town, existing for over three centuries, and one can see living history with the townsfolk’s use of traditional fishing boats, though fishing is dying out in the area. Travelers can move through the town’s narrow footpaths and alleyways and experience the interconnected community of the area.

Spending The Day In Lantau with Family sea

Visitors can try salted fish, a traditional Chinese dish, or shrimp paste. Adventurous travelers can try the local dried seafood, like fish skin or stomachs. They can also explore the Tai O Market and bring back a souvenir. Tai O is mostly a relaxing, tranquil place where travelers can rest after a long day or between other locations of interest.

For a fee, some residents can take groups out on boats for a sea trip. Travelers can see rare Chinese white dolphins and other aspects of sea life.

Spending The Day In Lantau with Family food

Temples

Tai O is home to several temples dedicated to various gods and figures. While in Tai O, we saw two of these temples, the Kwan Tai Temple and the Hung Shing Temple.

The Kwan Tai Temple is a place of worship for the locals of the island. Built during the Ming Dynasty in 1488, this temple is in the center of the village of Tai O. The temple is elaborately decorated, dedicated to the god Kwan Tai, of War and Righteousness.

Spending The Day In Lantau with Family red

Hung Shing Temple was built in 1746 by villagers. Many locals in Tai O worship sea gods, especially since Tai O is based on the water, and Hung Shing is dedicated to a sea god.

Shaolin Kung Fu Performances

Shaolin Kung Fu is one of the oldest styles of Chinese Martial Arts. It was first practiced in the Buddhist Shaolin Temple. When we visited, we saw an incredible Shaolin performance, and we have a video of it at the end of this article.

Spending The Day In Lantau with Family perform

Other Attractions

Lantau Trail

Travelers looking to enjoy the scenery can enjoy one of Lantau’s many national parks and trails. The most famous of these is Lantau Trail, featuring natural stone steps and dense woodland. 

Tung Chung Fort

History buffs will love visiting Tung Chung Fort. This fort, built in 1817, helped hold back the opium trade and defend against pirates. In WWII, the Japanese army occupied this fort, and in 1979 it was listed as a historical monument of Hong Kong. Visitors can see its six old cannons.

Spending The Day In Lantau with Family egg

Trappist Haven Monastery (Our Lady of Joy Abbey)

Roman Catholic monks live in the Trappist Haven Monastery, officially known as Our Lady of Joy Abbey, at Tai Shu Hang to this day. The Trappist congregation was established in the nineteenth century and is still going strong. This monastery is known for its Trappist Milk, though the factor is today location at Castle Peak, Yuen Long. Visitors can see free roaming feral cattle, the descendants of the animals released after the onsite dairy farm closed.

Spending The Day In Lantau with Family ship

Autism Travel Tips:

  • Hong Kong is in a sub-tropical climate, which is hot and frequently humid. We suggest that parents pack plenty of light clothes that can easily be layered as well as comfortable walking shoes and umbrellas.
  • Many of Lantau’s must-see locations are outdoors, so we suggest parents pack sunscreen, sunglasses, bug spray, and plenty of water.
  • Parents of kids with temperature sensitivities should visit during the cooler seasons.
  • Many of these attractions have tours. We suggest signing up for these and purchasing tickets ahead of time.
  • The Po Lin Monastery Vegetarian Restaurant is cheap, and kids can often eat for free. The bathrooms are out the back of the restaurant.

Riding the Catalina Express with Autism

2

Back in 1988, the Beach Boys wrote “Kokomo,” a song about an island off the Florida Keys. Brian Wilson, the lead singer, credits his influence to an older band and their song about an island off the opposite coast. Written by The Four Preps, “26 Miles (Santa Catalina)” reached the 2nd spot on the Billboard R&B in 1958 and was all about a romantic island off the west coast of the USA. The island mentioned, Santa Catalina is one of California’s Channel Islands and relies heavily on tourism. With its scuba diving, snorkeling, glass bottom boat tours, flying fish and other fantastic sights and activities, it is an exciting place to visit. Because of its location off the coast of LA, the most economical way to get there is by ferry.

Riding the Catalina Express with Autism side

Why We Chose the Catalina Express

We could have gone by helicopter or by plane, but the Catalina Express was our choice of transportation. Founded in 1981, the company have fine-tuned the service of shuttling tourists, especially families, between the mainland and the island. The one-hour journey is literally smooth-sailing.

