In 2009, Disney announced construction of a new resort in Shanghai. I was excited at the prospect of a new Disney theme park and I practically took it for granted that- barring any extraordinary circumstances- I'd be journeying there during the park's first year or so of operation. Anyone who knows me is aware that I'm a huge Disney parks geek and I've managed to visit the other 5 resorts multiple times. But I couldn't make any plans until I found out when the new park would open. In early 2016, a June grand opening was announced and I started to firm up plans for a fall trip. I wanted to wait until the park had been open a few months and the opening hype had hopefully waned.
My initial plan (back when Shanghai Disneyland was first announced) had been to combine a trip to Shanghai with other areas of China that I still want to visit. However, in 2016, China expanded the existing Visa free transit program so that you could enter the country without needing to get a Visa if you stayed for a maximum of a 144 hour (6 days) and remained within a single metropolitan area. An additional requirement was the need to fly in from a different country than where you headed on your onward flight (even if either of those was a short layover, it would count). I remember how much of a pain it had been to mail out my passport for my Visa in 2010 (mainly because I don't like not having my passport; the service I used was very convenient and reliable) so I decided that for this trip, I'd limit my focus on Shanghai... with a huge emphasis on the new Disney resort. If my previous travel history to Disney parks is any indication, I figured I'd have future opportunities to see more of Shanghai and of China.
As I was formulating my plans, I decided I'd like to make a quick stop in Hong Kong; I was due to return to Hong Kong Disneyland since it had been 3 years from my last trip. Unique to HK Disney, Mystic Manor is one of the all time great Disney attractions and I hadn't ridden it nearly enough on my last trip. I had a few other ideas as well.
I would never have predicted that Japan would end up on this itinerary after having just visited that country in 2015. However, I found myself with a few days to fill and I can't pass up an excuse to travel to my favorite country, even if it's just for a short visit. Plus, I'd really been wanting to see the Christmas Event at Tokyo Disneyland since I've visited during most of their other seasonal holiday events and they've all been very well executed. I make it a rule never to go to Japan without at least seeing something new so I decided I wanted to spend a couple days in Osaka. I've been curious to visit there but it just hadn't worked into my plans on previous trips; I don't think it counts that I'd ridden the city's subway to get to Universal Japan last summer. Tokyo is a quick train ride from Shin-Osaka station so it seemed like an easy and convenient place to spend a couple of days enjoying being in Japan.
I've never forgotten how, upon my arrival in Tokyo's Narita Airport in 2012, I lusted after the Hello Kitty decorated jet that I saw parked at the adjacent gate. When I later discovered that even the interior was themed to Hello Kitty, I knew that someday I'd need to ride such an aircraft. So, for this trip, I pretty much decided that I was willing to do whatever it took to finally make that dream into a reality. Fortunately, the pieces all fell into place pretty easily. And since I didn't want to hustle to make a connection before or after a super long flight, I decided to frame my trip with a couple of overnight stays in Taipei, the hub for Eva Airlines. As a bonus, I had a friend who'd been teaching English in Taiwan and I was hoping to have a chance to meet up with her- that would definitely be a treat and it would break the monotony of solo travel.
When I was working out my air plans, I happened to see an ad on the Eva Airlines website for an online promotion for a free 1 night stay in Taiwan which included hotel, a tour, and some food coupons that I probably wouldn't use. It wasn't at a hotel that I'd normally choose, but it seemed convenient enough. Free is never the wrong price! So I went through the process of registering for the promo and securing my booking. (the free hotel was yet another reason why it made sense to stay over in Taipei). I booked the hotel and tour for my initial arrival in Taipei, since on my way home I'd be arriving in Taipei late in the day and leaving the crack of dawn the next morning. Or so I thought. A couple weeks before leaving, I received an email that my original flight home was canceled and I'd now be landing in the US at around 9pm instead of 9am. Taipei is probably the last city on my itinerary where I'd want to spend extra time, but (once I got the approval from work to miss an extra day), I figured I'd make the best of it. There are obviously worse places to spend a day.
As the months passed, I booked my hotels and kept a running list of ideas for each city. I also grew more and more off the charts excited and giddy! This journey, the Hello Kittiest and Disneyest one I've ever taken, is one of the itineraries that is the most me. I mean, obviously I am planning to do more than just Disney and Hello Kitty- but they are motifs that will recur throughout my journey. Overall, the trip will be relatively light on Important Sites and focused more on just enjoying myself. After a spring trip to pyramids and jungles, and an early fall dealing with my mom's minor health challenges, I couldn't think of any better way to spend a couple weeks off work than setting my inner child free to play in my favorite region of the world.
