In May, we spent a day with our two year old daughter at Shanghai Disney. Before we started traveling, we lived in Florida, and we’d been to Magic Kingdom a number of times. Shanghai, The newest expansion of the Disney definitely had a similar feel to the one back home, though it was somewhat larger in scale and in another language. In this review, we’ll discuss what we liked about the Shanghai Disney park (a lot!) and what turned us off (also a lot!).
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Just so you’ll know, this review comes from the perspective of the parents of a two year old girl who has not been weened on Disney culture. She’s never watched a full length movie, and her knowledge of the characters is shallow. We also don’t usually make it to the western style attractions while we are traveling. We’ve been slow traveling for a year and a half now, first in Europe and now in China. Disney was just a thing for us to do while we were getting our passports renewed in Shanghai. And if you think that Disney doesn’t fit in with slow travel, let’s just say we were taking a vacation from it.
Also note that I speak Mandarin Chinese, which made our visit to Shanghai Disney much easier. The signage usually had an English translation, as did the loudspeaker announcements, but the rides and shows were all in Chinese. If you don’t speak the language, you might not enjoy some of the things we enjoyed, especially if you are a child.
What We Liked About Shanghai Disney
We Liked The Rides
Ok, so we didn’t ride on all the rides, but we rode a lot more than we did last time we took Lisa to a Disney park. She’s a bit older now and able to enjoy a lot more of what’s on offer. For example, in Florida, she was scared of the Winnie the Pooh ride, and this time she liked it a lot (she still says “Remember Tigger? Remember Tigger jumped on a bear?”).
The Pirates of the Caribbean ride in Shanghai is decidedly superior to the one in Magic Kingdom. The difference is clearly made by technology, as this more modern ride has a very seamless blending of animatronics and big screen video. It was very subversive, and the giant octopus freaked Lisa out for a minute. But overall she had a blast.
Peter Pan was good, and so was the Voyage to the Crystal Grotto. But Lisa’s favorites were still the ones where she got to play with her parents at the same time. She loves the carousel and the teacups (sorry, I mean honey pots).
But my favorite ride was Buzz Lightyear Planet Rescue, which was like playing a big video game. Lisa was in charge of steering our spacecraft, and Jake and I manned the guns. Even though we were facing a wall most of the time with Lisa at the helm, we still managed to outscore most of the other tourists on the ride. Apparently, Jake and I are good at shooting robots.
We Liked the Scenery
Like all Disney parks, Shanghai Disney looked like a fairy tail. Of course, it was clean and well manicured, but I also thought they did a really great job with the overall layout, from a visual point of view. No matter where you were, you could see some aspect of a different section of the park, whether it was the castle, mountain, or a pirate ship. Not only did this always give you a landmark to navigate by, it also added to the overall feel of the park and made you feel like you were never far from more fun.
We Liked The Staff
I know they’re paid to be friendly, but the staff was really nice to Lisa and they always answered our questions. Lisa collected a dozen or more stickers over the course of the day as every person wearing mouse ears waved us over to pay attention to her and make her smile. Even outside the gate, the ticket booth operators were patient and friendly, despite the mob they were dealing with.
Lisa’s favorite staff members were those dressed as characters (of course). We had gotten her a Minnie Mouse doll before we went, just to get her excited, and she was obsessed with meeting Minnie. It took us a while to find her, and before we did, she met Donald, Daffy, Goofy, Pluto, and Judy. She finally saw Minnie dancing with Mickey by the train station as part of a show, and afterward, we waited in line so she could go right up and say hello.
We Liked The Size
A bigger park means more to see and more exercise. There were many sections with many themes, and each area had something that was suitable for our two year old girl.
Tip: Rent a stroller. We have been traveling with our BabyZen Yoyo. It’s an amazing travel stroller (read our review) but it is pricey. We’d read stories about strollers getting stollen from Disney Parks, and we thought we’d have more piece of mind spending $15 bucks or to use a plastic one with a name tag. The stroller rental office is to the left of the park entrance. We carried our diaper bag onto the rides with us, and left the stroller outside without a care.
We Liked the Parade
We didn’t intend to watch a parade, in fact, we were getting ready to leave when one just came on down the road. Jake put Lisa up on her shoulders, and she just beamed at the whole spectacle. Her favorite float float seemed to be the one with Ariel from the Little Mermaid. She is at the age where when she sees something that she recognizes, she points at it and screams it out loud. She knows a lot of sea animals.
The last, and by far the biggest float was the one for Mulan. I guess that makes sense, since it’s the only Disney movie set in China (that I know of). It had huge flame bursts and everything. It was a crowd pleaser.
We Liked the Accessibility
Everything was handicap (and stroller) accessible, except of course for some of the rides I assume. In fact, I don’t remember going up or down a stair the whole time we were there. The restrooms did have squat toilets, but there were also family rooms with regular (western) toilets which also had diaper changing tables. If you aren’t sure what a squat toilet is, here’s a google images link. Enjoy.
