Saturday, 15 July 2017

Shanghai Disneyland on a nearly SOLD OUT day!

Shanghai Disneyland is Disney's newest theme park, located in the most populous country in the world - China. As such, expect the theme park to be crowded on most days. However, what happens at Shanghai Disneyland on the first week of China's school holidays? I had the "privilege" of experiencing it for myself.

About the Park

Shanghai Disneyland opened in June 2016 and, in half just a year, became one of the top 10 theme parks in Asia in terms of attendance. The attractions are divided into 4 main areas: Adventure Isle, Treasure Cove, Fantasyland and Tomorrowland. Unlike existing "Disneyland parks", the lands are ordered in reverse with Tomorrowland on the left side.

To get to the park, the easiest way is to take the Shanghai Metro line 11 to Disney Resort station. On the metro, you will hear the announcement reminding you to buy a return ticket before entering Disneyland. HEED THAT ADVICE! Buying metro tickets after fireworks is a nightmare! 

[NOTE]: Even though the park closes at 10pm, you may want to leave slightly earlier as you may miss your connecting trains. If you take the last 10.25/10.30pm train from Disney, you WILL miss your transfer to many other lines.

Other than the theme park, Shanghai Disney Resort also has 2 hotels. The larger Shanghai Disneyland Hotel can be accessed by a ferry across the lake while the Toy Story Hotel is accessed via a shuttle bus. Only hotel guests are allowed to use these transport options and staff WILL check for your room keys/passes.

Okay, now at the entrance. The entrance is poorly designed to cope with peak day crowds. The queues are not clearly marked and there are ample opportunities for jump queuing. Illegal hawkers walk around selling "express passes" for RMB 50-100 per person. Worse still, there are no shelters, fans or shade at the gate so I stood in the searing heat for over an hour.

[NOTE]: Bring an identity card/passport as Shanghai Disneyland will only allow you to enter after they verify your identity at the gate

My Experience

Before I go on to describe the individual theme lands, let me give you a brief summary of what I did. Basically, as a nearly sold out day, every ride in Shanghai Disneyland has over 1 hour waits, and the average wait in the afternoon was 3 hours. For me, I simply skipped all meals and rushed from 1 attraction to another throughout the day. But I did not actually plan my day beforehand. Here is what I did and the time which I queued:

  • Entrance Queue: 0940-1050 (70mins)
  • Pirates of the Caribbean: 1100-1105 (5mins, Single Rider)
  • Peter Pan: 1145-1245 (60mins)
  • Voyage to Crystal Grotto: 1245-1415 (90mins, got technical fault)
  • Tarzan - Call of the Jungle: 1455-1530 (35mins)
  • Jack Sparrow Stunt: 1605-1630 (25mins)
  • Pirates of the Caribbean: 1705-1735 (30mins, Single Rider)
  • Frozen Sing Along: 1750-1830 (40mins)
  • Soarin: 1855-2030 (95mins)
  • Seven Drawfs Mine Train: 2055-2115 (20mins, after fireworks)
  • Tron Lightcycles: 2115-2145 (30mins, after fireworks, rode 2 more times afterwards)
As you can see, the queues for the shows are generally shorter than for the rides. This is because the staff will close the queue the moment they think there are enough people in the queue to fill up the entire theater. For the Tarzan and Frozen shows, I literally showed up before they opened the queue for the next batch of audience. Also, on the day I went, there was technical fault on the Voyage of the Crystal Grotto Ride and Tron Lightcycles ride in the afternoon.

Mickey Avenue

Mickey Avenue is the equivalent of Main Street USA in other Disneyland Parks. The design is turn of the 20th century Victorian architecture, which is the same as the other main streets. Most guests simply walk past this area straight into the attractions at the other areas.

Immediately behind Mickey Avenue is Gardens of Imagination. The carousel and dumbo rides are located here and NOT in Fantasyland. Also, the castle at Shanghai Disneyland is "the largest castle of them all" and features a couple of walk-through attractions.

The Castle at Shanghai Disneyland looks big from all directions!

Inside the castle. The staircase behind the windows is actually part of the "Once upon a time" attraction

Treasure Cove

Let's start off with my favourite themed land: Treasure Cove. This area is themed to old 18th century pirates with rustic architecture, pirate ships and lots of flags. I am very impressed by the level of realism - even the entrance of the toilet is like an old marketplace toilet! There are also a couple of ships which are adopted as playgrounds, but I think they are too packed to really enjoy playing in.

The canoe attraction really helps add some life to the otherwise "dead" cove. But I find that ride a waste of time.
Yep! Thats the toilet. And don't worry, the inside of the toilet is the modern type and not the 18th century style.