In the days preceding my trip, I was almost afraid to believe that it was actually going to happen. There were so many exciting adventures in store, dreams come true... too amazing to be real. Plus, I had a lot going on at work and I really needed to stay focused. But I finally let myself feel the impending joy during my last morning at work. As I drove on the turnpike, the happy music swirling in my head alternated between "Compass of my Heart" (Sindbad ride at Tokyo Disneysea) and "At Last" (the musical Bright Star). When a fix I'd been working on at the office actually worked, I felt relieved of a huge weight. I was on the verge of 2 weeks of kawaii adventures through my favorite corner of the world... free of any heavy responsibilites.
I left work a little bit early and, because I'd planned my pre-travel week out better than I had in April, I actually had some time to relax after showering and finishing my blog intro. No web host issues this trip! At around 8pm Brian came over and I completed my preparations by kissing each of my Furricanes on the way out the door.
We made a quick stop at Wawa where I picked up a toasted bagel with pumpkin cream cheese, one of my favorites. And then it was off to JFK airport! (I may have dramatically proclaimed how much I already missed the Furricanes several times during the ride.) I arrived at the airport almost 3hours before my 1:20am flight.
I was pleased to see that my Eva airlines checkin experience would be nothing like the cluster of my April experience with Copa at around the same time of a late Friday evening. For one thing, I immediately spotted clearly marked queue area for online checkin. There was no one in front of me which was awesome. I was content to wait a bit but the gentleman who originally told me to please wait ultimately called me over to his counter. In a flash, I had a boarding pass and bag claim tags!
The TSA employees were low key yelling as they herded people into a moderate security line. I had plenty of time, and didn't let their attitude get me down. Although TSA Pre-check is not valid for Eva Air, I nonetheless ended up in the queue which didn't require taking off shoes or placing laptops in a separate bin. Still, the people in front of me were retrieving bins from the next line to use for emptying their stuff. The agent in my line was quite irked by this behavior, although he was a bit more mellow than his coworkers had been.
I'd expected the terminal to be quiet because that had been my experience with Copa in April. However, I found quite the opposite! All the counter service food areas were mobbed, and there were a lot of people around in general. I walked a bit and nostalgically found the gate area that had been used for my flight to Japan the previous year. Nearby was a food stand that barely had a queue so I bought emergency M&M's, a Milky Way dark and a bottle of water. (I was so thirsty!) The service was painfully slow, so I might have done just as well at one of the kiosks that had a long line. On the way back to my gate, I smiled as I saw a display of Hello Kitty items in one of the stores I entered.
My gate was extremely crowded but I spotted a vacant seat... just in time to see someone place their bag on it. Fortunately, they saw me and thankfully took it off so I could sit there. Most of the other seats were occupied with people, many of whom were asleep. A few were occupied by luggage.
From my seat, I could hear that an overhead TV was tuned to CNN although I couldn't see it. Ugh, I wanted it to go away! Like most Americans who were paying attention, I'd been oversaturated with ugly political news and couldn't wait to be separated from the 2016 US Presidential election by half a world.
As time passed, the terminal quieted down a bit and some stores closed. I was really tired but I didn't even try to fall asleep... although I was a bit jealous of those who had. I mentally cheered when I spotted gate agents and, later, flight attendants. When it finally got to be very close to boarding time, I went to the bathroom. I was shocked that there was no toilet paper; maybe a certain presidential candidate had been correct in stating that US airports are 3rd world.
When I got out of the bathroom, I saw that people had already started to get in line ahead of the boarding announcements. (actually I'd noticed this beforehand but I didn't want to skip the bathroom trip) I believe the lines were done by boarding zone. I got at the end of a decent sized line which eventually stretched quite a bit behind me.
Finally, I was able to board and settle in for a nice long 16 hour flight to Taipei. Some people dread long hauls... but I sorta enjoy them and find that anything longer than 6-7 hours all feels roughly the same to me- it's like I'm suspended in a zen unreality atop the clouds, where time has no meaning. Any overnight flights shorter than 8 hours feel a bit rushed and impossible to get even a modest amount of sleep.
