In addition to attracting celebrity diners, Hong Kong’s Jumbo Floating Restaurant has appeared in several movies and TV shows.
Question: At what outlandish and off-land restaurant can you dine in the footsteps of David Bowie, Queen Elizabeth II, and 30,000,000 other hungry diners?
Answer: The Jumbo Floating Restaurant in Hong Kong’s Aberdeen Harbor
If you’re a Macau casino magnate, you can’t help but be drawn to excess. Stanley Ho Hung-son, a 1970s business tycoon, was no exception. He decided to put his stamp on Hong Kong’s Aberdeen harbor by building the ultimate waterfront dinner palace right on the water itself. He’d already had success with Tai Pak, one of several floating establishments in the old typhoon shelter harbor, but he wanted something bigger, splashier, more sure to stand out.
With six levels decked out in full imperial style, a red-and-gold riot of dragons and calligraphy, and seating for as many as 2,000 diners at once, the appropriately named Jumbo Floating Restaurant was everything he imagined. Good thing, because he had to build it twice. Nearly two years of work had gone into its completion when it caught fire in 1974, killing more than 40 of its workers just before its debut. Undeterred, the impresario ordered the best craftsmen to start again, and the Jumbo opened in 1976.
It was an instant sensation among locals and soon the word spread to global travelers, celebrities, and foreign heads of state. Visitors as disparate as Queen Elizabeth II and David Bowie have sampled its fare (including seafood handed to the cooks directly from fishing vessels in the harbor). Last year, it passed the 30,000,000-visitor mark—an average of more than 2,600 guests a day every single day of its 31 years at that point.
Featured on postcards and in movies, the Jumbo (which you can’t miss because it has its name spelled out in neon letters) seems so massive and stalwart, it’s easy to forget it is an actual ship. But in 2016, they got a reminder: one of the attached seafood barges sprung a leak and began to sink. It pulled the Jumbo down three feet—requiring the staff to evacuate—before the two boats could be uncoupled and crews were summoned to pump the water. It was a close call, but by Jumbo standards, not that bad: Dinner service resumed that same evening.
Eye-Popping Hong Kong: 6 More Visual Delights
- Sheung Wan, between Sai Street and Upper Station Street, is the epicenter of HKWalls, which invites global street and graffiti artists to adorn buildings across the city. In 2018, more than 15 sites amid the shops and temples of Sheung Wan are covered with vivid street art.
- The Monster Building is the name locals have given a quintet of attached Quarry Bay apartment buildings (1048-1056 King’s Rd, Quarry Bay). The five massive high rises contain thousands of brightly-painted homes perched atop street level cafes and laundries. Photographers flock to the courtyards for dizzying shots upwards through the rainbow-hued stacks.
- You don’t need to get close to be dazzled by the Jockey Club Innovation Tower (Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Hum Hong) designed by Pritzker Prize winner Zaha Hadid. No two angles are alike—from one side it looks like a spaceship in motion, from another it looks split, like an iceberg caving. If you do check out the interior, the rising crisscross staircases and escalators put you inside a sci-fi movie.
- Amidst all the modern architecture of Hong Kong, Chi Lin Nunnery (5 Chi Lin Dr, Sheung Yuen Leng, Hong Kong) can’t help but stand out. Built in 1930s and refurbished in the 1990s, using only methods and materials available to the Tang Dynasty, the 90,000-square-foot nunnery is the only Hong Kong example of a complex composed entirely of interlocking wood pieces with no iron nails.
- A stroll by the water offers a stellar photo op at The Repulse Bay (109 Repulse Bay Road). A luxury hotel gone condo, the pale aqua-and-white structure is designed to look like rippling waves, but the feature that draws the eye (and visitors like Lady Di and Prince Charles) is a seven-story cutout, through which the emerald green hills can be seen.
- Jumbo Floating Restaurant might be the most dramatic boat in the harbor, but The Whampoa (Whampoa Street) takes the prize for drama on land. Theatres, cafes, department stores, and even a miniature theme park are tucked inside a replica cruise ship five stories high and the length of football field. Surrounded by a decorative pool, The Whampoa appears to be forging a path through surrounding high rises.
Let Hong Kong dazzle you when you join our Imperial China, Tibet & the Yangtze adventure.