So this winter holiday, I spent a week in Shanghai visiting an every growing number of friends. But what I was looking forward to the most, was visiting the recently opened Shanghai Disney (Sorry friends).
And it did not disappoint! Just so you know, while I don’t like “Disney” as a brand, I love the theme parks. Unapologetically. I’ve been to the Florida and California ones more times than I can count, and Hong Kong once. I love cynicism and snark, yet at the theme parks, nothing but love and childlike wonder, baby.
Shanghai Disney is the latest, and according to the literature it’s “the largest one in Asia.” Well, it’s big, and fun, but if you go on a weekday, during a normal work week (as I did) you can pretty much do every ride if you plan well, use the app and your fast pass logically. So it’s not that big.
Like the other parks, this has various “worlds,” with Tomorrowland, Adventure Isle and Fantasyland being near identical to the ones you are familiar with. There was no Toon Town, or Toy Story World, like some of the others, but they did have a Treasure Cove which was pirate themed and awesome. They also had something called “Gardens of Imagination” which was the area in front of the castle with the super lame rides they couldn’t fit into Fantasy Land like Dumbo and the carousel.
As a Disney park expert, I googled “Disney Shanghai secrets” beforehand to get the low down. It was there that I learned of the super cool Mickey Mouse ears. Yes, at any park you can get your name stitched onto a pair of Mickey ears, but at only ONE shop in the entire world can you get your names stitched in CHINESE.
I was warned by the internet that this shop can get crowded, so my friend Rebecca and I made this hat shop our first order of business. I got a few ears, one for me, some for friends, and Rebecca got one.
Now this was weird. For some reason they refused to put Rebecca’s English name on the hat. She was only allowed the name as it was written on her Chinese ID card. Initially, I was told this too, but I said I wanted my Chinese name. This caused a bit of a kerfuffle, until one said “Oh, your Chinese name is just your English name exactly translated right?”
“No,” I said. “It’s a different name. I also have two I want as gifts.” This made them frown, and they sent for a manager who then went to the back somewhere to talk to the big boss. The boss reluctantly agreed but they still needed a record of my passport for some reason. My friend and I later joked that it must be because the hats can be used as a ID form recognized by the government. Seriously, I don’t know why it was so strict.
After that little mess was done, we ran over to the Tron ride. I had read that it is the most popular ride in the park, and you must go early to avoid the major lines all day long. Now, I was kinda swept up in all of the excitement of Disney because I don’t know why in the HELL I even considered going on it. I HATE roller coasters, even if this is an indoor, slightly small one. Hate, hate, hate.
I should have run for the hills when we had to put our stuff in lockers before being allowed on. That’s not a good sign for me. But the ride goes outside a bit and it seemed like it was okay. Everyone is on personal motorcycles (you’re hunched over the handlebars) and there are no loop-de-loo’s or anything.
But OMG, it was the worst! It’s not a tall ride, but it makes up for it in speed. It’s a SUPER fast ride, so much so your face kinda hurts and I could do nothing but close my eyes, grit my teeth and pray it would end soon. It was over soon, maybe like 1 minute? But it basically ruined the next 60 minutes for me as I had to hold down my puke. My friend meanwhile, loved it.
Afterwards we made our shaky way to the Star Wars exhibit. This was cool, but due to my nauseous state I was having trouble fully appreciating it. There were a few costumed characters with no lines, so I was able to snap my pic with them. There was a mock Millennium Falcon cockpit that actually kinda sucked. It didn’t look like the real thing to me, but whatevs. Taking a picture in it let me sit down for a minute. (We took our picture with many themed characters that day as the lines were so short.)
After that, we went to Fantasy Land where everything is more my speed. They have the classic Peter Pan ride, as well as Winnie-The-Pooh, two of my all time favorites. (Be warned, all the rides only speak Chinese. It was very cute to hear Winnie and Tigger and Roo speaking Chinese.)
Then we went to Treasure Cove with the Pirates of the Caribbean. Now, I’ll admit I am a DisneyWorld purist and nothing will ever be better than the original ride. But this one was pretty cool from a ride point of view. It was updated with a story from one of the movies. Captain Jack Sparrow was there, in anamatronic glory, but the story took place with sea monsters under the water.
The boat kinda glides through a path like normal, but in many rooms there are screens all the way to the ceiling and they move and make you feel like you are going quite fast. It was a cool affect and there was some story going on, with Jack fighting Davy Jones, but again it was all in Chinese and I didn’t catch it. You don’t need to follow the story to enjoy it though.
