A visit to Shanghai Disneyland, part 1

October 13, 2016, 11:42 AM · In this week's episode of Theme Park Insider, I join Robert to talk about my recent trip to Disney's newest theme park, Shanghai Disneyland.

How could I go to Shanghai, without visiting Shanghai Disneyland? I might never be able to face my Theme Park Insider husband again. I'd actually gone to Shanghai to write about a violin competition for my website, Violinist.com. But I was there for 10 days, and on my day off, I adventured with two of my journalist colleagues to Shanghai Disneyland.

Some of the local friends that I'd made had actually warned me that I might get heat stroke if I tried this day at Disney, so I was armed with my best hat and sunscreen, but we lucked out and got a temperate day, with highs that were probably just in the 80s. The park is just outside the main part of town, and it took us less than an hour to get there from Shanghai's Luwan district, near the People's Square.

We hired a car, and though the signs seemed clear in English, our driver got confused and missed the entrance to the the park, leaving us off instead by the Toy Story Hotel. Fortunately this was not too far away, so we walked about a half-mile to the park.

This brought us through Disneytown, which has broad walkways and a number of stores (World of Disney, a Lego store), a theater (playing the stage version of The Lion King) and restaurants such as Wolfgang Puck. A large lake lined with newly-planted trees stretches out along the right, lined with benches. The heat, humidity, and water make the environment feel a lot like Orlando, although that familiar feeling never lasts all that long, with the entertainment in Chinese, the different food, and the differences in the park itself.


I expected the park to be crowded, considering the population of Shanghai and the park being just a couple months old, but on this Tuesday in late August, it was not that full. It felt very spacious and reminded me of Disney World in the early 1980s, before it grew quite so dense with development and crowded with people, and still with that right-out-of-the-box new feeling.

I was warned that there is no Main Street USA in Shanghai, but "Mickey Avenue," which comes right after the entrance, still has that "Main Street" feel, if not the size, and you can see the castle up ahead. The difference is that once you reach the end of Mickey Avenue, there is no straight path to the castle; you can either meander through the "Gardens of Imagination" (which includes a few moats), or go on the main walkway around the park, which is a circle. (That circle also is where the parade marches.)

We were anxious to see the much-hyped Pirates of the Caribbean, your pick at the best new attraction of the year, so we took a right on the circular path and headed toward Treasure Cove. The area is huge, with a lot of water around it, filled with ships and the free-floating Explorer Canoes, which accommodate about a dozen paddling guests each.

Pirates of the Caribbean Battle for the Sunken Treasure

We had Fastpasses to Pirates, so the line went pretty fast for us, not leaving a lot of time to linger over the details in the queue. Pirates of the Caribbean Battle for the Sunken Treasure definitely is a new take on the old theme, drawing more from the Pirates movies but also still with some of the classic scenes from the original rides, such as the jailed skeletons reaching for that dog, carrying the keys. (This time, though, the dog's a skeleton, too. I guess they never did get those keys!)

The special effects, created by huge projections on IMAX-sized curved walls, were just epic. They gave off the convincing feeling of being in small boat in a vast sea, swirling, with towering and teetering ships everywhere around. It was easy to let go and just be a part of this world, and I would have loved to ride this again and again.

However! At the end, the boat goes backwards on what I'd describe as a moderately hilly roller coaster track, and right after this special effect, everything stopped. I thought it was part of the ride, but very soon I realized that the sound had stopped, the lights had changed, and there was announcement. Of course, the announcement was in Chinese, so I could not understand a word of it, I could only try to read the faces of the other people in the boats (all Chinese) who seemed to have that, "Oh my gosh!" look.

We waited for about 15 minutes, and then they evacuated us, which was actually pretty fun, too. We got to walk out onto the little caveway, then through a door, on little steel planks to avoid the water. Cast members apologized graciously and gave us Fastpasses to come back and ride it later in the day. Unfortunately, the ride was down for the rest of the day, so we could not ride it again. A disappointment, but we felt lucky that we had pretty much seen the best of it before it broke down!