Pirates of the Caribbean - Battle of the Sunken Treasure

However, the real reason why I love Treasure Cove is its flagship attraction: Pirates of the Caribbean - The Battle for the Sunken Treasure. This is an ultra immersive boat ride that brings you on an expedition to recover Davy Jones treasure. You will be in the middle of an age-of-sail naval battle and experience a water coaster drop BACKWARDS. I think its the best non roller coaster attraction I ever experienced, surpassing Transformers: The Ride at Universal Studios Singapore.

[NOTE]: With 30 person boats, the capacity of this attraction is very high. Real queue duration did not exceed 2 hours throughout the entire day. However, the 5min single rider line was really a 1 off good luck.

Even the queue line is impeccably themed.

Eye of the Storm - Captain Jack's Stunt Spectacular

Also at Treasure Cove is the Captain Jack's Stunt Spectacular. It is a theater style stunt show with some fighting scenes. Also, you will get shot by cannons and hit by a tornado! Although the show featured some interesting scenes like i-fly, I think too much time is spent on the pre-show and pointless dialogue.

[warning]: The cannon and tornado scenes involve very intense smoke and strobe light effects.

Wasting time on the most pointless pre-show I experienced at Disney so far

Strapping in for some aerial stunts

The I-fly scene is quite cool, but not very good for taking photos...


Adventure Isle

Adventure Isle is Shanghai Disneylands' version of Adventureland. It adopts a more "Disneysea" style landscaping and is themed to a tropical island, probably the Polynesian Islands of the South Pacific. There, a huge volcano towers of the entire island, and visitors can brave the volcano to experience a series of interactive attractions at camp discovery.

Camp Discovery

The Challenge Trails attraction is quite interesting and I think a first for Disney. It is height elements course similar to the ones you find at adventure camps and beach resorts. I think it is a good contrast to the typical Disney attraction and fits the adventure theme very well. Maybe they can consider adding a zipline coaster too?

Yes! Even the locker also have to queue! Anyways, Camp Discovery is 1 of only 2 attractions where you need to put all belongings in lockers.

Following my no wet ride policy, raging rapids is the only major ride that I missed.

Soarin over the Horizon

The supposed highlight of Adventure Isle is Soarin Over the Horizon. Fastpass for this ride ended before I even enter the park, and the queue was at least 2 hours long until after 7.30pm. Basically, you get to experience hang gliding over some major landmarks around the world. Although it is quite a nice feeling, I felt the attraction did not live up to its hype. Also, the scenery is very distorted if you sit on the last row corner seats, which I did. Music should be louder and they should add an additional theater to cope with the demand.

OMG! The queue spilled to the outside.

Some handphone interactive games and quizzes are available in the "Observatory" while you are queuing. Only the kids seems entertained by this, though.

Wow! We are flying!

Tarzan - Call of the Jungle

However, I think the real gem of Adventure Isle is the show Tarzan - Call of the Jungle. This is large theater show that includes acrobatics and speechless drama. The combination of meaningful story, large scale sets and performer talent makes it the best show at Shanghai Disneyland. It is on the same scale as the Disney on Ice musicals which people pay SGD100+ to watch (I paid SGD96 for Shanghai Disneyland ticket FYI). Also, don't you think the stunt chimps are cute!!???

There are also some aerial scenes but I just cannot get a good photo. Sorry guys!


Fantasyland in Shanghai Disneyland is quite similar to the Fantasyland Expansion at Magic Kingdom. There are a lot more trees and small cottage like buildings instead of the girlish boardwalk design you find at Tokyo and Hong Kong Disneyland. Also, since the Dumbo and Carousel are shifted to Gardens of Imagination, almost all attractions at Fantasyland are large attractions.

Before entering fantasyland, I checked out the Fastpass counter and didn't like what I saw.

I called this one a miss because it is very similar to the one at Hong Kong Disneyland, which I took 3 times already

Peter Pan's Flight

The first attraction I experienced here is Peter Pan's flight. Just like Pirates of the Caribbean, this is an upgraded version of the original Peter Pan ride at Disneyland. I really like the opening scene where the ride uses buildings of decreasing scale to give the illusion you are flying higher and higher WITHOUT changing scenes. However, I think this ride is too short.

Voyage to the Crystal Grotto

This boat ride is like a cheapskate Jungle Cruise. Basically, you will get to see a series of scenes from different Disney movies. There is no story and no coherence in the ride. To add salt to the wound, the ride broke down when I was queuing for it so the 50 minute wait became 90 minutes - just 5 minutes short of Soarin! SKIP!

