There are 6 Disney parks around the world if you didn’t know already – 2 are in the US, 3 are in Asia and 1 is in Europe –
- Walt Disney World (Orlando, Florida)
- Disneyland (Anaheim, California)
- Shanghai Disneyland (Shanghai, China)
- Hong Kong Disneyland (Hong Kong, China)
- Paris Disneyland (Paris, France)
- Tokyo Disneyland (Tokyo, Japan)
My family is originally from Shanghai, China, while my husband’s family has a mixed background from Shanghai, Hong Kong and Tokyo! We took our 3 little ones to Shanghai and Hong Kong to visit their great grandparents over the summer, and of course had to take them on adventures to both Disney parks!
I will write about our Hong Kong Disneyland experience in a separate blog. As for this one, I will focus on only Shanghai Disneyland, which in my opinion is BETTER and more fun than HK Disneyland – It’s bigger, nicer, newer and overall a more exciting experience for the family. After all, Hong Kong Disneyland’s castle was under construction when we visited, and is the smallest Disney park in the world, while Shanghai Disneyland boasts the nicest and BIGGEST Disney Castle! I will also offer some bonus Shanghai tourist recommendations for those of you interested to tour Shanghai and its vicinity. Shanghai is in essence the New York City of China.
UNIQUE EXPECTATIONS for SHANGHAI DISNEYLAND –
- The tourists in Shanghai Disneyland are largely from mainland, China, unlike in Hong Kong where you will see more foreign visitors (it makes sense because Hong Kong has always been bilingual, having been under the British rule for 100 years before 1997). This makes your adventure in Shanghai more unique than you have ever experienced at a Disney park.
- All the staff inside Shanghai Disneyland speak both Mandarin and English, while some of the performers and princesses speak only English. All the signs around the park are in Chinese with English translation. I can’t say the same about the tourists, who speak mostly Chinese only. This was the first time my kids found knowing Chinese as a 2nd language to be useful. The staff are well trained and very friendly and helpful.
- Tourists to Shanghai Disneyland don’t dress up nearly as much as park goers in California and Florida. You will see some people with Minnie Mouse ears, but rarely do you see families in matching Disney shirts or kids dressed up as princesses, though some do. Because dressing up isn’t as big of a deal in China culturally, Bippity Boppity Boutique is relatively easy to book and you are very likely to get a spot even on the day of.
- While the younger generation of Chinese families are very well educated and well traveled, some of the older Chinese people might do things that make you uncomfortable, like cutting in line, or not caring if their kids go out of line. It’s a part of experiencing China. Chinese people are working and improving on those public manners and often look up to Japan for that.
- While you don’t have to speak a word of Chinese to have fun at Shanghai Disneyland, it definitely helps to know some Chinese! Some of the rides have characters that speak only Mandarin, and I distinctly remember the Snow White magical book tour inside the castle was in Mandarin.
- Download the app and plan out your fast passes with the app! You can’t start reserving the fast passes until you’re physically inside the park, but we were able to get the fast passes we needed after we got inside.
- Get there early and take advantage of the 1 hr early access if you have it
- Get fast passes for Tron, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train and Soaring, which have longer wait times. Don’t need fast pass for the Voyage to the Cyrstal Grotto and Pirates of the Caribbean which went by quickly. Peter Pan’s Flight depends on time of the day, but when we went in the morning the lines went by quickly.
- Eat inside the Enchanted Storybook Castle and enjoy meeting a surprise princess with no line (we met Aurora, who we didn’t even get to meet in California or Florida!) and the Fab 5 characters.
- Places like Alice in Wonderland Maze and Gardens inside the parks normally don’t have lines or crowds, and are great places for photos.
We stayed at the Shanghai Disneyland Hotel, which I highly recommend. They have character meet and greet in the lobby; you get one hour VIP early access to the park; there is easy access to the park by boat through the back of the hotel garden; and you get musical firework beds like the ones at Disneyland Hotel in Anaheim. We did character breakfast in the morning, and absolutely loved the food at Shanghai Disneyland. The kids had a magical time from the minute we entered the Shanghai Disneyland Hotel!
