Theme Park Insider

First impressions from visiting Shanghai Disneyland

June 18, 2016, 10:31 AM · After months of preparation and anticipation, the day has finally come: I was fortunate enough to attend Shanghai Disneyland both on its grand opening date and on the 17th!

Shanghai Disneyland

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.

Shanghai Disneyland swag

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!

Bob Iger and fans

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.

Tomorrowland

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.

Pirates, outside

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.

Pirates, inside

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.

Tron

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.

Voyage to the Crystal Grotto

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.

Roaring Rapids

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).

Marvel Comic Academy

Note: due to the long lines and Fastpasses that ended in one hour, I didn't get to go on Soaring Over the Horizon. [Editor's note: No worries. We've got that covered!]

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.

Eight Treasure Duck

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.

Sichuan chicken

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!)

Remy's

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!

More Shanghai Disneyland Coverage:

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Replies (27)

June 18, 2016 at 12:05 PM · Great report! I'm planning a trip for next year and can't wait!
June 18, 2016 at 12:12 PM · Thanks for your review, I've been hearing so many negative comments from people who seem to judge with American eyes. I would be interested more hearing how this opening compared with Hong Kong's. HK got poor reviews, and Shanghai seems to be getting great vibes from the Chinese. I know HK opened with so very few rides, and the park itself is small. I'm surprised though, that Shanghai will have a Toy Story Land, which makes sense because they have a Toy Story Hotel, but they already have TS Land in HK, and it's not great.

If a lot of Chinese people recognize Iger, that sounds like a positive, because that shows that a lot of Chinese are aware of Disney and Shanghai Disneyland.

June 18, 2016 at 12:15 PM · This is a good review. I would love to visit one day.
June 18, 2016 at 1:45 PM · Question re: skeleton to Jack Sparrow in the Pirates Ride. Do you think they are using projection mapping to project the skeleton onto the animatronic?
June 18, 2016 at 2:24 PM · I've got a weird feeling that it will be a Toy Story Land like Disney Hollywood Studios. Seems as though Disney World is the testing center for Asian attractions sometimes.
June 18, 2016 at 3:30 PM · Greg,

That would be my guess.

June 18, 2016 at 4:25 PM · Are the menus at the restaurant available in English?
June 18, 2016 at 4:37 PM · Hi Ryan,
Yes, the menus and any visual element in the park are in English and Mandarin. In the menus you also get a lot pictures depicting the food!
June 18, 2016 at 6:56 PM · Wow! Can't wait to pack up and visit Shanghai as soon as possible!

I wonder whether it is a fully functional Q'araq or a Disco Q'araq in the Roaring Rapids ride?

June 18, 2016 at 7:36 PM · The menus are in English, but the shows are not. I saw Tarzan, Frozen, and the Pirates show - all 100% Mandarin, including text on-screen. The good news is even though I got in line rather late, the seats were still fantastic.

Thanks for the review!

June 18, 2016 at 7:49 PM · Thanks for the great report! I'm glad to hear it felt more like a complete park; I was surprised by the low attraction count, so it's good to hear. I've heard that it's quite a large park. Did it feel challenging to get around? I know that it's missing a lot of the normal transportation.

I'm so jealous that you got to ride Pirates and TRON!

June 18, 2016 at 8:09 PM · I know this isn't my article, but I'm happy to give my two yuan on the subject. :)
For me, it was easy to get around. I didn't feel like I was bumping into people every moment as I was moving from land to land, and one thing that is really cool is that there are these...parks throughout the...er...park. Big grassy areas with quite a few picnic tables. Basically just areas for people to go hang out and relax in a peaceful setting. There's one right next to 7 Dwarf's Mine Train, for instance. I'd say I never saw more than 3 or 4 people in any of these at one time.

Getting to the subway was a little bit of a pain, as far as it not being easy to locate, and then it being a bit of a long walk, and compared to Hong Kong's Disney station, it was very industrial looking. Plus, no Disney-themed train, as in Hong Kong.

Also, they don't pack their Disney Transportation buses like sardines, as they do in Orlando, and there are buses aplenty that take you to/from the hotel (Toy Story, in my case) to the Disneytown/Disneyland area, running pretty frequently. The bus transportation was pleasant.

June 18, 2016 at 8:45 PM · Excellent report on the park! It's disappointing that many Disney fans can't appreciate what looks like an outstanding theme park due to their (likely false) belief that these attractions would have wound up in the American parks had this one not happened. I like the fact that roughly half the attractions in this park are unique to this park (unlike most other international Disney parks), and despite having the lowest attraction count among the Magic Kingdom parks this looks more complete than Hong Kong Disneyland or Disneyland Paris did at opening.

I have no idea when (or if) it will happen, but I'd love to do a three week Asia trip to hit the major theme parks and various tourist destinations in the area. Something along the lines of 7-8 days in Japan, 3 days in South Korea, 8 days in China, and 3 days in Singapore would be pretty good. I guess I'll list that as a bucket list trip for now.

June 18, 2016 at 9:22 PM · Great review! We're the lines crazy long for you?
June 18, 2016 at 9:58 PM · Hi Dan,
It is quite a large park and very spacious. You do have to walk a lot from one land to the other, but you get caught up in the details so you don't really mind.