Soaring Over the Horizon

Next we headed for Soaring Over the Horizon, which is basically the same ride as the new Soarin' Around the World in Epcot and Disney California Adventure, which I'd done earlier this summer. (And I've gone on the original version many times.) But this Soarin' was well worth doing, first because we had the good fortune to be in front, and second, to witness the reaction of the man next to me, who definitely seemed to be riding for the first time. The show takes you "soaring" over many great wonders of the world: a pyramid, the opera house in Sydney, the Taj Mahal, the Utah desert, African Savanna, China's Great Wall, the Eiffel Tower... each place has a thrilling ascent, sense of place, then a little surprise computer-generated effect (elephants in Africa, a breaching orca, etc.) that blows up into the next scene. With every special effect or thrilling turn, the man next to me cried out and laughed with joy, "OOOOHHHH! OHHH!" He seemed like such a theme park innocent! After my many years of going to them, it was fun to see someone just completely wowed by the newness of the experience.

At this point, we started thinking about lunch, and we wound up at Barbossa's Bounty, which Robert had billed to me as the "Blue Bayou" of the park because its dining room is on the Pirate of the Caribbean route. So I'm thinking, Monte Cristo sandwiches, Jambalaya...

Squid. It's what's for lunch in Shanghai.

Ahhh, no. The food at Shanghai Disneyland was, for the most part, Chinese, with notable exceptions. And the exceptions were not what one might think; for example, all the popcorn stands had caramel corn, no regular popcorn.

So at Barbossa's Bounty, we had BBQ Pork Ribs (the American option); Grilled Squid and Shanghai Rice (not the American option) and Indonesian BBQ Chicken. All were just delicious. My chicken came on a bed of rice with a mix of vegetables and pineapple and with a big prawn chip for a garnish (yum!). The BBQ Pork Ribs conveniently came with plastic gloves for eating it, and with a little corn on the cob, and let's not forget we're in China... so there was rice, too. The squid came in a boat-shaped dish, on rice, with some mango chutney on the side. To drink, I actually do not know what I ordered to drink. I was determined not to have a Pepsi product (Shanghai Disneyland is a Pepsi park, unlike the American Disney theme parks), so I pointed to something that seemed like flavored tea, and it was quite good — sweet with a peach flavor.

That brings me to the fact that, at Shanghai Disney, everyone pretty much speaks Chinese. There were more English speakers than I found in the city of Shanghai itself, but it was still a pleasant surprise when someone spoke English. Cast members were always happy to go fetch an English-speaker if needed, and there was always someone around that could speak my language; but certainly not everyone spoke English. If only I could speak Chinese!

Also, about the bathrooms; this is something that might interest women. I always was able to find a Western-style toilet, that is, one that I could sit down on, and with toilet paper. But it is not the dominant culture, and most of the stalls are step-up, and then squat toilets, with the receptacle built into the ground. It was all kept very clean.

Next we went to Fantasyland, and with the sun pretty high and bright by now, I was wishing I had an SPF umbrella like just about everyone else did! We went on the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, and this was a really fun ride. (I have not been on the Walt Disney World version yet.) Smooth, cute, sweet. We all really enjoyed this one, and one of us even voted it the best ride. We also went on the Winnie-the-Pooh ride, which is the same as the Florida version — a typical dark ride for little ones, cute and well-executed but not extraordinary.

Seven Dwarfs Mine Train

We also went on Peter Pan's Flight, again, a nice dark ride for kids, well-done but nothing to write home about (although the ships you get to ride in are pretty cool, I can see some kids really loving that.) As we walked around Fantasyland, I noticed an area that seemed mostly green, with just a few picnic tables. I don't know if it was the future site of something else, but it was interesting to see almost public park-like resting space inside a Disney park.

Next we took some time just to gaze at the castle. Wow, it is so big! It's the biggest of all the Disney castles, and if you walk straight inside it, you find four beautiful murals, depicting scenes from Frozen, the Princess and the Frog, Brave, and Tangled. We took a look the fixed menu for the character dinner at the Royal Banquet Hall. But at 500 RMB apiece (about $74) for this character meal, it just seemed like a little too much.