Treasure Cove is also where we got our “lunch.” Giant turkey legs! Like a renaissance faire! Turkey is hard to get in China, but based on the HUGE lines at the turkey leg shop, I think it’s time is due. In fact, you were only allowed 2 per person due to the huge demand and the line was really quite long with a lot of workers keeping everyone in order. As it was a “quiet” day in the park I can only imagine the place when it is more crowded.
Treasure Cove and Adventure land are next to each other and bleed pretty organically. Adventure land is thin on rides, but has a lot of interactive stuff. Like, challenges where you need to strap on a safety harness and do a obstacle course.
It looked fun in theory, but you are harnessed in, and therefore must stay in line. So, if the person in front of you is scared, or slow, or whatever, you would get stuck. We also had “fast passed” Winnie the Pooh and our time was soon so we didn’t have enough time to wait and do it.
But next to the main obstacle course is a kid one, and this was empty and free. Rebecca got yelled at when she wanted to go on a slide (though the attendant finally let her) because it was for little kids only. But it was fun anyway.
The only rides in this part was a water roller coaster (which was closed due to the freezing temperatures) and something called “Soaring over the Horizon.” We were gonna do it but the lines were HUGE and we were using our fast pass at the moment so we skipped it. Lucky too because the day before they had a malfunction and people were stuck dangling high up for awhile. No problems the day we were there, but I don’t mind missing it.
Afterwards Rebecca wanted to go on another roller coaster, so I went to “Barbossa’s Bounty” cafeteria to wait and look for somewhere to charge our phones. Outlets are extremely rare at Disney, so don’t forget your battery charger. I looked all over a huge cafeteria and found only one tucked away in a corner.
With the sun set we went back to Tomorrowland (which always looks better at night lit up, then during the day) and did all the other rides. I used the app quite a bit that day and double-checked the rides were for “all ages” and not puke-inducing. Tomorrowland has never been my favorite.
At this point it was about 6 o’clock, and we were tired and cold and hungry. We had pigged out all day, pretzels, popcorn, turkey legs, but hadn’t eaten any real food.
So we left the gates and went to “Disney town” a shopping street open to the public right next to the park. Why leave the park? Because….CHEESECAKE FACTORY!!!!
That’s right fellow expats! There is only one Cheesecake Factory in China and it is in Disney Town. And OMG, it is exactly like the American Cheesecake Factory with the same exact food and the same exact menu. It was soooo good.
We finished in time to re-enter the park and watch the firework show. I’ve seen a lot of Disney firework shows over the years and this one was amazing. They project scenes from different movies onto the castle, and play songs and have timed fireworks. Star Wars had its own little bit. Also the funny thing was, a lot of the famous songs, from, like Beauty and the Beast and Little Mermaid, were translated (and sung) in Chinese, while some, Hakuna Mata and Let it Go, weren’t.
Overall it was a great day. It felt very Disney in all the right ways and while I had heard a lot of “Chinese tourists behaving badly,” I didn’t see anything egregious that day.
One other cool thing was the Disney “Photo Pass.” They have photographers all over and you have a card with a barcode. They take your pic and scan your barcode and it all goes to your account on an app. All you need to do is download the app and scan the barcode yourself to see them. Also, the pictures of you screaming on rides goes to your account if you scan your card. It’s all very neat and tidy and of course it’s crazy expensive to buy, but fun to look at.
Actually, in every photo place there is a cast member who will take pictures of you along side the professional park photographer. We found these pictures to be really good quality and were impressed. So there was no need to buy the professional ones.
Download the Shanghai Disney app and use it. It shows all the wait times (updated constantly) and how scary a ride is.
Bring a phone charger. Outlets are hard to find.
Use the fast pass right away. Once you use one, you can get another one, so don’t be shy and wait all day to use it just once.
Go to the Whistle Stop shop to get the hats in Chinese. Beg if they won’t let you add a different name then the one on your ID/Passport because they can do it.
Even if you are with a friend, take the “single riders” lane if possible (like on the Pirates ride, or the Seven Dwarves roller coaster). Saves time and we still ended up riding together.
Everything is written in English (and Chinese) and I think workers can speak a bit of English, but all the rides speak Chinese only and it’s much easier if you can speak Chinese. But if you can’t speak/understand Chinese, don’t worry too much.
If you like Disney, you’ll like Shanghai Disney, and if you’ve never been to Disney before, it is a great introduction to the theme park. Totally recommend!