Yesterday(!), I visited Shanghai Disneyland at the end of a week-long trip to the China Digital Entertainment Expo (aka China Joy), as part of a UK trade delegation. Most of the week was taken up with briefings about the Chinese games industry; endless meetings with local companies; and raucous bar-hopping and karaoke.
By the end, I didn’t feel in a physical or mental state to do much other than do laps in the hotel pool and find good places to eat duck. I did try to visit the Shanghai Museum, only to be met with a three-hour queue. Pro tip, Shanghai: build more free museums.
The point is, I refuse to be judged for going to Shanghai Disneyland on my final free day. I’ve visited Shanghai before, I’ve done the obvious tourist stuff, and Disneyland was not only a 25 minutes taxi ride away, but even better, it was on the way to the airport. Under the circumstances, it seemed foolish not to go. So, in the spirit of my Disneyworld posts from February, here are my general thoughts:
- We arrived via Didi taxi (the Chinese version of Uber) at 7:55am on Sunday, just before the park opened. We bought tickets en-route via the official Shanghai Disneyland app, which seems to have the same engine as the Disneyworld app, albeit much reduced in scope – you can’t order any food on it, for example. The tickets were about 575 yuan, or £65/$85 – i.e. not that cheap, and definitely not cheap for Chinese incomes. This was a Peak price ticket, which isn’t even the most expensive one.
- Having read about the general unavailability of Fastpasses for normal visitors, I also tried to buy the Premier Access add-on while in the taxi. Premier Access gives you one-time Fastpasses for a dozen of the bigger rides; it costs around 650 yuan but seemed worth it since we’d only be there for a day. Unfortunately, you can only buy it by scanning the QR code on a paper ticket, and we didn’t have one. I get the vague feeling that you might only be able to buy it from inside the park, which makes a certain amount of sense but also hypes up the organisational frenzy that highly-strung planners like myself feel.
- It took about 40 minutes for us to get from the taxi to inside the park. We were carrying a couple of bags each and it was extremely hot, so perhaps we could have done it faster in different circumstances, but it’s still a pretty long walk and you have to wait in a couple of queues to prevent overcrowding.
- I shouldn’t have been surprised there were hawkers circulating in the queues selling fans and umbrellas – and yet I was.
- To get our paper tickets, we just had to present our passports. Yes, if you’re a foreigner and you buy a ticket via the app, you need to provide your passport number. It was pretty quick.
- We stowed our luggage by the entrance as well – it costs 80 yuan per bag.
- Once we had our paper tickets, I could scan the QR codes and book a free Fastpass. The only good one was for Tron, and that was at 5:10pm. Bearing in mind that this was 8:40am, I was disappointed. We were able to book another Fastpass two hours later at 10:40am, by which time all the decent rides had vanished. Perhaps if we’d gotten into the park at 8am precisely, we’d have had better luck, but to be honest it’s a shitty deal since you’re likely to get only one Fastpass, maybe two, in a day.
- To add insult to injury, all the Premier Access Fastpasses had also sold out by this point. Luckily we were able to buy Premier Access Fastpasses for single rides at 120 yuan each, which we got for Pirates of the Caribbean, Soarin’, and Roaring Rapids. As it happens, this was for the best, since we got to see more or less everything anyway.
- The inequity of paying to jump the queue was not lost on other visitors. I can’t speak a word of Mandarin but I can tell when someone is fucked off by seeing well-off people waltz past the scary uniformed security guards posted at every Fastpass entrance.
- We headed straight to Buzz Lightyear Planet Rescue in Tomorrowland. Tomorrowland in China is really quite spectacular and futuristic in a mid-2000s way, rather than the pre-1960s space-age cues in the US. As for the ride, it was entertaining enough but not a patch on the videogame arcade-like version in Disneyworld. Basically, you were shooting at little circular LCD screens attached to robots, which either didn’t move, or weren’t especially articulated. It will seem very quaint to anyone who has played a videogame in the past few years. Luckily, we only queued for 30 minutes.
- On our way to the next ride, we passed through Toy Story Land. There wasn’t a lot of Woody there.
- Pirates of the Caribbean: Battle for the Sunken Treasure was possibly the most impressive ride in the park. We were wondering quite how the Chinese censors would react to the whole undead skeleton angle in the movies, but apparently that’s not a problem because the whole thing was about Jack battling the undead ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
- Without going into spoilers, the ride was much more dynamic than the ones in Florida and Anaheim, and made far more use of projectors and screens than animatronics, somewhat like the Frozen ride in Florida but on a much larger scale. I am not enamoured of this trend but I’ll admit it worked pretty damn well in this case. It also had some very clever effects to disguise the fact that it’s all in a massive warehouse.
- I hyped up Soarin’ to my friend, which had 2-3 hour queues throughout the day (along with Roaring Rapids). I was astonished to find that the Shanghai version barely moved compared to those in the US! It wasn’t an especially vigorous ride to begin with, but the robot arm barely broke a sweat during the entire show. This didn’t seem to bother the riders though; a man next to us repeatedly shouted “Wahhh!”. FYI, the video is the same CG tour of the world as in Disneyworld, except it ends in downtown Shanghai.