And Q'araq, for now at least, is very functional and frightening!

June 18, 2016 at 10:01 PM · Hi Dan,
It is quite a large park and very spacious. You do have to walk a lot from one land to the other, but you get caught up in the details so you don't really mind.

And Q'araq, for now at least, is very functional and frightening!

June 18, 2016 at 10:25 PM · Of course this looks like a great new park. That's exactly why a lot of us are pissed off!

It's clear that they've been holding out on us; they sunk billions into this park, while there hasn't been a new E Ticket in all of WDW since Expedition Everest in 2006. And the last one at Disneyland was Indiana Jones!

I've always said that Disney is capable of creating incredible attractions, IF they commit sufficient resources to the task. Too bad they only did it halfway around the world!

I do enjoy New Fantasyland, and Cars Land. But nothing comes close to that amazing new Pirates ride. And if Pandora and Star Wars Land aren't up to snuff, guess what? Most of us just can't afford to fly to Asia to see the REALLY great attractions! Frankly, I feel ripped off!

June 18, 2016 at 10:26 PM · Thanks for the review Renata. I was curious, I read another review written by people who work in the theme park industry and they were very critical of the lack of transportation like the train. Did you find the walking to be greater than or about equal to the walking in other Disney parks?
June 19, 2016 at 8:59 AM · Live 30 minutes from Anaheim and we have been to all the Disney park's in the world. My two kid's 21 and 22nd and mom will be in Shanghai July for a two day pass experience
June 19, 2016 at 9:49 AM · Let's not be hasty. I really enjoyed the park. It has a lot of space for walking. I'm an American living in shanghai for a while. Personal space in china is not a thing and at DLS you won't get too much of it standing in line unless you smile, saying excuse me or just use
Your body gesture to show "hey can you not stand on top of me". Most people in shanghai although have cultural habits really understand what's happening and typically will respect your space after you've asked for it! When walking in the park. Everyone is very mindful to not walk into you unless it's just really crowded. The pathways in this park are huge! The castle is organized and there is places for people rest. In china. If your tired. Go find a patch of grass and lay down! LoL. No ones going to stop you. Also about bringing food in. Most people
In china sorta just carry their own food but they also eat what's for sale. Disney was understanding of that. The kids in china can be spoiled but they were in their best behavior. I can't imagine standing in a two hour line with a 5 year old. Well I can because. I did. But. I can't imagine wanting to do it. The kids knew this was a privilege. Shanghai basically got the same
Thing everyone else got its just presented differently. Some people need to chill. As for
Lines. They been long! And it's been hot!
June 19, 2016 at 9:20 PM · I was there on Saturday, 6-18th. I'm from SoCal so grew up with Disney Anaheim. Here's The Good: Big and spacious, saw open areas for expansion. Prices, after exchange rate, very favorable to dollar and euro like you said. Courteous cast members with pretty decent English. Pirates of Carribean was worth the ticket itself. AMAZING! The WorkOut Trail, very cool. The Chinese loved the turkey legs (about $8US), the line was huge!

Now the Bad: No Autopia! No Submarine Ride! and NO NO Haunted House!

The Worst: Bad Chinese behaviour. Line cutting, yes! Loud talking, yes! Spitting and Littering, of course! Everybody has their faces buried in their phone. Glad there was a rule about NO selfie sticks. TRON broke down at the around 7PM, and the crowd started screaming arguments with TRON staff. Kids taking care of business in the bushes (by the Entrance), check!

Overall good experience. Need to see more rides.


June 19, 2016 at 10:26 PM · "Shanghai basically got the same
thing everyone else got, its just presented differently."

Does this mean that, in your opinion, Shanghai is no better than the U.S. parks?
One quick question about that: is there anything in the U.S. that compares to Shanghai Pirates?

June 19, 2016 at 10:26 PM · Wow, your report was so biased! Based on Chinese media, there was a couple whose kid took care of "his business" inside the restaurant. The couple decided to use a plastic bag instead of taking the kid to the bathroom which was just a few feet away. There were pictures showing other parents assisting their kids took care of their businesses in the open. Countless reports indicated cutting lines, which, ironically, was no surprise in Mainland China. So, unless you are or have high tolerance towards uncivilized behaviors, there are 10 other Disneys you can choose from.
June 20, 2016 at 12:19 AM · The simple (and easy) answer is NO.

However, the bar has been raised (I have not been to Tokyo), so with Avatar and Star Wars coming, I know what kind of amazing things are possible in the U.S.

June 20, 2016 at 6:38 AM · Did you notice areas for future development? The attraction count is light. It seems that after a year or so, the Park will need more rides.
June 21, 2016 at 2:39 AM · I am looking at staying a the Toy Story Hotel and see you have mentioned it. How close is the Toy Story Hotel to the Disney Park, can you walk? or are there other means of transport to get there? and have you thought about doing a review for the Toy Story Hotel?. Thanks for this informative insight into the park! looking forward to visiting :D
June 22, 2016 at 7:33 AM · Excelente artigo, Renata!
Gosto muito de seguir o setor de theme parks, e sempre é bom ver um artigo seu por aqui!
Mande um abraço para o Thiago por mim!
Luiz Felipe Almeida

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