Shanghai Disneyland is a fantastical park with unique attractions, great food and excellent service.
Shanghai Disneyland is enormous. Seriously. It is gigantic and it never seems to end. Despite the towering Enchanted Storybook Castle’s ability to touch the clouds at 197′ tall, there are places in the park where this centerpiece is completely out of view. Did we mention the park is big?
The Shanghai Disney Resort is +/- 963 acres and Shanghai Disneyland is thought to occupy about 225 acres of this. To put it in perspective, the original Disneyland in Anaheim, CA was about 60 acres and with the expansion over the years is currently about 100 acres putting Shanghai at well over double the size. In fact, if you combined Disneyland and Disney California Adventure into one massive park, you would still need to ADD in an area the size of the original Disneyland to understand the scope and scale of this Shanghai behemoth.
Disney World’s Magic Kingdom and Disneyland Paris both clocks in around 140 acres, Tokyo Disneyland covers about 115 acres and Hong Kong Disneyland remains the smallest at about 70 acres. Shanghai Disneyland is 2-3X any other “Disneyland”-type castle park and the Nerds have the sore legs to prove it.
In our first two days at the park, we averaged 14.5 miles each day – 30,000+ steps! This is a 45% increase from the same amount of “touring” at Hong Kong Disneyland. But it is the kind of wonderful where you can just get lost in the magic (and tuckered out walking from one land to another). In fact, this park is the polar opposite of its Hong Kong cousin where everything has been super-sized. Pack multiple pairs of walking shoes and be sure they have been worn in a bit before you get there.
And yet, the connection to nature is prevalent, too. The greenery throughout the Shanghai Disneyland and nearby Wishing Star Park / Wishing Star Lake provide balance with China’s manmade (mousemade?) marvel.
In fact, the scope and breadth of the park is so large, that even from our 5th floor room at the Shanghai Disneyland Hotel, we could not see the entire park from TRON and Fantasyland on the left to Camp Discovery at Adventure Isle on the right without turning our heads to absorb the entire horizon. And remember, those landmarks are set far back from the entrance to Shanghai Disneyland, past the entrance plaza, over Wishing Star Lake and the grounds of the hotel. It stretches that far!
Referencing our handy-dandy Shanghai Disneyland Guidemap, we count 53 attractions, 33 eateries and 23 shops. If you really want to Nerd out, google Chinese numerology and the number 3 (all of these end with a 3), 8, 6 and 5 – the totals derived by adding the individual numbers together – and you will go down a rabbit hole from which you may not return. But it is fascinating!
On Your Mark…Get Set…
Guests are drawn to a Mickey Mouse fountain centered in the middle of the path between Wishing Star Lake and Shanghai Disneyland, only steps from the Ferry Dock on one side and the Metro on the other. We thoroughly enjoyed roaming this entire area, Wishing Star Park, and Disneytown well before the park opened. Guests were barely trickling in though we counted no fewer than 15 Shanghai Disneyland employees near the turnstyles at the main entrance.
This did not include those at the entrance/exit to Wishing Star Park, roaming Disneytown, standing sentry near bus and ferry stops. With China’s inexpensive labor costs, it’s no wonder the park can afford a large number of employees to ensure the park is pristine and puts on a great “face” for Disney and for their country.
Just beyond the Steamboat Willie fountain is the entrance gate with its poorly formed queue and crowds who have little regard for orderly lines. Be sure to arrive at least 30 minutes before the scheduled opening time if you do not have early entrance privileges from staying at the Shanghai Disney Resort and at least an hour early during busier times of the year.
There was some pushing and leaning and jockeying for position as the gates prepared to open. It wasn’t meant to be rude, but it was quite an experience and very different from every other Disney park on the planet. But these times of cultural nuances are what make visiting theme parks around the world such a fascinating adventure!
Upon entering Shanghai Disneyland, there is the requisite Mickey flowerbed at the entrance plaza and, as expected, it’s big, well-manicured and a great start to your day at the park. As guests walk up to the flowerbed for their selfie’s and group photos (this is actually great for you, because a lot of guests get distracted here while you will continue past, under the Mickey clock tower and onto Mickey Avenue!), Shanghai Disneyland slowly reveals itself.
