After years of talking about it, the hubby and I finally ventured out to China. Of course, we couldn’t take this trip without stopping by Disney’s newest park, Shanghai Disneyland. Having heard so many things about the lengthy queue times and insane numbers of park attendees, we decided to go for 2 days in hopes of getting a more well rounded and (hopefully) stress-free experience. Sounds good, right? Right up until we realized we were going during Lunar New Year, China (and arguably Asia’s) biggest holiday. Without thinking it through much, we booked tickets for Shanghai Disneyland during the busiest time of the year.
STAYING AT A DISNEY HOTEL
I know it seems a bit obvious, but in this case, staying at a Disney hotel turned out to be a bit of a must. There aren’t really any accommodation options close to the park aside from the two official Disney hotels. We chose to stay at the Toy Story Hotel because it was about $100 cheaper per night compared to the Shanghai Disneyland Hotel. Honestly it was just way more convenient and it came with perks that made visiting the park a lot more enjoyable. We got free shuttle service, early admission into the park and use of a special priority park entrance. Also, if you stay at an official Disney hotel, you are guaranteed park entrance because tickets do actually sell out. On top of that, if you purchase your tickets at the hotel, you will receive complimentary FastPasses, which you definitely want when visiting this park in particular.
If you stay at an official Disney hotel, you get to enter the park a whole hour early (sometimes earlier)! Plus you get to skip the massive queue that has undoubtedly already formed at the park’s main entrance. It’s truly a sight you don’t want to behold. Anyhow, this time is crucial for reserving your FastPasses and making your way to the first ride of your choice. In our case, we were able to reserve a total of 2 FastPasses before they were totally gone for the day. The free FastPasses you can reserve using the Shanghai Disneyland app run out well before noon, so if you’re only visiting the park for 1 day, you may want to consider the Disney Premier Access Pass which gives you priority admission into up to 8 rides (at an additional cost of course).
DOWNLOAD THE APP
Shanghai Disneyland has a great app, download it! This app will be your best friend especially when you want to check wait times, reserve FastPasses and plan out your day. This park is pretty massive so planing out your day in advance is key. There is a lot of walking involved and a lot of empty spaces that will be undoubtedly be developed into exciting new attractions like the upcoming Zootopia area. But in the mean time, the circular design of the park is a total nuisance and irritating time sink. We spent more time walking around staring at empty lots than any Disney park we’ve ever been to.
Additionally, we found the app to be particularly useful for checking out meet and greet times & locations for various characters. Unlike other Disney parks we’ve been to, the characters here stick to designated areas and never walk around the park freely. Because of this, different characters rotate throughout the day in a specific area like the princesses at the Storybook Court. So, if you’re a character hunter be sure to keep an eye on meet and greet areas.
THE MUST DO’S
One of the longest wait times was for TRON Lightcycle Power Run. This ride is currently exclusive to Shanghai Disneyland and believe me when I say you don’t want to miss out. This was hands down one of our favorite Disney rides period. If I had to compare it to something, I guess it’s modeled after Space Mountain, but honestly it’s just it’s own ride. It was really just creatively executed from the queue to the ride itself. We felt 100% immersed into he world of Tron. And can I just say it was equally thrilling and terrifying to mount a motorcycle and ride it through a rollercoaster tack. Total stroke of genius!
Pirates of the Caribbean: Battle for the Sunken Treasure is another Shanghai Disneyland exclusive and my personal favorite. This ride draws it’s inspiration entirely from the Pirates of the Caribbean movie franchise and it’s awesome! Unlike other Pirates rides, the boat on this one moves side to side, as well at backwards and forwards. They use a mixture of huge screens, projections and animatronics to fully immerse you into the ride in a new yet familiar way. We rode it 4 times, so if that doesn’t say it all I don’t know what will.
One ride that rarely ever dipped to a reasonable wait time was the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. This ride is pretty closely modeled after Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, but with a Snow White twist. We only got to ride it twice but it was a lot of fun! Personally I enjoyed it most at night because we got a beautiful (but quick) view of the park all lit up. The only other ride of it’s kind is at Walt Disney World, so if you haven’t tried it yet… this would be your chance.
