7 things to know before visiting Shanghai Disneyland
I've visited every Disney park on the globe and was surprised at how Disney's newest park -- Shanghai Disneyland -- is both similar and different from its brethren. Here's what you need to know before you visit the Chinese House of Mouse.
Weekend visits are more expensive
Shanghai Disneyland offers a peak/off-peak pricing model and the difference -- 575 RMB ($82) versus 399 RMB ($57)-- isn't small. However, friends in Shanghai recommended I visit on a weekend because many Chinese tourists are price-sensitive, so Monday–Thursday can be busier than weekends. At the same time, you couldn't pay me to go on a Chinese holiday.
If you find yourself at the park during a busy time, buy FastPasses from 80RMB ($11) to one attraction or various sets based on your requirements. I would hold off buying them until you see whether you need them. I went on a Saturday and was able to ride everything I wanted to in one day using same-day FastPasses.
Shanghai Disneyland visits rely on technology
The Shanghai Disneyland app is necessary to maximize your time at the park. You can visit the park without tech but it would be much more difficult. FastPasses are most easily obtained through the app, which has up-to-date wait times and even holds your tickets.
Note that the Chinese FastPass system, while electronic, is timed more like traditional FastPasses. You can get one every two hours, even if you haven't used the first one yet. You can also get them out of time order. For instance, at 10 a.m. I got a 3 p.m. FastPass for Tron and at noon I got a 2 p.m. FastPass for Buzz Lightyear Planet Rescue.
Problems could arise if you don't have a telephone number that works in China. The phone number can be U.S.-based but to even use the Wi-Fi, you need to get a passcode texted to you. I also found Alipay (like PayPal) and Didi (an Uber-like service) helpful. Alipay, in particular, is important because most of the food kiosks didn't accept credit cards.
The park is especially social-media-friendly. Some attractions, such as the Alice in Wonderland Maze, seem designed for Insta-moments. You'll also see tourists lined up for selfies in the Gardens of Imagination, where the 12 Chinese Zodiac symbols are matched to Disney characters.
The magic is in the details
Shanghai Disneyland is stunningly beautiful. From the largest castle in the Disney realm to the Voyage to the Crystal Grotto that takes you under the storybook kingdom to the magnificent (and explorable) life-size pirate ship, every inch of Shanghai Disneyland is worth studying.
Two of my favorite "attractions" were actually more physical locations within the park. At Camp Discovery there's not only a ropes course but a trail that leads around the land. The trail is a great place to enjoy some peace and quiet or to have a snack in the shade. The Alice in Wonderland Maze captivated me for almost a half-hour, even though it's a walk-through attraction as opposed to a ride.
The park layout is the opposite of every other Magic Kingdom
If you spend any time in Disney parks, you notice that the layouts are similar: Main Street, then the castle, Tomorrowland to the right and Adventure Isle to the left. At Shanghai Disneyland, Tomorrowland is to the left and the two Adventure-type lands are to the right. It's not a huge difference but it does feel jarring if you are used to navigating Disney parks without the aid of a map.
In addition to the backward layout, you'll also notice many marquee rides are missing. You won't find Haunted Mansion, Space Mountain, It's a Small World or Jungle Cruise at Shanghai Disneyland.
The busiest rides won't be the ones you are most excited about
The three busiest rides during my visits were Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, Soaring Over the Horizon and Roaring Rapids. The first two are clones of Florida attractions, so American tourists can skip them. Roaring Rapids has more animatronic features than the USA versions, but it's also a raft ride that will get you wet. In the summer you might appreciate the cool-down but during my November visit, getting wet was not high on my list.
The two must-do rides for U.S. tourists are Tron Lightcycle Run and Pirates of the Caribbean: Battle for the Sunken Treasure. During my visit, I easily got a same-day FastPass for Tron and the Pirates' wait never went over 15 minutes.
Tron uses technology similar to Flight of the Banshee in Animal Kingdom but instead of entering virtual reality, you drive up to 60 mph on a cycle-based coaster. Tron is popular enough that the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World in Orlando is getting its own version in 2021.
Pirates, on the other hand, will be unique in the world for quite some time. Don't let the name fool you: The ride has almost nothing in common with the original version. It's much darker -- both physically darker and with a darker theme than you're used to. I would put a 4-year-old on Pirates in the USA, but this version will scare some tweens. Nonetheless, it's fantastic! I didn't think any rides could top Mystic Manor in Hong Kong but Shanghai's Pirates ride is now my favorite Disney ride worldwide.
Two rides at Shanghai Disneyland are such significant improvements over their U.S. counterparts that they shouldn't be missed. Peter Pan's Flight uses updated technology but still has a retro feel. Buzz Lightyear Planet Rescue has much-improved technology so it's much easier to see when you've hit a target. I got a real kick out of Buzz because in the states I've never gotten over 150,000 points but in the Shanghai version, I scored more than 600,000 because I could see where I was aiming.
Duffy is a really big deal
If you've never been to an Asian Disney park, you might be asking, "Who is Duffy?" Duffy the bear originated solely in merchandising but never really took off in the states. Tokyo DisneySea gave him a sailor suit and massive publicity. Hong Kong and Shanghai Disneyland also took up the Duffy character, who now has a girlfriend, ShellieMay, a bunny friend named StellaLou, and Gelatoni, a feline companion. At Shanghai Disneyland, I saw many more Duffy-clad patrons than any other character, and the line for a photo with Duffy easily topped the line for even Mickey Mouse.
Shanghai Disneyland's snack game is on point
My biggest disappointment with Disneyland Paris was the food selection, which ranged from "blah" to inedible. Fortunately, Shanghai Disneyland's culinary offerings more accurately represented what I see in other Disney parks: tasty Western favorites paired with local cuisine. Both Western meals, such as BBQ, and Chinese dishes, such as pork buns, were fresh and delicious. Favorites like pizza got both distinctly Chinese and Disney twists: crispy duck Mickey ear pizza, anyone? I couldn't, however, wrap my head around a few snack offerings, such as "corn juice with red glutenous rice and oat." I'm sure it tastes fabulous, but I won't be trying it anytime soon.
Popcorn was my favorite snack. Varieties, both sweet and savory, come in adorable purse-like containers. Unfortunately, they don't offer refills as in the states. I especially enjoyed the grilled steak popcorn with vegetables. I wasn't sure what to expect and I was surprised to find actual crispy veggies scattered through the popcorn, which tasted more like Mexican elote (grilled corn) than steak to me.
A couple of fun footnotes: The longest lines I saw for food were for turkey legs, which looked identical to the ones in the USA. And although I didn't see Mickey waffles, I did see Donald and Olaf "Waffla." I tried the Donald version and it was fine, but I would go to Toy Story Land for the bubble waffle sundae next time for my waffle fix.
If you're visiting China, going to a Disney park may not be on your must-do list. However, if you have kids or are a kid at heart, you won't regret carving out a day for Shanghai Disneyland. Not only does the park contain rides you'll find nowhere else, but you can also see an American icon in a uniquely Chinese way.
Want to learn more about Disney parks around the world? Check out TPG’s other Disney guides…
- 8 things a first-time Disneyland Paris visitor should know
- Everything you need to know about Tokyo Disney Resort
- The best points hotels near Disney World
- TPG’s Ultimate Guide to Disney World
- In the shadow of the Mouse: Hilton Orlando Lake Buena Vista – Disney Springs
- 9 things families should know before visiting Disneyland
- How to save money by renting Disney Vacation Club points
- How to use points to buy Disney tickets
- 10 things kids will love at the Disney Aulani Resort in Hawaii
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