Why is it so busy these days?
Despite my strict blogging while travelling park to park, making use of long flights to write to keep everything fresh in our minds, by the time we hit our last stop, after almost three long weeks, things slipped a bit so most of this last post was written retrospectively.
Even at the time, it was unbelievable how far we’d come on this journey. We remarked often how crazy it was what we were doing and how even to us it seemed unreal. Landing at LAX, we were only one more hour long flight away from home but of course, we had one more place to visit.
Despite living so relatively close, we’d only visited Disneyland together twice. We’d planned only to have the weekend there for various reasons but sure enough, being so close to the end of the journey, it was enough.
Regardless, we were up bright and early for rope drop – a must at Disneyland any time of year if you want to stand a chance at getting on any rides.
We took the morning to ride some old favourites, successfully grabbing a few Fast Passes and beating the crowd to get onSpace Mountain Ghost Galaxy, Indiana Jones, Haunted Mansion, Jungle Cruise and Pirates of the Caribbean.
There were only a few unique attractions here we were particularly interested in:
With everything ticked off by the end of Saturday, we were able to take the time to just walk, enjoy the ambiance and marvel at what we’d accomplished.
And with that, with weary legs, tanned skin and a few pounds lighter, on Sunday afternoon we dragged ourselves back to LAX and enjoyed a final dinner and raised a glass in the Qantas lounge before the final hop home and back to real life and continue on with our Happily Ever After…
Walt Disney World holds a special place in our hearts: it is Nick’s most frequented park, the first park Judit went to, the destination of many special trips together, where we fell in love and where we got engaged.
So when we landed in Orlando and boarded Disney’s Magical Express, it felt like coming home. There’s also a lot to be said for being back on full speed LTE mobile data after three weeks of roaming and hotel Wifi. At this park too we were accompanied by friends.
We could write an epic about a visit to Disney World. Nick has already written several blog posts and it probably is one of the most documented parks. Unlike other posts, we won’t focus on what it unique here because there is so much that is – you just can’t compare Walt Disney World because of the sheer size and immersive experience you get there. The other parks where we’d stayed up to five days and exhausted many of the activities in only a couple of days. Here, you can easily do a full week and still not get bored.
Unfortunately, we can’t help but hold the USA parks as the yardstick to which we compared the other parks because Disney is in fact an American company and that shows in all the parks. So to us, these parks are what is ‘normal’ without initially realizing and this idea of normality is what the posts about the previous countries were influenced by.
Despite it being the biggest park, we weren’t stressed about doing everything because it is the park we frequent most. Fastpass+ means you don’t have to get up early to run to get the popular fast passes anymore so we had a few of our favourite rides already booked in.
An influential factor in choosing our September wedding date was wanting to go to the Epcot food and wine festival which runs from mid-September to mid-November. We’d been before (Nick three times, Judit twice) and we always have a good time and it’s something a bit different if you’re a regular to the park. In previous years, the festival booklet lists the many different stations you can visit and each station gives you a stamp for the booklet. If you’re anything like us and can’t resist gamificafion, it’s game on to make it around the world to sample something from all 30 or so stations. They will also give you the stamps without buying anything so it’s not entirely a ploy to get you to spend more money.
However, this year they changed it so there is a page of stickers inside the booklet that you stick in yourself. The gamificafion effect was weakened but we still felt compelled to sample as much as possible, especially as they’re always adding stations and changing up the offerings. The food was fantastic as always and we still made it to most of the stations, skipping a couple that only offered alcoholic beverages (with the heat, the risk of dehydration is too great).
The only other newer things we were interested in that changed since our last visit in April was the opening of Frozen Ever after and the reopening of Soarin’ with the new video.
Frozen ever after is the ‘new’ ride that opened in the Norway pavilion that replaced the Maelstrom. When it opened, wait times averaged at 300 minutes. We booked our fast passes as soon as the window opened 60 days beforehand and the first slot we could get was halfway through our trip at 5:00pm. Even so, we stood in the Fast Pass queue for 20 minutes before we even got into the Fast Pass entrance. The standby wait time was at 120 minutes at the time but it appears they have a limited queueing area as the previous ride certainly didn’t have the same demand.
Unfortunately, the ride itself is little more than a reskinning of the Maelstrom: it’s a dark boat ride with scenes that take place after the ending of the Frozen movie. There was some use of new technology – the same audio animatronic technology used in the Seven Dwarves Mine Cart was employed here as well to animate the characters’ faces. Otherwise, the track and general path of the ride hasn’t changed and really it seems to be pulling crowds by continuing to ride Frozen Fever. It was fun but certainly not 300 or even 120 minutes worth of ride.
After riding it in Shanghai, we were curious to see if there were any differences in the new Soarin’ Around the World video and the only one is in the ending – each park shows a final scene specific to that location. Shanghai showed Shanghai, WDW showed Epcot and so assumably, DCA will show Disneyland. The theming remains the same at WDW.
