Just over two years ago I went to Disneyland for the first and so far only time (I mean specifically Disneyland, I had been to Disney World several times). Right after I went to Disneyland I learned that there was a new Disney park opening in Shanghai. I knew I was moving to Beijing and really hoped I’d be able to visit Disneyland in Shanghai. Then I found out a friend of mine was moving to Wuxi. The first thing I said to her after learning that Wuxi was only an hour from Shanghai was, “We could go to Disneyland together.” Well, things didn’t work out and I ended up leaving Beijing earlier than I expected and so I thought the Disneyland Shanghai dream was crushed. Guess what, it wasn’t. This week I got the chance to go to Disneyland Shangai with the aforementioned friend, L.
Late June in Shanghai is not exactly a cool season and so L and I had to manage our day very carefully. When we arrived at the park it was 98 or 99 degrees Fahrenheit (while I don’t remember which, at that point does it matter?) and the heat index was 118 degrees! The first part of our experience was a bit of a downer and little contradictory. We spent an hour sweltering in a security line while the PA system repeated the announcements over and over again. Each announcement ended with “have a magical day.” Needless to say I wasn’t feeling too magical. When we got to the front of the line we discovered the main thing they were checking for was outside food. In typical Chinese fashion, many people had brought food into the park (I can’t blame them, we’d considered the same thing. After all the prices are high!). There were so many packages of instant noodles as well as many other things. Two people just a bit in front of us appeared to have brought enough food to feed 10 or 15 people. The food just kept coming out of their bags like they belonged to Mary Poppins. L and I had small bags that were only given a cursory glance and then we were finished with security.
After an hour in an extremely hot line we sought out the air conditioning of the shops. Shanghai Disney Resort (the official name of the park) doesn’t have a Main Street, instead it has a Mickey Avenue. After walking into one of the stores we not only noticed the blessedly cool air conditioning, but we also discovered that the shops were actually all connected together on the inside. We decided to buy matching Mickey t-shirts which not only said Shanghai Disney Resort on the side, but also had a picture of the Shanghai Disney castle. They had fitting rooms and seeing as Chinese sizes are not the same as American sizes it was necessary to try shirts on, but I must tell you there isn’t much that is more disgusting than putting on a shirt that is drenched in sweat (don’t misunderstand me, I mean the shirt I wore into the park).
I thought it would be cool to wear our new shirts in our picture in the park so after we purchased them, we found a restroom (which also had refreshingly cool air conditioning) and changed. I’m so glad we did because the next thing we came across was the meet Mickey experience. (Which was thankfully also inside where it was air conditioned - are you starting to see an important theme to surviving an amusement park with a 118 heat index?) We got some awesome photos with Mickey Mouse! We were pleased that they didn’t rush you. They actually encourage a variety of poses with Mickey and took pictures of each person separately as well as both of us together. It was a pretty great start (plus since we were wearing fresh shirts we didn’t look bedraggled and overheated - well we weren’t overheated because we had a 40 minute wait inside the air conditioned building).
We spent the late morning and early afternoon seeking out the indoor options. We “became”Iron Man and fought off aliens, we toured the castle and saw the story of Sleeping Beauty come to life in a combination of video and animatronics, and we went to two life-action shows. The first show we went to was L’s favorite ( I think it may have been her favorite activity of the entire day). It was called the Frozen Sing-a-long, but it was actually so much more. When they opened the gate we found ourselves entering a giant theater that we estimated held over 1000 people. At the front was a stage where they performed a combination of life-action of video sequences. The really cool part though were the sides of the theater. The walls were incorporated into the action. They had a forest scene on them which was then enhanced with video projections. The best part was when Elsa was singing (don’t ask me what, I’ve never seen Frozen) and she would wave her hands and the ice would spread out along the wall of the theater. L really enjoyed singing along with them. I didn’t know the songs, but was pretty happy with how well I understood them (while L sang in English, everything was presented in Chinese).