I didn't like the Eva air seat quite as much as my favorite, Cathay, but the comfort and service were definitely better than North American carriers. It would have been nice to have an empty middle seat next to me and I was hopeful at one point when the gentleman seated there got up with his stuff. But I think he just ended up swapping with his wife. Oh, well.
When the flight attendants came around asking for our choice for the main meal, I asked for the chicken. I kept waiting and started to wonder if "chicken" was actually an obscure Chinese way of saying "No food for you!" But it was eventually delivered- and it came with a pretty decent smoked salmon appetizer. They promised me they'd come back with a roll but that actually never happened. I reminded myself of the virtues of patience and humility when traveling halfway across the world, dealing with people whose first language was not English but whose English was billions of times better than any of my efforts at learning other languages.
We had 2 additional meals on the flight- the next was a ham, turkey and cheese ciabatta which I almost missed because I was asleep when it was passed out. Fortunately, I woke up in time to page a flight attendant and ask for one. Closer to landing, we had a choice for breakfast: eggs or congee. I recalled the time 3 years earlier when I'd wished I ordered the congee, and chose it this time. No regrets. The tray included a seasoning packet labeled "fish floss" which was fun. Imitating another passenger who couldn't have had less experience with this food item than I had, I sprinkled the fish floss over the congee- it gave the bland gruel a bit of a flavor accent.
I didn't watch any movies on the flight because I wanted to try to sleep. However, I listened to several albums on my iPad, some of which became soundtracks to my slumber. These included Elisabeth and Aspects of Love in Japanese as well as Hamilton, and In the Heights in English.
At one point, I saw a mom and a child of about 6-7 years exiting the airplane bathroom. I was rather impressed that 2 people could actually fit in one! The lavatory was nicer than on some airlines... but still the same teeny tiny size that barely holds one person comfortably.
My feet can be chilly on airplanes even when covered in fuzzy socks, so for this flight I decided to bring along an extra-long pair of purple and black Hello Kitty socks. After takeoff, I shed my shoes and wore these socks atop the pair already on my feet. It was a brilliant idea that I ended up repeating on my return trip; the 2nd layer of socks definitely kept my feet and ankles nice and cozy.
Despite the fact that I'd been engaged in meticulous planning for months, it nonetheless felt so sudden that my adventure had actually begun. It always feels that way- and really, it's true: for days on end, I engage in relatively ordinary patterns and responsibilities... and then, all at once, I have 2 weeks of freedom when exploration replaces routine. It's a jarring contrast- but one that makes the rest of my life much richer.
My flight was due to land at 5:30am in Taipei but we were actually quite a bit early. No matter- in contrast to most trips where I have plans that call for me to burst out into activity with all cylinders, I didn't have much planned for my first 2 days.
The first order of business was to get money from the ATM. The first one I tried didn't work which made me a bit nervous; I was still just starting to get comfortable with using international ATM's without holding my breath even though it had been 4 years after the 2011-2012 ATM debacles with my previous bank. Fortunately, I found one that worked. I had a bit of Taiwanese currency from my 2010 trip, but not nearly enough for comfort.
I had a choice between waiting a half hour for a bus or taking a cab. The bus was ridiculously cheap but taxis weren't too expensive so I opted for the latter. After a long flight, it's nice to spoil myself a bit; who knows how crowded the bus might have been. As my taxi navigated the journey to the tune of an odd mix of muzak which included "Pink Panther" and "Memory", it was still pitch black outside. (sunrise was at 6:05am) I consciously tried to stay present and take notice of everything... which was a bit difficult in the dark.
I arrived at my hotel at around 5:35am. It's not a place I would necessarily have chosen since I prefer bright, quirky places and this hotel was quite ordinary and bland. But I'd managed to find a deal online for a free Taiwan stopover that included one night at the hotel as well as a half day tour and a refillable MTR card good for a single round trip (plus a couple of food vouchers I never ended up using). And free is free; always a good value.
When I checked in at the desk, they informed me I couldn't get into a room before 12 or 1 at the earliest unless I paid for a full night at a rate I calculated to be about $125. Umm, no thanks! I was only there because it was free. Plus my tour that would be departing in a couple hours, so I'd be paying $125 for the privilege of taking a quick nap. I would have loved to have been able to refresh in a hotel room but it was definitely not good value for my money. So I went in the public bathroom to change into shorts and put in my contacts. As I did so, I noticed bloody toilet paper on the floor- very classy. After I stowed my bags with the bell desk, the people at the front desk informed me that there was a place where I could take a shower. I would have appreciated that information a bit earlier- great timing, folks!
