We've got a lot of ground to cover on this new venture by Disney, so I've decided to divide the cover up on the park into smaller sections.
The opening day itself
Although regular visitors, such as myself, weren't able to attend the official ceremonies carried out by Bob Iger and company, a lot of surprises were in store as the special day went by.
I first started my day at 10am at the park's turnstile, where they sent me to exchange my printed tickets for actual ones. Afterwards I was sent to a waiting zone; a place near the entrance where I was greeted by very happy cast members handing out a special package containing a grand opening button + postcard, a park map (mine in English) and a band with my waiting zone location written on it. It was there, on waiting zone 1B, that I waited for about two hours for the time when I could enter the park. The band not only showed the order in which my section would be allowed inside the park — it was a first-come, first-in basis — but also a way for anyone to go to the toilet or buy a snack and then come back in.
All very organized, as was the entrance itself. At exactly 11:50am, a massive tunnel of cast members directed us to the park, greeting all of us effusively as we finally entered Shanghai Disneyland for the first time. I had two special encounters during this: one was meeting my ex-manager from my days as a cast member at Magic Kingdom's Frontierland, a huge coincidence; the other, was running into Bob Iger, the man himself, with a smile on his face, leaving the park and waving at everyone who recognized him — to my surprise, a lot of Chinese did!
Other small gifts were given throughout the day. At the biggest attractions, certificates were handed out when you left, saying congratulations for being the first people to ride it — Tron, Pirates of the Caribbean and Peter Pan being among them. Cast members also gave “grand opening” stickers in different colors as guests passed them by at a ride or store.
At the end of the day, after the Ignite the Dream nighttime show, a special fireworks show featuring what I assume were traditional Chinese songs, took place, I could see lots of Chinese guests feeling emotional with it — a sight that is most uncommon around these parts for sure.
But more than perks, gifts, and special shows, the highlight of the opening day was the energy one could feel anywhere around the park. Everyone was so excited to be there, and cast members' energy and happiness towards the guests was at an all-time high. If you could ever use the word “magical moment” at a Disney park, this grand opening would be it.
Overview of the park
The park's much-talked-about five billion-dollar budget did not go to waste. Unlike Hong Kong Disneyland or Disney California Adventure, which were received with negative reviews on their opening, Shanghai Disneyland feels like a complete park, not something put together in a hurry. It is impressive in many ways, starting with its size. It is spacious, so even when it is crowded, you don't feel like it is.
Also its lands... oh, the lands. The level of detail is definitely going to appeal to anyone, even the ones who don't particularly pay attention to that when visiting a theme park. At Treasure Cove, for example, there are tiny references and photo spots everywhere you look. And this version of Tomorrowland may finally have settled the problem of the area by settling on a décor focused on neon and silver and attractions that don't try to predict the future, only send us to universe unlike ours.
With all that being said, it is important to stress that this is a Chinese theme park, for Chinese guests. Even though all signs are in both Mandarin and English, the vast majority of cast members don't speak English fluently. Some even had this to say when I tried talking to them: “Sorry, I don't speak English.” They make up for this with much sympathy and perseverance, and I never left a place without having my question answered. However, I do not recommend this park for beginners, definitely.
The language can also be a drawback in some attractions, since they are all spoken in Mandarin. On Pirates of the Caribbean, the visual elements speak for themselves and you kind of get what is going on. But Stitch Encounter, on the other hand, in which the alien interacts directly with the audience, is useless. Everyone is laughing around you and you just nod and smile, without understanding what is going on.
The main attractions
Let's get down to business and talk about the main stars of the park. First let me start by saying that I was impressed with the variety of rides at Shanghai. There were great options of dark rides, mild attractions, something for kids, and something a bit more intense. Overall, a great mix for a Magic Kingdom-style park.
Two of them are tied up as the number one attraction at Shanghai Disneyland. In alphabetical order, I shall begin with the new take of a beloved classic, Pirates of the Caribbean – Battle for the Sunken Treasure.
It feels like good old Pirates at the beginning, with the Barbossa's Bounty restaurant taking Blue Bayou's place at our right, followed by a talking skull as we enter a dark cave. There's a perfect nod to the original ride, with the three pirates and a dog scene recreated with a dark twist: they all died while waiting for the damn key! It looks as though it will be more of the same until, right in front of you, magic happens and a simple skeleton becomes Jack Sparrow's talking, perfect Audio-Animatronic (I've ridden it three times, and still wasn't able to find out how that piece of visual effect happens!). From then on, we are sent to the bottom of the sea where we glimpse the sunken treasures and meet the evil Davy Jones (another amazing Animatronic), which then send us back up, in the middle of the naval battle.