Finally, also worth mentioning is Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party. We attended this for the first time two years ago on actual Halloween night, but in subsequent years attended on earlier as the parties run on select nights starting as early as mid-September. The event itself is the same and the crowds are lower if you don’t care about actually going on the 31st.
We were on the fence about going this year as they’d announced tighter restrictions on adult costumes, the Halloween party already being the only time adults could dress up (with restrictions).
After falling in love with Zootopia this year, what started as a joke of ‘oh let’s just go as Flash and Priscilla’ (the sloths) actually turned into a feasible costume that was funny but simple to put together, fit within the rules and didn’t take up much previous costume space on our round the world trip.
The main perks of the night are:
We contemplated shelling out the extra money for one of the moderate resorts (or even the Grand Floridian), but in the end stuck with our trusted favourite – Pop Century. We just love the theming and you can’t beat it when you’re paying less than $100 a night and have a dedicate bus service. Having noted on our reservation that we were on our Honeymoon, we arrived to find a message on our answering machine from Mickey and Minnie wishing us well, as well as a card which was a lovely touch.
We spent just under four days here, a bit shorter than our usual minimum but given the circumstances, it was enough time to tick off what we wanted. It also let us try do something a little bit ambitious – two parks in the same day. We were due to leave Orlando mid-afternoon, and with time difference, it was completely feasible to attempt to get a ride photo from the same ride at two different parks. The race against the clock was on…
As rainy and crowded as Tokyo was, Paris was the exact opposite – blue skies, sunshine and low crowds for the five days we spent in the park. The evenings and the mornings were cool but warmed up nicely during the day.
Paris Disneyland has two parks – Disneyland and Disney Studios. Given it was low season, the parks closed at 8:30pm and 6:00pm respectively. We arrived and got settled in with enough time to sneak in one hour at the parks and Judit could tick off her sixth castle. We were then up early for Magical Mornings at 8am but quickly found the park eerily empty. One downside of this was having to wait to find someone to take our photo (which looks like it’s against a blue screen as there’s no crowd in the background).
Only a few rides were running so we walked straight onto Peter Pan’s flight (try doing that at WDW!). The main attraction of magical mornings here seems to more be the chance to get character photos – Main Street was lined with characters so we hopped in the queue for Minnie and Mickey who were excited by our 6castles shirts, my Mickey hat and airplane necklace. This also caught the attention of a cast member who started asking about our trip. Would you believe this is the first time someone asked about our shirts? We are expecting more comments though once we get to the US and the matching, customized shirts are a thing. This didn’t seem to exist outside of the US.
We went over to Disney Studios in time for rope drop and made a beeline for one of the new anchor rides – Ratatouille! We got on in 5 minutes and then headed for Crush’s Coaster which had already ballooned up to 30 and growing.
Unfortunately, the down side of low season is that many rides and attractions were closed for renovations. The water around the castle had been drained, we couldn’t go upstairs into the castle, most of Frontierland was closed up. They don’t do as well here disguising the work going on – we saw people painting fences, laying bricks, working up on scaffolding. We respect that the work has to be done sometime but other parks do a lot better at not letting it disrupt the immersion.
By the end of the first full day, we’d been on most of the rides, many of which had minimal wait times. The next day, we gave magical morning a miss and we had friends and family arrive, so it was our first day where we weren’t theme parking alone! We did a round on all the rides again, especially as two of our friends hadn’t been to Disneyland in Paris before. By our third full day, we were hitting the smaller rides and attractions – Backlot Tour, Dumbo, the carousel, Small World – and generally just wandering around taking in all the theming and ambiance.
Our last half day was a Saturday morning and the day of the Run Disney 5k so the crowd level picked up significantly, and with it the wait times. We ticked off the Lights, Camera, Action stunt show as Judit hadn’t seen it before and it no longer exists at WDW.
Unique attractions at this park are:
Also worth mentioning:
Once again, it was interesting to observe the balance of language and culture. This park is targeted for broadly Europe and English is treated as a common language, especially with London only 3 hours away on the Eurostar. We used our minimal French to get by with pleases and thank you’s wherever possible but otherwise everyone spoke perfect English and was perfectly friendly. Signage is in English and French and the entertainment and live shows were most similar to Hong Kong, where both English and the local language were used equally. Important signage and announcements are even repeated in six languages!
With both of us being of European heritage, we definitely felt more at home at this park and didn’t have the culture shock we faced in Asia. In terms of facilities, there weren’t any noticeable differences from the US parks. Food too was very Americanized – for quick service meals, Disney Studios only offered burgers and sandwiches. Disneyland offered a broader range of dining options, but if you want Parisian food, Chez de Remy next to the Ratatouille ride is the only option.
