Shanghai Disneyland Guide: Introduction

Shanghai Disneyland Resort, Shanghai, China

Once upon a time at Westcoaster, we attempted to put together a comprehensive Walt Disney World guide for readers who might be interested in going but weren't sure how to get the whole process started and might not have the luxury of or interest in having a travel agent take care of everything.  Well, that try lasted all of one post, but as we say here on the site: never let failure prevent you from trying again! 

Okay, so we don't say that at all, but this is another attempt at a Disney park guide.  This time, though, we're heading west (or very very east, depending on from where you're reading), to China, to take a look at the Shanghai Disney Resort.  It's been a year since Shanghai Disneyland officially opened, and in that year, park attendance has actually exceeded projections, and the park has been a success.  But given that this is the newest Disney park, information on planning a trip there is still pretty novel.  Sites like TDR Explorer and Disney Tourist Blog have some great guides of their own, but from there, information on theme park web sites tends to drop off.  So on this #WanderlustWednesday, we're throwing our hat into the ring, and we'll see how far we get along!

 Davy Jones gives a warning on Pirates of the Caribbean: Battle for the Sunken Treasure.

Davy Jones gives a warning on Pirates of the Caribbean: Battle for the Sunken Treasure.

Today's post will be an overview of what the Resort has to offer and a look at pre-trip preparation--information to help get you from your desk at home to the actual Resort itself.  Future installments will look at each area of Shanghai Disneyland and the Resort area, with thoughts about what to check out once you're there.

Booking Your Flight

Like our other travel guides, this introduction is being written with the assumption that you, the reader, are from the United States.  Although the tips and comments contained within should work for travelers from most places, know that the baseline is assuming an American audience.

Before you continue, make sure you've read our Shanghai Overview update from a few months ago, especially the first two sections about obtaining a Chinese visa and transportation.  That will give you a nice review on things to know about travel to China as well as the incoming airports and local transportation options.  Go ahead.  I'll wait.  I can even put on a classic Chinese song from an iconic Hong Kong-produced soap opera set in Shanghai--just to put you in the mood.

Alright, done?  Good.

There are plenty of ways to get great deals on airfare, and different people will have varying levels of detail and tips for what works best for them.  I personally like to use aggregating web sites like Kayak and Google Flights to look up airfare.  These sites also allow tracking of prices and alerts to be sent when prices change.  Airfare Watchdog is a great companion for price checking too.  These sites are just a starting point.  If I see deals that are particularly good, I'll also check the actual airline's website to see if I can replicate the deal direction.  This is because a lot of times, especially with aggregate sites like Kayak, the deal is being booked through a third party that is not necessarily reputable.  It might be Expedia or Travelocity or Priceline, but it may be some other outfit.

I'm often asked when is the ideal time to purchase tickets.  It's a great art / science / mystery to acquiring the best deal, and the truth is that airfare fluctuates both depending on which day of the week you're traveling and also which day of the week you search.  Weekends tend to be more expensive than weekdays in both accounts, though frustratingly, there are sometimes exceptions, especially when flash sales occur.  Time of year matters too, of course.  Travel in the middle of the summer will be more expensive, since that's when everyone else travels (it will also be miserably hot and very, very, very humid).  Travel in late fall and spring provides much cheaper prices.

 The exterior of Peter Pan's Flight in Fantasyland.

The exterior of Peter Pan's Flight in Fantasyland.

Supposedly, the magic number for the average lowest airfare for international travel is 77 days before departure.  There are lot of variables that can swing this, but in my experience, I've actually found that to be pretty accurate with Asia (Europe's optimal purchase time seems to be a little longer--more like 90-100 days).  This means tracking prices starting around 4 months in advance should be sufficient.  Conversely, if you want to just buy way in advance to lock down a nice price and not have to worry about things, buying 6 months in advance or more is suitable. 