Frozen - a Sing Along Celebrations

Capitalising on the enormous success of the movie Frozen, Shanghai Disneyland has an entire theatre show dedicated to Frozen. This is no conventional theatre. Instead, guests are encouraged to sing along and there are lyrics projected on the screen throughout the entire show. Opps, I forgot to mention: all lyrics are in Chinese! Yes, that includes 随他吧 (Let it Go)!

Seven Dwarfs' Mine Train

Finally a roller coaster! Seven drawfs mine train is a Vekoma mine train roller coaster with a twist - the cars can swing from side to side. You get to explore the mines of the dwarfs and also experience a few small drops and turns. The swinging was surprisingly intense but the ride as a whole was nothing impressive. Instead, I was impressed by the amount of screaming on this ride given the degree of ... mildness!

The ride cars are actually buckets that can swing side to side.


Tomorrowland at Shanghai Disneyland is closer to Epcot's Futureworld rather than the classic version which is has a more retro architecture. While the building is impressive, I think this area has a rather weak attraction lineup and many museums in China now have buildings that are just as impressive as the tomorrowland buildings. So, should we rename this place as "Todayland"?

There is a clubbing style show at Pepsi-E Stage. Sorry guys but I don't like to drink Pepsi.

Tron Lightcycles Power Run

The most intense ride at Shanghai Disneyland is Tron Lightcycles Power Run. It is a motorcycle style roller coaster that simulates a race through the digital world of Tron. The ride has a very good pace and well balanced G Forces, and the capacity is good with 2 loading platforms. Also, the launch from 0-96kph is quite intense. In fact, I only learnt after the visit that this ride is the faster roller coaster in all Disney theme parks.

This is the other attraction where you need to put your bags in the lockers

Tron Realm - Chervolet Digital Challenge

Basically, a glorified arcade. There are only a few machines and you have to wait to play. At least you don't have to pay extra to play unlike SOME theme parks. A lot of people simple go inside to escape the 35 degree CELSIUS summer heat.


The Shanghai Disneyland nightly fireworks show is called Ignite the Dream. It is a 19 minute show that combines fireworks and a musical fountain, but the musical fountain is only visible to the 500 or so people at the front podium. The fireworks is considered sparse since most of the show comprises of projections on the castle and musical fountain. Also, music is only played in the Gardens of Imagination section so you cannot secure views at other parts of the park. 

FYI: Thanks to the excessively long queue at Soarin, I was only able to sprint out and catch the last 3 minutes of the show!

Only the 500 or so lucky people in this front section can really see the musical fountain.

You can barely see the musical fountain though the street lamps and speaker stands

 The Verdict

Shanghai Disneyland is amazing. It has an impressive lineup of signature attractions and many bold new ideas for secondary attractions, such as the obstacle course. In particular, I was amazed by the Pirates of the Caribbean ride and the Tarzan show. Also, there were many sweet little touches by the staff such as the "toilet swap" system for guests in queue who want to go to the toilet and reminders about missing the last train.

However, as a theme park, I did not enjoy the experience. For one, there is too much empty land and unnecessary walking. Also, there are very little provisions made by the park to help guests cope with the summer heat. Moreover, there are too many security guards and they kind of spoil the magic of the place. (dont get me wrong, the security guards are very friendly and helpful just wished they were in costumes). 

Finally, the queues are not designed to cope with the rigours imposed by the Chinese clientele. The queues are so wide that it is very easy for 1 person in a family to jump queue, then someone else behind will claim that they are from the same family and want to move forward as well. Honestly, I do not blame the guests for such behavior because many of them have never been to a theme park before and an experience at Disney is considered once in a lifetime. However, I think a well designed queue system will help to reduce such occurrences. 

Basically, Shanghai Disneyland Park is a theme park with top of the line attractions but poor planning and neglect of principles espoused by Disney University. The problems of poor park layout, lack of comfort in queues and inappropriate design to cope with guest behavior will really test your nerve. However, if you have the patience, tolerance and forgiveness to survive through all this, you will be rewarded with the best experiences (not some, but THE BEST experiences) that the theme park industry has to offer.

  • Roller Coasters: ☆☆☆
  • Thrill Rides: ☆
  • Shows: ☆☆☆☆☆ + ☆
  • Family Rides: ☆☆☆☆☆
  • Theming: ☆☆☆☆☆ + ☆
  • Operations: ☆☆☆☆
  • Overall: ☆☆☆☆☆

Theme Parks in China - Trust me, they are good!