Greg’s May 2017 Shanghai Disneyland visit
Having crashed early the night before I was awake really early and keen to be on the road. Disneyland opened at 8am and I planned on being there for that. I had already done my research before I left home and getting to Disneyland from my hotel turned out to be surprisingly easy. One change of train and then straight on to morning… or at least to the end of the line.
Disneyland turned out to be the opposite direction to the mass of people heading to work so I wasn’t as crushed as I could have been and actually had an opportunity to look out the window although I did have to stand the whole time. Only a 30 minute trip though including changing trains.
Looking out the window I happened to facing the right way to get a view of the Castle while we were still a distance from the Park. The previous day on the Maglev I had chosen the wrong side and didn’t realise how close I was to the Park as I cruised by at 300kmh. The Castle stood well above anything else in the area looking a little out of place in a mostly industrial area.
The Disneyland station is just another station on the Metro, unlike the Hong Kong one, and didn’t really have anything other than a handful of character silhouettes on a wall to even let you know that this was Disney. It was clean, tidy and efficient but that can be said about all the other Metro stations I used. Disney really should get their hands on it and turn it into a true Park entryway.
But I wasn’t there to admire the train station.
All the way there I had been expecting the number of passengers to thin out but instead there had been a steady trickle getting on so there was quite a rush to get off the train and out of the station. I wondered how many passengers were cast members on their way to work and how many I would be sharing the Park with. Turned out that they all seemed to be going to the Park.
Exiting the station I just followed the crowd. There was a wide avenue leading to the Park but even this lacked the decoration that the way into Hong Kong has. It’s almost as if there is some regulation preventing Disney from doing anything outside the Park gates. Hong Kong at least has banners with characters on them and music playing to build up the excitement as you walk from the train station but there was nothing here.
At this point it was only about 7.20 so I still had some time to kill before opening. Veering off the path everyone else was taking I headed towards the lake with the intention of walking around it to the Disneyland Hotel and a welcome cup of coffee. I had this path to myself and a great view of the lake and the hotel and a fountain sending up an impressive amount of water. There was also the landing for the ferry although the ferry itself was over on the hotel side. I kept walking a little and then thought “why walk when there’s a ferry!” so I went back and stood in the queue which consisted of only me.
This is where it got interesting. At this point there was nothing out of the ordinary but as I later found out when I got my Park map the ferry is for Hotel guests only. I just happily got on it when it docked and had a private ride across the lake. I guess they either didn’t care or just made assumptions because I was western. Either way I made it across to the dock and then headed towards the hotel.
The gardens here are magnificent. What I assume were roses were blooming and it all looked fantastic. The path naturally lead me to a big gate where I got my first inkling that I may have a problem. There was a sign saying that entry was with a room key only. Of course I didn’t have a room key. Luckily for me the family coming out must have had one so I just walked in while the gate was open. The security guard didn’t take any notice so I kept going up into the hotel.
Walking in I had a cast member come up to me and ask if I was checking in. When I said no he gave me a slightly funny look so I quickly added that I was just looking for a coffee. I guess he assumed I was staying there because he just pointed me down a corridor. I headed off, trying to look like I owned the place and found the Ballet café.
The Ballet café was another example of the subtle Disney feel that I’d found so far. There was a nice “period” feel about the place and the display of cakes and pastries was impressive but the only real touch of Disney was a large statue of one of the dancing Hippos from Fantasia. I now encountered one of the two major complaints that people seem to have about Shanghai Disneyland. The first is the long lines, which I personally don’t believe to be any worse than any other park, and the second is the food prices. Admittedly I was eating the Disneyland Hotel but for a sandwich, some waffles and a coffee it still cost me well in excess of $30. The coffee even came in a paper cup which didn’t really fit with the ambiance of the place. But, oh well, it’s Disney and I wasn’t going to skimp on the experience.
Having finished I had to find my way back across the lake to the Park. I headed through the lobby, again trying to look like I belonged there, across the garden towards the gate and while I walked I tried to time my arrival with some other people who were headed that way. Success! I managed to walk out with them.
