Conquering Shanghai Disneyland: A Guide To Visiting Disney in Mainland China
Shanghai Disneyland opened in June of 2016, with one theme park, two hotels and a shopping district. The resort is located in Eastern Pudong Shanghai between downtown Shanghai and Pudong International Airport. For a review of Shanghai Disneyland, see this post. The Shanghai Disneyland planning guide will teach you how to plan and maximize your visit to Disney’s latest resort and the first in Mainland China.
When To Visit and How Long To Stay
Shanghai Disneyland is primarily a locals park. The best time to go and avoid crowds is on a weekday during the offseason. Avoid weekends and holidays. Click here for a schedule of Chinese holidays.
Shanghai has very distinct seasons. Summer gets very hot and humid while winter can get very cold weather. Spring (March to May) and fall (September to November) are the best weather months to visit and also allows you to avoid the busy months of summer and around winter holidays such as Chinese New Year.
The average visitor can see Shanghai Disneyland in one day if going on a slower day. If it is a busy day or if you are a big theme park/Disney fan, two days is ideal.
The currency of China is the Yuan sometimes referred to as RMB. The city of Shanghai and Disneyland are credit card friendly with most locations accepting major credit cards. American Express is not as readily accepted in China as Visa or MasterCard. Be sure to use a credit card that has no foreign transaction fees.
Culture Considerations and Language Barrier
For those who do not travel internationally often or have never been to China, there can be some things that take getting used to. The hardest thing for many westerners to get used to is the lack of personal space afforded to you. Prepare to get bumped into and get up close and personal with locals with not so much as an excuse me.
Expect people to try and sell you products or services throughout your time in Shanghai. While on the way to or on Disney property you will have people selling knock off Disney merchandise. It is simply common in Chinese society. While walking around the city of Shanghai it is common to have people offer great deals on “Rolex Watches.”
Shanghai is an international city and the second language is English. Whether in the city or at Disneyland most signs will have an English translation. Most places that cater to intentional visitors in the city will have at least someone that speaks English. At Disneyland it appeared most cast members spoke at least some English. If you have been to a Disney park before you should have no trouble figuring things out as rides load the same way. Using hand signals should be more than enough. Menus have pictures with English translations so you can simply point if your server does not speak English.
Dialogue on rides and shows is almost entirely in Mandarin. Disney songs are the exception and those are mostly sung in English. Mandarin on rides is typically not an issue as they are a visual medium. You will miss part of the comedic elements in the Jack Sparrow Stunt Show as some of the one liners will be missed, but there is plenty of physical comedy you can understand. For some parts of the stunt show you do get English subtitles of the dialogue in one corner of the theater. Overall the availability of English speakers is a bit better than what is found in Japan.
Getting Into Shanghai
Most foreigners entering China will require a Visa. Price depends are where you are from. American citizens will pay $140 for a Visa. The good news is that you can get a multiple use Visa that will last 10 years, so you do not have to pay the same fee every time you visit.
The other option is to enter using Visa free transit. Travelers who are using Shanghai as a stopover on their way to a third region may stay in Shanghai for up to 144 hours without obtaining a Visa. For more information see this post on Visa Free Transit.
Getting to Shanghai Disneyland
Shanghai Disneyland is located near Pudong International Airport. A taxi from the airport will cost roughly 100RMB and take about 20 minutes. Do not get a taxi from anyone in the airport arrivals hall offering taxi service. You will be grossly overcharged. If you notice they will only seek out foreigners. Instead go to the official taxi stand outside the airport arrival hall.
There is also an express bus that goes directly to Disneyland from Pudong International. The pickup is located outside Terminal 1.
Shanghai Disneyland is the last stop on metro line 11. From central Shanghai it will take roughly one hour and you will likely have to transfer at least once.
A taxi will take roughly 45 minutes from downtown Shanghai.
The Shanghai Disneyland Resort has one theme park, two hotels, and a shopping district called DisneyTown. Arriving by either car or public transportation you walk along a promenade to the front of the park. DisneyTown sits next to the park. Directly across from the park is a lake. On the other side of the lake are the hotels similar in setup to the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World. The only difference is that you do not have to cross the lake to get to the park unless you are staying at the hotels.
