Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Shanghai DisneyLand

Hello all! I know it's been awhile since my last blog post but to make up for that gap in time do I have a doozie for you guys. Over the Thanksgiving weekend I ended up making a trip with my sister, brother-in-law, and my niece over to Shanghai and visited one of the newest theme parks in the world, Shanghai Disneyland!

When this park opened in spring of 2016, my sister and I knew that we were going to have to visit it at some point, as not only are we humongous fans of Disney theme parks (as evidenced by my previous blog posts about Tokyo Disney), but they designed some pretty amazing attractions that you cannot find in the United States or anywhere else in the world. Well, at this time anyway. It just fell into place that my sister lives in Japan and I was able to meet them there before we all flew to China together.

I'm so excited to show you guys some of the photos I took while over there as Disney's attention to detail, which is second to none, was on full display. But first, I will let you know the steps that need to be taken in order to make a trip to Shanghai Disney if that is something you desire. It isn't as simple as booking a trip and going like Japan is.

After you book your hotel and flights, hopefully done many months in advance, you MUST apply for a tourist visa into China. If you don't have a Chinese visa, you will not be allowed to go. You must also book your trip prior to doing this as you have to have proof you are going before the Chinese government will approve your visa application. In order to apply for a visa, you have to go to the Chinese embassy that handles where you are from, in my case, I had to get mine done in Washington DC. You can't mail it, it has to be hand delivered and picked up a week later. So in order to make it so I didn't have to go in person, you can hire an agency that will fill out your paperwork and submit and pick up the visa. It took two weeks to get my visa back approved, but they can do it in as little as one week! A tourist visa costs just under $150 and my total to get my visa through an agency that handled my application was around $400 give or take as I used the next day shipping options. Well worth it to eliminate the hassle of me trying to deliver myself in person. If you live in a city that has an embassy, of course, you can bypass the agency acting as a middle person, but was essential for me.

Once you get that big hurdle out of the way, then you can relax and enjoy your trip as you already have your hotel and flights booked. For us, we didn't get to relax until arriving at our hotel room. I will just say that you better be on your toes at Shanghai Pudong International Airport as it can be intimidating coming out of customs into a throng of people that know you are tourists. I would make sure you know exactly where you are going as you will have a lot of people trying to talk to you to sell you something or go somewhere. A big note if you are taking a taxi, make sure you have your hotel destination printed in English AND Chinese so that your taxi driver can get you there. Even though the airport isn't far from the Disney resort, it is probably around $8-15 by cab (just as a reference, it is about a 6:1 ratio of Yuan to Dollar).

We were staying at the Toy Story Hotel, and boy do you feel like you walk into the Toy Story world when you do. Things made out of tinkertoys and other toys, and then there are the Buzz and Woody sides of the hotel. I was pumped to find out we were staying on the Woody side of the hotel as he is my favorite character in the movie.

Each side has its own courtyard and on the Woody side there is a splash pad (there aren't any pools at the Toy Story Hotel). The pad was closed though during our trip because in November, Shanghai has a high of about 60 to 65 and nights get pretty chilly. The hotel did have a great buffet dining area with many different ethnic variety of foods and their convenience store was awesome with many different individual food and drink items.

Just a short bus ride away is the Shanghai Disneyland and Disney Town. Disney Town is the equivalent of a Downtown Disney concept, while much smaller, but a lot more density to it. I would say there are over 60 stores/restaurants in Disney Town and are of many familiar places from the States, but a bunch of local stores and restaurants as well. The LEGO Store is not to be missed. It is situated outside the park and also is a great place to get items you forgot in the park. The best part of Disney Town is the fact there is an entrance/exit into the park that only Toy Story Hotel users get to use. It is fantastic because at park open, instead of waiting in a line of thousands of people, you are waiting in a line of about 30. LIFE SAVER. We weren't too upset we didn't walk in and the get the full effect of the entrance plaza when we bypass the line and get to grab Fast Passes quicker.

The Fast Passes here are different than the other parks, the absolute best way to do them here is to download the park's app and book them through that. We had pocket wifi, and I had international data so my phone would work, but as soon as you stepped one foot into the park you can begin to book Fast Passes. We were able to fly around hardly waiting in line by doing this. If you don't use the app, you have to go to localized kiosks and wait in the brutal lines to get them. Highly advise against this.

Even though we went in the side door, so to speak, I will start with the entrance of the park and go around it in a counter clockwise direction. Here is the entrance to the park.