Having no plans for a couple hours, I sat down a bit in the lobby; it wasn't really comfortable since the chairs were really more like large square padded benches with no backs. It was dead quiet, but at least there was internet and music to keep me amused.
At around 7, when it seemed like a relatively reasonable time to venture outside, I decided that since I was in Taipei, I might as well explore the nearby area. First I visited the 7-11 that was attached to the hotel. In addition to expected items like onigiri, they sold little colorful alcoholic shot glasses which were... definitely different.
I didn't walk very far, but I took notice of all the places I came across: mainly still-closed stores and restaurants... and of course plenty of signs. I was excited to be in a foreign country, walking on a street I'd never before seen. There were not many people on the street at the early hour and most of them were wearing jeans and sweaters; like I mentioned, I was in shorts. I was completely comfortable as it wasn't too hot out yet, but I would have been ridiculously hot in a sweater. The only really interesting person I spotted was a woman who was walking 5 small dogs that almost looked like a quintet of clones.
At around 8:15, a guide picked me up for the Northern Coast tour which I'd selected as part of the free Taiwan stopover promotion. Fortunately, it was with a small group- the van seated about 16 people. 3 young women were already in the back and the guide told me they were from Osaka so I tried to talk to them a bit in Japanese which inspired them to giggle. They spent a lot the day giggling so I don't think it was anything personal. The remainder of the passengers turned out to be Americans of various Asian backgrounds. In fact, aside from the airport, I am not sure I saw any other Caucasians all day. Because of the young women in the back seat, the guide repeated his English comments in Japanese which I enjoyed.
Our first stop was Chung Cheng park in Keelung. The park was located high on a hill which offered a breathtaking view of this port city. I may have missed some crucial explanation but the park seemed to be a curious juxtaposition of Eastern religious symbols- such as statues of Buddha and Guanyin (the Goddess of Mercy aka Kannon in Japanese)-and kiddy play areas- including drivable kiddy cars shaped like pandas which I loved because they were the epitome of kitsch. I was oddly excited when I eventually saw a dad and his little girl riding one.
Our second stop was Yehliu Geopark, a narrow promontory filled with naturally amazing shapes of golden brown rock formations. Some of these had been dubbed with names based on their resemblance to actual items like "Queen's Head" and "Fairy's Shoe", while others were purely abstract. I preferred to wander unencumbered with trying to see the most famous icons and therefore mainly enjoyed the contrast of unique landscape and the turquoise waters in the background. I decided not wait in the long queue for the "Queen's Head", the most famous rock, because we only had about 45 minutes to explore on our own after the guide left us. (we spent a total of about an hour at the park)
The park was crazy crowded, with many people carrying umbrellas to shield them from the burning sun. By now, it was quite warm out in the heat of the day. I wish I'd had more time (and that there had been fewer people) as this was an attraction right up my alley- moderate walking and dramatic photo ops in every direction. And, since winter was slowly starting to approach back home, I thoroughly enjoyed being outside on a sunny day reminiscent of summer.
I wouldn't necessarily have chosen to take this tour if I'd had to pay (roughly $40 list price), but I was glad to have an opportunity to get out of the city and to enjoy a couple of interesting places that wouldn't have otherwise been on my radar. The tour seemed a little short (particularly for our time at Yehliu), but it was otherwise very good.
The last person dropped off from the van (after even the guide so oops I didn't get to tip him), I arrived back at my hotel at about1pm optimistic that I could finally get into a room. But, no, I was told that none were ready- which struck me as odd since they'd said I could occupy one at 5:30am if only I'd wanted to pay. I was dead exhausted so I laid down on one of the padded benches right in front of the desk. I had no shame and frankly didn't care how it would look- I was way too tired to sit up when there was no back support.
Soon enough some at the desk called me over and said that a room was ready. It's possible that it would have been available even if I hadn't made a bit of a visual spectacle of myself in the lobby... but said spectacle certainly didn't hurt!