Outside of Shanghai Disneyland park is the Disneytown, which is similar to Disney Springs. It offers a variety of eating and shopping places, including one of my favorite Boba Tea bars Hey Tea (喜茶). On the map Disneytown is to the west adjacent to Mickey Avenue at Disneyland park, across the lake from Shanghai Disneyland Hotel.
The Walt Disney Grand Theater in Disneytown offers spectacular Broadway Musicals in Mandarin, when we were there they were showing Beauty and the Beast! It was so good, and I think even if you don’t speak Mandarin you would enjoy watching it, especially if you’re familiar with the songs! It’s such a unique experience to see Belle, the Beast, and everyone from the town and castle speaking and singing in Mandarin, while the dances are universally appreciated.
Now let’s talk about the park! Shanghai Disneyland park is roughly divided to 7 main sections – Mickey Avenue, Gardens of Imagination, Adventure Isle, Treasure Cove, Fantasyland, Tomorrowland, and Disney Pixar Toy Storyland.
Mickey Avenue is comparable to Mainstreet USA at WDW. We walked into the park in the morning and there was a parade going on! I’ve only seen parades at night at Disney parks, so that was a fun experience for the kids to see Elsa and Anna waving at them from a daytime parade.
Next comes the Gardens of Imagination, which was one of my kids’ favorite spot! The Enchanted Storybook Castle was GORGEOUS, even more grand and beautiful than we had imagined. There was so much to do at the castle. You can book a hair/makeup and dress-up session at the Bippity Boppity Boutique (we were able to the DAY OF!), meet and greet princesses (all the princesses spoke English), experience the magical book tour of Snow White (all in Mandarin) after walking up these beautiful staircases inside the castle lined by walls of princesses murals, and have a character meal downstairs in the castle across from the Bippity Boppity Boutique.
Treasure Cove was my 6 year old’s favorite! She is somehow really into pirates right now, and totally loved doing the Pirates of the Caribbean ride THREE times. Spoiler alert: Captain Jack Sparrow speaks Mandarin! We took all 3 kids on that ride and surprisingly no one was scared. It was definitely one of our favorite rides at Shanghai Disneyland.
Peter Pan’s Flight was another Family Favorite, including the 1 year old. We floated across the story of Peter Pan and enjoyed the magical adventure with Wendy and Peter. The lines for both of these rides were not too bad, since they were carried by continuous boats/flying ships.
One of the adults’ favorite ride was the TRON Lightcycle power run inside Tomorrowland. You get to actually ride on the Lightcycle like in the movie, and it was one of the best rides I had done at a Disney park. For this ride you DEFINITELY need a fast pass, which you can do on your app. We went to this early in the morning by taking advantage of the 1 hr early park access from our hotel, so we experienced no line going on this ride. But normally this one takes the longest!
Some of the other rides that were family friendly were the carousel, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, Hunny Pot Spin, the Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (shown below), Voyage to the Crystal Grotto (a slow boat ride to see different Disney stories come to life), Soaring over the Horizon (same as the one in WDW but with a Shanghainese twist!), and Dumbo.
These are some of the tips I remember. Don’t hesitate to email or dm me on Instagram if you have other questions about Shanghai Disneyland!
BONUS section – Places to see in Shanghai!
Ok, so you fly all the way to Shanghai, which is on the other side of the world, you can’t JUST go for Disney, gotta see the beautiful city too! Shanghai is a global financial hub and one of the biggest cities in the world. It’s like New York City but a lot richer in history. There are tons of places to eat, visit and shop at. If you have time, definitely visit –
- The Bund! It’s a waterfront promenade lined with historical buildings and is the most famous skyline of Shanghai.
- The Oriental Pearl TV tower – you can go up inside the tower, it’s like the Eiffel Tower in Shanghai.
- The Shanghai Ocean Aquarium, which we have taken the kids to and they love it! This Aquarium has many of the native ocean and river creatures you don’t see in other countries.
- The Chenghuang Temple (pictured below), where the buildings are historical and beautiful, and contains lots of good food and shopping places.
- If you’re willing to drive an hour to Suzhou, it’s one of the most beautiful cities in all of China! It is boasted to be Venice of the East, with lots of water, bridges, beautiful gardens, as well as modern skylines, and is currently one of the richest cities in China, holding an even higher GDP than Shanghai. Shopping and eating in Suzhou, especially in the Industrial District near Suzhou Center and Jin Ji Lake are amazing.