by Jill Morris
Pudong, Shanghai, China
Shanghai Disneyland is one of my favorite parks in the world. (Knoebels will always be my favorite.) I have visited twice now, in 2017 and in 2019, and so have gotten to see the park’s development over time. When I first visited, the Toy Story section had not yet been built, and the park is currently adding a section themed to Zootopia. It is clear that they are actively trying to improve parts of the park. Shanghai Disneyland is accessible via the Shanghai subway system. (However, be aware that it shuts down around 11 pm, and if you stay far enough away from the park you may have to leave early.) There is also a hotel on site, but I personally stayed closer to the Bund.
The first time I visited the park, we got a locker and immediately headed to ride TRON. In theory I knew that most of the people in the park would be doing this, but it was the ride I wanted to get on the most. Based upon what rides got very long lines (and when) during that first visit, my plan for my second visit was to start with the carousel (it had a two hour wait the entire time I was there the first trip, so I missed it), Pirates of the Caribbean, and then over to TRON. Unfortunately, due to the length of the security line (more about this later), the carousel already had a long wait by the time we got in the park, even though we had gotten there very early. Therefore, we started with Pirates this time.
The first time I rode Shanghai’s Pirates of the Caribbean it blew me away and was completely jaw dropping. This year I am not sure if it needs rehab or if knowing what to expect made me less impressed, but it wasn’t quite as cool. Nevertheless, this is still my favorite dark ride and I’m glad we got on it early in the day. It only had a half hour to 45-minute wait by the time we entered the park, and would be two or more hours later in the day.
TRON Lightcycle Power Run is one of my favorite coasters (and yes, I am very happy that it is coming to the US, though I fear the long lines). It has such a great reveal early in the queue that even if you use Premier Access you need to stand in front of the blank wall and wait for the brief presentation before continuing through the door to the main queue. It won’t take long and is worth it. Once through the reveal, you will progress through some rooms that allow you to watch the launch and provide some context for the ride, but the reality is that this doesn’t need much context. If you have ever wanted to ride a light cycle from TRON this is your chance, and the “story” doesn’t really matter much beyond that. Getting to ride TRON more than once cemented it for me as an incredibly solid ride. It is somewhat short, but that makes it re-ridable. Also, it is beautifully lit at night. There is a built-in container for small items in the cycle itself. There is also a lot of space around the ride to watch the launch for people who decide to not ride.
Continuing to the back of the park from TRON, you will now find the Toy Story section. Rex’s Racer is located here, which is an Intamin Surf Rider. I’m not a big fan of these types of rides, but the student who was with me loves them, so I rode. I’m glad I did — the theming is pretty cute and fantastic, but it’s also a decently powerful and fun ride. We also rode Woody’s Roundup in this section because it was part of a Premier Access pack.
We didn’t get to the final coaster till far later in the day (since that is when our free Fast Pass time was). The Seven Dwarfs Mine Train is more or less like its American cousin. Both times I have ridden this I have had a fast pass, and would not probably wait for it either. It is incredibly smooth due to the swinging of the ride cars, and has a pocket for mouse ears, glasses, and phones (though larger items might need to be stowed in a locker).
Between the coasters we rode as many other rides as possible. The Winnie the Pooh ride is regrettably not as well themed as the other dark rides in the park. It will probably appeal greatly to children, but not be jaw-droppingly awesome (such as Pirates is) to adults. The same can be said for the Peter Pan ride. Pooh’s Hunny Pot Spin, the Shanghai version of the teacups, has very very tight teacups that are difficult to spin. I am not sure if this is on purpose or if it is because the local guests simply don’t spin them. There is a castle walk-through that shows you some scenes from Snow White that children especially found magical. In reality, it is pretty cool just to be able to walk up inside the castle. There is also a boat ride around the castle (Ariel’s Grotto) and an Alice in Wonderland maze. These are great opportunities for photos as you can take cameras on them.
The Soaring ride at Shanghai Disneyland has a plot that is set up during the queue. This is actually pretty neat even if you cannot understand a lot of it. This has a long line, so it is another good ride to either visit early (it is very close to Pirates) or late if you are staying close by.
Lastly, the Fantasia Carousel is beautiful and is a wonderful idea for a themed Disney carousel. It is based upon the pastoral scene in Fantasia, and there are some related souvenirs available in the park.
Shanghai Disneyland is one of the only Chinese parks that I have eaten at. (Since I did not spend a full day at many of the others, we ate before or after.) The eatery near TRON has a pork sandwich that is simply fantastic, and I recommend that you try it if at all possible (it is currently themed to Marvel, but had a different theme in 2017). One warning though — this year most of the restaurants closed down at 6, hours before the park did. We were planning on getting more food, and were unable to do so. Look up hours for restaurants when you arrive at the park and make sure that the places you want to eat will be open when you plan on eating. Like other Disney parks, souvenir popcorn buckets and drink cups are available for sale.
No Chinese parks have the selection of souvenirs that American ones do. Some barely have souvenirs at all. Shirts are especially difficult to find. However, Disney has the most of any park I’ve been to, including several shops that are popular in other Disney parks. You will find a shop that specializes in mouse ears (including some specifically for Shanghai), and Pirates and TRON both exit to small stores. Most of China’s amusement park merchandise is toys, however. There is less merchandise for adults than you would find in your average Cedar Fair or Six Flags park, and Disney is really no different in that way. You can find some shirts, mugs, and jewelry, and even a few Christmas ornaments if you look hard enough. The shopping is better here than at other parks, but it would be best to buy souvenirs for people who stayed home outside the park (or at least do not depend upon parks for all your shopping while traveling).
