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:
- TRON: many fans of TRON will have high expectations for this ride (who HASN’T wanted to have a go on a Lightcycle?) and it’s definitely one of the anchor rides for this park. Disney doesn’t often do roller coasters. There’s only a handful of rides you’re asked to put things in lockers for and this is one of them. But don’t let that put you off. Yes it’s a coaster, but you’re seated in a Light Cycle. That in itself is enough to give you a different experience – the immersion is so much greater because you’re not sitting in a typical harness seat. You’re bent over the handlebars, legs in the stirrups and secured in over your back. Heavy use of projection to reinforce the immersion. The queuing area, as usual, sets you up for the experience. Currently, everyone is in the same team (blue) but I can imagine they’ve put in hooks so later in the future they could have different teams. At the time,the TRON Realm, Chevrolet Digital Challenge’ was ‘coming soon’ in the brochure (and has since opened), which we imagine is similar to the design process for Test Track in EPCOT at WDW (especially considering they’re both sponsored by Chevrolet). We went twice and agreed it lives up to everything we’d hoped.
- Pirates of the Caribbean Battle for the Sunken Treasure: the reimagined version of the classic. We have mixed opinions on this one. It tells more of a story than the original and employs new techniques to be able to navigate the boat sideways and backwards, not just forwards. The biggest change here is the use of projection that entirely fills your field of view to create an incredibly immersive experience. Projection is heavily used in many other parts of the ride, trading out the animatronics. This trade off makes is less true to the classic which left us feeling a bit sad, that what was so iconic about that ride is gone. A lone animatronic Jack Sparrow makes the cut at the very end of the ride, almost like a homage or an afterthought, singing ‘yo ho yo ho a pirates life for me’ in Chinese. All dialogue throughout the ride is also in Chinese.
- Soaring Over the Horizon: the local equivalent of Soarin’. The ride itself is the same but with the newer video now in place in all the parks (locations from around the world, not just California), and with a completely different theming. Located in Adventureland, the ride is now a tribal mystic adventure. The queueing area is stone floors and bamboo gates and with a ceiling of stars, reminiscent of the Dinosaur ride at WDW Animal Kingdom. The introductory video is in Chinese and only the safety briefing component has English subtitles. The safety briefing is redone for the new theme but the exact same format and jokes are used (e.g. The man being asked to remove his Mickey ears to reveal a balding head.) The new video featuring footage from around the world is beautiful, very impressive what they managed to capture. The motion of the ride feels less immersive than before – only the gentlest of swoops. We wouldn’t be surprised if the opening of Shanghai Disney was motivating force for the new video – it seems unlikely that local crowds would queue for 45 minutes to see footage of California.
- Buzz Lightyear Planet Rescue: A.K.A. Spaceranger spin. At the heart of it, it’s the same ride but revamped with more modern technology. You get more feedback now when you hit a target – both visually on the target and haptic feedback on the gun. The guns are two different colours now so it’s easier to distinguish which beam is yours and it’s brighter too. The game feels a lot easier to get higher scores on now, but they’ve added a an extra digit to the scoring so now you need to work even harder to max out the display.
As mentioned above, beyond the rides, there’s a lot of other general attractions worth checking out:
- Voyage to the Crystal Grotto: this takes you on a boat (similar style to Jungle Cruise) around the castle where there’s some beautiful fountains to recreate your favorite Disney tales. All narration is in Chinese, no English.
- Enchanted Storybook Castle: a tour through rooms in the castle using projections and sets behind glass to tell the story of Snow White. It’s as far as we can tell, the only way to get into the castle. The narration is in Chinese with no English, it’s all walking and a lot of stairs but the architecture and features along the way still make it worth seeing.
- Alice in Wonderland Maze: outdoor statues and facades recreating scenes from Alice In Wonderland. Some interactive elements but also some great photo ops.
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.