Shanghai Disneyland - Language, Money, and Culture

If you're planning a trip to Shanghai Disneyland, you might be a bit worried about the details. But the best way to minimize culture shock is to prepare for it. Traveling to a new continent, especially one other than Europe or Australia, for an American can be intimidating. 

Bring your chopstick skills to Shanghai Disney Resort (or just as for a fork)!

Bring your chopstick skills to Shanghai Disney Resort (or just as for a fork)!

While Disney does its best to make things easy on its guests, there will be some things to adjust to when you arrive in Shanghai. Here are the things you need to know about language and culture in Shanghai Disney Resort.

There Is Little English Spoken at Shanghai Disney Resort (But That's Okay)

Unlike Disneyland Paris and Hong Kong Disneyland, where everyone speaks English, the language is rare in Shanghai Disneyland (and Tokyo Disney Resort). You'll be able to get things done, but you may have to wait for the appropriate cast member to be found. A typical interaction went like this:

Me: Hi, we checked in earlier and since it's after 3PM we wanted to see if our room was ready.
Me: We checked in…need to check in?
CM: Oh! Check in! This way!

From our opinion, though, this was more than offset by the friendliness of the Cast Members. 

Signs at Shanghai Disneyland were all in both Mandarin and English

Signs at Shanghai Disneyland were all in both Mandarin and English

This was evident in another situation, where we left a bag behind (containing phones and passports, YIKES). The first cast member we found cleaning tables knew no English:

Me: Did you see a bag? (with pantomiming)
CM: See? Bag?
Me: (Smiling) Yea this isn't gonna work
CM: (Laughs)

But the second cast member immediately recognized us (perks of being a westerner) and even though she couldn't communicate with us beyond pantomiming about the bag, took us over to the supervisor who retrieved the bag from the back for us.

Most cast members knew very basic english at least: "Hello" "Bye Bye" "Thank you" and occasionally "Have a Magical time." We didn't encounter a Cast Member who was fluent in either British or American English, but they had something resembling fluency in that they spoke clearly and smoothly, just with a few odd choices of words.

What mattered to us was that cast members were always trying to help, and they understood that most foreigners would speak nothing of the language. 

Signs were in English, menus were in English (with pictures). We made an effort to use two Chinese phrases, "Xie Xie" for "Thank you" and "Ni Hao" for "Hello." "Xie Xie" is quite difficult to pronounce properly (we lack the muscle memory to repeat it after we learn it), but we nailed it a few times and got smiles/laughs a few other times. It sounds very roughly like "she she". You'll hear locals use it, and it will appear in ride announcements.

With a few minor exceptions, the only english we heard on rides was as part of the safety announcements. Everything else was solely in Mandarin. This didn't impact our experience much (except insofar as we enjoy making snarky comments to one another about cheesy dialogue). I love discussing the plots of the rides, but Disney rides tend to be pretty self-explanatory.

Guest Behavior Was Above Average at Shanghai Disneyland

Everyone wants to read about guest behavior at Shanghai Disneyland because of salacious media reports about how bad things were in the opening days. Well, we did not have that experience at all. We were prepared for pretty much anything when we arrived in Shanghai Disneyland. We knew the talk of it resembling something of a disaster zone was way overblown, but we also knew from trusted sources that we could expect to see a few odd things here and there.

Some Quirky Behaviors from Shanghai Disneyland

We'll start with the things we saw in Shanghai Disneyland that were not typical in the western parks, but PLEASE KEEP READING, because we finish with how great guest behavior was overall.

In total, we saw one "bathroom-type" incident—a child peeing through the rails into the bushes between Adventure Isle and Imagination Gardens. Was this something you're likely to see in an American theme park? No. Have I see much worse bathroom-type incidents both in and outside the US? Yes.

The other cultural difference you might consider negative that we wanted to highlight was the presence of scalpers. There will be scalpers in line with you outside security at Shanghai Disneyland. While we didn't see anyone selling Shanghai Disneyland Fastpass tickets inside the park (which we'd heard was a thing) we saw plenty of people selling (purported) admission and VIP access tickets (presumably with Fastpass) in the security line.

These people also typically were with someone selling merchandise, and once we saw someone selling Minnie ears inside the park after one of the shows. As you can imagine, since they're trying to keep a low profile these people are not aggressive salespeople at all.

So, one peeing kid, two scalpers in line with us, and one guy selling merchandise in the park. That was our experience of negative incidents in two days at Shanghai Disneyland.

The Great Behavior at Shanghai Disneyland

Here, though, are the things we found much more notable about the behavior of the guests at Shanghai Disneyland:

  1. We didn't see a single person smoking outside the designated area. In Disneyland Paris, people smoked everywhere with no regard for the designated smoking areas.
  2. Children were not constantly running into us in line. In the US, Disneyland Paris, and Hong Kong Disneyland we're used to children just freewheeling around their spot in line, leaning against and bumping into whatever comes their way, with parents occasionally intervening. This didn't happen to us once in Shanghai Disneyland.
  3. There was no more or less pushing in line than at other Disney parks. There was also no more or less running at rope drop than in other Disney parks.
  4. The guests respected the parade line with minimal assistance, while at western parks Cast Members are constantly herding people and telling them to stop running across

Overall, we both agreed that our experience with guest culture at Shanghai Disneyland was much better than our experience in Disneyland Paris, Hong Kong Disneyland, or our average experience in the US.

Bathrooms at Shanghai Disneyland

Is is common in much of Asia to use the bathroom by squatting over a hole rather than sitting on a seat. 