The other show we went to was the one I really wanted to see. It was the Captain Jack Sparrow Stunt Show. While we enjoyed it and felt it was worth attending we did find ourselves off to a rough start. First, when they opened the outside gates we found ourselves not in a theater, but a large room with a balcony set and queues that you stood in a watched the program from. The acoustics in the room were pretty bad and as a result I could hardly understand one word. The action couldn’t been seen well because some of it was too low and some was simply at angles that couldn’t be observed from where we stood. Additionally, from what we could understand it was pretty cheesy, slapstick humor (not my favorite). Matter of fact there was one part where they even pulled one of the pirate’s britches down (he was wearing boxer-length tighty-whities that looked like the British Union Jack. Shortly after that they opened the doors to the theater and let everyone in. Unfortunately, this happened in a very Chinese fashion with a lot of mad scrambling and total lack of order or manners. Nonetheless we, and everyone else, quickly found seats and the show continued. Inside it continued with some more slapstick humor, but then the action began. This was the part L and I really enjoyed. They had some great stunts including a fight scene that was done in one of the indoor sky diving air tunnels (not really the right word, because the air blows upward). The actors would fight in the air and then jump up onto the ships mast and then dive back into the air (that was of course then pushing them up so they didn’t plummet). It was like nothing I had ever seen and I really enjoyed it.
At about 3:30 we started riding rides. The rides in Disneyland Shanghai are pretty cool and mostly very hi-tech. The first ride we rode was amazing! It was a Pirates of the Caribbean ride that started out like the ones in the states and then in turned you around backwards so that you were surprised as you entered this underwater scene. The boat moved into an area with a giant screen all around you and above you. You felt like you were under the water. Then it continued on it’s course and blended video, static props and animatronics in a seamless manner. Even though we rode the ride twice I struggle to describe it. My favorite part was a totally disorienting sensation of riding up out of the ocean and to the top of the sea. You feel like you’re really rising, and maybe you are, everything was a bit disconcerting. There was sound a vibrations in the seat of the boat and the second time we took the ride we both felt water droplets falling on us as we “rose out of the sea.” I took pictures and some video the first time we took the ride, but not only did they not capture the real essence all that well, but they didn’t even turn out very well. I guess you’ll just have to visit Shanghai and experience it for yourself. (If you ever get the opportunity, I highly recommend it. Our tickets were only 399 RMB which is about USD 63.)
One of the challenges with Shanghai Disney is that they don’t have all that many rides. Since the park is only two years old L thinks they simply opened with enough and will add more over time. She’s probably right because the park is huge! They definitely have enough space to add a lot more. As a result of them having only a few rides the lines grow very long and the fast passes are all distributed very quickly. By the time we got into the park and got our tickets (we had purchased them online, but you didn’t get the actual ticket until you redeemed the voucher along with your ID at turnstile) the Fast passes for the most popular rides were already completely distributed (you linked your ticket to the Disneyland App and then requested fast passes in the app - only 1 ever 2 hours). We were able to get a Fast pass for Peter Pan’s flight which meant our wait was only 5 minutes (maybe less), but the waits for rides were often 80-120 minutes or longer! The longest I saw (you could check wait times in the app, at the guest service centers or in front of the rides themselves) was 165 minutes. There was no way we were waiting in line for 2 hours and 45 minutes! My personal cut-off was one hour, but since L’s was 40 minutes we never waited longer than 40 minutes in line. This meant we had to not only watch the times, but be smart about our choices. I really wanted to ride Tron (there’s no Space Mountain here. The premiere roller coaster is Tron), but the line was usually 90 minutes of longer (I saw it get as long as 150 minutes). We decided that the evening show was at 8:30 and Tron was open until the park closed at 10 so we would watch the show from the Tomorrowland side of the castle and then hurry to Tron. We were clearly not the only people with this idea as there was a mob of people hurrying that way. We took a bit of a wrong turn, but quickly corrected and managed to wait in line for Tron for less than 25 minutes (I timed all our waits).
Tron was so cool and seemingly futuristic. You had to put your bag in a cart (that part was a little scary) and then the roller coaster “cars” were motorcycles. You leaned down over the handrails and the attendants pushed a harness over your back. It also clamped down on the back of your legs. There was a compartment that opened where you put your glasses (I’m glad I was wearing my contacts because I got to see everything) and then the ride started off. It went relatively slowly to a “launching area” where you then took off like a shot. The ride was incredibly smooth, but you were going so fast you couldn’t even perceive the fact that you were sometimes looking down onto the crowds below. It was awesome and absolutely my favorite ride (or activity) of the day.
When the park closed at 10 pm we made our way to the metro (Disneyland has it’s own stop on a line that was built for the purpose of reaching the Disney Resort). We made it back to our hotel at about 11:30 pm. We’d left at 7:15 am, but so it was an exhausting, but excellent day.