Rather than the ferry I wanted to walk the long way around. It was an interesting walkway and well worth the effort, especially going over a curved, glass bridge at one point. The sign on it proudly pointed out that it was “the best” bridge of its type in the world and I got to walk over it.
Getting back near the entrance I had a view of masses of people pouring in from the car park on the left and masses of people pouring in from the train station on the right. Time to join the queue.
The first thing you queue up for is security. This is a bag check and starts at the Steamboat Willy fountain, which is the only bit of Disney theming outside the Park proper. Eventually I got to the head of the queue and was immediately waved straight through when they realised I didn’t actually have a bag that needed to be checked. This made me wonder if there isn’t the need for an express queue, one for people who don’t have a bag. I wasn’t the only one and even if it’s only one person in 5 who gets to go straight through then it will at least reduce the queue by 20%.
After the bag check it was into the ticket queue. Not that there was much of a queue. Seems that the local Chinese buy their tickets online and just have to use their ID at the gate to get in. Not a bad system in a country where everyone has a state issued ID. It also meant that there was just me and a couple of other westerners lining up to buy an actual ticket.
Ticket purchased I then moved on to the next queue, this one to actually get into the Park. The first day this was pretty uneventful but on the second day a local man in the line next to me struck up a conversation. He was really proud of the Park and especially that it was bigger than Hong Kong. When he asked me which ride I liked the most he was really happy when I said Pirates. He showed me how he had the Pirates theme as his ringtone and had been there to see Johnnie Depp at the movie premiere. He was most impressed when I said that I had been to every Disney Park.
All up it took just short of an hour to get into the Park from when I joined the first queue.
But here I was, Shanghai Disneyland.
Basically I spent the next two days wandering aimlessly around going on rides, seeing shows and eating so rather than trying to remember what I did and in what order I’ll just give general impressions and impressions of specific attractions.
When the Park first opened behaviour of the crowd seemed to be a big issue. Any issues that there may have been in the beginning seem to have been sorted.
There was minimal pushing or general agro in the queues and certainly no more than I would have expected anywhere else. The queues were long for the more popular rides (2 hours for me to get onto Soaring) but everyone seemed pretty patient. In one line I taught a small girl to fist bump which her mother found hilarious. In another I played peek-a-boo with a little girl for quite a while and got a thank you from her parents for keeping her amused for so long. One time I noticed the woman in front of me taking a lot of selfies with a selfie stick. Then I noticed that I seemed to be positioned in the background of them all so I ended up taking proper photos with her which made her day.
The entire place was clean and tidy, in fact there seemed to be more rubbish bins in evidence here than the other parks which may have contributed. There were plenty of cleaners taking care of anything that may have been dropped but on the whole people seemed to be doing the right thing. I guess it just goes to show that Walt’s original theory of give it to the people in nice condition and they’ll keep it that way is true.
Toilets were also in good condition. It was interesting to note that there were a lot more “squatters” than “sitters” so be aware that there may only be one western option in a bathroom. Look for the sign on the door as it is the exception and is marked as such. It does mean that it is almost always empty though. The hand soap smelled really nice.
Food and drink prices I thought were pretty high even for a Disney Park. Apparently this has been a complaint from the opening and I can see why. If you want to buy a snack type meal from one of the stands then expect to pay in excess of $20 for some food and a drink. It cost me that much for a wrap and a drink. If you want to eat in the Royal Banquet Hall inside the castle (and it was walk-in while I was there) you are looking at over $70. On my second day I had a coffee and pastry at Remy’s Patisserie as soon as I arrived in the Park and the pastry was so hard I had difficulty tearing it apart with my teeth. I have to say that the food and drink didn’t impress me a great deal.
I’m probably not the best person to comment on the shopping. I have a hard time finding anything in any Disney Park that I really want to buy and if there is something it’s usually a $1000 collectible. I did buy everything I could find with the Duck on it so my entire list of purchases was:
A baseball with Donald’s face on it.
A fridge magnet of the generic Shanghai Disney Resort type.
A Donald coffee mug. I like this because it’s huge and I’ve already been enjoying my morning coffee out of it.