As a point of reference, a good deal for a round trip flight from Los Angeles to China and back can run as low as $500 - $600 during low season.  My flight last November into December via ANA (All Nippon Airways) that had legs of L.A. to Tokyo, Tokyo to Hong Kong, and Shanghai to L.A., and that was just over $600.  I added Hong Kong to Shanghai for about $100 more.

Reaching the Shanghai Disney Resort

From the Shanghai Overview update, and with the assumption that you'll be flying in, you know that there are two airports that serve Shanghai: Pudong International Airport (east by southeast of the heart of the city, airport code "PVG") and Hongqiao International Airport (west of the city center, airport code "SHA").  If you're flying in from the U.S., you're most likely going to be arriving at the former.  If you're coming in from elsewhere in Asia, both are potential options.  Of the two, Pudong is closer to the Shanghai Disney Resort, but lets look at Hongqiao first, since there are fewer and thus more straightforward options.

 This archway into Mickey Avenue proper may look like the train station, but there actually is no Disneyland Railroad in Shanghai Disneyland.

This archway into Mickey Avenue proper may look like the train station, but there actually is no Disneyland Railroad in Shanghai Disneyland.

Hongqiao International Airport to Shanghai Disney Resort

Although guests arriving at Hongqiao could technically rent a car, take a bus, or hail a taxi to get to Shanghai Disneyland, I recommend the ease and convenience of using the Shanghai Metro, which has a stop at the airport and a relatively direct route to the Resort that usually takes a little over an hour.  This is the best combination of low cost and low time required.

From Hongqiao Railway Station or Hongqiao Airport Terminal 2 stops:

  • Take Line 2 (lime color), direction: Pudong International Airport
  • Ride Line 2 for (6) or (7) stops to the Jiangsu Road station
  • Transfer to Line 11 (maroon color), direction: Disney Resort
  • Ride Line 11 for (15) stops to its terminus at the Shanghai Disney Resort station

Guests exiting the Shanghai Disney Resort Station will find themselves just east of the main gate to Shanghai Disneyland.  Assuming they are staying on property, they'll have a 20-30 minute walk westward across the entry plaza, past Disneytown (Shanghai's version of Downtown Disney), and either over a pedestrian foot bridge and then north toward the Toy Story Hotel or following Wishing Star Lake around and southward toward the Shanghai Disneyland Hotel.

 The Disney Resort Metro stop.

The Disney Resort Metro stop.

For those who wish to use the city bus service, the express bus Line 3 offers service from Hongqiao directly to Shanghai Disneyland.  Board the bus at the Hongqiao bus terminal at 298 Shen Hong Lu Minhang Qu, Shanghai Shi, as marked in the map below.  Note that express bus departure times do not run all day and currently appear to be limited to the morning only.

 

Pudong International Airport to Shanghai Disney Resort

In contrast to Hongquiao, taking the train from Pudong International Airport to the Shanghai Disney Resort is actually more roundabout and time consuming.  The fastest way from PVG to the park is actually by taxi (China does not have an Uber or Lyft service from the airport--for those looking for the Chinese equivalent of Uber, try "Didi").  Arriving visitors should pick up their luggage, then follow airport signage to the official designated taxi queue area outside of the terminal. 

 A scene from Pirates of the Caribbean: Battle for the Sunken Treasure.

A scene from Pirates of the Caribbean: Battle for the Sunken Treasure.

Please note: along the way, tourists will be bombarded by people claiming to be taxi service but who are actually private drivers who will essentially try to trick visitors into using their private vehicle service--which is significantly more expensive than taxi.  There's nothing illicit with these folks, even though they can be quite aggressive (the best strategy is to just continue walking and ignore them), but they will cost the unwitting visitor more money than alternatives.  Actual taxi drivers are formally regulated by the government and required to load and unload at designated areas.