This park felt the most similar to Disney World in terms of size and the immersive experience it provides, especially for guests staying at Disney Hotels. We stayed at the Hotel Santa Fe, which was themed after Cars. Though it is intentionally made to look slightly dilapidated (which the theme added to as well) the rooms were clean and cozy – slightly smaller as per the typical European style, and only the bare necessities as far as amenities. But breakfast was included in the price with croissants and pastries piled high.
Transportation is provided but it was the only hotel we stayed at where we could walk to the park which took less than 10 minutes and takes you through the slightly less crowded back entrance of security and through Disney Village. Security is the tightest here of all the parks but it always has been – full X-ray and metal detector but they’re quick and efficient and have a sense of humor.
Overall, we had a fantastic time which was contributed too by the weather, the low crowds, the friends who joined us. This is a park we would definitely try return to in the hopefully near future.
Tokyo Disneyland was a park we had high expectations for as we have many friends who regularly visit Japan and have spoke highly of the country, the culture, the people. It was, interestingly enough, the last park Nick had never visited and yet, several of our friends had.
We caught a bus from Narita Airport to the resort area that stopped at all the hotels, even the ones which weren’t Disney resorts. We were very impressed at the efficiency with which they boarded buses and straight out of the gate, everyone was incredibly polite and helpful and spoke to us in English.
The resorts here are a bit more expensive than other parks. We ended up staying at the Sheraton which was the cheapest at the time and even though we didn’t get the Disney immersion, we weren’t made to feel like second class Disney citizens – the monorail runs on a loop from both the Disney and non-Disney hotels and it was very quick and easy to hop between parks and hotels. One difference from other parks here is you have to pay for a ticket for this service.
We arrived at Disneyland on Friday night and made a beeline for the castle so Nick could tick off his sixth and final castle. The crowds were fairly substantial but we managed to get on a few rides quickly – Star Tours, Pirates of the Caribbean (the classic version) and a unique attraction ‘Monsters Inc. Rid and Go Seek’ with minimal wait times.
We had a very filling dinner at the Hungry bear and some waffles before calling it a night close to closing time.
And then came the weekend. We spent Saturday at Disney Sea because with their ticketing system, you must spend a day at each park before you can start park hopping. We had checked the crowd calendar and knew to expect parks to be at capacity – Disney Sea had even stopped selling tickets. We understand parks get busy and we knew we’d have to spend inevitably spend a weekend somewhere. But boy was it busy.
The paths at these parks are very wide so moving around the park was easy enough but wait times were through the roof. By early afternoon, most Fast Pass distributions had ended. As before, we focused on rides unique to Tokyo, many of which were at Disney Sea, as follows:
Also worth mentioning:
Once again, we weren’t focusing on ticking off all the rides so we were okay with the crowd and spent a lot of time just walking around. There’s so much to see in theming and decoration here, some beautiful facades.
What we found difficult at this park beyond the crowd was the food. I think we’re too used to the focus on quick service at the US parks and the sheer inundation of available food. We had a really hard time getting food at this park – you have to get in early for lunch as queues even for the snack cars become longer than than of some rides. The key here is they focus on presentation and quality of food over speed – they do not compromise. On Sunday, we kept putting off eating lunch, adamant the rush would die down and ended up queueing from 2-3pm. There seems to be a lot less places to get food too, especially dinner, as many places start closing from 6pm.
There was no shortage in variety of snack carts, flavored popcorn is hugely popular with a dedicated section in the map for finding them and different refillable souvenir buckets. We tried curry, milk chocolate and cappuccino flavours. A tip on twitter sent us in search of Alien Mochi, a kind of rice cake with custard fillings which was a huge hit.
The most interesting thing we started realizing across the different parks is how the culture and customs of the locale influence the park, beyond things at like the signage and language.
In Tokyo, English appeared to be the predominant language in terms of signage, but most attractions and shows would only be in Japanese. All cast members addressed us in English and were nothing but polite which is from what we learned, both in our experience and from our friends, something that is engrained in the culture, not ‘because they have to’. It’s the little touches – they would wipe off a bottle of water from the ice bucket before handing it to you, they would go around after the rain drying off seats, they would squeegee water off the roads. They will often in vain try to deter people from walking behind you in photos. Beyond the park, Nick had to take off his shoes when going through airport security and they were incredibly apologetic and even provided a pair of slippers for him to wear while they X-rayed his shoes.
The people are beautiful in Japan and their attitudes make the park just a little bit more vibrant. A large percentage of the guests wear loud, colourful Disney attire and often matching outfits with their friends.
What Shanghai lacked in Halloween, this park certainly made up for – the stores were brimming with Halloween merchandise and novelty and themed snacks. They also don’t do a Halloween party here, instead, there’s specific days you’re allowed to dress in costume in the parks (we’d just missed the first window). This has similar restrictions to the Halloween parties at WDW, but here they additionally specify you must dress as a Disney character.