The hall leading to my room was not exactly peaceful- there were temporary walls erected and the sound of construction permeated the air. But it was free. And the huge, comfortable king sized bed that greeted me was heaven! (I didn't hear the construction within the safe confines of my room)
I was practically starving since I hadn't eaten anything since the plane ride. I was pleased to see that the room service menu included spaghetti with meat sauce (aka my favorite comfort travel meal) because I really didn't have the energy to go out in search of nourishment. Even though room service had to call back because they thought I said "meatballs" instead of "meat sauce" (the former not being on the menu), they still delivered my food in less time than it took Pop Century to pick up their phone a couple months earlier. The meal was quite satisfying! Before taking a quick nap, I flipped the channels on the TV and managed to find a Lilo and Stitch anime show which was amusing despite the language barrier.
After a short rest, I decided that I didn't want to stay in my hotel room all night (duh) so I set out on what was ultimately a 4 hour walk that led me through the Da'an area of the city. I could have taken the metros, but I enjoyed exploring by foot- despite my obvious jet lag. I found a lot of adorable items on my walk, including Disney and Hello Kitty shoes/boots which would have been too cumbersome to pack for the rest of my trip. I didn't try them on because I didn't want to be depressed that I couldn't buy them... or, alternately, disillusioned by their discomfort.
I also came across the Hello Kitty Shabu Shabu restaurant where I wanted to eat since I'd found out a week earlier that the Hello Kitty Kitchen and Dining restaurant where I'd originally planned to dine was closed pending a move to a new location (it ended up being closed from August until December 23). Unfortunately, however, they said they were full and I would not be able to eat there. So I just walked around and took some photos. I could have purchased items in the gift shop but I chose not to financially support an establishment that had no room for me. And besides, nothing really caught my eye.
It wasn't a total loss since I remembered that there was a Sanrio store not too far away. It was an adorable place and because I wanted to try on a t-shirt for size, I was able to see some areas in the back that didn't appear to be open including a kind of snack/lounge area and a bathroom. In addition to the aforementioned t-shirt, I purchased a box of custard filled Hello Kitty cakes which I ended up taking with me to Shanghai but never finishing. It was a delightful store, with some unique products.
On the way back to my hotel, I stumbled across a place called "Cup Cat Cupcake" which, to my delight, featured the most adorable cupcakes which were decorated to look like cat paws. Since I already had the box of Hello Kitty cakes, I resisted the temptation to buy more than 1 cupcake; obviously I had to get one of the Cat's Paw marshmallow ones. Unfortunately, they were not nearly as delicious as they looked- the cake itself was rather dry. So it's probably for the best that I only had one unless other flavors were significantly tastier.
I got back to my hotel room relatively early. But by the time I started jotting down notes on my phone at 10pm after taking a shower and eating some snacks, my eyes kept creeping closed. I decided I'd probably sleep in the next morning; my flight wasn't until 12:15 pm so theoretically I could have done a quick something early the next day. But I figured that rest might serve me better- especially since it had been roughly 51 hours since I'd last awakened from bed. (not counting my quick nap and some sleep on the plane)
Having not set an alarm, I woke up naturally at 9 am... which meant that I'd been able to indulge in a whopping 11 hours of sleep. Aaaaaaah! After a long trip halfway across the world, it always feels wonderful to catch up on rest. I ended up lazing for another hour because I wasn't planning on doing anything substantial until I left for the airport at around noon.
I was about to head down to the 7-11 attached to my hotel to scope out breakfast options when I remembered that at check-in, the front desk staff had told me that my free hotel room also included breakfast. So I went down to the hotel restaurant, and arrived slightly before the meal officially ended at 10:30. Breakfast was a buffet which, much like the hotel itself, was adequate though not outstanding. The "orange juice" was particularly disappointing since it tasted more like orange flavored water. But I enjoyed the chance to have some udon noodle soup; I love how they serve soup as a breakfast option in Asia. Also, the bacon was pretty decent.
At about 11:35, I checked out of the hotel. My 2:30pm flight to Shanghai left from Songshan airport which was super convenient to my hotel- much closer than Taoyuan where I'd arrived the day before. While I could have taken the subway, I opted for a taxi which was quick and inexpensive.
Just about as soon as I walked in to the airport, I smiled at the sight of a large cardboard Hello Kitty welcoming me to the checkin line for the Eva Air flights on Hello Kitty planes. For 4+ years, I'd been wanting to fly on a Hello Kitty airplane and now the time had come at last to make that dream a reality! Saying that I was excited would be a huge understatement. The check-in desk didn't open until 10 minutes after I arrived and I was the first in line. I didn't mind waiting because I was grinning with delight, noticing various Hello Kitty touches such as in the screens above the airline counter- air travel has never been this fun!
