Shanghai Disneyland is Disney's newest park, and their fourth in Asia (two parks in Tokyo, one in Hong Kong). It boasts the largest castle of any Disney park, and also by our estimate is the largest castle park (Animal Kingdom's Kilimanjaro Safari makes it a gigantic park). This post is our review of our time at Shanghai Disneyland. We have a guide if you're interested planning your own trip to Shanghai Disney Resort.
We were quite excited to visit Shanghai Disneyland as part of our trip around the world. It was our third international Disney park, after the two in Paris, and we knew going in that it boasted some impressive unique attractions. Coming off a recent trip to Disneyland Paris, which we heralded for its great detail, we didn't quite know what to expect from Shanghai. And in truth, what we got was a mixed bag of both new things to appreciate and reminders of things that we might not appreciate enough in other parks.
Main Str...Er...Mickey Avenue
The first thing we noticed upon entering Shanghai Disneyland was the friendly, waving cast, something we didn't see at Disneyland Paris. The second thing we noticed was the open sky and short pathway ahead of us. Shanghai Disneyland does not have a Main Street USA.
At first, the absence of Main Street USA wasn't a big deal to us. We were determined to get through some big rides in quick order, so not having a corridor of shops to hustle down was a treat. But when we spent more time exploring the park, the absence of Main Street USA started to loom.
If there's one thing you can do to deepen your understanding of Disney parks, it is to take the Keys to the Kingdom tour at Magic Kingdom. The perspective we were left with has informed how we see every park. It certainly made us appreciate Disneyland Paris, and it made us feel the absence of Main Street USA in Shanghai.
Main Street USA, particularly through its use of forced perspective, really sets up your day in Magic Kingdom. The castle looms large despite being in the distance, and you spend a good amount of time working your way down the street, past waving cast members and bustling guests (and busy Main Street shops!), as the castle somehow continues to grow. Then you reach the hub of Magic Kingdom, where the "Choose Your Own Adventure" begins, with the gateways to the lands surrounding you.
Shanghai Disney is nothing like that. You start in Mickey Avenue, which is inexplicably short, wide, and filled with obstructions of the castle (trees). It reminded us of the sort of things you might find in Mickey's Toontown (Fair). It was also hard to distinguish which storefronts were real and which were fake. The stores on one side are all fake, with the Avenue M Arcade running through them.
The Attractions of Shanghai Disneyland
Once you're through Mickey Avenue you'll be on your way to the great attractions of Shanghai Disneyland. Challenge Trails at Camp Discovery is one of our favorite Disney attractions worldwide. TRON is a great attraction. While we were split somewhat, we both thought Pirates of the Caribbean Battle for the Sunken Treasure was a meritorious sequel to the traditional Pirates rides. While the lineup isn't super deep (we cover most of it in our one-day Shanghai Disneyland itinerary), the number of attractions we wanted to ride multiple times was impressive, as was the number of unique attractions.
The Lands of Shanghai Disneyland
The lands of Shanghai Disneyland are a bit tougher to review. Mickey Avenue sets up two major complaints we had throughout Shanghai Disneyland: size/layout and the somewhat overdone design.
Space in Shanghai Disneyland
Shanghai Disneyland is overly spacious. There is just so much space. We took pictures of lots of empty space. Some of this space is bring put to ostensible use, but some of it has no use currently (though space is always good for adding rides down the road). You can walk a pretty long time in Shanghai Disneyland without seeing an attraction.
Gardens of Imagination, the hub of Shanghai Disneyland, reflects the space problem well. It is a large, semi-open space in front of the castle with a few attractions that could have been placed in Fantasyland. It shouldn't be a land itself, but it's just so darn big maybe they had to give it a name.
The size of Shanghai Disneyland creates another problem. Shanghai Disneyland's Storybook Castle is the largest Disney castle, and yet it is perhaps the least present castle, maybe even less than the small castles of Disneyland and Hong Kong Disneyland. The castle is so far away at times you honestly can't believe how far you'll have to walk to get to it. Combined with the fact that the castle looks similar from all angles, the castle is not a navigational centerpiece when you're exploring, and that's a big loss for a Disney experience.
Details and Design in Shanghai Disneyland
We found Fantasyland to be a highlight of Shanghai Disneyland, despite the immense amount of space and questionable layout. Shanghai Disneyland's Fantasyland is what you'd get if you took Magic Kingdom's new Fantasyland theming and built the entire land out of it. Shanghai accomplished this by moving Dumbo and the Carrousel to a separate "land." However artless that move may be, it allowed Fantasyland to be more magical and less cartoony.
Similarly, Shanghai Disneyland's Tomorrowland is a very modern take on the concept. You're not being taken to a carnival or fantastical interpretation of the future from a novel written in the 19th century, you're transported to a more streamlined future that contrasts a sleek (almost bleak, we admit), smooth ambiance during the day with a bright, colorful, flashy world at night.
Where we ran into difficulty was Adventure Isle, Treasure Cove, and the afore-discussed Mickey Avenue. It's hard to identify why they rubbed us the wrong way, but the best word might be their grandiosity.
There are beautiful spots and beautiful views in Adventure Isle and Treasure Cove. There is also a ton of detail and good stories that hold the worlds together. As individual units, these lands really do excel, and they probably could be counted among our favorite lands.
The problem with these great lands is that they sacrifice intimacy for more, more, and more. Even calling these two lands is a bit of a stretch. It's as if the design team had too many clever ideas for Adventure Isle so they created a spin-off.
The space and design challenges intersect to create a tiring, almost overwhelming experience at times. You find yourself enjoying a nice view, only to see a tiny castle in the background, wondering how you got so far from home and whether you'll ever get back. This is especially true at night, when only Tomorrowland truly shines.
Shanghai Disneyland will be getting a Toy Story Land soon, and we don't really understand why. The weakest part of Shanghai Disneyland was when it was at its most cartoony, rather than magical. This was primarily in Mickey Avenue. But much of the park draws you in with its magic. Toy Story Land won't possibly do this. We understand that while we are childless, Toy Story Land might appeal highly to many kids, but that's no reason to be putting it in every Disney park.
We both rank Shanghai Disneyland above Hong Kong Disneyland, which we found to be more charming but too underwhelming. Shanghai Disneyland feels like the start of something great, and while we'd like to see it grow into it's space, we're worried that the addition of Toy Story Land is a step in the wrong direction.
If you've never been to Disneyland Paris, the details of Shanghai Disneyland may very much impress you. And for everyone, Shanghai Disneyland also offers an impressive lineup of attractions. If you can come at a time when you can walk onto TRON at night (as we did, multiple times), you'll definitely have a magical time.
We think Shanghai Disneyland is worth experiencing, especially if you can add some of Asia (Shanghai, Hong Kong, Seoul, especially) to your trip. We'd love to hear what you think!