A taxi ride should run about $20 USD and take about half an hour--provided that the taxi driver knows how to get to Shanghai Disneyland efficiently.  Because Shanghai Disneyland is still relatively new, it is not a guarantee that any city taxi driver will know how to get there.  In fact, during my trip last year in December, our taxi driver missed a turn and ended up driving south about ten extra minutes before finally correcting and getting us there half an hour later than it should have taken.

The best bet is to give the taxi driver the address of your destination written in Chinese:

Shanghai Disneyland Hotel
No. 1009 West Shendi Rd.
Pudong New District, Shanghai, 201205, The People’s Republic of China
上海迪士尼乐园酒店申迪西路1009号
浦东新区, 上海 201205

Toy Story Hotel
No. 360 West Shendi Rd.
Pudong New District, Shanghai, 201205, The People’s Republic of China
玩具总动员酒店申迪西路360号
浦东新区, 上海 201205

 Nighttime is electric at Tomorrowland.

Nighttime is electric at Tomorrowland.

If you're a fan of the rails and really want to take the Shanghai Metro, you actually have two options from Pudong International Airport:

  • Take Maglev Line, direction: Longyang Road
  • Ride Maglev LIne for (1) stop to the Longyang Road station
  • Transfer to Line 16 (pastel green color), direction: Dishui Lake
  • Ride Line 16 for (2) stops to the Luoshan Road station
  • Transfer to Line 11 (maroon color), direction: Disney Resort
  • Ride Line 11 for (3) stops to its terminus at the Shanghai Disney Resort station
  • Take Line 2, direction: East Xuijing / Hongqiao Airport
  • Ride Line 2 for (11) stops to the Longyang Road station
  • Transfer to Line 16 (pastel green color), direction: Dishui Lake
  • Ride Line 16 for (2) stops to the Luoshan Road station
  • Transfer to Line 11 (maroon color), direction: Disney Resort
  • Ride Line 11 for (3) stops to its terminus at the Shanghai Disney Resort station

The first option is more expensive but significantly faster (plus, you get to ride on a magnetic levitation train--talk about the future!).  The second option is cheaper but will take an hour or a bit more--twice the length of the Maglev route and basically the same time as coming from Hongqiao.

 Canoe paddlers row through a waterway, past Roaring Mountain in the distance.

Canoe paddlers row through a waterway, past Roaring Mountain in the distance.

As with SHA, there is an express bus from PVG to Shanghai Disney, but on Line 4.  Similarly, though, it appears to only run from the airport to the resort in the morning.

Finally, if you decide to drive from Pudong Airport to the Shanghai Disney Resort, follow these basic instructions:

  • Take the S1 Yingbin Expressway north out of the airport
  • The S1 expressway will slowly turn west shortly after leaving the airport perimeter
  • At the interchange with the S20/S2 expressways, turn south onto the S2
  • Take the cloverleaf ramp onto the Shenjiang Elevated Road east, which leads straight into the Resort

Note that this route takes you through toll roads, but it's the most direct method.  Unfortunately, at this time, Google Maps instructions are actually not reliable, since they take drivers through a back route that is liable to get them lost.

Lodging

The Shanghai Disney Resort is about 18 miles southeast of the city center and located outside of the city, so visitors will need to make a decision on where to stay based upon their priorities.  Those who aim to only visit the parks should stay on property as a no-brainer.  Those who seek to spend more time in the city itself should stay in the city and take public transportation or a taxi to and from the park.  Either option presents challenges if park-going and city-seeing are both on the itinerary, since the Shanghai Metro does not run very late.  The last train connecting to Shanghai Disney typically runs no later than about the 10pm hour.

If you're looking to stay in the City, there are plenty of options from which to choose.  I like using AirBnB, Hotels.com, or Expedia to shop prices.  I'd recommend staying anywhere from between along the Bund to near People's Square, in terms of being most centrally located, but ultimately, that will depend on what other sites you wish to visit and your own preferences on convenience.

 Plaza within the Toy Story Hotel.