Mickey Avenue (aka Main Street, U.S.A.)
Mickey Avenue seems shorter than most “Disneyland Main Streets” (it is), but if you include the enormous open walkways of the entrance plaza, it’s in the ballpark of its sister parks. The Shanghai Disneyland Guidemap lists two attractions, five spots for food and beverages and five shops. To be clear, we’re iffy on listing “Shanghai Disneyland Guest Services” as an attraction…
Mickey Avenue Attractions
- Shanghai Disneyland Guest Services
- Walt Disney Grand Theatre
Mickey Avenue Food & Beverage
- Mickey & Pals Market Cafe
- Il Paperino
- Chip & Dale’s Treehouse Treats
- Club 33
Mickey Avenue Shops
Prior to the official opening time, guests roamed in and out of shops, took pictures and generally milled about waiting for the park to open. We found the park pretty crowded on a non-holiday weekday though there is plenty of elbow room in this expansive (expensive?) kingdom.
Purely by accident we discovered that instead of standing around waiting for the park to open, shopping at Avenue M Arcade is the best way to spend the time. When the park opens, they open one of the store’s exits that leads into the park and ahead of the crowds. And this is an important advantage because it is a dead on sprint to the first destination of the day!
If you were lucky enough or smart enough (or both) to stay at the Shanghai Disneyland Hotel or Toy Story Hotel, you would have entered the park from Disneytown, bypassing Mickey Avenue and found yourself in Gardens of Imagination…halfway to Tomorrowland.
Gardens of Imagination
We think we mentioned the size of the park (reference the article title) and Gardens of Imagination brings this into view. At Disneyland and Magic Kingdom, among others, Gardens of Imagination inhabits the area at the end of Main Street leading up to the castle. But in Shanghai Disneyland, this area is a full on land with 11 acres of water, gardens, character meets and fan-favorites like Dumbo and the carousel. This area is so enticing that at the beginning of the day and the end of the day, it syphons off crowds and the line for Fantasia Carousel can become ridiculously long.
We referenced our guidemap and confirmed that this land lists 10 attractions, 6 places for food and 3 shops.
Gardens of Imagination Attractions (“attractions” might be more appropriate for a few of these)
- Fantasia Carousel
- Dumbo the Flying Elephant
- Meet Mickey
- Garden of the Twelve Friends
- Marvel Universe consisting of
- Become Iron Man
- Captain America
- Storytellers Statue
- Melody Garden
- Golden Fairytale Fanfare
Gardens of Imagination Food & Beverage
- Wandering Moon Restaurant
- Timothy’s Treats
- Picnic Baset
- Outdoor Wandering Moon Restaurant Cart
- Outdoor Pretzel & Churros Cart (the Nerds looooooove Mickey Pretzels)
- Outdoor Popcorn Park
Gardens of Imagination Shops
- Marvel Mementos
- Casey Jr. Trinket Train
- Scuttle’s Shiny things
Although Gardens of Imagination lacks headliner attractions, it is an absolutely beautiful place to spend time. The Imagineers outdid themselves by providing an area to sit, relax and walk around…and enjoy a genuinely un-tasty hot chocolate with a Nerdling.
Although the Enchanted Storybook Castle is right in front of us, our journey continues counter-clockwise around the park.
There are no spires of Space Mountain in Shanghai Disneyland; instead the eye candy of Jet Packs and TRON dot the skyline. Surprisingly, Tomorrowland doesn’t look as big and sprawling as other areas in the park. That is until you start walking toward them. And walking. And walking. And walking. It’s an expansive land and guests are required to walk into it instead of through it. If you stayed to the “main path” of Shanghai Disneyland you would walk through Mickey Avenue, Gardens of Imagination, Fantasyland, Treasure Cove and Adventure Isle.
But Tomorrowland requires a detour – and its one worth taking. It will lead you toward 10 listed attractions, 4 places to grab a bite and 4 souvenir opportunities.
- TRON Lightcycle Power Run
- Buzz Lightyear Planet Rescue
- Stitch Encounter
- Jet Packs
- TRON Realm (Chevrolet Design Center)
- Star Wars Launch Bay
- Character Interaction
- Millennium Falcon
- Screening Room
- Pepsi E-Stage
- Well Spring
Tomorrowland Food & Beverage
- Spiral Snacks
- Outdoor Corndog Cart
- Outdoor Popcorn Cart
During our visit, we could only find caramel popcorn at all of the carts and it made us miss the crazy varieties at Tokyo Disney Resort.