When I checked in, I snagged a Hello Kitty luggage tag as a souvenir. I practically squealed with delight when I realized that my boarding pass was decorated with a bunch of Sanrio characters- even the bag claim tags were decorated with Kitty's adorable face. Not only was I eagerly anticipating the plane ride itself, I was also thrilled that my next stop would be Shanghai Disneyland! Basically, the only way I could imagine being more excited to be at an airport would have been if I'd had a ticket in first class.
When I arrived at the gate, the plane wasn't there yet and I was eager to see which of the 2 different Hello Kitty planes that serve the Taipei-Shanghai route would arrive. Gazing out the windows, I could see my plane land. As it taxied to the gate, I saw that it was the "With Magic Stars" plane, which was decorated with cheerful images of Kitty holding a magic wand shaped like a star which leads a swirl of colorful trailing stars and her family. An advantage of arriving ridiculously early was that I was able to photograph the plane in front of a beautifully hilly Taiwan landscape before the aircraft's various open doors would obscure some of the design.
I seriously couldn't wait to board the plane. I mean, I normally want to get on my flights as early as possible, anyway, and to ensure space in the overhead for my backpack. But, obviously, a Hello Kitty flight took that eagerness up several notches.
Once it was finally time to board, I was not disappointed. I mean, the pillows and headrest designs were accented in a fall shade of orange which is not my favorite color... but I'd known that ahead of time. I was in my element mentally "oohing" and "aaahing" over all the cute Kitty accents- the plane safety card, headphone case- even the air sickness bag! The most delightful touch of all was the cheerful video playing on the seatback until we got ready for takeoff. I have to wonder what passengers thought if they hadn't specifically been aiming to ride a Hello Kitty aircraft; there is no designation of the aircraft design when you book the flight. You'd only know if your route is scheduled to be serviced by a Hello Kitty plane if you specifically look at the Hello Kitty routes available on a special area of the Eva Airlines website. Obviously, I did that.
The flight time to Shanghai was just over an hour but we were still served a meal. *glares in the direction of US airlines that don't offer any free food even on a coast-to-coast flight* I didn't think that the economy section would have any Hello Kitty touches in their adult meal, so I was happily surprised to see a bow shaped carrot in my chicken, as well as a Hello Kitty decoration atop the brownie. (alas, said brownie did not taste as good as it looked) I obviously snagged the plastic utensils with Hello Kitty on their end as souvenirs.
Because of the short flight time, I wasn't sure if I'd be able to check out the Kitty amenities in the bathroom but I managed to fit that in. In all my travels, I'm pretty sure I had never taken photos inside an airplane lavatory before this flight. But I had to document the cute packaging on the soaps and amenities. And if I took home a couple squares of Hello Kitty toilet paper, who could blame me? I mean, it's not like they were going to run out during such a short flight.
All good things come to an end, and my plane landed in Shanghai Songshan airport close to the scheduled time of 4:10pm. But that's ok because I still had another Hello Kitty flight to look forward to towards the end of my trip. I took one final photo of the plane at the gate after disembarking.
Normally US tourists need a Visa to travel to China, which is a bit expensive and which also requires sending off one's passport (or taking the time out of at least one, if not 2, work days to apply in person) However, China had relatively recently changed its Visa free transit policy so that citizens of many countries could take advantage of this program for stays of 6 days or less (previously, it had only been 1-2 days). The only catch is that you had to be able to show that you had a ticket to fly out of China to a different country than the one from which your incoming flight originated. (Also, you couldn't fly to any other destinations in China in the mean time) Fortunately, both Taipei and Hong Kong were considered as 2 separate countries for the purposes of this program so I was easily able to construct an itinerary that would qualify.
Even though I was sure I met the requirements, I was still a bit nervous about the process for applying for the 144 hour transit Visa upon arrival. (I'd also had to explain to the agent at my embarkation in Taipei that I didn't need to have a Visa in my passport) I was easily able to identify where to go in the customs area, although I hit a small snag since I hadn't filled out a landing card (I was surprised I hadn't received one because usually they hand out required documents on international flights). So I had to take a minute to fill one out and then return to the agent. I had a printout of my outbound flight readily available to show as proof of my itinerary. But they threw me for a bit of a loop when they asked for something about my hotel- I hadn't printed out my confirmation to save paper and I frantically tried to search for it online on my phone. Eventually, I figured out that they just needed more information; writing down "Shanghai Disneyland Toy Story Hotel" was apparently not good enough. They needed the address and/or the phone number- I can't remember which. Well, that was no problem- I'd printed out a page in Chinese from the hotel website so I'd be able to give it to my taxi driver! Fortunately, that sufficed to clear customs.