Plaza within the Toy Story Hotel.

When it comes to on property, there are currently only two options: the flagship Shanghai Disneyland Hotel and the budget Toy Story Hotel.  Outside and nearby, there aren't really any choices available--at least none that I'd recommend with confidence.  At this point, there haven't been any real spring of reputable third party hotels locally like there are at Disneyland, Walt Disney World, and even Tokyo Disney Resort.

Both hotels will require a bit of walking to get to the park's main gate--something like 20-30 minutes depending on one's pace.  But there are also regular shuttle buses that run every 10-15 minutes taking guests from the hotel to Disneytown--the Resorts shopping and dining district--as well as the Metro station and main gate area.

 The Enchanted Storybook Castle.

The Enchanted Storybook Castle.

Shanghai Disneyland Hotel

Located across Wishing Star Lake from the park, the Shanghai Disneyland Hotel is the premiere hotel in the Resort (which is not hard to do as the nicer of two total hotels).  It is classified as a 5-star hotel, and while the details and ambiance are gorgeous, the amenities and service probably put it at closer to a 4-star by U.S. standards.  Still, it's hard to beat the view of the park by lakeside (assuming you get a lakeside room), and the hotel itself is filled with wonderful whimsy.

Toy Story Hotel

This is the budget option for the Shanghai Disney Resort and also the hotel in which I stayed during my visit last year.  Uninterestingly modern looking, it holds the equivalent of the "Value" resorts at Walt Disney World, such as the All-Star and Pop Century hotels.  The rooms are comfy and clean, the services nice but nothing special, and the ambiance a little sterile.  But it's also just a tad geographically closer to the park's main gate and to Disneytown, so there's an advantage there.

 Entrance to the Toy Story Hotel.

Entrance to the Toy Story Hotel.

 The facade is all glass but not particularly noteworthy.

The facade is all glass but not particularly noteworthy.

At the Park

Shanghai Disneyland is "authentically Disney and distinctly Chinese," as Bob Iger said in his opening day dedication speech and as the Imagineers constantly repeated as mantra throughout the design and construction process.  It is Disney's first foray into Mainland China, a rapidly growing market of rising wealth and status.  With nearly a third of a billion people living within a three hour drive or train ride, the park certainly has huge potential. 

However, given the delicate state of relations between the United States and China, plus the Chinese government's general control on anything Western to begin with, this park could not be designed as a typical Magic Kingdom, with all its western connotations.  Instead, it needed to incorporate aspects of Chinese culture and downplay Western influence while maintaining just enough of it to still attract guests who are aware of the Disney name and brand. 

 The prerequisite Mickey Mouse floral greets guests into the park.

The prerequisite Mickey Mouse floral greets guests into the park.

The result is a unique Magic Kingdom that is beautiful and majestic in its own way.  Only two of its lands share names with the other parks.  The rest captures certain parallels and also branches off in new and more original stories.

Mickey Avenue

Having a "Main Street, U.S.A." greet expected predominantly Chinese guests would send the wrong message in a country whose media still regards America with a certain amount of downplay and wariness.  Instead, visitors walk into "Mickey Avenue," a more whimsical "Main Street" of fantasy that kind of looks like a marriage between Toontown and Buena Vista Street.  It even has a replica of the Carthay Circle Tower!  Much like the entry lands of the other Magic Kingdoms, Mickey Avenue primarily features restaurants and shops.  Not even a Disneyland Railroad can be found here, because, again, American connotations.

 A familiar-looking tower rises up at the end of Mickey Avenue.

A familiar-looking tower rises up at the end of Mickey Avenue.

 Mickey Avenue is shorter than Main Street but packed with architectural details.

Mickey Avenue is shorter than Main Street but packed with architectural details.