There are two hotels on site. The Disneyland Hotel is the flagship resort and has a art nouveau style. A stay will run at least $250 per night. The Toy Story Hotel is the less expensive option and as implied, themed to the Toy Story movies. The cost per night begins at a little more than $100. You may get to the park from the hotels by bus or if you are staying at the Disneyland Hotel by bus or boat.
Shanghai Disneyland tickets are best bought in advance to avoid wasting time in line. You do have to pick the day you are visiting in advance due to dynamic pricing. Ticket prices are cheaper on weekdays in the offseason.
At this time you may buy a 1 day ticket or 2 day ticket. Disney has experimented with season passes (only good for a few months), but there is no annual pass currently available. You may purchase tickets with a small discount by going through an authorized reseller like Klook. Be sure to print out your ticket. You may have an option to receive it via text message or store on your phone, but it is not recommended to use this option. At the front gate show the cast member your ticket and your passport and they will exchange it for a park ticket.
The park is laid out similar to other Disney parks. You are greeted by a Mickey floral and walk underneath a train station (even though there is no train) and the first land you encounter is Mickey Avenue which is Shanghai’s answer to Main St.
The very short Mickey Avenue takes you into the gigantic hub area called the Gardens of Imagination. Divided into various sub areas the gardens of imagination are pocket parks that sit in front of the castle. They provide places to sit and enjoy the scenery and are the setting for daytime and nighttime shows. It is also has a carousel and the Dumbo spinner attraction that usually is in Fantasyland.
From the hub you branch off into the various lands like every other Disney park. Shanghai Disneyland’s lands from right to left are Adventure Isle, Treasure Cove, Fantasyland, and Tommorrowland. Toy Story Land is currently under construction.
Modern theme parks are built with expansion in mind and Shanghai Disneyland has huge expansion pads located conspicuously all over the park. While on a map Mickey Avenue and Tommorowland are located next to each other, there is a large expansion pad in between them and takes a good 10 minutes to walk to and from each other. The park contains large pathways and was designed for crowds. The drawback is that it can take a long time to walk from land to land. Try as much as possible to avoid criss crossing the park multiple times as it wastes time and will tire you out quicker.
Shanghai Disneyland has several standout attractions with both new takes on old classics as well as unique offerings only found here. Starting with Adventure Isle we have Soaring over the Horizon, Roaring Rapids, and Camp Discovery. Soaring over the Horizon is the same film as Soarin over the World at the U.S. parks with the ending scene in Shanghai. The queue is different, but if you are looking for an attraction to skip you can do so if you have been on this ride in the U.S. parks. Roaring Rapids is a water ride similar to Grizzly River Run at Disney California Adventure and Kali River Rapids at Animal Kingdom. The highlight to this ride is the impressive and large Q’aráq animatronic. The challenge trails at Camp Discovery are the most unique attraction at any Disney park worldwide. Get hooked up to an overhead harness and head out on an obstacle course. There are different difficulty levels. This is a can’t miss attraction.
Treasure Cove has Pirates of the Caribbean- Battle for the Sunken Treasure and the Explorers Canoes. Shanghai’s version of Pirates of the Caribbean is a new take on the classic Disney tale. Follow Jack Sparrow’s adventure as he battles Barbossa and crew in one of the best attractions Disney has ever created. You will want to experience this attraction multiple times. The Explorer Canoes is a trip around the Treasure Cove and Adventure Isle lands by way of your own paddling power, just like at Disneyland. Treasure Island also has a couple of interactive play areas at Shipwreck Cove and Siren’s Revenge.
Fantasyland has several attractions. Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, Peter Pan’s Flight, The Many Adventures of Wine the Pooh, Hunny Pot Spin, Voyage to the Crystal Grotto, and the Alice in Wonderland Maze. Voyage to the Crystal Grotto is the most unique attraction with the others are very close to U.S. counterparts. The Storybook Castle is also an attraction unto itself with many places to look around including the Once Upon a Time Adventure which is an interactive look at Snow White.
