8 Reasons to Journey to Shanghai Disneyland
By Dale King and Julia Hebert
Known as “New York on steroids,” Shanghai, China, is immense and modern, a vastly populated city that exudes Chinese history and culture while taking a cue from the West. Its roots trace back to a time when Mainland China was philosophically closer to Mao than Mickey Mouse. But the community of more than 24 million that stretches from the Yangtze River to the East China Sea has grown and matured enough to accomodate both.
Shanghai now boasts a Disney amusement park of its own. And if the home city is figuratively fueled by steroids, then Shanghai Disneyland must certainly run on Red Bull. Opened on in June 2016, the Disney-themed showplace, built on nearly 1,000 acres of formerly mucky marshland, has already counted several million visitors to its culturally specific attractions, many unseen at other parks in Disneydom.
Potential travelers who’d like to catch a Broadway-style, Mandarin-language version of The Lion King or travel on a ship through a stalactite-strewn pirate lair, will have to bypass the Disney parks in Orlando and Anaheim for a trip halfway ‘round the world to Shanghai Disneyland. Mickey, Minnie and Goofy-ites have already found the journey worthwhile.
The Quest to Build in Asia
Shanghai Disneyland cost $5.5 billion and took five years to build. Walt Disney Company Chairman/CEO Bob Iger said it surpassed original estimates because of changes and expansions made late in the construction phase. (And, more than 1,200 graves had to be relocated to make way for the new park.)
Iger calls the park “authentically Disney, distinctly Chinese.” He explained: “We wanted to act like we were respectful, invited guests in China. One way was to infuse this place with features of the familiar, with elements of Chinese culture. Not only can Chinese visitors relate to it, but they can be proud of it and can have a sense of ownership.”
The resort’s two onsite hostelries, the Art Nouveau-inspired Shanghai Disneyland Hotel and Pixar-themed Toy Story Hotel, are just a water taxi ride away from the park gates. Slippers and tea kettles with loose-leaf tea are among the hotels’ in-room amenities, and guests are welcomed to play Chinese board games and practice calligraphy during their stay.
The Enchanted Storybook Castle houses a restaurant and two attractions. One, the walk-through ‘Once Upon a Time Adventure,’ follows the story of Snow White and the ‘Magic Mirror,’ which speaks Chinese. The other is a boat ride, ‘Voyage to the Crystal Grotto,’ passing islands and traversing caverns under the castle.
Features of the new Shanghai Disneyland that make it unique include:
1) Of the six Disney parks, Shanghai’s edition is second in size only to Walt Disney World Resort in Florida, which spans 25,000 acres.
2) Main Street USA, featured at the other five Disney parks, is not in Shanghai. Instead, an entertainment district called “Disneytown” provides shopping and dining venues, including retailers specific to China.
3) Star Wars is not located just in a galaxy far, far away, but right at Shanghai Disneyland. Luke, Leia, Kylo Ren and all of their Sith and Jedi buddies are available for meet-and-greets. Visitors can also view film props and memorabilia.
4) Shanghai Disneyland was built around a gold and blue castle – the biggest ever constructed at a Disney park, one resplendent with balustrades, pennants, golden spires and a Renaissance-style grand entrance. The crown jewel of the Walt-ish monarchy, “The Enchanted Storybook Castle” is the only royal residence that celebrates each princess regaled in the celluloid frames of Disney lore.
5) Treasure Cove and the super-tech Pirates of the Caribbean: Battle for the Sunken Treasure attraction, only in Shanghai, where riders in a strange ship can view a skeleton transform into a robotic Jack Sparrow. The boat takes a computer-animated trip across the ocean floor. The background is heavy with black lights and skeletons in pirate garb.
6) A Tron-themed roller coaster races up and down on arched rails. The adventure places riders on fancy motorcycles with lighted wheels that zip through blue-black tunnels and under curving canopies at warp-like speeds.
7) Nearby, you can get a magical makeover at a place called the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique.
8) Guests can purchase a beverage in a Rapunzel-themed souvenir goblet or soft drink in a standard cup. Roast duck pizzas are shaped like Mickey Mouse. Shanghai is a popular tourist destination renowned for its historical landmarks, such as The Bund, City God Temple, Yu Garden, the extensive Lujiazui skyline, skyscrapers and major museums. CEO Iger envisions Shanghai Disney becoming a tourist landmark of its own. On opening day, he shared with the anticipatory crowd a greeting like the one Walt Disney delivered when Disneyland was inaugurated in 1955: “To all who come to this happy place, welcome.”