A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of visiting Shanghai Disney. Amazing is not a word that I use frequently. But it is one that I can freely give on several fronts. Of course, I have always loved all things Disney. My youngest memory of my father was being in his arms watching the fireworks at Disneyland. I’ve known the magic of Disney all my life–including my years as a Cast Member at Walt Disney World. So I come to Shanghai Disney with high expectations. And on almost every level they were exceeded.
Here are 5 things that really stood out, in my experience, and why if you love Disney you may want to get Shanghai Disney on your bucket list. Moreover, here’s how you as a life-long fan of Disney may want to approach your stay when you visit Shanghai Disney.
1. The Shanghai Disneyland Hotel
I live adjacent to Walt Disney World, so the resort experience is not something I am into as much as other aspects of being at a Disney resort. Because of the lack of hotels in the very immediate Shanghai Disney Resort area, as well as my interest in wanting to be able to get to and from the parks easily, I chose to splurge by staying at the Shanghai Disneyland Hotel.
The moment I walked into the hotel lobby, the magic enveloped me. Seeing the park and castle through the windows was jaw-breaking. My room was beautiful and the touches with the pixie dust flying through the headboard of the beds was the cherry on top. This is so worth it. Not once did I see anything that was a cut in quality.
It was amazing that someone like myself who has “been there, done that” with Disney could be so easily caught up in the magic. And yet here I am half a world away. My only regret is that due to a typhoon, I had to leave much earlier than planned, and could not stay longer to enjoy the resort more fully. Make sure you give yourself plenty of time to enjoy the hotel, and not just the parks.
2. Disney Reinvented
There are traditional Disney attractions that are not like you remember at the U.S. Disney parks. The headliner in this park is Pirates of the Caribbean, which will blow your mind while leaving a smile on your face. This ride was phenomenal in immersing you in a spellbinding experience. Did I mention it was amazing?! I would never change Disneyland’s original Pirates of the Caribbean experience. It remains my favorite attraction of all time. But given how we have complained for years about the quality of the POTC Magic Kingdom experience, maybe it’s time for a change. It’s just that good.
It didn’t stop there. Other attractions we have enjoyed for years were taken to a different level. Peter Pan’s Flight flew us to new animated heights. Buzz Lightyear made shooting at targets fun again. Mickey Avenue was neither Toon Town or Main Street, U.S.A., but it was soulfully Disney. It drips with details about the heritage of this company that can’t be missed. Where Disney sought to reinvent itself–it really did a great job.
In short, my suggestion is to not only see the new attractions like TRON Lightcycle Power Run (yes…amazing) and Eye of the Storm: Captain Jack’s Stunt Spectacular (so over the top), but to catch these newly reinvented ones as well.
3. Imagineering Detail
It’s no easy task to open a new park, much less one that seems bigger than any other. I suppose that no new endeavor comes out of the gate perfectly. But make no mistake: Imagineers have done an amazing job of opening up Shanghai Disney. The attention to detail is overwhelming. The challenge with some earlier reviews I had read is that they saw the park with its large corridors as being the antithesis of intimate. To me, this is the same problem one has when you visit World Showcase at Epcot. If you walked the promenade in 40 minutes, you’ve missed World Showcase. To enjoy the experience you have to leave the promenade and venture inside not just the attractions, but the shops and restaurants. The same is true at Shanghai Disneyland.
I did this and continually found worlds unto themselves. Barbossa’s Bounty was such a place. While seemingly a simple counter service restaurant, room by room unfolds different themes and stories until you arrive at a water front area overlooking Pirates of the Caribbean: Battle for Sunken Treasure. This is a Blue Bayou experience–and it comes if you simply go exploring.
Meanwhile, I ventured into the shops of Fantasyland. Beautiful! Filled with themes and details. A beautiful mural of Bambi was found in Hundred Acre Goods.
Here is a mural of Brave Little Tailor Mickey Mouse in another gift shop. Cute as a button! Because it’s all buttons!
From the murals of the Garden of the Twelve Friends to the Alice in Wonderland Maze, to Mickey Avenue, there is so much you simply cannot miss. Be certain you take time not just to ride rides, but to see the level of detail in these attractions.
4. The Cast
I think we easily forget that tall order of creating a brand new resort with thousands upon thousands of new employees–most of whom had probably never seen a Disney theme park. And yet Disney not only needed to hire and attire, they need to bring all of them into the Disney culture. The tradition of bringing new Shanghai Disney Cast Members to existing Disney theme parks and have them learn the brand and culture of delivering great customer service is an expensive proposition. But it paid off. I saw a lot of hard work–and a greater dose of patience on their part in terms of managing the guests as they came into the new park. My hats off to the really hard work going on by the Cast. They seemed earnest in creating magic for the guests.
Here’s a tip–many of them speak fairly good English, and most Cast Members know at least some English. Don’t hesitate to reach out and get to know them. Introduce yourself and make a new friend. It will be one of the best parts of your memories at Shanghai Disney. And don’t forget to learn a few words and phrases before you go as well. It really does make a difference.
5. The Crowds
In this one aspect, the word amazing could be used positive and negatively. I’ll comment on the negative aspects of this on another day. But I will say that there was no shortage of people who were very excited to come to Shanghai Disneyland and to be a part of this experience. Crowds in the morning–some 90 minutes prior to the stated opening time–rivaled and surpassed anything you find at Tokyo Disney’s parks each day. There were a lot of people.
Here’s how to embrace this crowd experience. Get there early. Not just for all the reasons to avoid the crowds, but to also see how excited that crowd is before opening. They are just as thrilled as any guest waiting for rope drop at the Magic Kingdom. To appreciate the crowd, you must reflect that for many, this is their first experience at a Disney theme park. I watched the crowds as they laughed through Stitch–though I couldn’t understand a word of the show (did I really ever understand Stitch?). The audience’s laughter was contagious. They were having so much fun. And come evening, what was a child sitting on dad’s shoulders was not just an obstacle to seeing the fireworks, but a reminder of where it had all began for me. It’s Disney magic all over again for a whole new world and generation to see. Amazing.
Overwhelming is another word to describe Shanghai Disney. I’ll return to this blog with observations along that line. But any negative doesn’t come close to the claim that Shanghai Disney is amazing, and if you love Disney, you should visit someday. It will create memories to last a lifetime.