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Disneyland Shanghai: A Delightful Take on the House of the Mouse

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Yesterday I had the most epic Disney adventure ever at Shanghai Disney Resort. This was the combination of a hairbrained idea I came up with in February ("What if I just flew to Shanghai to go to one of the  only Disney parks I've never been?") and my amazing friend Sing's incredible ingenuity, connections and energy. That's why at 10am, Sing, our friends Tasha and Ana, and I met up at Shanghai Disney Resort to start an unbelievable day in the House of Mouse -- China style!

I of course did my research. I read a lot about Shanghai Disney on Disney blogs, review sites and guidebooks. According to several reviews, the park was extremely crowded at all times, with long queues for most rides. The Chinese visitors there were bad at staying in their lines, cutting in front of other visitors, according to several accounts. The food was overpriced and not very good, others wrote. 

None of that was our experience, I am happy to say.

I had this fantastic feeling as soon as I stepped through the gates: I had NO IDEA where I was! I've been to four other Disney theme parks, I can tell you the general lay of the land for all of them, because they are all based on the same model of the original Disneyland in California. 

Shanghai Disney, by contrast, felt like a riff on the Disneyland experience, but refracted through a Chinese lens. Everything was familiar and with a Disney-level of detail and imagination, but slightly different. Here's how the park is laid out.

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Being someplace that felt like home but also full of surprises around every corner was a Disney park experience I haven't had in forever. #feelings 

Where to start? The rides I assume are most people's interest, so we'll start there.

 

Shanghai Disney Rides

 We rode just four rides on our whirlwind day in the park:

  • TRON Lightcycle Power Run
  • Pirates of the Caribbean: Battle for the Sunken Treasure
  • Buzz Lightyear: Planet Rescue
  • Soaring over the Horizon

All of the rides were incredibly well done. The queues were totally manageable -- 30 minutes max -- with no line cutting or other rude behavior that we experienced. The cast members were all engaged and professional and friendly. 

The Fast Pass system for the park worked perfectly for us. If you've been to other Disney parks, you know how to work the system. But honestly when we were there, the regular lines were nearly identical to the Fast Pass wait times. YMMV, of course.

Of the rides we rode, I have a hard time picking a favorite, but I think I have to give it to the Disney Shanghai take on Pirates of the Caribbean. To experience this iconic Disney ride with a fresh facelift and the latest technology upgrades was just incredible. I'm a little bummed we only rode this once. I don't want to give too much away, but the blend of animatronics, physical set pieces, digital projections, lighting, musical cues, and sound effects is like nothing I've ever experienced. 

TRON has received the most buzz from other reviews, and it's certainly a very unique take on the roller coaster thrill ride. Being able to experience a bit of what it might be like to ride a lightcycle racing against another team of light cycles is so thrilling and fun. The entire structure that you enter to get to the ride is just breathtaking to walk through. 

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The brilliant part of the ride is how they have designed the actual cars to similar being on a cycle. You crouch over and hold on to these cycle handles, while a quite large carriage cantilevers down and holds you in place. You are looking up the whole time, which I thought would be uncomfortable, but felt fine the two times I rode it.  The actual ride is very fast, with lots of tight turns and drops. The combination of indoor and outdoor spaces is thrilling. The music and sound effects are classic TRON, like being in the dopest electronica club ever. Really my only complaint is that it's a very short ride.

 Soaring over the Horizon was the ride I had no expectations for. Some of us assumed it had something to do with "Alladin." No, Soaring is a fresher, more awe-inspiring version of the "America the Beautiful" show at Disneyland. The central gimmick of this ride is putting the audience in suspended rows of chairs where your legs dangle freely. Something about that leg dangly just sets everyone to giggling, reminiscent of being on a swing as a child. And then the show starts, and from the first frame I was all in. That's all I'm going to say about it, except to say that I didn't know you could achieve that level of immersiveness without 3D visors or glasses. I was just gob-smacked the entire damn time.

 

Shows and Spaces

Besides the rides, there's lots more to do in the park. 

There are several shows in Shanghai Disney.  We got to experience "Eye of the Storm: Captain Jack's Stunt Spectacular." Yes, it is entirely in Chinese. But the actors are so good with their physical expressiveness and theatricality that it's pretty easy to follow along, even if you don't understand the dialogue. We loved the stage fighting and Cirque du Soleil level of acrobatics. My group cheered the loudest for the female pirate, who sent smiles and winks our way the whole time. That girl can crack a whip! And the stage and set pieces were just so well done. 

There are several exhibit type spaces where you can wander around see costumes, play with digital interactives, and pose with cast members dressed as characters. We had a great time visiting the Marvel and TRON exhibit areas. Sadly the Star Wars one was closed. Definitely don't pass those areas up, when you visit Shanghai Disney.

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Dining and Snacks

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Like all of the snacks and food in the Disney theme parks, all the consumables are highly marked up at Shanghai Disney. That said, we were pleasantly surprised by the food. Here were some of the best things we tried:

 Asian-inspired corn dogs: They had your standard American style corn dogs and these Chinese variations that I really liked. They have a sweet crumbly coating, and a spicy after kick that was very nice. 

Mickey red bean bun: Of the many themed pastries, this was the best one we tasted. Yes, it's basically a red bean bun with Mickey stamped on top. But it was quite satisfying and large.

 Mickey sweet pastry with nuts and dried fruit: I really liked all the nutty and doughy goodness of this one.

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 The main meal we ate was at Barbarosa's Bounty, the Pirates of the Caribbean restaurant. They had a good selection of dishes that were well spiced and filling. And the setting was really fun.  

Other Reflections

 The cast members we interacted with were all on point. One of the highlights of our trip was a Captain Jack Sparrow cast member wandering around the Pirates dining area, interacting with guests. Three times he came to our table and tried to take our food and drink, acted appropriately strange, and happily took pictures with us. 

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The cast members in the parade all seemed 100% committed to giving us a good show. For example, several dancers when they saw someone taking their picture, game a little extra smile and a wave. For a performer dancing choreography, moving constantly down the street, and interacting with hundreds of guests, that's no mean feat.

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The park was very clean and well maintained. The bathrooms were immaculate.  

It was easy to get around with signage in both Chinese characters and English. 

Getting there was super easy on the 11 line of the Shanghai metro.

Their merch game was on point. Custom Mickey ears totally blinged out were a big hit with most visitors. 

 

Conclusion

 If you are a Disney theme park nerd, Shanghai Disney should be on your destination list. It's got rides you won't encounter anywhere else, a refreshing take on the Disneyland experience, great service and attention to detail, and lots of amenities to make your park experience awesome. 

I love all the Disney theme parks for different reasons, but honestly I wonder if my next Disney experience is going to pale a little when compared to this one? 

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