Booking

The booking process is rather simple. You can make a reservation for a trip online, or you can show up and see if they have seating availability to accommodate you. There are two types of ticket – the Regular Seat otherwise known as Economy, or an Upgraded Seat in the Commodores Lounge for $15 more. Unlike in Economy where the seats are less padded, the seats in the lounge are leather and more comfortable. Also, it is a bit less crowded, and you get a mini snack and a drink included in the price.

Riding the Catalina Express with Autism outside

The Terminal

We were surprised to find the terminal was large, well-organized, well-staffed and readily accessible from the central locations in Long Beach.

As you come in, the terminal has a ticketing booth on the left-hand side and a sit-down restaurant on the right. There is also a fast-food deli-type counter where you can grab a snack. Additionally, there are places where you can book some of the Catalina activities or rent a golf cart since those are the only cars allowed to drive on the island. The terminal also has plenty of seating for passengers to sit around until their boat arrives.

As we discovered, the ferry had set hours for arrival and departure advertised accordingly. When we visited over Memorial weekend, we received our boarding times, so we knew exactly what time to be there. The boat arrived at Long Beach and departed punctually at the specified time, which in our case was 10 am.

Riding the Catalina Express with Autism terminal

At the gate, we saw three lines for people with Regular tickets. The right line was for those upgrading their tickets to the Commodore Lounge. The middle line was the special needs/physically challenged line where people with different disabilities could board first. The third line was for economy class passengers.

I must say that the staff was highly attentive and not only did they let us pre-board before everybody when they heard our son had autism, they also lead us to our seats.

Seating

The seating on the Catalina Express is surprisingly comfortable. Even with pre-booking, seating is on a first-come, first-serve seating arrangement with no assigned seating in your designated area. This principle applies to both Economy and the Commodore Lounge. Passengers can sit in rows of four to six – sometimes around mini tables where there is more leg space. For those traveling with suitcases there is a storage place for baggage, and if you only have a small bag or hand luggage, you can quickly put it under your chair.

Riding the Catalina Express with Autism seating

Food and Drinks

For refreshments, travelers can get a free drink and a snack in the upgraded lounge. There is also the option to purchase snacks and drinks including alcohol and soft drinks in both seating areas. The staff comes around and serves you in the Lounge. In the Economy area, you can walk up to the bar and make the purchases yourself.

Entertainment

As far as entertainment goes, the Catalina Express doesn’t offer any TV, movies or even wi-fi, so you’re pretty much on your own when it comes to that. You can always look out the window and wave goodbye to the Queen Mary cruise liner, or watch for marine life like whales and dolphins on the way. If you’re traveling with kids, make sure you bring some coloring books, reading books, DVD players, and movies or other devices to keep your kids occupied if they are less interested in the ocean views.

Riding the Catalina Express with Autism food

Bathrooms

There are two surprisingly clean bathrooms on the boat for the couple of hundred passengers on board. Especially if you’re traveling with kids, make sure that you don’t wait until the last minute to use the facilities since you will encounter a line.

Riding the Catalina Express with Autism bathroom

Arrival on Catalina Island

The Catalina Express staff manages the process of getting on and off pretty well, so we had short a line with no delays or people pushing and shoving like we experienced on other boat trips abroad. Right off the ship in Avalon, there’s a small terminal with souvenir shops, additional restrooms, and places to eat for those who wish to have a sit-down meal or start their shopping early.

Pricing

The price for going to Catalina from Long Beach is around $80 per adult which might be a bit steep for families who have two or more kids but visitors can find discounted rates on Groupon.com or LivingSocial.com. Best of all, if you decide to go on your birthday, you travel for free.

Riding the Catalina Express with Autism sea

Overall taking the Catalina Express was a very pleasant experience that I recommend to everybody especially families.

Autism Travel Tips:

  • Make sure you ask for pre-boarding. This way you can grab a small table area away from the other passengers with plenty of legroom.
  • If your kid likes window seating, I recommend sitting at the very front of the boat. There you can see not only out of the side window but from the front as well.
  • When traveling with younger kids, parents need to make sure to watch them at all times since this is a boat at sea. Also, some of the boats have a second story open space which might be dangerous to kids.
  • Bring snacks aboard if your child is on a gluten-free diet or has any other dietary needs and restrictions.
  • Parents should bring entertainment to occupy their kids even though the ride is only an hour long.
  • There are some uneven walking areas to negotiate and steep stairs that lead to the lounge. Help your child get assistance if he or she has balance, stability or mobility issues.

