Introduction – Disney in China
All things Disney attract Chinese consumers. Fake Disney toys have been stocked on the shelves of every toy market for as long as I’ve been in China (over a decade) and Mickey Mouse can be seen on everything from thermoses to adult’s car interior accessories. So when Disney announced it would be opening a $5.5 billion theme park in Shanghai, China got excited.
Visiting Shanghai Disneyland in the Opening Weeks
It’s been long in coming. Expected to open earlier, Shanghai Disneyland officially opened its gates on June 16, 2016. In the weeks prior to the opening date, the park held a soft-launch testing everything from its rides to its staff (called "cast members" by Disney). I had the pleasure of going with my friends and our daughters in the first week of the soft-launch, when crowds were still thin. The park was immaculate. Every staff member waved and smiled. I’ve never been around more happy people in my life.
I wanted to hate it but the day ended up being purely magical. Disney has done well.
In the weeks leading up to the opening week, the park has let in more and more people, gearing up to actual capacity crowds anticipated after opening. But aside for reports of hideously long lines, everyone I’ve spoken to has greatly enjoyed the experience.
The Nitty Gritty: Location, Getting There, Prices, etc.
Shanghai Disneyland is called 迪士尼 or "di shi ni".
Shanghai Disneyland Location:
The Disney Resort is located in Shanghai's Pudong district. We've been watching the progress of the park on our journeys to Pudong Airport as the Disney Castle is now a visible landmark in Pudong's skyline as you head to or from the airport.
Great efforts at infrastructure have been made by the Chinese and Shanghai governments to make getting to Disney an easy feat. Disney's website has excellent travel information. The best bet is to go by Metro to avoid traffic, line 11 has a special Disney-fied stop.
Ticket prices vary by height and age (as always in China). There are three different ticket prices:
- Standard tickets for visitors whose height is 1.4m or more
- Child tickets for visitors whose height is 1-1.4m
- Senior tickets for visitors whose age is 65 or over
Ticket prices will vary by season so it's best to check on the resort's website to look at prices and book tickets.
Planning a Trip to Shanghai Disneyland and Where to Stay
Depending on where you are coming from and how long you plan to spend at Disneyland will of course determine your plans. Folks living in Shanghai will probably just plan a day trip. If you're coming from out of town or overseas, maybe you want to spring for the onsite Toy Story hotel. If not, you can easily get to and from Shanghai Pudong or other downtown hotels so you don't have to stay at the resort if you don't want to. Tickets can be purchased for one or multiple days so that part is up to you.
Tips for Visiting Shanghai Disneyland
Having been there early on, I'll share some tips about what to wear and bring.
- Outside food & water: There are security personnel checking bags at the entrance. When we were there, we were able to talk them into letting us keep our children's water bottles but this attitude may change. It's best to leave all outside food at home. They will make exceptions for baby food/bottles.
- Sun protection: The park is so new, the trees do not give any shade yet and there are very few places to find shade and rest. Wear or bring sun protection in the form of sunscreen and hats.
- Comfortable shoes: I think it goes without saying but you'll be on your feet the whole day.
- Strollers & Wheelchairs: You are allowed to bring your own stroller (and wheelchair) in but they are also available for hire near the Main Entrance.
Disneyland Resort Services
There are a number of services that you might want to be aware of before you get deep inside the park and realize you want or need them. Near the Main Entrance you can find the following services:
- Information "Guest Services" office for questions
- Lost and Found
- Stroller & Wheelchair rental
- Package Pick-up - before you haul your daughter's new full Elsa regalia around the whole park, know about this! You can have all your in-park purchases sent to the Package Pick-up office (just outside the main entrance)
Other services located throughout the park are:
- ATMs are located throughout the park (ICBC bank, international cards may be accepted)
- Lockers are located at Mickey Avenue near Carefree Corner. Limited-time lockers (for storage while you go on the ride) are also located at TRON, Roaring Rapids and Challenge Trails.
- First Aid stations are located at Mickey Avenue and Tomorrowland.
- The Baby Care Center is located next to the First Aid station on Mickey Avenue. Here you can warm bottles, prepare baby food as well as enjoy private space for nursing.
- Smoking locations are designated throughout the park. Find them using a map.
- Probably the most important service is the Fast Pass. Getting Fast Passes is key especially during peak summer months. Go early to the Fast Pass stations and try to get them before they run out for the day.
Disneyland Resort Features & Attractions
The ticketed part of the park is divided into six sections. Outside the ticketed section is a shopping and entertainment complex called Disneytown that purports to include the world’s largest Lego shop.
Mickey Avenue is the first section of the park that you’ll experience after getting through the Main Entrance. Mickey Avenue is full of shops and restaurants and is also home to a number of the park’s services (see above). You will be drawn to the next section of the park that lies before the enormous Enchanted Storybook Castle.
This section, called Gardens of Imagination has a number of smaller kid-friendly attractions such as the Fantasia Carousel and Dumbo the Flying Elephant ride. You’ll want to find a spot in the Gardens of Imagination to watch the incredible Golden Fairytale Fanfare musical show that showcases all of the Disney princesses and their entourages. (See the daily timetable online or on the daily program for showtimes.)
Beyond the Castle is Fantasyland where the Disney princesses reside. Here there are multiple food and beverage outlets, shops and quite a number of attractions. Favorites are Peter Pan's Flight where you soar above London to Neverland in your own pirate ship and the interactive Alice in Wonderland Maze.
From Fantasyland you can go right to the Pirate's of the Caribbean-themed Treasure Cove. Here there is a wonderful water-themed play place called Shipwreck Shore that was already popular in the spring when we visited so will surely be a huge hit in the summer. And the most popular ride is definitely Pirates of the Caribbean - Battle for the Sunken Treasure.
Just south of Treasure Cove is Adventure Isle where you go from battling pirates to racing down the Roaring Rapids or trying your hand at rope courses. Adventure Isle has more for older visitors but small ones will enjoy meeting Disney characters at Happy Circle or watching Tarzan - Call of the Jungle on the Storybook Stage.
Circle back through Gardens of Imagination and west to Tomorrowland, my favorite part of the park. It was here that I met Darth Vader personally. Rather, I was selected by him from a crowd to take a photo. Darth is one of the many characters roaming around Tomorrowland (he travels with two Stormtrooper handlers). Aside from Character sightings, TRON Lightcycle Power Run is the most popular attraction.
China Travel Expert Notes
I'm not a big Disney person. I want to dislike it but I have to admit I do enjoy watching the movies with my kids and now that Star Wars is part of the franchise, maybe it's time to admit I'm a fan. We visited Shanghai Disneyland with low expectations but were absolutely dazzled. Our kids were amazed and excited and loved every minute of it. They were more interested in looking and seeing than riding rides and the highlight of their day was certainly the Character Parade. I loved that Mulan, my personal favorite of the Disney princesses, has such a large role - in warrior dress - in the parade.
We stayed until we were all completely exhausted and went home very happy. I think that if visitors can deal with the lines, that are expected to be extremely long and wearisome, they'll enjoy their time.
While it is common in the travel industry for writers to be provided with free services, this review is based on the writer's experience at her own cost.