Tomorrowland was a frequent stop for the Nerds who seemed addicted to TRON and Buzz (the Nerd had to get a Shanghai Disneyland victory against the Nerdling) and while we enjoyed it during the day, this land is spectacular at night!
Disney Pixar Toy Story Land
Shanghai Disneyland’s first expansion was to open Toy Story Land in April 2018; less than two years after the park debuted. This area is generally indistinguishable from the other Toy Story Lands in the Disney canon, with the exception of Hollywood Studios at Disney World where Slinky Dog Dash sets that site apart. Otherwise, this area has one exhilarating ride (Rex’s Racer) and two so-so additions. Toy Story land has 3 attractions, 1 quick service restaurant and 1 store.
Toy Story Land Attractions
- Rex’s Racer
- Woody’s Roundup
- Slinky Dog Spin
Toy Story Land Food & Beverage
- Toy Box Cafe
Toy Story Land Shops
The surprise hit of Toy Story Land is Rex’s Racer, which also has a low capacity. This is definitely an attraction worth experiencing first thing in the morning (after TRON, of course) or much later in the afternoon.
Shanghai Disneyland – and all Disney “castle” parks – are about the magic and wonder of their respective Fantasylands. This is the area upon which the emotional connection to Disney characters takes place and Shanghai knocks it out of the park (yes, yes – pun intended). Enchanted Storybook Castle is the centerpiece of the park, the tallest castle in the Disney arsenal and the beacon for a Fantasyland boasting 10 attractions including the most “rides” of any land, 9 dining options and 8 shops. It is the largest of the lands at Shanghai Disneyland.
- Enchanted Storybook Castle
- “Once Upon a Time” Adventure
- Storybook Court
- Seven Dwarfs Mine Train
- Peter Pan’s Flight
- The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
- Voyage to the Crystal Grotto
- Hunny Pot Spin
- Alice in Wonderland Maze
- Frozen: A Sing-Along Celebration
- Festival Forest
Fantasyland is loaded with technologically innovative versions of Disney classics, unique spins on ideas borrowed from other parks and some innovations all its own like Voyage to the Crystal Grotto.
Fantasyland Food & Beverage
- Royal Banquet Hall
- Pinocchio Village Kitchen
- Tangles Tree Tavern
- Fairy Godmother’s Cupboard
- Troubadour Treats
- Merlin’s Magic Recipe
- Vending Cart(s)
- Outdoor Popcorn Cart
- Outdoor Pretzel & Churros Cart (mmmmm…..Mickey Pretzels)
- Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique
- Crystal Treasures
- Be Our Guest Boutique
- Mickey & Minnie’s Mercantile
- Hundred Acre Goods
- Cottage Curios
- Mountainside Treasures
- Fantasy Faire
Guests could spend a day and many miles exploring all the details of Fantasyland, but alas, there is more adventure to behold!
In a first-of-its-kind Pirates-themed land, Treasure Cove is home to the best attraction in the world, Pirates of the Caribbean Battle for Sunken Treasure! This ride is a masterpiece of innovation and technology; a jaw-dropping journey through the world of Jack Sparrow. And the best part? It has tremendous capacity and can often be ridden with a minimal wait. In fact, we Nerds do not generally find ourselves near Pirates or Adventure Isle until an hour or two after opening (after TRON, Rex’s Racer, Peter Pan and having picked up a Fastpass or two).
Treasure Cove provides guests with 6 attractions, 5 eateries and 2 shops to explore.
Treasure Cove Attractions
- Pirates of the Caribbean – Battle for Sunken Treasure
- Eye of the Storm – Captain Jack’s Stunt Spectacular
- Siren’s Revenge
- Explorer Canoes
- Shipwreck Shore
- Landlubber Landing
Treasure Cove Food & Beverage
- Tortuga Treats
- Outdoor Popcorn Cart
Treasure Cove Shops
- Doubloon Market
- Jolly Gypsy
Treasure Cove is meant to be explored and enjoyed. There are nooks and crannies and pirate ships and doubloons just waiting for guests to check them out.