Riding the Catalina Express with Autism end

Guide to Taking the Buquebus Ferry

Buquebus is a relatively inexpensive ferry that we took to go from Buenos Aires to Argentina to Montevideo in Uruguay, and was probably one of the most relaxing laid-back experiences we have had in years.The ferries run daily, and a trip on the early morning non-stop ferry takes about 3 hours, making it an excellent option for those who wish to travel between the two cities for a day trip or longer. While we did have a couple of issues in the planning stage (likely due to my limited Spanish speaking skills), the overall process was quite easy. Here’s my guide to making it a smooth sailing experience for your family!

Purchasing the Buquebus tickets

I booked the tickets online and encountered a few glitches – partially I suspect because of language barriers, and partially because of my Internet server. I do have to say the company responded to both my Facebook and Twitter messages within hours and clarified the process, which was helpful.

After reviewing the different options for travel between the two cities, some of which were more budget friendly, we opted to take the pricier route since it was shorter (three hours versus eight hours) and would not tire out our special needs son.

We also chose to purchase First Class tickets, even though they were $20 pricier than economy class (at our time of booking) because they guaranteed wider seating with ample legroom, as well as a waiting lounge in case the ferry was delayed.

Guide to Taking the Buquebus Ferry lobby

Embarkation

We were told to arrive an hour before departure time, which was 7:15 a.m. The company check-in was fast and efficient, so we did not have to wait in any line; however, it was a different story at the immigration gate. There were incredibly long unorganized queues and no one to ask for any help or disability accommodations. The Argentinian authorities require travelers to be photographed and fingerprinted each time you enter and exit the country, so it takes awhile to get through this process.

Once cleared by immigration, boarding the ferry went smoothly. Due to the long wait at immigration, we skipped the waiting lounge and headed straight to our First Class seats.

Guide to Taking the Buquebus Ferry seats

Seats

The First Class boasts reclining, leather, captain-style seating with plenty of legroom and space to “park” individual carry-ons and bags though Buquebus offers a service to check your luggage if you wish.

The Economy class seats are fabric covered, which makes them look incredibly similar to an airline seat, but overall has more padding and leg space. There are additional seating areas on the boat for people who wish to look outside or sit and chat with friends.

Guide to Taking the Buquebus Ferry first class

 

 

Food

In the morning, the crew welcomes you with complimentary coffee and cookies, but we were told they do offer drinks (including alcoholic beverages) during the rest of the day. Many travelers brought their own foods and snacks, but the boat has a cafeteria that offers an array of sandwiches, salads, cakes and snacks for purchase.

Guide to Taking the Buquebus Ferry food

Entertainment

The ferry offers several expensive claw machines and video games consoles in case there are any antsy children on board eager to be occupied. There is also a Duty-Free store on board if you need to pick up a last minute toy. Most kids we saw had Game Boys, books or coloring pages to keep them busy, and in our case, we brought iPads for our children to play games.

Unfortunately, the Buquebus did not have WiFi or power outlets, so be sure your electronic devices are fully charged and get extra batteries before you get onboard.

Guide to Taking the Buquebus Ferry games

Disembarkation

When the ferry reaches Montevideo, you will see crowds gathering at the exits, but don’t be tempted to join them since you’ll end up standing forever in a chaotic line. Per company regulation, passengers with cars are let off first, which is a process that can take up to 20 minutes.

Guide to Taking the Buquebus Ferry queue

 

Autism Travel Tips 

Overall, the experience was a good one, and there are some additional considerations for the family with a child with autism. Though both Economy and First Class seats looked and felt comfortable, First Class has that waiting lounge that could become priceless if you have a need to wait for longer periods of time with your child.
When choosing a seat to opt for a window seat, all the way to the front especially if your child is sensitive to smells.
Unfortunately, people were still smoking on board despite several no smoking signs. If your child is a picky eater, you can bring your own food onboard (no one checks) or purchase items at the ferry’s cafeteria.
Remember to bring something to your travelers like coloring/reading books, games or electronic devices but be aware there are no outlets to recharge them.
Based on our experience, plan to arrive on the early side at the terminal and leave the ferry among the last if your child hates standing in lines.

 

Guide to Taking the Buquebus Ferry corridors

 

 

Have you and your family taken the Buquebus?
What was your experience like and what tips would you add?

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