Upon passing under this gate (behind the topiaries and shrubberies), you will enter this park's version of Main Street USA, Mickey Avenue. This area is about half as long as what you typically find in the US parks, but as opposed to others reviews of this park, I actually love it. I think it being half the length feels less like a logjam, and in fact, I love that they spread it out down the sides of the main hub area. There are a couple sidestreets as well that make it feel more like a town.

Of course all of the shops and restaurants are named after Disney characters, and in fact, you can meet almost all of the main players in this area.

In this next picture you can see how they wrap the shops and restaurants around what is the central hub, garden area, Castle plaza. I really like this a lot, and the other thing I absolutely love in this version of main street is that there aren't any curbs. It seems like a small thing, but unlike the US and Japan parks, but it is a heck of a lot easier to walk and especially push a stroller. I thought it was a great idea not to include curbs.

So this then brings us to the central hub which is called the Gardens of Imagination. Of course this is where you get to see the majestic Snow White's Castle, which I believe is the largest and most detailed they have ever done.

Also in this large area, which is by far the largest central hub I've seen in a Disney "Kingdom" park, is many gardened areas, but also the Dumbo ride and the Fantasia Carousel. There is a Marvel building that you can meet some Marvel characters and see some props and what not, but we didn't spend a whole lot of time in there. An awesome touch that you come across to the right of the castle as you look at it is the Garden of the 12 Friends (the Zodiac). All depicted by Disney characters.

A couple of my favorites as you go on down the line of all of the symbols...

Of course you have to have Mushu as the Dragon!


Ooo - de - lally I always love a Robin Hood throwback!

Right next to the Zodiac signs is the awesome Chinese restaurant, The Wandering Moon. Absolutely love the Chinese architecture and style used here. Also of note, this park has food for absolutely everyone, if you can't find something you'll love, then I don't know if you like food.

If you make an immediate right out of Mickey Avenue, you will head to the first themed area of the park, Adventure Isle, this is pretty much the first place we went to in order to get on Soarin' early in the day before the line got super long and the Fast Passes for that ride go the quickest.

Adventure Isle is themed to an ancient jungle that is native to the Arbori people. This, along with its neighbor area Treasure Cove, could quite possibly be the best themed areas I have ever seen in a Disney park. No question about it.

As I said earlier, the first thing we did upon entering the park, besides reserving Fast Passes for a ride, was head to Soarin' to ride it before the lines got too crazy. This ride is like its counterparts in Disney's California Adventure and EPCOT, but is the newly minted Soarin' Around the World movie. The old US rides were strictly based in California, but this new version of the ride (which has since been implemented at both US parks) goes all over the world seeing most of the Wonders of the World. It is awesome. Way better than the California version of the ride. They also added in smells and effects to make you really feel like you are in the places you fly over. The queue line is also pretty sweet because it is set inside of an ancient temple a la Indiana Jones.

As Soarin' is tucked in the back corner of Adventure Isle, you get to walk through almost the whole land. While doing so, you get to see all of the exotic touches Disney included to deepen the whole experience and story of the Arbori people. This is represented by all the rock statues of different animals that are essentially their gods. For instance this snake statue below.

This is just one of many animal statues, there are others of jaguars, wolves, eagles, and so on. There is also a canoe ride in this area, that if you are feeling up for a workout, feel free to row all the way around the lagoon. A couple other points of interest around Adventure Isle would include the Laughing Monkey Traders, where you can stock up on Arbori legend gear.

Near the entrance to the land is the Tribal Table restaurant, and what I loved the most about this restaurant is the fact that they have waterside seating around the porch overlooking waterfalls, and my favorite, crocodile infested waters. Just zoom into the picture and you'll see!

One of the most unique Disney experiences you will find anywhere is the Camp Discovery. This is a large zone filled with trails, ropes courses, and excavation areas.

This area is also situated at the base of the Roaring Mountain. Every Disney park has its 'Mountain' and this one is stunning. It is one you can also enter as there are hidden trails and caverns inside. However, if you want to find out why they call it the Roaring Mountain, you'll have to read on farther down the blog.

I like how they have a big map upon entry into this area because there is a lot to see and do in here. Also lots of little trails to explore and easy to get turned around or miss something. Pretty sure I explored every square inch of this place and it was well worth it!

Immediately to the right when you enter is the excavation dig pit for little tykes to go dig up their own artifacts!