On the opposite side of the park from the pulsating lights and sounds of Tomorrowland is the massive, towering mountain of Adventure Isle. Although this land looks like it is to be explored – and it is! – the exploration takes place through its rides and Camp Discovery with its immaculately themed Challenge Trails versus the self-directed discovery of Treasure Cove.
Adventure Isle is home to 8 attractions, 4 food options and 2 shops.
Adventure Isle Attractions
- Soaring Over the Horizon
- Roaring Rapids
- Camp Discovery
- Challenge Trails
- Vista Trail
- Excavation Site
- Happy Circle
- Storyhouse Stage
- Stone of the Sun & Moon
Adventure Isle Food & Beverage
- Tribal Table
- Chipmunk Snacks
- Outdoor Corndog Cart
- Outdoor Popcorn Cart
Adventure Isle Shops
- Chip and Dale’s Trading Post
- Rainbow Frog Trinkets
Adventure Isle is spectacular…and crowded. The mountains and waterfalls lure guests from around the park and the capacity for attractions like Soaring Over the Horizon, Roaring Rapids and especially Challenge Trails at Camp Discovery can lead to very long lines throughout the day. Complicating any good touring strategy, Camp Discovery generally opens about 45 minutes after the rest of the park.
With this in mind, we still maintain the proper start to a day – and your entire touring experience will be dictated by the start – is TRON, Optional TRON FastPass, Buzz, Rex’s Racer, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train (or Fastpass) and Challenge Trails 45 minutes later when they open. We cover more of this in our recommended touring plans!
Shanghai Disneyland is amazing and exhaustive. Between sore legs, full belly’s and overstimulated brains, finishing up the day with Ignite the Dream was critical. The show uses the enormous Enchanted Storybook Castle as a projector screen which means people can fan out over 10+ acres to find a spot to stand, hear the music and see the show. And it is a spectacle! A spectacular spectacle!
We’ve been seated in a VIP row thanks to the Cast Members of the Shanghai Disneyland Hotel and we have stood at the edges of Mickey Avenue – there is basically not a bad seat (well, place to stand) in the house so long as you find an unobstructed view of the castle.
And then it’s time to follow the crowds as they make their way out of the parks. A word of warning: if you are thinking this is the time you will shop along Mickey Avenue while the crowds go home, think again. Chinese (and much of Asia) culture often necessitates bringing souvenirs when you travel. As such, the stores are practically overrun in the hour or more following the end of the show and official closing of the park. Shops are packed shoulder to shoulder as guests secure their final purchases and it is insane!
If you want to shop, the Nerds recommend you find a break in the mid-afternoon (perhaps after a nap??) to browse.
But now…we sleep.
A Few Nerdy Shanghai Disneyland Observations
- Shanghai Disneyland is still new. As the trees and shrubbery grow in across the entire resort, it is going to be amazing and make this expansive park (and neighboring Wishing Star Park) feel more intimate.
- Maps, menus and signage generally includes English. Most of the Cast Members speak some English or at least enough to communicate the basics. This is in contrast to Hong Kong Disneyland where most Cast Members are fluent in English; this makes sense as it is an official language of Hong Kong.
- The Cast Members are incredibly friendly – they are always waving and are quick with a “Good Morning”, “Hello” (“Ni Hao”).
- While not exactly rude, the Nerds found that there is a clear difference in friendliness and dedication to service between the Shanghai Disneyland Cast Members and the presumably non-Disney employees of Disneytown establishments. The Disney crew is amazing!
- The Nerds found Fastpass availability throughout the day on each visit for all attractions except Soaring Over the Horizon. This wasn’t a huge deal for us since Soaring is the same experience, but if this is important to you, be sure to plan your Fastpasses appropriately.
- The Nerd was elated to find Mickey Pretzels at the Shanghai park as this is the only place in Asia to get them! At last check, they were not sold at Hong Kong Disneyland, Tokyo Disneyland or Tokyo DisneySea.
- All shows we attended had excellent seating availability, but this didn’t stop guests from cramming into the middle. Sometimes, it’s best to get up and walk to the edge as the show gets closer to starting – you’ll still have a great seat and be rewarded with a lot more elbow room.