Gardens of Imagination

Every Magic Kingdom has a Hub--that central element to which Walt Disney imagined all guests could return to reorient themselves.  But in anticipation of massive crowds, and in a nod to Chinese culture, the Imagineers turned the Hub into its own themed land.  The Gardens of Imagination features a couple of rides and a lovely garden and water space.  It is the central viewing grounds for the nighttime spectacular, Ignite the Dream, and also pays tribute to the Chinese zodiac with a Garden of the Twelve Friends.

 There is a Dumbo Flying Elephant ride in the Gardens of Imagination.

There is a Dumbo Flying Elephant ride in the Gardens of Imagination.

 Also a Fantasia Carousel, seen here during Christmas time.

Also a Fantasia Carousel, seen here during Christmas time.

Adventure Isle

At its heart, this is Shanghai's Adventureland.  But with a more aquatic setting, it shares a name with Disneyland Paris' sprawling playground area within its Adventureland.  And similar to its French namesake, one of Adventure Isle's premiere attractions is the Camp Discovery Challenge Trails, a truly grueling series of rope courses that will legitimately force guests to break a sweat. 

The iconic Roaring Mountain also towers over the scene in Adventure Isle.  Home to Roaring Rapids (i.e. "Grizzly River Run, But With A Crocodile Monster"), this E-Ticket attraction takes guests into the jungle and across a fearsome creature.  Along with Soaring Around the World, Adventure Isle calls home two of the most popular and longest queuing attractions in the park.  It's also home to a rousing stage show, Tarzan: Call of the Jungle.

 Entering Adventure Isle.

Entering Adventure Isle.

 Inside the visually impressive queue of Soaring Around the World.

Inside the visually impressive queue of Soaring Around the World.

Treasure Cove

For the first time ever, a Disney park has a land devoted to those swashbuckling buccaneers Disney has made so famous.  Treasure Cove is pretty much a set-up for all things Jack Sparrow, with an indoor stunt show called Eye of the Storm - Captain Jack's Stunt Spectacular and the highly praised Pirates of the Caribbean: Battle for the Sunken Treasure E-Ticket that represents the evolution of dark rides. 

This Caribbean land blends pretty well with Adventure Isle, forming the eastern half of the park.  Its got a similar tropical feel, and its Explorer Canoes even rounds into Adventure Isle waters.

 A shipwreck marks the entrance into Treasure Cove from Fantasyland.

A shipwreck marks the entrance into Treasure Cove from Fantasyland.

 A different twist on a familiar scene inside Pirates of the Caribbean: Battle for the Sunken Treasure.

A different twist on a familiar scene inside Pirates of the Caribbean: Battle for the Sunken Treasure.

 Captain Jack appears early on in the Pirates attraction.

Captain Jack appears early on in the Pirates attraction.

 Another galleon docked at Treasure Cove.

Another galleon docked at Treasure Cove.

Fantasyland

In keeping with every Magic Kingdom Park, Shanghai Disneyland has its own Fantasyland, located behind the Enchanted Storybook Castle.  The castle itself is one for the record books--the largest, tallest castle Disney has ever built, and the first to be devoted to multiple characters (all the princesses) as opposed to just one. 

 The Enchanted Storybook Castle during afternoon golden hour.

The Enchanted Storybook Castle during afternoon golden hour.

Shanghai's Fantasyland has a couple of dark rides in the form of Peter Pan and Winnie the Pooh, and there's also a slow moving boat ride called Voyage to the Crystal Grotto that ends up being rather okay.  Anchoring the attraction line-up is the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train E-Ticket, a near-clone of the version at Walt Disney World.  Those looking for a show can check out Frozen: A Sing-along Celebration.  Just in case you can't let it go.

 Inside the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train.

Inside the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train.