Baggage claim must have been very efficient because I exited the airport for the taxi line around 5pm. And before I did that, I had to search a bit for an ATM that accepted my card; luckily I decided to take an escalator up one level when I couldn't locate one on the main arrivals level.
If I had one "do over" for this trip, I would have booked a private ride from the airport. (although in retrospect, I'm not sure what would have happened if I hadn't printed out the hotel page in Chinese for purposes of giving to a taxi driver). The queue at Songshan was no joke. The long line was only the start of the problem. If cabs had arrived steadily, I'm sure it wouldn't have taken very long to get to the front of the line. But that unfortunately wasn't the case- 1 or 2 cabs would come, then none would appear for several minutes. So the line moved in dribs and drabs. If that wasn't annoying enough, my entire 1 hour wait was accompanied by the live soundtrack of a jackhammer due to nearby airport construction. The rain that started pouring added to the miserable ambiance, although thankfully the snaking line was under cover.
When I was finally able to hop into a taxi, I was hugely relieved. I showed my driver the print out which had been helpful to me at the customs desk. He asked "Disney?", I somehow indicated an affirmative answer and we were off!
The ride lasted 1 hour, partly due to rush hour traffic. The other Shanghai airport (Pudong) is much closer to Shanghai Disneyland but I'd considered the longer (and more expensive) drive to be a necessary sacrifice in order to ride a Hello Kitty aircraft. Songshan is near downtown Shanghai so I'd hoped I might be able to catch some of the Shanghai skyline during the ride, but I didn't see anything interesting in the darkness. Just mainly rain. And cars. Lots of cars. I didn't have anything concrete planned for the night, so I tried to stay positive and patient even though I felt a bit claustrophobic.
I was overjoyed when I finally stated seeing familiar Mickey shaped heads on highway signs. Not much longer! We pulled off the highway, circled a round fountain in the middle of the road, and were soon pulling into the Toy Story hotel. Just as we did, I saw fireworks going off in the sky to welcome me. The magic had begun!
In my notes, I described Toy Story hotel as "cute and shiny and new and happy" which is pretty accurate. From the moment I pulled up to the front door signs that make it seem like you are stepping into a toy box, I was enchanted by the colorful whimsy. There were delightful touches everywhere you looked. I was probably too in awe to remember much about the cast member who checked me in, but I was extremely impressed overall with all the cast members I encountered, both at the hotel as well as at the resorts. The one odd thing I noticed was that there was an awful lot of manually logging things on paper instead of on the computer- such as when I purchased tickets or made dining reservations.
Taking the elevator to my 8th floor room was always fun because there would be character sounds at each stop- my favorite being when aliens would say "ooooh". My room itself was every bit as joyful as expected from pictures I'd seen online. I loved the Rubik's Cube night table, and the little suitcase full of toiletries in the bathroom. I'd booked the park view and I was curious as to how good it would be, although I knew not to expect anything amazing. It's not as ideal as the classic theme park views at other resorts (especially since some of the window is slightly obscured by the cloud design printed on the outside) but nonetheless it really made me happy to catch sight of the Tron building and the castle. If cash was tight, I wouldn't recommend splurging on the view- but if you're a Disney parks geek, it may be worth it.
I explored the hotel for a little bit- I was totally hyper in my excitement to look at all the public areas, so I didn't linger in any one place because there was always something new and shiny to distract me. And then I had the idea that I should venture out to Disneytown, Shanghai Disney's version of Downtown Disney which has stores and restaurants... and, more importantly, is open later than the parks which closed at 7. It was still raining and I was kinda hungry but, dammit, I was at a new Disney resort and I wanted to see everything! There was a free shuttle from my hotel to the stop at Disneytown (which is the same stop as the theme park) and it was easy to figure out whether the bus was correct because the destination was displayed electronically in both English and Chinese. There was also a cast member onhand to assist. The bus itself played a loop of videos which included an ad for The Lion King, which was playing in a Broadway style theatre in Disneytown. I hadn't booked a ticket yet (it's the actual Broadway show, not a quickie theme park version, so it requires a separate ticket) but I intended to do so.