- As with all Disney parks, touring in the mornings is crucial and although the park is overwhelming in size, it can be tackled (including experiencing your favorites multiple times) comfortably in two days even if you take a nap.
- Although Shanghai Disneyland has since moved to digital Fastpasses, when the park opened in 2016 they were combatting fraud in a lot of ways, including Fastpass fraud! This resulted in painful Fastpass return lines as Cast Members took your Fastpass and your park ticket and compared the tiny numbers to confirm that your park ticket generated the specific Fastpass you were using.
- When the park first opened, there were social media reports about unruly crowds, line cutting and general chaos surrounding queues. In response to this, we found that Disney Cast Members had zip tied all of the moving parts in the queue so people could not cut or rearrange the queue. The side effect was that when the queue was empty, we’d found ourselves “Shreking” (our term for walking back and forth through the queue for no reason as Shrek does when he arrives at Far Far Away in the first movie) in every queue. This was especially funny when it came to the more than 1/4 mile of Shreking in the TRON queue. Not to mention, it’s more than 1/4 mile from the entrance of Tomorrowland to the beginning of the queue!
- Shanghai Disneyland has decked itself out for the holidays every year since opening in 2016. And it’s great to hear classic Christmas songs while eating Chinese dumplings int he middle of Asia. The sound track included:
- Santa Claus Got Stuck in My Chimney – Ella Fitzgerald
- I Love Those JINGLE Bells – Frank Sinatra
- Sleigh Ride – Leroy Anderson
- Sant Claus is Comin’ to Town – Bing Crosby
- I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm – Irving Berlin
- Let It Snow! – Woody Herman
- Swingin’ Them Jingle Bells – Fats Waller
- Dig That Crazy Santa Claus – Ralph Marterie and His Orchestra
- Meet Me under the Mistletoe – Dick Robertson and His Orchestra
- We know you know this, but non-holiday weekdays are best. Tuesday crowds were much lighter than Monday.
- Any attractions located in or around Gardens of Imagination get very crowded at night especially as the clock approaches the start of Ignite the Dream. Parents and Grandparents stakeout spots for the show, while the little ones ride Dumbo and Fantasia Carousel. Plan accordingly for these attractions.
Time to go to Shanghai Disneyland!
International travel, new cultures, unique languages, and some of the best attractions on earth…the Disney Park Nerds couldn’t be more excited for you! Preparing a trip to Asia to enjoy some of the best of what Disney has to offer is an amazing adventure and one you will, no doubt, be glad that you did! Let’s get a few things in order to make the trip as easy as possible and ease some of the intimidation you may be feeling.
Visa Requirements to Visit Shanghai Disneyland
Research this and then research it again. Nothing will grind your planned trip to China to a screeching halt faster than misunderstanding the Visa requirements or finding that they have changed. You can always check out these requirements as well as contacting the US State Department and the Chinese Embassy for specific information.
Currently, certain airports in China, including Shanghai’s Pudong International Airport (airport code PVG) allow visits for up to 144 hours – 6 days – without a Visa. Some areas in China have more stringent requirements that only allow up to 72 hours or 24 hours without a Visa. In all circumstances, travelers must have a record of their outbound flight and appropriate Visas, if required, for their next destination.
If you plan to take a trip without securing a Visa, check with the US State Department, call and speak with the Chinese Embassy/Consulate, research it on the web site and call both agencies to verify everything again. Measure three times, cut once. Why? Because getting this particular portion of your trip incorrect could amount to some massive headaches upon arrival as well as potentially barring you and your party from entering the country and exploring Hong Kong Disneyland.
Should you need to obtain a Visa, it will require an in-person visit to a Chinese Consulate or Embassy or engaging a third party Visa company (the Nerds have used Passport Visa Express many times without a hitch) who will visit one of these locations on your behalf. This requires being without your passport for at least a handful of days as you will be shipping it to the third party company.
These third party companies make the process very easy, offer a selection of expedited options as well as tiered levels of service ranging from travelers who choose to fill the paperwork out on their own (we did this and it was relatively painless, if a little bit confusing) to arranging a call with an expert who will fill out all of the documentation for you and send it to you for signature.