Don't worry if the first toilet you see is just a hole! There are Western toilets as well!

Don't worry if the first toilet you see is just a hole! There are Western toilets as well!

Our hotel room had a Western toilet, and the bathrooms we used in the hotel only had western toilets. At the park, the toilets were split evenly between the styles. For the men, there were two distinct sets of stall doors. For the women, it was usually a matter of going left or right when you entered.

Food and Drink at Shanghai Disneyland

As non-foodie vegetarians, we're not the best to comment on food. What we noticed about Shanghai Disney was that the food appeared to be at least a step above Disneyland Paris fare. While it wasn't quite the legendary food of Tokyo Disney Resort, it was good.

There was a mix of Chinese, other Asian, and western cuisine, with the latter being most rare. The snack options were quite great. We at a lot of ice cream bars and baked goods in our two days at the park. 

Like the snacks, the drinks at Shanghai Disneyland are on-point. There were lots of good dessert-style drinks, and there were specialty drinks in each land. We didn't see any alcohol in the park, though it's possible there was some at the table service restaurants we didn't try.

Finally, the coffee culture was minimal. Remy's Patisserie had a machine that spit out espresso, American coffee, and other coffee-based beverages, but we were not impressed with either the American coffee or espresso. There are some whimsical coffee beverages available (both hot and iced). We'd suggest getting one of these rather than plain espresso or American coffee.

As to food and drink culture, we'll point out four final things:

  1. They expect you to order the combo. If you're not the type to order a combo, say "No combo." When we would order a la carte, they would immediately ask which drink we wanted, and phrases like "just the food" did not cut it. "No combo" is the way to go.
  2. If you order vegetarian options, they will be a bit confused and clarify that you really want that strange option with no meat. "This has no meat! You want this?"
  3. When you order a beer (at the hotel bar), they will "warn" you if it is a dark beer. "Guinness is a dark beer, sir, is that okay?"
  4. Most Asian meals were served with both chopsticks and a spoon, and it seemed like forks were readily available.

Money and Credit Cards at Shanghai Disneyland

We're generally big fans of the Schwab debit card, which has no ATM fees and no foreign transaction fees, and which refunds all the ATM fees charged to you by ATMs. It's the perfect way to get cash overseas...mostly.

China was one of the countries that gave us the most trouble with our debit card. We only had about a 50% success rate getting cash. Luckily, we were able to get cash at the ATMs at Shanghai Disney Resort. We weren't able to get any at the airport, though, forcing us to exchange at awful rates.

China is largely a cash country for westerners because most places only accept UnionPay, a Chinese bankcard. The good news, though, is that Visa and Mastercard are commonly accepted across Shanghai Disney Resort. The biggest exception to this was food carts. While a few seemed like maybe they could take card, we were told "No" twice when we tried to use them, so we stuck to cash.

Chinese currency

Chinese currency

When paying with a card as an American overseas, you'll be on a "chip and signature" system. In Disneyland Paris, this was readily understood by all cast members. In Shanghai Disney Resort, we had one cast member attempt to get a PIN from us. She seemed at bit new, though. We wound up paying with cash rather than trying to resolve the confusion.

If you're planning a trip to Shanghai Disney Resort, we would suggest looking into the rates and fees for getting Chinese Yuan before you leave from your bank and local currency exchanges. Also, always bring USD with you when you travel. We had to exchange some for Yuan at the airport (nothing we would ever advise, but we were in a rush to get to Disney and needed cash for the cab).

Internet and VPN at Shanghai Disney Resort

It seems like every few months there's some story in the news about the Chinese "firewall." If you haven't heard, China restricts access to certain websites, like Google and Facebook. This might not sounds like a big deal, until you land in China and realize that you can't use Google (the default search engine on your iPhone), Google Maps, Google Hangouts, Google Voice, or even Google Translate (online). Then you realize how big a deal it is.

Happily, there are ways around this. VPN software provides you with a sort of pipeline to the outside world, wherever you're traveling. VPNs also offer an extra layer of security around your internet activity (which is why they can act as a pipeline—no one can see what you're really doing). Basically, all your computer does is send encrypted data to one server, which then goes into the intern, gets you what you asked for, and sends it back to you.

Obviously VPNs pose a problem for China's "firewall." So China has started to identify the servers people use to connect to VPNs, and they restrict access to those servers. This is all to say you need to check this post against more current sources. Especially on the legal end. While it is not currently a crime to use a VPN in China, they may move toward that.

For our trip, we used a mix of VPNs. We had an existing subscription to IPVanish, which we read would not work simply in China. It actually worked perfectly on one of our phones, but it did not work on our computers. 

Luckily, we purchased ExpressVPN before arriving. ExpressVPN has a 30-day trial period during which you are entitled to a refund. We used ExpressVPN on our phones and found it worked fine, but not as well as IPVanish. It also worked on our computers (though we had to do a bit of troubleshooting). At this moment, we would recommend using IPVanish if you're not bringing a computer, or ExpressVPN if you are. Or, get trials of both (IPVanish is only 7 days) during your trip. Just make sure to download the apps before you arrive in China.

Closing Thoughts

The truth is, Disney does a great job of keeping some measure of uniformity in experiences across their parks. It's tough to say how someone who isn't well-traveled would react, but there's just nothing to worry about. Shanghai Disneyland is a magical place. With a little prep work, you'll be more than ready for your trip to Shanghai Disneyland!