The sheer size of each scene is unlike any other Pirates attraction in the world. Take the battle scene in the other ones and multiply them by 10 and you get close to the scale of this new version. But that alone does not make for an excellent ride. In this case, the use of Audio-Animatronics, actual scenery and screens is its triumph for sure, putting us right in the middle of the action like never before. Let's forget for one second the whole “Universal vs. Disney using screens” discussion, and see screens for what they really are — another set of tools Imagineers and creators alike now have to help them tell a great story in a ride. And that is what was accomplished brilliantly here.
Last, but not least, I have to give it to the person that decided not to use Pirates' regular track. The boat goes forward, backwards and turns from side to side, whatever it takes so you don't miss out on one single thing in this spectacular attraction.
On the other side of the park lies TRON Lightcycle Power Run (I will never understand Disney's need for these long names...), a roller coaster that appeals to both thrill-seeking guests and fans of well-themed rides.
Even if you couldn't care less for the movie franchise, this is a guaranteed hit. The idea is that we are being scanned into the game world portrayed in the movies, where we will race in high-speed lightcycles as part of the blue team, opposite three other teams. This is all shown in the line — one of the best in the park — all in blue neon and showing us how the guests are being accelerated in the roller coaster, as we anticipate when it will be our turn. Finally is it our turn and we sit on the bikes that turned out to be not so uncomfortable as expected. We are first sent to a short exterior track, then into the building, where we have to race through eight blue neon circles to win the battle.
Disney claims it is one of the fastest coasters in any of its park, and it does feel that way. Even without any loops and twists, the speed is what guarantees the thrill factor here, combined with the uniqueness of riding a roller coaster on a motorbike and, once again, its great theming.
Coming in a close second, another exclusive ride of Shanghai, Voyage to the Crystal Grotto. As you sail among beautiful gardens and a great view of the Enchanted Storybook Castle, you are met by “dancing” sculptures and fountains displaying Disney's classics, including Aladdin, Tangled, Fantasia and most deserving Mulan, who is featured extensively throughout the park. It's simples and delightful at the same time, with an ending inside the castle that makes it truly unique. A great example of what a Fantasyland ride can be.
A bit of disappointment, for me, was the Roaring Rapids. The mountain where it is set in is truly beautiful (another point for Disney's mountains!), but I was expecting something with more story. The scenery is pretty, there's a lot of suspense up until you face the monster, and Q'araq is an amazing Audio-Animatronic, even scary! But that, plus a nice drop at the end, are it. I was hoping for more storytelling like the Popeye & Bluto's Bilge-Rat Bargesride in Universal's Islands of Adventure and less Kali River Rapids, and it ends somewhere in the middle. Not enough for me.
Other highlights at Shanghai Disneyland Park are the improved Peter Pan's Flight — also using a great mix of Animatronics and screens — and Buzz Lightyear Planet Rescue. As a fan of Animation Academy, I was thrilled to see a version of it in the Marvel Universe area, where I had the chance to draw a Spider-man (it is mostly in Mandarin, but I was able to understand it all through the screen).
Eating and shopping
I felt overwhelmed at the food choices in the park. About 70% of what you find is Asian-inspired, and, as fan of it, I was thrilled. On the first day I had lunch at the Wandering Moon Teahouse, the most Chinese of the options, located in the Gardens of Imagination. Surrounded by a Chinese setting, I ordered an Eight Treasure Duck — a seasoned Duck with rice, vegetables and other ingredients I could not identify. Delicious. To drink, a Peach Ice Tea which sounds simple, but was very tasty. Too bad the souvenir cup in the shape of a Bamboo was not available.
The next day, I had lunch at the Tangled Tree Tavern, with Asian and Western options. I opted for the Sichuan Chicken with fries, a kind of Chinese take on the Fish and Chips, and it was really, really good. Once again, I decided to drink something “local” and ordered a Honey slushy with berries, which was tasteful, but more of a dessert.
Speaking of desserts, my favorite place to eat at Shanghai was definitely Remy's Patisserie, on Mickey Avenue. This bakery had great snacks options such as baked pastries and croissants, and some of the most beautiful looking sweets I've seen recently. It was an ordeal to pick just one, so I ended up having three of them during the two days: a Raspberry eclair, a Lemon tart and New York cheesecake — all to die for. Also, if you looking for a caffeine fix, they serve a decent espresso here. (I'm Brazilian; espressos are always on the lookout for me!)
If you don't feel like eating Asian... pizzas, burgers, corn dogs, Turkey Legs, and others can be found. Except for popcorn, which is only sold with caramel flavor (how I missed the regular popcorn these two days).
In terms of merchandise, Americans and Europeans will have a blast here. Although prices are high, like any other Disney park, when you convert to Dollars and Euros, they became cheap — very cheap. It's your chance to stock up on traditional Disney products such as T-shirts, pens, stuffed animals, and also some Asian-style souvenirs, such as Tsum-Tsum and Duffy dolls!
All in all, if you are a theme park fan in general, start saving now for a trip to Shanghai Disneyland. You won't regret it, for sure, and you can always pair it with a trip to Hong Kong or Tokyo!
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