What makes this pretty sick is that it is set in some ancient ruins and really makes you feel like an archaeologist. It is basically a living version of Legends of the Hidden Temple except without the annoying Olmec and a dumb time limit to find your treasure.

While exploring Camp Discovery, I came across an Easter Egg that I got really excited for and I'm sure other Disney travelers would as well.

That is a newspaper clipping of the fictional expedition team that this area is focused on discovering the Temple of the Crystal Skull that you can ride at Tokyo DisneySea! I about fell down when I saw this, this was awesome to find. This is the attention to detail that I love about these places.

But the best thing about Camp Discovery is the ropes courses. There are three of them with varying degrees of difficulty. You essentially get a harness and a rope that is attached overhead to keep you from falling. As you will see in the pictures below, you can fall, as that is what the rope attached is to prevent you from falling a long way. First is a picture of some of the obstacles at the base of the Roaring Mountain.

Next are some around the outpost area.

You then traverse into some caves with bottomless pits.

Then through some waterfalls.

Behind the massive waterfall on the front of the Roaring Mountain you can find a chamber where some ancient ruins were uncovered and you climb over the cavern.

And then I will throw one in from the base of the large waterfall because it is a gorgeous shot.

This leads us then to uncover the reason why it is called the Roaring Mountain. And in order to do this you must ride the Roaring Rapids, a river rapids ride that is the best themed river rapids ride I have ever been on.

The story to this ride is that you are on an expedition to try to find evidence of the Guardian of the Water, an Arbori legend named Q'arak. Q'arak is said to be in the form of a crocodile, and nobody believes it exists. That is the basis of your expedition up the river and into the Roaring Mountain.

I really want this sign in the queue line that hopes you like reptiles!

And then all the statues, like the one above and this one.

The landscaping around the ride is impeccable, especially the geysers around the base of the mountain that have formed from the lava tubes that are said to be in inside.

As you go about your journey, you will go around a couple tight bends, of which yours truly got a lap full of water on the first corner...

The going gets really interesting when you hit the lift to go up inside the mountain, as you hit very rough waters before plunging into the dark caves. As you begin to descend into the caverns, you hear a monstrous roaring coming from the depths and it is pretty chilling. I would say it could freak some kids out, it is pretty horrific, which I found awesome. Then as the caves got darker, you go down a bigger drop and after you fall into a larger cavern as you look above you see the GIGANTIC crocodile Q'arak. I mean this thing is absolutely massive. He is looking down at you and is pretty terrifyingly awesome. I really wish I could have gotten a picture, but you know... water ride. Once you leave the croc cavern you will go downhill briskly around whirlpools and splash into the geysers as shown above and below.

It is really fun and the story to the ride makes it amazing. If you don't mind getting a little wet. Disney got this right though, while in line you can buy a poncho if you didn't already have one. Me though, NO PONCHO FOR THIS DUDE! Now for the obligatory photo of the Roaring Mountain at night.

Now deep breath, that's only the first area of the park! We still got three more to go! Which brings us next to Treasure Cove, which is the first Pirates of the Caribbean fully themed area anywhere in the world.

This area is just as awesomely themed as Adventure Isle is and I took so many pictures I lost my mind. If you are a Pirates of the Caribbean fan, this area puts you in heaven. I picture all my family and friends that love the Pirates rides and movies and know they would walk around this area and a smile would never leave their faces. But first, a map I desperately wish I had!

That is a map of Treasure Cove, and I only found it because I was looking out across the bay at the Roaring Mountain. But also, look at these awesome signs sprinkled throughout the area leading into the village.


Captain Jack is a wanted dude around here!

Glad I didn't end up like him!

Another sweet thing they added here is an old Disneyland call back from the original park in Anaheim. They included a miniature version of Skull Rock that was from the animated Peter Pan movie. You might have looked at this at first sight and thought it was just a rock, but NO!

Then right next to this area is Shipwreck Shore, where you can explore a couple wrecked ships.

This is also a cool photo spot to look across the bay at the Roaring Mountain looming in the distance.

You can also check out another ship that isn't shipwrecked on the coast, as it is called the Siren's Revenge and is moored right around the bend from the wrecked ones.

At this point you are pretty much to the village area of Treasure Cove and it is neat to explore the little sidestreets that shoot off the main path. Cool action photo of my family in the next photo.