A miniature coffee mug with the Park logo on one side and Grand Opening on the other. There was a stand in the Disney Store in Disneytown that had a few opening day items for sale.
A miniature coffee mug with the castle silhouette and a number 1 on one side and a banner reading First Anniversary on the other side.
The two miniature mugs I bought on my second day and was impressed with the way they were wrapped. Here’s a photo of them wrapped, with my delicate size 14 for scale and then a photo of them unwrapped. I had to unwrap them to be able to get them into my bag.
There were some interesting shops in Disneytown but I was cautious about the prices. As an example, the Lego Disney Castle that is selling for $500 on the Australian Lego site was selling for about $800 in the Lego store there.
I did find the general layout of the Park to be a bit confusing at times. I would come off a ride and think I was heading towards a certain place only to find I was going in the opposite direction. Not that I minded this because I was quite happy to just wander aimlessly and see what I could see.
There are a couple of large grassy spots with picnic tables that drew a lot of people who had bought their own food into the Park. They would be perfect spots to throw a Frisbee which would probably draw a crowd.
I had the official park app on my phone which was handy for looking up wait times but given that it would be nothing but a map if you don’t have internet access I don’t think I’d necessarily recommend it unless you are going to bother getting a sim card. If you do get a sim card keep in in that Google, twitter, facebook etc don’t work in China.
Lines for the fastpass were generally horrendous but then so were the ride lines.
English was on all the signs but sometimes you may have to get up close to see the smaller print. Given the scarcity of westerners I saw this is understandable. Most of the announcements are dual language but any shows are only in Chinese. I was specifically handed a Park Map in English when I entered the Park but the Times Guide is dual language.
On the train there had been a few people going up and down the carriages trying to sell rain ponchos and Minnie Mouse ears and in the Park there were people who would hang out in some of the longer queues trying to sell the same stuff. I find it hard to believe that the cast members aren’t aware of them and don’t mind them hassling guests and selling non genuine items on Park property.
If you take the time to look around then there are some theming moments that may go unnoticed by most people. Look in the gardens for things like small animal statues and up for things like hanging pirates and the details on the buildings. I even found a Junior Woodchuck corner that I’m sure would be over the head of most of the guests but I certainly appreciated.
The “Partners” statue was a bit different.
My overall impression of Shanghai Disneyland is a positive one. It is new and there is evidence of construction happening but it is worth the money and a good addition to the Disney Park Family.
I don’t know about anyone else but when I walk into a Park I always seem to go to the left after Main Street (or in this case Mickey Avenue). Maybe this is from having grown up driving on the left but it seemed like most of the people entering Shanghai Disneyland were going to the right. I wasn’t complaining, it was giving me a clear run towards Tomorrowland and all that Star Wars Launch Bay promised.
Tomorrowland looks good, even from a distance. The Jet Pack ride is dominant even with the truly futuristic Tron building rising up behind it. I can’t comment on either Tron or the Jet Packs since my healthy fear of heights kept me a safe distance from both. However, as far as theming, Tomorrowland is all curves, chrome and glass. Wide sweeping stairs take you from the upper level of the Jet Pack ride and Stargazer Grill to the lower level with Star Wars, Stitch, Buzz Lightyear and the Baymax show. The glass railing on the stairs is frosted and gives a nice impression of descending into the clouds.
I didn’t do the Stitch Encounter. This is not like Hong Kong where you can choose your language, all the shows are in Chinese and I thought that it would lose too much by not knowing what’s being said. I also didn’t stay for the entire Baymax show as it was in Chinese and definitely aimed at small children.
Buzz Lightyear was walk-on both times I rode it. The first time was early morning and I never stopped moving from the time I entered the queue area to when I sat down on the ride. The second time was later in the day, after I’d had lunch, and there were maybe 6 or 7 people ahead of me when I got to the boarding area. Both times I scored in the mid 900,000’s, I’m yet to crack that elusive million.