Enchanted Storybook Castle

There was also a small army of ladies in lavender aprons waiting outside the castle's Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, ready and waiting to bling out your child, to transform him or her into a princess or knight, depicted on the menus they were holding.

Walking toward Tomorrowland and looking back at the castle, we noticed a fairly high-production show happening at the front of the castle — The Golden Fairytale Fanfare — with actors, puppets, big props, loud Disney music (there were "singers," but I think it was all pre-recorded), dancers, etc. It was a neat setting for a show, with the audience in a garden-like standing area and the show up on a stage behind the moat, with the large castle as a backdrop.

Next week, in part 2, I'll write about Tomorrowland, riding the TRON Lightcycle roller coaster and the rest of our day at Shanghai Disneyland! Update: Here is the link.

Replies (10)

October 13, 2016 at 1:13 PM · Nice! I'm really glad you were able to go to the park while in Shanghai. I went during the Grand Opening, and seeing your photos really took me back. What a great park! The castle is amazing. Pirates is incredible. The size of the park is immense, and the lack of a Main Street USA is interesting, but I'm relieved they still have Main Street-style buildings. I especially loved the Scrooge McDuck bank, with the big vault door.

One question - you were determined not to drink a Pepsi product. Is there a reason for that? Anti-soda? Or are you just a huge Coca Cola fan? What's the reason for not drinking Pepsi, specifically?

I can't wait to read Part 2.

Side note:
To anyone who has paid attention to my posts, I was living about an hour north of Hong Kong for almost two years. Well...now I'm back in the states - Portland, OR. No parks near me, but I'll continue to enjoy the wonderful trip reviews that people leave, because they're not easy to write, but they're pretty awesome, and I appreciate the effort that goes into writing them.

October 13, 2016 at 1:19 PM · Nice report. Thanks!
October 13, 2016 at 5:25 PM · Great article! We have to hear from you more often. I really want to go.
October 14, 2016 at 9:07 AM · Gabriel, I'll admit, I'm more of a Coca Cola fan, but that's not really the reason I was avoiding the soda. I wanted to try something that was not so American and see what the other possibilities were. I think I wound up with something that was sort of the pop-Asian variety, though I'm not sure!

In the U.S. I would definitely avoid any soda, Coke or otherwise, at a park because of the high fructose corn syrup. I've gone over to Mexican Coke, which is sweetened with sucrose. Probably another blog in itself! I'm very grateful that at the Harry Potter part of any Universal park, that butter beer is also sweetened with sugar because J.K. insisted "no high fructose corn syrup"!

October 14, 2016 at 9:19 AM · I'll be going to Shanghai Disneyland next month, but only for a day. As much as I'm interested in checking out the park (particularly Pirates and TRON) I'm really looking forward to exploring that part of China. Looking foreword to Part 2.
October 14, 2016 at 9:45 AM · I would like to go in a few years. No Disney park is ever done immediately upon opening. I went to the California Adventure previews. It was pretty good although a rather limited park. 15 years later, its good now. I went to Hong Kong Disneyland a few years ago. It was already 10 years old. A fairly good park although missed Mystic Manor by a few months.

Interesting to see the Chinese view of ghosts. They don't believe in ghosts, but they believe in evil spirits, which gives bad vibes. They don't want bad karma or bad luck. This doesn't stop the Chinese tourists going to the Haunted Mansion at Anaheim Disneyland.

October 14, 2016 at 10:40 AM · Yes, here here to Jeffrey Siegal's comment. Definitely include more Laurie Niles on TPI!
October 14, 2016 at 10:35 PM · I just wanted to thank you for doing this video. I will never be able to afford a trip to China and I am so curious about this park. I was riveted listening to you. I love how you did this video. I love that you showed little clips and you were interviewed and talking about what was in the clip. I hope you have many parts to this. It's such great information. I especially love all the differences you are pointing out. I really feel like I got the gist of what it is like being there. This is so appreciated. Thank you for taking the time to be so in depth and informative for us. It is a big kindness.
October 19, 2016 at 3:08 PM · Awesome review, the descriptions are so clear I feel.like I'm there whole I'm reading. Thank you x
October 20, 2016 at 1:13 AM · My question is, how jealous is the senior editor?

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