In this area is the large restaurant Barbossa's Bounty. Inside there are multiple stations to get food, and they are all different, so go pick the one you want!

Among the small streets along this area are many funny fake store and restaurant signs as seen below.


The Stagger Inn, sounds like my kind of bar!

Sharp & Pointies swords. Nice.

Leaf Me Be Tea. Sounds sweet.

Can't forget those Kraken legends!

Favorite sign.

Just outside of this area is a statue to a vice admiral that I don't think knows he's a joke.

And yes I know he is just a statue. One of the attractions in this area of the park is the Captain Jack Stunt Spectacular called Eye of the Storm. Even though the performers speak in Chinese, it is still a fun show to see. It starts out as an acting troupe making a show about pirates, but then the British navy gets involved and Jack Sparrow shows up and all heck breaks loose with cannons going off and hurricane winds coming into play. Some of the stunts are amazing, but the sequence that made the show is the ending bit with freestyle wind tunnel acrobatics. If you don't know what that is, look it up and have your mind blown. This was unbelievable to see live.

Here is a shot inside El Teatro Fandango.

And then of the stage at the end of the show showing the set.

But the biggest and possibly best attraction at the park is this park's version of Pirates of the Caribbean. Take the most pure Pirates ride from Anaheim and put it on steroids and you will get this. This ride is mind blowing to say the least. Pirates of the Caribbean: Battle for the Sunken Treasure may be the best ride Disney has ever made, and that is a hard list to top.

This I can easily say was my niece's favorite ride, and she is only a year and a half old! You could tell she loved this ride. Of course I have to start this off with some obligatory pictures of things in the queue line that stand out while waiting (there is no fast pass for this, but there are two queues, and you wait at most 45 minutes).


Map room inside the fort.

Most Wanted room.

Once you get on the ride, it begins with its own soundtrack full of music from the movies. All of the speaking is in Chinese but that is irrelevant to be blown away by this ride. All the imagery and animatronics are top notch. The set pieces are absolutely stunning and the climax of the ride is second to none. If you want to watch this ride if you have no plans to go here, I highly advise to watch on YouTube, but it doesn't do it justice. Disney is able to simulate motion to the boat that you won't get through video, as one part it feels like you are rising extremely fast off the bottom of the sea. The way the boat moves from set piece to set piece is seamless and you wonder how you go from one scene to next. I will only show one photo spoiler from ride (I have a couple others) but this was one thing I hoped was in it (I went in blind) and I wasn't disappointed...


So that does it for Treasure Cove, and on to Fantasyland. This is the Disney staple that appears in all of its Magic Kingdom style parks and features some of the same you will see other places. For instance, Winnie the Pooh is also here, Seven Dwarves Mine Train, and Peter Pan's Flight. But after that, everything else is unique. The first thing that is different is you can go up into this castle.

Climbing up the tower staircase you see a bunch of frescoes of the Disney Princesses. Along the way you get a telling of the story of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. Seen in the next picture is one of the Evil Witch's chamber.

Eventually you will get up to near the top of the castle where there is a little courtyard up near the tallest spires.

The Peter Pan's Flight here is more high tech than the ones in the States, but I feel like Disney World renovated theirs recently to something more like Shanghai's. However, I don't think the ones here have anything as cool as a miniature model of Neverland!

One of the unique attractions here is an Alice in Wonderland Maze, which is hard to get lost in, if you have someone like me yelling down below where to go.

Just look at the awesome Queen of Hearts guards!

As said earlier, this park does have the Seven Dwarves Mine Train roller coaster that debuted at Disney World, however this version doesn't have the creepy ending that the one in Florida does.

Another difference at Shanghai Disneyland is that they don't have the Teacups ride that is so famous in the other parks. At this park it is Pooh's Hunny Pot Spin. Same thing as teacups, just themed differently.

Probably one of the best rides in Fantasyland here is the Voyage to the Crystal Grotto. This is a boat ride similar in nature to that of the Jungle Cruise, except here you go through iconic Disney movies before getting to the grotto of the name of the ride. I would suggest doing this at night as the lighting makes it worth it.

For instance, one of the first scenes is from Aladdin and also you hear songs from these movies as you are going along.

And another from the Little Mermaid. But you also see scenes from Beauty and the Beast, Mulan, and a couple others.

After passing by these scenes you then go underneath the castle in the center of the park to enter into the crystal grotto. There are a lot of cool sound and light effects that go on in here and I don't feel like any pictures could ever do it justice, but here's a try.