When it comes to any Disney park, I’m all about the cute eats. So I’m sad to say that Shanghai Disneyland was a bit lacking in this department. All the cute eats are basically located on Mickey Avenue, which is really unfortunate when your entire day is spent walking around the WHOLE park. Personally we found ourselves at Remy’s Patisserie more than once. We tried a Mike Wazowski Bun, Sea Salt Caramel Hot Chocolate and Minnie Chocolate Donut. The hot chocolate was truly delicious and the donut wasn’t to shabby either, though it didn’t quite compare to the ones at Disneyland or Hong Kong Disneyland. The Mike Bun was by far the most eye catching and probably the most lacking in flavor. It wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t great… especially by Disney standards.
Our favorite spot was probably Il Paperino, which specializes in magically delicious waffles. They had special sets for Lunar New Year like a Mickey waffle with green tea soft serve and a ham and cheese Donald waffle with a Mickey hot chocolate. Naturally we had to try one of each. The green tea soft serve came garnished with mini marshmallows, chocolate sticks and topped with an adorable chocolate golden pig. It was probably the best Disney soft serve I’ve ever had and was the perfect dipping sauce for the (already delicious) Mickey waffle. The real winner, however, would have to be the Donald waffle, which basically tasted like a breakfast burrito. It was confusing, yet satisfying!
The food carts around the park basically all had the same rotating items. We tried a Mickey pretzel that came with a mustard flavor sauce that we didn’t care for too much and an egg tart that was wildly mediocre. We also tried a pork floss bread that I don’t really recommend trying. The bread was cold, stiff, came filled with a sweet cream, yet tasted strongly of pork. I’m all for mixing sweet and savory, but this was just not executed well. I think it was the only snack we actively disliked. As for the popcorn carts, they all carried regular or caramel popcorn, but we did manage to spot 2 carts that carried cherry popcorn! A big YES to cherry popcorn!!! It was surprisingly addictive, with the only downside being that the popcorn buckets were much smaller than the ones at other Disney parks. So I’d say skip the bucket and pork out on more cherry popcorn.
As for actual restaurants in the park, we only tried one. The Royal Banquet Hall is a restaurant located right inside the Enchanted Storybook Castle. That’s right, I got to dine in an actual Disney castle! Was it as enchanting as it sounds? ABSOLUTELY!!! We got to enjoy a 3 course meal in one of the 4 princess themed dinning halls, have a private audience with the lovely Princess Aurora and take pictures with Mickey, Minnie, Donald and Daisy. It was a nice break from the chaos of the park plus we got character pictures without having to wait in line. Score! It is a bit on the steeper side price wise, but I’ll get into more details a bit later.
Originally, we had planned on purchasing Disney Premier Access Passes on our second day, which would have given us priority admission into up to 8 rides (at a not so cheap additional cost). However, after our first day, we found a pretty good money saving hack! After 7pm, the wait times for ALL the rides drop significantly. This is when people start heading to the castle to get a good spot to watch the fireworks display. If you don’t mind missing out, this is your chance to ride 6 or 7 rides all in the span of about 2 hours or so. Similarly, you will also find shorter wait queues during the parade times, but the the real time drop happens during the fireworks. We did get to see the fireworks on our second day, but we both agreed that the best part of the park are the rides.
Overall, we had a great time! Is it the best Disney park? No. Is it the best Disney park in Asia? No. But, it is IMHO still a park worth visiting. Honestly, 2 days was more than enough time to experience this park to its fullest, even at HIGH peak season. Now that the park has been open for over 2 years, the general chaos and excitement has come down to a much more manageable level. Visiting the park on a weekday (outside of the holiday seasons) should be perfect! If you have any doubts, just download the app and check out the daily queues for a better idea of what the park will look like when you plan to visit. Any who, there’s definitely LOTS of room for improvement & growth, but with the new Zootopia area in the works I can’t wait to see what Shanghai Disneyland has in store for us next!