The Star Wars Launch Bay area is to the right of Buzz and down a path past the toilets. I didn’t find it overly well signposted but knew it was there from my map. At first I was unsure I was even heading in the right direction because I was the only one going there. The path itself has no theming but there is a little music as you get towards the end. Inside is a large room with (I assume replica) movie props. Around the outside of the room are a series of areas where there were Star Wars characters standing ready for you to have your photo taken with them. I was the only one in there and didn’t really want to have my photo taken so I just waved back at Kylo Ren and C3PO when they waved at me. They really need something like Star Tours in this area to encourage people to visit it. The Chinese man I spoke to in the entry queue was a big fan of Pirates, his son knew a bit about the Marvel characters but he said they didn’t know and weren’t particularly interested in Star Wars. I guess when Star Wars first came out China was a different place and didn’t have the opportunity to develop the fan base that other places did.
Just outside the Stitch Encounter was the area for meeting Stitch. Both times I rode Buzz Lightyear he was there but the first time there was no one wanting to meet him and the second time there was only a handful of people. I’m sure that there are a myriad of spread sheets in Disney offices figuring out the optimum characters etc for each Land but Tomorrowland was never anywhere near as crowded as the rest of the Park.
I did have a burger in the Stargazer Grill and this was probably the best value meal I had in terms of quantity, quality and price. I’d recommend it, even if you are trying to “eat local”. It’s Disneyland after all and what could be more local than a burger.
Moving on to Fantasyland…
The castle is impressive. It’s big and seemed to me to be more real and less fantasy than others. I lined up for the Once Upon A Time Adventure but have to say that I would really only recommend it if you have small children, have time available after seeing everything else or are a completist. You walk up stairs, through a series of scenes from the Snow White story and then down more stairs and out. Cool to say that you’ve been up inside the castle and the little kids loved it.
All of the rides in Fantasyland had long queues.
Peter Pan’s Flight was the same as other Parks although it felt a bit shorter. I wonder if they can speed up or slow down the ride time based on how many people are in the queue. Strangely they had 99% of the queue waiting in the outside area and would only let a few people at a time into the building proper. We then hurried through quite a lot of un-utilized queuing space before we got to the boarding area.
Voyage to the Crystal Grotto looked like it might be Shanghai’s answer to the Jungle Cruise from the queue. Similar boats even down to the captain. Not much similarity on the ride though. To be honest, sitting here now, I can’t remember if there was any sort of commentary but I wouldn’t have been able to understand it anyway. It’s not a bad ride; sedate and going past a series of vignettes with water fountain type effects.
Frozen: A Sing-Along Celebration was cool (no pun intended…ok, maybe a little one). This was a live show inside a massive theatre. Lots of songs performed by actors on the stage with a backdrop of projected scenes from the movie. They even threw beach balls into the audience during Olaf’s summer song. Not a lot of singing along, maybe not a Chinese thing, but seemed to be enjoyed by everyone. Lots of little kids forming a mosh pit in front of the stage.
The Alice in Wonderland Maze is impressive and certainly worth a wander through. Keep an eye out for all the details.
Treasure Cove is a major area. I don’t know how popular the Pirates movies have been in China but I assume it’s a lot from the effort put into this area. My queue buddy and his ring tone probably bear this out. The theming here is great, from the Pirate Ships to the Fort (which looks like the one from Black Sails. Great show if you haven’t seen it) and the Spanish buildings along with the Pirate town.
The Pirates ride is obviously the draw card and I did it twice. Not much here to compare to the original ride. There was the scene with the dog and the key although in skeleton form. Basically this is a Pirates ride based on the Movies, the latest one in particular. My queue buddy had been to the movie premiere and he said the ride was like being in the movie. The more you get into the queue the more there is to keep you entertained and keep an eye out for the single riders line if you’re on your own. It can save you a lot of time but you do miss a lot of the theming. I liked the ride the first time through and thought it was okay the second. It suffers a bit from the lack of detail and small things that make you go back on the original Pirate rides to catch things you’ve missed.