We actually found it very difficult to find the typical kind of souvenirs we usually buy – we made the decision to buy one t-shirt each and four souvenir magnets per park. Our criteria for shirts were that they need to stay the location of the park, and preferably be dated (i.e. 2017). This proved incredibly difficult – the majority of the shirts were the loud ones covered in a pattern of characters. We each managed to find a single shirt with the park’s name on it but only three different magnets.
Culture shock did start to hit a bit with frustrations hitting when things were hard to understand. In between the crowds and the rainy weather and the desperate hunts for food, it felt like an endurance exercise at times especially as we now hit over a week at Disney parks and the bodies start to ache.
Regardless, it is definitely a beautiful park worth visiting and we had a fantastic time. The people lived up to the many wonderful things we’d heard and we worked hard to fit in with their customs so we too wouldn’t come off as impolite.
So with our whirlwind of Asia done, it was onwards to Europe! Because as we know…
It took only two hours by plane to get from Hong Kong and a rather nerve wrecking taxi ride with a driver who didn’t speak English and at one point pulled over on the motorway to turn off his GPS which was beeping at him for going to fast, all the while we were 90% sure we were going to the right place, and we had arrived at Shanghai Disneyland. The taxi ride should have been the first clue – we were in for a bit of a culture shock. The English language and western visitors are second class citizens – this is a park designed for the locals. Unlike in Hong Kong, English was the subtitle and Chinese is the main heading.
This is not a bad thing. We were humbled to be reminded that outside of the US, New Zealand, Australia and other predominantly English speaking countries we regularly visit, we are not in the majority. However – every single cast member we encountered spoke to us in English and knew how to say hello, goodbye and ‘have a magical day’. So Disney still works very hard to make sure every guest has a magical experience.
To the park itself: that castle will take your breath away.
We are so glad we were able to visit the park so early after its opening (at the time, it had only been open to the public for about three months). It goes without saying that the other parks do everything in their power to renovate and keep facilities and the park as a whole modern and renovated. However, it can’t compare to when you can just start from scratch. Shanghai Disneyland still felt very new, or in Nick’s words, still has that ‘new park’ smell.
It’s newness is also evident in that it visibly still has a lot of room to grow – currently, there is a lot of what feels like ‘fluff’, padding or placeholder space. There is a single park but it takes up a large area, combined with wide paths, it takes a decent amount of time to do a lap through all the worlds. There are empty gardens and generally a lot of decoration. Currently, there doesn’t feel like a whole lot to do – similarly with Hong Kong, within about two decent half days, we were down to mostly wandering the park, taking photos and enjoying the ambiance. We weren’t rushing to do all the rides, mostly focusing on the unique attractions.
The rides didn’t tend to have long wait times – we witnessed a few wait time bubbles pop, notably for TRON (from 45 minutes down to 5, Fast pass available for current time + standby time) and Pirates of the Caribbean (from 30 minutes down to 5).
Longest queue times appeared to be the usual suspects: Seven Dwarves Mine Cars and Roaring Rapids (a river rapids ride which seemed the equivalent of Kali River Rapids at WDW Animal Kingdom) stayed steady between 45-75 minutes. Soaring Over The Horizon (Soarin’) got up to about 45 in the afternoon but earlier in they day we queued for about 30 minutes. For these rides, Fast Passes ran out by about mid-afternoon.
Again, we were at the park on weekdays and it was raining both days (pocket rain ponchos to the rescue) and likely as a result of both, crowds were low. Opening hours are extended from Thursdays so assumably it ramps up a bit getting closer to the weekend. We have every confidence that the park will take off – in a few years, those wide paths will be bustling with people.
Unique experiences at this park include:
As mentioned above, beyond the rides, there’s a lot of other general attractions worth checking out:
One interesting thing worth mentioning here is that Halloween isn’t celebrated the same way in China, as such, there were no decorations and only a small section of one shop that had Halloween themed merchandise.
We stayed on Disney property at the Toy Story Hotel which like Toy Story Land is perfect in how it embraces the story and setting into every single feature. There’s a shuttle to the park which is 5 minutes away.
The two day tickets for both of us cost ¥1650 CNY (approx. $250 USD / $125 USD each). Tickets are dated with prices varying depending on day of the week and season.
Overall, this was a very strange experience for us. There’s a few other westerners you’ll see wandering around, mostly from the US, probably like us, Disney fans keen to tick off another park and experience a new one. We are glad we made the trip and had a great time. Parts of China now allow 48 or 144 hour transit visas for certain areas and passport holders which we took advantage of. Make sure to check your requirements closely, otherwise a visa will be required. This extra hurdle makes it a bit more difficult to just visit and though we’ll likely return in the future, it probably won’t be for a few years, but because it’s not as convenient.