- As we’d discover later in the day, all of the rides in Shanghai Disneyland are remarkably gentle. I wonder if this is because the designers didn’t want to scare the relatively inexperienced Chinese guests, or if it’s something different (e.g. wanting to save money).
- Roaring Rapids was situated on an impressively tall mountain that affords some of the best views in the park. A good 70% of riders were wearing ponchos, but the splashes are all quite gentle; I was more put out how much our boat span around. Overall, a fun ride, but too sedate and generally lacking in story for my tastes.
- Tribal Table for lunch. Most lunch places only have 4-5 main course options, costing 70-90 yuan each, although they do come with a drink. It was fine, with very short queues due to the relative expense.
- Voyage to the Crystal Grotto was the perfect post-lunch ride – short 15 minute queue and a nice boat trip past some fun moving statues, ending in a rather dimly-lit, projection-mapped crystal grotto.
- We spotted the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train had finally opened and made a run for it before the queues got too long. Perhaps for that reason, the queues were a bit screwed up with the nicer sections closed, and more exposed areas opened. I get the feeling that there just isn’t the depth of organisational knowledge and management that exists in other Disney parks.
- Like Expedition Everest in Disneyworld, the Mine Train is heavily story-based and one of the best rides in the park. It’s also extremely smooth and gentle.
- Because my friend didn’t want to rush to the airport, we opted to queue for an hour to get into TRON Lightcycle Power Run ‘early’. This has one of the most impressive queueing experiences I’ve ever seen, consisting largely of gazing down at the awesome-looking ride itself.
- The ride didn’t quite live up to the hype, though. The ‘lightcycles’ are extremely cool and as someone who’s listened to the Tron Legacy soundtrack far too many times, I appreciated the atmosphere. I couldn’t fault the start of the ride, which features some truly wicked acceleration. However, the main part of the ride, which occurs inside (like Space Mountain) was sorely lacking in decoration. It almost felt like it was half-finished, and it made me wonder whether much of the park was designed in a way that would require and reward upgrades a few years after opening – partly because the guests wouldn’t know what they’re missing.
- The heat was getting to us, so we stopped at Stargazer Grill for a slushy and some air conditioning. Lots of other people were there, chilling out, playing games on their phone, or just sleeping.
- At this point – around 4pm – I’d been to all the main rides and the second-tier ones like Peter Pan had queues of 40+ min. I discovered that the nearby outdoor mall, Disneytown, was just a few minutes walk away, with a quick re-entry gate.
- Disneytown had a mixture of western and local chains like Nike, Adidas, Lego, and Starbucks. All the food is better value and quality than what you can get in the park, so unless you really hate walking, just go to Disneytown. The shops don’t get much traffic either, so you’ll be guaranteed the attention of some frightening helpful staff.
- I used our Tron Fastpass at 5:30pm. I noticed that the video was full of typos/mistranslations, which – together with some other obvious rough edges here and there – convinced me that Disney were required to use less-experienced local designers and artists for large parts of the park. If I can spot these typos, I assume that US quality assurance must also be aware, which suggests that the change request process is expensive and/or politically challenging. In any case, it’s embarrassing for them.
- I was told to take off my glasses this time, which actually improved my experience of the interior…
- Kokio Noodles in Disneytown for dinner. It was decent.
- I had to head back to the airport before the fireworks, unfortunately. There were a lot of people hanging around outside of the park to watch them.
- Adrian’s Tale of Taxi Woes: Let me stipulate up-front that during this entire trip, I’d taken several Didi rides with precisely zero problem. I’d also successfully gotten a ride to Disneyland, also with no problem, so I feel somewhat justified in believing that I’d also be able to get a from from Disneyland to the airport. Unfortunately, they stopped allowing this several months ago, not that the Didi app will tell you this – or that any signs are readily visible.
- I got quite a lot of hassle from people at the drop-off/pick-up zone who wanted to buy my tickets or offer overpriced taxis, in full view of park staff and local police. It’s a pretty poor show, really.
- In the end I had to get a taxi from the normal taxi rank. This wasn’t actually much more expensive than a Didi, although I had a further adventure because I’d very efficiently spent all of my cash and none of the taxis take Visa (and there was no ATM near the taxi stand). It all worked out fine in the end, but it was a rough end to the day.
- The general shittiness of the Fastpass system + local unfamiliarity with the app + inexperienced and overwhelmed management = great confusion at the Fastpass gates, such that it took me a few minutes to even reach the ticket scanners a couple of times.
- I saw less then ten white people and precisely zero black people in the park during the entire day.
- The parades are a bit inconsistent in quality. Some appeared to be just three floats, others quite longer.
- Peppa Pig is really popular here.
- The shops are pretty cheap compared to the US.
- The fast food staff all wear spit guards. It made me wonder if there’s evidence that they reduce food contamination, and if you could ever get westerners to wear them.
- They were promoting a half-year pass that cost around 2-3 times the cost of a single ticket.
- Assuming you got inside the park at 8am and stayed until closing, I think most adults could do the park in a single day. If you wanted to be thorough and/or had younger kids, you’ll need two days.
- For the love of god, take an umbrella (we did!). Granted, we visited in August – no doubt the worst time in the entire year – but shit gets hot and yes, now I know why people use umbrellas in the sun.
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