The first stop on my journey back to the states was Shanghai, China. If you’ve been keeping up with my blog, you’ll know that I traveled back to Shanghai for a visit in January, so why was I feeling the need to go again? The answer is simple: to go to FREAKIN SHANGHAI DISNEY. I had been waiting nearly four years to check out Disney’s newest theme park. Back in 2012, when I studied abroad in Shanghai, I got the opportunity to meet with Shanghai Disney Resort representatives who were working on the park and was able to learn more about what the future park would entail. Being able to see those ideas and plans come to life was something I had only dreamed about. With the park opening around the same time I was set to leave China, I knew I had to make a pit stop in Shanghai.
For those of you who aren’t as much of a Disney freak as me and don’t know, Shanghai Disney had its grand opening on June 16th, 2016. I was lucky enough to go to the park during that grand opening weekend on June 18th. I woke up dark and early on June 18th and headed toward the subway that would take me all the way to the Shanghai Disney Resort. From where I was staying in Shanghai, it took just over an hour to get to the park, with no transfers. Clearly, everyone else on the subway that morning was headed to Disney, with their backpacks prepared and Mickey ears atop their heads. As we approached the Shanghai Disney subway station, I started to get more and more nervous about the stampede of people I was about to encounter. We all got off the subway around 7am, and even though the park didn’t open for another hour, everyone started charging toward the main entrance. I decided to just walk, as I wasn’t going to be one of those crazed maniacs that runs to the front with still an hour until the park opens.
As I waited in line for the gates to open, I had to stand my ground as, although this is a Disney park, it is still China and people will still try to cut you in line. I ended up meeting a young Chinese couple in line that had spent some time studying in America. Since I was at the park alone, it was great to chat with some people for a least a little while. About halfway through the day, I ended up running into the same couple getting off the Pirates of the Caribbean ride…it’s a small world after all!
I ended up getting into the park about 15 minutes before it was technically supposed to open. I decided to make a beeline for the Tron ride in Tomorrowland—a high-speed roller coaster that isn’t in any of the other Disney parks yet. Of course, I had downloaded the Shanghai Disney Resort app prior to my visit to scope out the wait times, and knew that Tron was a popular one, so I should do that first. I had to wait less than five minutes in line before experiencing one of the few “thrill” rides as the park. After Tron, I made my way to Adventure Isle to get a Fastpass for Soarin Over the Horizon. The line just to get a Fastpass for Soarin was MASSIVE. The cast member nearby told me that if I waited in line, it would be out by the time I reached the kiosk. Clearly, the most popular ride at Shanghai Disney is Soarin, since the Fastpass “sold out” within a half hour of the park being open, and the wait time for the standby queue was over 200 minutes. I didn’t feel too bad about missing this since I had been on it before at the US Disney parks.
During my time at the park, I decided to focus on rides that I hadn’t been on before, and experiences at the park that were unique to it. It did have a lot of the same rides you can find at Disneyland and Disney World, but I wanted to do things I hadn’t done before. One of the coolest rides I went on was the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. Although both Disneyland in Anaheim and Disney World in Orlando have a Pirate’s ride, the Shanghai Disney one was completely different. It had huge Imax screens inside for an exciting experience (along with some classic Disney animatronics, of course). Even though I couldn’t really understand the dialogue during the ride, as it was all in Chinese, I still very much enjoyed the experience.
Man oh man, it’s hard to sum up my entire day at Disney in one cohesive blog post! Anyway, moving on…
Since this was the first international Disney park I had been to, I was mostly interested in seeing how an international park would be different than a US park, such as how they adapted it to meet the Chinese consumers’ needs, what they added that other Disney parks don’t have, etc., as well as its similarities with a US park.
One of my favorite parts about going to Shanghai Disney was being able to see the different characters dressed up in traditional Chinese clothing. Over in the courtyard in front of the Enchanted Storybook Castle, you could see Chip & Dale with Donald Duck Practicing Tai Chi. When I got to meet my old boss, Mickey Mouse (in case in you didn’t know, I worked at Disney World once upon a time), I was ecstatic to see him dressed in a more “Chinese” style outfit.
Another exciting addition the park had was something called the Garden of the Twelve Friends. In this area of the park, you can see all 12 signs of the Chinese zodiac depicted by different Disney characters, such as Pluto for the sign of the dog. I thought this was a neat addition as it incorporated more of the Chinese culture into the park, while still remaining true to the Disney name.
As far as food and beverage went, I was surprised to see all of the soft drinks were Pepsi products. Being the Disney nerd that I am, I know that Disney Parks in the US only provide Coca-Cola beverages. I haven’t researched into this yet, but I can only assume that it was much more cost effective to go with Pepsi, or the Chinese consumer prefers Pepsi products, or something along the lines of that. After living in China for nearly a year and having gone to the movie theater a handful of times, I was not surprised to see that the popcorn being sold at the Shanghai Disney park was sweet rather than salty and buttery. It had many of the Disney classic foods like hot dogs, burgers, Mickey shaped pretzels, ice cream, etc., with the addition of many Chinese cuisines. Unfortunately, though, there was no Dole Whip.
Since this park is in China, where the national language is Mandarin, I wasn’t surprised that most of the rides’ dialogue and parade/fireworks music was in Chinese. I actually thought it was pretty neat to hear the classic songs I know and love in another language. One of the cool things that they did during the afternoon parade was play the songs in both English and Chinese. It would be in Chinese for a few minutes and then switch over to English.
Another great thing about this park was how the Fastpass system was set up. Instead of going to each ride that offers a Fastpass to obtain the Fastpass, there was an area set up in the front of each land (i.e., Fantasyland, Tomorrowland, etc.) where you could get a Fastpass for any ride in that land that offered it. In my opinion, the setup was much better than it is in the US parks.
Something that really impressed me at the Shanghai Disney park was the level of customer service provided and how well each cast member could speak English. Obviously customer service has to be excellent to uphold the Disney name, but I didn’t expect it to be on par with the customer service provided at Disney parks in the states. And although the majority of guests attending this park are from China and primarily speak Chinese, it is still nice to have cast members that can speak at least some English for guests visiting the park from outside China.
One of the craziest parts of my day was running into someone I actually know in the park. As I was walking around, I saw an older foreign man with a Disney cast member nametag on. I walked by him, saw his name, and felt like I knew him but couldn’t remember who he was or how I knew him. But just a few seconds later, it finally clicked—he used to be my manager’s manager at the Grand Floridian Café in Disney World. Although I was a bit hesitant, I decided to turn around a go introduce myself to the man and confirm who I thought he was. Sure enough, it was one of the head managers from the Grand Floridian. He didn’t remember me since I had only met him once or twice during my internship with Disney, but it was still cool to see a familiar face and to talk about Disney and China with him. I explained what I had been doing in China, and he talked about how he had been there for the past seven months to help get the new park up and running. Again—it really is a small world after all.
All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed my first experience at an international Disney park. Although I thought it was going to be chaotic going to Shanghai Disney during its grand opening, it wasn’t nearly as crowded as I expected it to be. Sure, there were a lot of people there, but I’ve seen bigger crowds at the Disney parks in the US during the holidays. I was able to do nearly everything I wanted to at the park, and the things that I missed weren’t really that important to me. Since it was the grand opening, I even got some cool Grand Opening swag.
If you have any questions about the park, please feel free to either comment below or send me a message 🙂 Since I went to the park nearly three months ago, I’m sure there are some things I forgot to mention in this post. I may upload an additional post in the near future with tips for the park if you ever plan to go, so stay tuned for that. And have a magical day 🙂