Fast passes at Shanghai Disneyland are managed by their app. If you are not staying at the hotel, you will have to be physically in the park to scan your ticket and start signing up for fast passes (including the free ones that are available to everyone — you can sign up every couple of hours or so). Tickets are tied to your passport (you don’t print them off an email or anything) so there is no way to get access to the fast pass system early. Upon entering at 9, I was able to get a fast pass for the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train at 7 pm — but TRON had already been given out for the day. At 11 I was able to get a fast pass for Winnie the Pooh.
During my first visit, the fast pass system was paper based. At certain times of the day everyone would line up and wait for a fast pass to an attraction at a fast pass location. The fast pass line was one of the longest we waited in all day (other than the security line). The app is much easier to use, providing that you can access the wifi okay. The wifi requires a code texted to your phone, though, so you must have a Chinese phone number to get access. The same code does work for multiple phones.
Additional fast passes (called “Premier Access” on the app but “Fast passes” on the website) can be purchased via the app. Since Shanghai Disneyland tickets are only about $70-80 USD, on this trip I have to admit that I purchased fast passes for my party (and it was still cheaper than an average Disney ticket in the US). There are some disadvantages to Premier Access. You may miss one of the best reveals in the TRON queue, for example, if someone else opens a door before you are ready to. However, very few people buy these passes (there was never a line in the Premier Access queue, so I never really felt like we were forcing other people to wait much longer, which I don’t like in US parks. It may grow in popularity, but for now the price may be worth it. The “packs” are discounted, so it is best to pay for a pack of passes to several rides than paying for the rides individually. Most of the packs will involve some smaller rides that you may not be as interested in, but when you get to a flat ride and it has an hour wait you might be happy that you have the Premier Access anyway.
A new benefit that can be purchased is Early Park Entrance. Normally reserved for hotel guests, Disney has opened this up to all guests (for a price) likely because of complaints about the security wait.
Although in general I love this park and plan on returning, the security and ticketing line is simply the worst part of the experience. When I visited in 2017 it was a free-for-all and you could basically push your way closer to the front of the line. In 2019, it is very controlled, with a lot of queues (you stand in line in one queue to get into another and then into a third). It is clear that Shanghai Disney wants to improve this guest experience and is listening to guests about how terrible this particular part of the park is, but the solutions thus far have not been successful. This year it was pouring down rain when I got to the park. Everyone in China carries umbrellas (including myself) so this wasn’t that much of a problem. However, since most Chinese people are about a half a foot or more shorter than me, this posed a major issue. As we crowded through the security queue, I was constantly having rain poured onto me from other people’s umbrellas. Unfortunately, it was being poured onto my DSLR as well (the weather sealing held out, but one of the dials on top still needs repair as a result). Waiting in line for 1-2 hours to get into the park is not how anybody wants to start their day, and creates a lot of stress in just about everyone coming to the park.
Though I attempted to get to the park sooner this time to try to bypass the line, coming before the park opened did not work (and the park opened at 8 am). We will did not get in until 9 or after, were completely soaked, and didn’t want to wait in any more lines, period. This weighed heavily into my decision to purchase fast passes.
The Early Park Entrance program would allow us to get into the park before opening, supposedly for about 158 RMB (about $22.50). When I return to the park, I will be purchasing my tickets early enough to also purchase this access. I’m not waiting in the line again, and I don’t recommend that you do either. Yes, you will have to arrive before the park opens and that might be very early after a longish commute by subway unless you stay nearby, but it really will be worth the extra money.
Lastly, it would be remiss to not discuss the topic that comes up any time that people mention Shanghai Disney — park cleanliness. Every time I have gone people have warned me about how guests pee on the sidewalk and in the lines and that there is trash everywhere. I’d like to dispel (or at least explain) some of these myths.
First, it is true that many Chinese people will potty-train their children in completely different ways than Westerners do. Especially in the “country,” children are sometimes not diapered and instead wear pants with a hole or slit in the back that allows them to go wherever and whenever they need to. This is considered to be more healthy for developing children’s bowels and bladders than forcing them to hold it at a young age, or sitting in their own poop or pee for an extended period of time.
In order for very young children to use a squat toilet, they have to be held over it (the parent bends at the waist and supports the child by the arms and thighs). I have definitely seen this same pose in public, usually over a trash can. I recommend that you leave the withering looks to other Chinese people (not everyone approves of this, especially in cities). Our own potty-training methods are just as strange to them, especially extended use of diapers.
Some Chinese parents will also carry a potty with them so that their child may go into a smaller toilet whenever they need to. Yes, I have witnessed this in line, but I have also seen it out in other parts of public. In line, this prevents the parent from leaving the line and cutting back in, so while it is different than what we see in the US, I am not terribly worried by it.
Lastly, it is often confusing in Disneyland whether one should bus their own table or not after eating. At my favorite restaurant (near TRON) there are workers that will clean up after you. Elsewhere in the park, there are not. There are no signs in any language telling you what to do with your trash, so it does sometimes build up on tables before being cleared. However, there are Chinese fast food restaurants where it is perfectly appropriate to leave your garbage on the table (versus the US where this is almost never okay), including some that are US owned. That means that there is a perfectly valid reason why people, including foreigners, have no idea what situation a given restaurant is in. This could be fixed with signs, but between my two visits no improvements have been made.
However, that doesn’t mean it is a dirty park! The paths, gardens, rides, queues, and bathrooms are wonderfully clean. Disneyland has some of the nicest bathrooms that I have had the pleasure of using in China (both squat and Western toilets are available). Most of the articles talking about the cleanliness of the park are basing their judgement upon very early reviews including its soft opening, which is simply not fair — especially several years later. I will also say that after a month and a half in China I am perfectly fine sitting next to some trash and having a beer. If cleanliness of table surfaces is important to you, eat in one of the restaurant areas with servers (and reservations) or do so where there are bussers.
Up next: China travel tips