That pretty much does it for Fantasyland, and now we will go into the final land of the park at the time of my visit, Tomorrowland!

This area of the park without a doubt is awesome at night. But in this area you will find Buzz Lightyear Planet Rescue, the Star Wars Launch Bay, Jet Packs, Stitch Encounter, and the best, Tron Lightcycle Power Run.

The Buzz Lightyear Planet Rescue is pretty much like the other Buzz rides found in Tomorrowlands all over the world, you shoot your laser gun at targets to try and get a high score.

We didn't do Jet Packs which is just a spinning ride similar to Astro Orbiter if you are familiar with the Disney parks in the States, nor did we do Stitch Encounter as it would be in Chinese and we did that in Japan which was not fun. We did venture into the Star Wars Launch Bay and saw all the Star Wars props from the movies and met Vader, Kylo, and C-3PO, and me and my niece chilled in the cockpit of the Millennium Falcon. But the big prize in this area of the park is definitely the Tron roller coaster.

This is Shanghai's counter to Space Mountain, and dare I say it, is way better than Space Mountain. Don't get me wrong, I love Space Mountain, and I know many who do, but after you ride this ride, you will agree with me. Before I get into the ride, this Tomorrowland is different in the sense that all the paths are layered and there is a many different ways to get around here as everything is on different tiers. Below is a shot that showcases some of the tiers with fountains as well.

Now back to Tron. As cool as it is in the day time, it is an absolute must ride at night time. I feel this is where the true experience lies, and I mean, come on, look at the next picture and tell me that doesn't look awesome.

The roller coaster itself has vaulted into my top 5 all time roller coasters. It is a launch coaster that shoots you out along the track at 60 miles per hour. You look at it from the ground and feel it doesn't look fast, but you'll change your mind when you are on it. You really feel you are hauling the mail. What adds to the speed rush is that you are riding it like a motorcycle. First time I have ever ridden a coaster like that in my life.

There is also a great set up to the ride in line. When you enter you seemingly enter the virtual world of Tron and see a bunch of signs introducing the teams and rules of the 'game'.

Then you enter a preshow area where the screen clears and you see riders below you enter the launch area, wait for the start, then fire out of the room at 60 mph before the windows in front of you go back to looking like a computer screen.

Once in the station area, you get the gist of the video that is telling you to beat the Orange team (you are on Blue). In order to do this, you have to go through the power gates and beat them to the finish. Power gates make you go faster.

After shooting out of the launch chamber and zooming up some big twists and turns, you re-enter the virtual zone inside a building and begin speeding through power gates while the orange team appears around you. The end to the ride ends with a big bang as the orange team gets caught up in some trouble and is pretty awesome while going around 50 mph. The ride feels very much like a Rockin' Roller Coaster type ride that is at Hollywood Studios, except doesn't have any inversions. Also, here's a picture of the light cycles after I got off the ride.

After the ride is over, you will exit pretty much into the World of Tron area. It is a pretty cool area filled with some Tron props, but most importantly a bunch of futuristic hands on video games.

That does it for pretty much the entire park. They are currently adding a Toy Story Land in between Fantasyland and Tomorrowland that will open in 2018 and we could see a lot of what was going in, which mostly will add two additional rides to the park.

A couple other thoughts before I close: One is that the park is massive. Walking from one side to the other takes longer than you would think. The paths are quite wide in some areas in order to facilitate large crowds. While we were there the park didn't seem all that full, but park tickets did sell out for the day so there were plenty of people there, but it never felt crowded at all. Wait times were never bad. The longest any of us waited for a ride was 45 minutes. But we also mastered the fast pass system as we've done at the other Disney Parks. Most of the employees could speak English with you well enough. Only once did some workers have to translate to me through a phone, but that was the only time.

Overall I'm not sure where I rank this in terms of the Disney parks I've been to. I need to dwell on it a little longer. Treasure Cove, Adventure Isle, and Tron are all very much worth the price of admission. The rest of it lies on how you feel about the hassle of traveling to China. I know it was completely worth it to experience almost everything I talked about above in the blog post. Pirates is definitely worth the hype, and so is Tron at night. And despite the fact that Tron is rumored to be hitting Magic Kingdom for the 50th Anniversary, I can still say I rode the original in Shanghai.

Hope you enjoyed this blog post, let me know what you think of this place from what I shared, and thanks for reading.

Mike G.

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