What We Didn’t Like About Shanghai Disney
We Didn’t Like The (Vegetarian) Food
In Shanghai Disney, most of the restaurants are in the nearby Disneytown. Disneytown in Shanghai is sort of like Disney Springs in Florida, which is to say that it’s like an outdoor mall with a Disney theme. It’s a little smaller, but like Disney Springs, it’s free to enter. The entrance to Disneytown is just outside the Shanghai Disney gate, but it also has a second gate (with a turnstile and guards) that goes into and out of the main park. The idea is that you can enjoy your time in the park and then get your hand stamped and go out into Disneytown to eat lunch (and buy some stuff) before returning to the park for the rest of your day. That gate is to the left of the end of Mickey Avenue.
Inside the park there are lots of cafeterias and food stalls, but as vegetarians we felt like we were left hanging. The food stalls mostly sold either candy or giant turkey legs. The only thing we even considered eating from one was a really expensive ear of corn. We walked into a few cafeterias to find that there weren’t any options for us there either. Even the pizza was meat or nothing. Maybe they were sold out by the time we got there, but boy did we get hungry. Next time we’ll pack more snacks.
In Disneytown, a few of the restaurants had one or two things we could eat, but we really felt like an afterthought. The best restaurant for vegetarians seemed to be Element Fresh. Overall we’ve found that China doesn’t have loads of vegetarian options, even in the big cities. Surprisingly – and luckily – the smaller city of Dali, China, where we are spending this year, has a lot of vegetarians.
We Didn’t Like the Size (I Know, I Just Said We Liked It)
Sure it was big, but maybe it was… a little too big? Magic Kingdom was smaller, but the rides and attractions were densely packed and it was easy to do everything you wanted to do in one day. I didn’t count the rides in Shanghai Disney, but I felt like we did a lot of walking through empty space. All that landscaping that made the scenery so beautiful turned into a bit of a hassle when you found out you were going to have to walk all the way around the cove to get to your next destination. Maybe it was just our imagination, but we wished we had more than one day so we wouldn’t feel like we had to do the whole thing before dark.
We Didn’t Like the Crowds
I don’t know the best way to phrase this, but the other tourists at Shanghai Disney didn’t seem like they were that into the whole waiting in line thing. This was especially problematic at the park entrance, where we noticed that the chains and pylons we saw in other areas had been taken out and replaced with solid metal bars. Little chains wouldn’t have stopped the crush of people that thought their entire day depended on getting through the gate just a few seconds faster. I can’t tell you how many times I almost got pushed over by someone who would turn to look at me with an expression that said “Do you mind? I’m trying to cut in line!”
We did our best to hold our own and just relax, but it kind of gets in your head. Making our way into the park was really stressful, when it could have been as simple as standing and walking. I don’t know what Disney could possibly do about this problem, but it’s possible that most of the Shanghai visitors don’t see it as a problem at all. Everyone else seemed stressed out too, but they didn’t seem shocked by it like we were. I think we’ve just gotten used to the slow pace here in Dali.
We Didn’t Like the Hustlers
Another thing that really took away from the fantasy experience that Disney is known for, where the hustlers. Everywhere you looked, there were men or women without children, just kind of loitering around. As you walked by they would offer to give you a tour or try to get your kid interested in some knockoff Disney merchandise. It wouldn’t fly in the Magic Kingdom. It’s the kind of thing you almost get used to while you are in China, but we were kind of hoping to get a break from it at the Disney park.
We Didn’t Like the Transportation
When we took a Didi to visit Disneytown the day before we toured Shanghai Disney, we found out the hard way that the main parking lot is not the best place to come and go via hired car or taxi. The problem is that the parking lot closes to pickups and drop-offs at 6:00 pm, and after that, many drivers won’t go in because they have to pay a fee. There are plenty of those hustlers I mentioned earlier, waiting to offer a ride after 6:00, but they charge more because they had to pay to park (also, they lack the built in sense of security you get with a licensed taxi or Didi driver).
Tip: Instead going to the parking lot, tell your Didi or taxi driver to go to 迪士尼地铁站, a bus station (Google Maps) near the the Disney train stop (Google Maps). It’s to the east of the park entrance, and you’ll have to walk a little way, but trust me, the main parking lot is a headache if you don’t have a car waiting for you there. It’s easier to hail a ride there or take a bus.
Or, if you are in the city and it is more convenient, just take the train. Here is a link to the Shanghai Disney train schedule.
By the way, if you plan on using Google Maps at all while you are in Shanghai or China in general, you will have to use a VPN to get around the great firewall. We use ExpressVPN, which is very reliable. Read our Review of ExpressVPN
Well, that’s it for now. Even though the park had it’s quirks, we did have a great time there. As long as you plan your trip properly, you will have a great time too. I sort of wonder how many of the problems we had would have been solved if we’d just ponied up for a night in the resort instead of a hotel in Pudong, but we’ll have to find that out next time. Overall, Shanghai Disney is a fun, safe day for families visiting Shanghai, China.
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