The lower cost options have increased by 37% in the past couple of years and now start at $304 per person, including the $145 application fee to the Chinese Consulate, plus shipping of your document(s) both directions. Should you choose to visit the Consulate in person, they are located in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, or San Francisco or you can make your way to the Chinese Embassy in Washington DC. Again, verify everything multiple times and confirm they will be open for the date of your visit as well as the hours of operation for Visa applications. This sounds intimidating…but it doesn’t have to be! The $159 (plus shipping) processing fee for a third party firm is well worth the money.
If you want to plan ahead for your return, check out our article on Global Entry and finding a credit card that will pay for it!
There are many airlines that travel to China. Chinese state-run airlines like China Eastern provide service and seating that is every bit as good (if not better) than U.S.-based airlines like American or United. The flight attendants from asian-based airlines, almost always young women, will be able to communicate with you in English, sometimes a bit “broken”, and there is always someone aboard who is fluent for more complex requests and questions.
Announcements, safety videos and demonstrations, movies and everything else will be available in both Chinese and English. If you’re lucky, you’ll get to watch every safety video twice on each flight and it might be a world record for lengthy videos aboard China Easter and China Southern….seriously, it doesn’t end.
Websites like www.seatguru.com allow you to run searches based on specific flight routes to see images of the planes and confirm details like specific aircraft, aircraft age, recommendations on seats to request and seats to avoid, seating arrangements, etc.
Airport Arrival and Shanghai Disneyland Hotel Transfer
Shanghai’s Pudong International airport follows the same general arrival process as any other international airport. Deplane, head through Immigration (you are a foreigner..so that’s your line!), collect your bags, walk through customs and now you’re out in the world and ready to begin your adventure! Regardless of your hotel, do your homework. Email the concierge and inquire about transportation options whether via taxi or hired car. Our destination was the Shanghai Disneyland Hotel and several calls to the Shanghai Disney Resort (check your international calling rates first!) helped identify a couple of options for first time visitors. You can also contact them via email at Shdr.Concierge.Dlh@disney.com or message them through the Shanghai Disneyland website here.
Taking any kind of public transportation was “out”. Having arrived many times in my youth to a foreign country jet-lagged and exhausted only to try and unravel the mysteries of the local transportation system (because no matter how much research you do, being there is always a bit unique) was one thing, but arriving in this exhaustive state to Asia – where none of us spoke the language – was not an option.
The good folks at the Shanghai Disneyland Hotel recommended booking car service and the options/pricing for the +/- 30 minute one-way trip were:
- Buick mini-van: 300 CNY (+/- $45) and seats 7
- BMW S 600 CNY (+/- $90) and seats 4
- BMW 7 1200 CNY (+/- $180) and seats 4
- Mercedes Benz Viano 900 CNY (+/- $135) and seats 7
- Jinbei Van 800 CNY (+/- $120) and seats 11
- Toyota Coaster 1100 CNY (+/- 165) and seats 20
- King Long Bus 1200 CNY (+/- 180) and seats 45
Although there were only two of us, we opted for the least expensive option and I received the confirmation details the day before arriving including the driver’s name, license plate and cell phone. This was a minor splurge and worth…every…single…penny. Let me tell you….this is the way to go! Booking a private car eliminated all nervousness about arriving in Shanghai because it eliminated the need for us to even have to think. And that “I just spent 15 hours getting here, I’m incredibly jet-lagged, I’m nervous because I do not speak Chinese, etc” feeling in your stomach?
Once we completed Immigration and secured our luggage, we easily found our driver at the arrival hall with Shanghai Disneyland hotel sign, grabbed our luggage, led us to the van, loaded us up and we made the easy trip to the hotel.
Departure Information from Shanghai Disneyland
It’s too soon to think about leaving…heck, you haven’t even arrived yet! Nonetheless, it’s time to think about heading to the airport. Again, there are multiple methods from which to choose like public transportation or taxi and while you will, no doubt, be far more comfortable in your surroundings having spent some time in Shanghai, the Nerds stand by the private transfer. It’s still fun to spoil yourself sometimes and leaving this incredible vacation on a high note is key.
Now, get to planning and have an amazing adventure at Shanghai Disneyland!