The Eye of the Storm Stunt Spectacular was good. After queuing they open up the doors and you enter a large room. A lot of people must have assumed that this was where the show would happen because they jostled their way into the front centre. There is a bit of a pre-show here but you can see it from anywhere in the room as it mostly takes place on the balcony above. All in Chinese of course but it got plenty of laughs from the crowd. Then we moved into the main part of the theatre, sat down and watched quite a good show. Easy enough to get the gist of the story although there were long parts with no action, just dialogue and it would have helped if I’d known what everyone else found so funny. The action parts were good including one sequence that I wasn’t expecting, have never seen done in this context and impressed me greatly. I can give more details if you want but don’t want to spoil it.
The rest of Treasure Cove is a walk around Pirate ships and a kids play area. Make sure you look up and around because that Disney attention to detail is here. There is also the Explorer Canoes which are paddled by the guests themselves around the cove. I didn’t go on these, partly because it would be frustrating not having my own canoe but mostly because the spaces onboard were not designed for someone my size.
Adventure Isle was a bit hit and miss for me. I didn’t get to see the Tarzan show due to missed timing. I spent half an hour in the line for The Rapid ride but then it broke down and we were sent away. I didn’t make a second attempt, being a bit spooked by Dreamworld and then having this one break down.
The Challenge Trails looked cool. On this one you are tied to a track above your head somewhat like the doors in Monsters Inc. Once you are tied in you can walk around the trail which is a series of rope walks and such like that are quite a height above the ground. It’s kind of Indiana Jones like, which would be a great theming opportunity if Indiana Jones is known in China at all. Given the height I didn’t go on it but took the walking trail below. The whole thing winds its way around a large mountain complete with impressive waterfall which is visible from lots of different places in the Park. A couple of quick tips…ladies, if you are planning to do this then don’t wear a skirt. The walking trail spends a bit of time directly underneath the challenge trail. Secondly, the queue that appears to be for the trail is in fact for the lockers. If you don’t have a bag (you’ll need both hands free for this one) then you can walk right past this line.
There is also the Happy Circle which is a character meeting spot. I never saw more than a handful of people having their photo taken here. Maybe character meetings are not a Chinese thing.
As you leave Mickey Avenue (Main Street) on your way into the Park the castle is the obvious thing in front of you but the whole area is called Gardens of Imagination and is worth a walk through. The gardens everywhere in the Park were impressive but I really liked this spot to just sit and let my feet cool down. Try and catch the water fountain show.
The carousel is here and the unusual Walt and Mickey statue. There is also the Meet Mickey attraction but there’s a big sign so I had plenty of warning to avoid it.
Gardens of Imagination also has the Marvel Universe which seems a little out of place in this spot. This is almost a direct duplicate of the Star Wars Launch Bay but with Marvel characters. There were more people here but still not as many as you would expect in other Parks. There is a Marvel character drawing attraction that had a bit of a queue but mostly people were just looking a bit lost.
I caught the parade 3 times over my 2 days. Once deliberately and twice by accident. It’s a cool parade and not to be missed. Mulan got the biggest reaction each time I saw it but the other floats were good as well. The fiery drummers were impressive and the songs had a strange mixture of Chinese and English lyrics. It was funny to watch one lothario dancer do almost everything short of hand his phone number to a couple of girls in the crowd.
Main Street…sorry, I mean Mickey Avenue, is not the longest shopping strip in a Disney Park and as I’ve said before I’m the worst person to comment on shopping so I’ll leave it to the better qualified.
Outside the Park is Disneytown. This had a pretty high end feel to it with restaurants and shops to attract the more discerning. The only two places that really attracted me were the Lego store (quickly departed once I saw the prices) and an art store that had some Disney stuff and a lot of Star Wars stuff. It was all nice but nothing that made me want to buy it. I did spend a good 15 minutes checking it all out while the Chinese woman who was manning the place hovered just behind me.
So to sum it up…
I’m happy I went. Not just because it’s completed my Disney Parks list again but also because I enjoyed being there. It does naturally have a different feel to other Parks and the language can be a little restricting in some of the shows but it had enough to keep me entertained for 2 days. Just be aware that it is expensive, both in terms of getting there and the costs while there.