Tomorrowland

Perhaps the most anticipated and spectacular part of Shanghai Disneyland is its Tomorrowland, a truly bold and futuristic iteration full of sweeping curves and a wonderful soundscape.  The crown jewel here is, of course, the TRON: Lightcycle Power Run roller coaster, which launches riders into the Grid.  Also extremely fun is the Buzz Lightyear Planet Rescue attraction, which is completely different from all the Buzz Lightyear rides in the other Disney parks.  Jet Packs--the Shanghai equivalent of the rocket ship ride--rounds out the ride line-up here.

 The sleek signage for Tomorrowland beckons.  Jet Packs take flight in the background.

The sleek signage for Tomorrowland beckons.  Jet Packs take flight in the background.

 Fall foliage and a nice sunset over TRON: Lightcycle Power Run.

Fall foliage and a nice sunset over TRON: Lightcycle Power Run.

At night, though Tomorrowland really comes alive, with an ever-changing spectrum of dancing and pulsing lights.  This is a photographer's dream, and it makes Shanghai Disneyland's Tomorrowland the first real contender to Disneyland Paris' Discoveryland as a worthy and truly timelessly futuristic world. 

 A lightcycle streaks around a turn in Tomorrowland.

A lightcycle streaks around a turn in Tomorrowland.

Aside from the attractions and entertainment within each land, Shanghai Disneyland also has a Mickey's Storybook Express parade that rounds the parade route in an arc, starting at the border of Tomorrowland and Fantasyland and curving around past where Mickey Avenue meets the Gardens of Imagination and up to where Treasure Cove meets Fantasyland.  It's a fun parade, evocative of Disneyland's Soundsational parade, and pretty darn cute in my opinion.

 The Mulan float is among the most impressive in Mickey's Storybook Express.

The Mulan float is among the most impressive in Mickey's Storybook Express.

Disneytown

Just outside of Shanghai Disneyland is Disneytown, the Resort's dining and shopping promenade.  It's tucked on the southwestern side of the park and even has a direct gate into the Tomorrowland side of Mickey Avenue.  Those who have been to Downtown Disney in Anaheim, or Disney Springs in Orlando, or Disney Village in Paris can expect the same experience here.  A huge World of Disney anchors the front, and numerous restaurants of all cuisines run along.  Clothing and jewelry stores also abound, and there is also a home for Broadway-style productions in the form of the Walt Disney Grand Theatre, which is currently playing a Mandarin production of the Broadway hit, The Lion King.  Tickets to these full length showings are sold separately.

 World of Disney anchors the Disneytown complex.

World of Disney anchors the Disneytown complex.

With so much to offer, the Shanghai Disneyland Resort is one of Disney's strongest opening parks to date.  People forget that pretty much all Disney parks--including Disneyland Park itself--opened "incomplete" with significantly less attractions than what they currently offer.  Shanghai Disneyland, though, certainly offers enough to last a full day regardless of crowds.  It is a beautiful park that really brings a level of appreciation when experienced in person, and it is well worth a visit.

One of the concerns I had when I visited was how much uncouth behavior I might visit, especially in light of online reports of mess-making, flower-trampling, and public defection when the park first opened.  Fortunately, that hysteria seems largely overblown, as that sort of behavior was rather minimal during my two days at the park.  Certainly, the Western sense of personal space will likely be violated by locals who stand much too close for most Americans' liking, but even that is not universal.  But I only witnessed the lack of etiquette behavior twice during my time at Shanghai Disney.  Once, a young child appeared to be urinating through wrought iron fencing into a planter bed (or beginning to do so), but his parent quickly rushed over and pulled his pants up.  A second time, an older gentleman flat out spit onto the carpet inside a store in Mickey Avenue.  Other than that, people were fine.  And some were even downright exceedingly polite!

In our subsequent updates, we'll take a look at each themed land and Disneytown in further detail.  Everything here already, though, should provide a pretty good start for anyone looking to make a trip to Disney's newest resort.  Happy travels!

 The castle after closing hours.

The castle after closing hours.

Architect. Photographer. Disney nerd. Haunt enthusiast. Travel bugged. Concert fiend. Asian.