Tomorrowland has TRON Lightcycle Power Run, Buzz Lightyear Planet Rescue, the Stick Encounter, and the Jet Packs. The highlight is the ultra cool TRON coaster that is unique to Shanghai. Buzz Lighyear is an updated version of the shooter ride at the U.S. parks and the Jet Packs is a new take on a the traditional Astro Orbiter spinner found in the U.S.
Shows & Entertainment
There are two must see daytime shows. Eye of the Storm – Captain Jack’s Stunt Spectacular is a wonderful and at times comedic stunt show featuring some amazing stunts that would be deemed too dangerous by the legal department for American parks. Equally so is Tarzan – Call of the Jungle which is a traditional Chinese acrobat show with a jungle theme.
There are various smaller atmosphere shows all over the park including the Disneyland Band and a stage show in front of the Enchanted Storybook Castle. Mickey’s Storybook Express is the daytime parade and will look pretty familiar to those in other Disney parks.
As is traditional for Disney parks, the nighttime spectacular Ignite the Dream ends your day in style. It is not as strong as other Disney nighttime spectaculars, but Ignite the Dream is worth watching if you are around at the end of the night.
Food & Shopping
One thing to keep in mind while eating at Shanghai Disneyland. Even by theme park standards it is expensive, when compared to your park ticket. The top sit down restaurant is the Wandering Moon Teahouse which is located in the Garden’s of Imagination between Adventure Isle and Treasure Cove. If you have time for only one sit down meal, this is the place. Other standout quick service meals can be found at Barbossa’s Bounty located next to the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction and the Tangled Tree Tavern in Fantasyland. The longest wait in the park can be waiting for a Turkey Leg, so be prepared if you want one. Overall the snacks are okay but there are no must haves.
There seems to be very little unique merchandise at Shanghai Disneyland. You can get some branded T-shirts and other things to prove you were at Shanghai Disneyland. Otherwise nothing really stands out as being a must have.
Park Strategy & FastPass
To maximize your day arrive at the park entrance an hour before park opening and earlier on a busy day. They have been opening the park about 20 minutes before official park opening so you may be able to get in a ride or two before the park officially opens if you arrive early. Most of the time the park’s official opening time is 9:00 A.M.
Fast Pass works much like those systems at every other Disney park besides Disney World. The main difference is the kiosks are located in a centralized place in each land, not at the individual attractions. You can choose a FastPass for any of the attractions that are in that land. There is an English option and cast members are on hand and happy to help. FastPass attractions are:
• TRON Lightcycle Power Run – Tomorrowland
• Buzz Lightyear Planet Rescue – Tomorrowland
• Seven Dwarfs Mine Train – Fantasyland
• The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh – Fantasyland
• Peter Pan’s Flight – Fantasyland
• Roaring Rapids – Adventure Isle
• Soaring Over the Horizon – Adventure Isle
FastPass Priorities in order of when they sell out first are Soaring Over the Horizon, Roaring Rapids, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, Peter Pan’s Flight, Winnie the Pooh, TRON, and Buzz Lightyear. You also have the option of purchasing FastPass. While expensive, it can be a lifesaver on a crowded day.
The best touring strategy is to focus on Adventure Isle first as they have the 2 most popular rides in Soaring and Roaring Rapids. Camp Discovery is also a good thing to see earlier in the day. From there focus on Fantasyland, Treasure Cove, and finally Tomorrowland.
- Be sure to download the official Shanghai Disneyland App for a park map, wait times, show times, and more.
- You may rent a sim card to get internet access or pay for an international plan on your phone. Be aware that there is a firewall in China that blocks many websites including Facebook, Twitter, and more. The way around that is to use a VPN. I used Express VPN with absolutely no problem.
- Water fountains are available in the park, but do not drink tap water in China. Only drink from locations that indicate they are safe to drink. Your hotel should provide water bottles.