Once I disembarked, I was quickly lured to the huge "World of Disney" store which, like similar stores at the other Disney resorts, sells a wide variety of souvenirs that you can find at the parks. I didn't want to buy a lot just yet, but I enjoyed roaming around and scoping out what was available. There were a lot of cute items in every direction- but I wanted to be picky and try to ensure that I didn't bring home purchases that would end up in a closet or the bottom of a drawer. I also had to search for presents to bring back home. As I browsed, I admired the design touches inside the store, such as posters for attractions and restaurants from other Disney parks.
After a short walk around, I decided that I really needed to try to focus on finding something to eat... but then I got distracted by "Spoonful of Sugar" which was probably my favorite spot in Disneytown. This was a sweet shop which sold adorable marshmallow wands, cake pops, cookies and more. It also, somewhat inexplicably, had a wall of non-edible Olaf merchandise. I decided to buy a Jack Skellington cupcake here, but it ended up not being very good. (my other purchases later in the trip were much better) After spending so much time at this store as well as a similar one in the park, I definitely felt a void later in my trip when the other Asian parks did not have a similar bakery type shop.
Next door to the sweets shop was BreadTalk, another place that became popular with me. True to its name, the store sold various types of rolls and croissants, many of which were in adorable shapes. Unfortunately for me, the descriptions of many of the items were only in Chinese- which meant that I had to guess as to whether they included ingredients that I'd fuss over. They also sold some grab-and-go hot foods. I decided to get a tin of spaghetti and meat sauce and some cheese bread for dinner.
Disneytown seemed practically deserted as I wandered around. I attributed that partially to the rain, which was letting up. But I also wondered if the stores and restaurants (most of which were generic chains such as Sephora, Swatch, Cheesecake Factory) were not as popular as Disney might have hoped. Most of the non-Disney stores held little appeal for me, nor did the restaurants. But, overall, it was a very pleasant area to walk around, and it's in a great location directly adjacent to the theme park.
At around 9:30, I decided to head back to the hotel so I'd be able to get to sleep early. I had a big day ahead of me visiting Shanghai Disneyland! As I waited for the bus, I noticed a rainbow of variously colored discarded rain ponchos sitting in a pile on the ground next to the bus stop. Fortunately, this was the only time I noticed any blatant littering in the park.
Even though my bed at the Toy Story hotel was comfortable, I ended up waking up a bunch of times during the night. Perhaps it was a combination of jet lag and excitement. Finally, at about 7, I awoke for good with the happy awareness that I'd soon be able to once again say that I've visited every Disney theme park in the world. (a fact which had become obsolete when the Shanghai Disneyland had opened in June 2016) But, more important than the bragging rights, I was excited to explore a new park and to discover what made it unique. The first 2 days of travel had felt like a relaxed prelude- now the true adventure was about to begin.
It was raining again, but fortunately I was able to wait under cover when I arrived at the park gate at 8:30, a half hour before opening. I was dying with anticipation as cast members emerged, and then the gates were pulled opened. All that separated me from the theme park I'd been dreaming of visiting ever since it was announced were the turnstiles. At about 8:50, the cast members let us enter the park. As I officially entered the park, it hardly seemed real that I was there. I had a vague plan to head to Adventure Isle, but when I saw Duffy posing on Mickey Avenue (SDL equivalent of Main Street, USA), I paused for a quick photo op because I'd never been able to get a picture with the bear. (I'm very glad I stopped because I never again saw Duffy out in the park.) I laughed at myself, because it seemed rather absurd that my first Shanghai Disney experience would be with a character who is super popular in Asia but practically unknown in the US. My one regret is that I kept the hood up on my coat even though I was temporarily under cover; it's not really a flattering look for me.
In Shanghai Disneyland, the Fastpass kiosks are centralized within each land. I headed to the one in Adventure Isle and was quickly able to get a Soaring FP for 10-11am. There wasn't much of a line, and it was a simple process to scan the QR code on my ticket... which was actually a key card from the hotel since I'd purchased it there.
My overall plan for the day was to attack the most popular rides first, and later to spend some time leisurely exploring the park. So I headed to the Roaring Rapids attraction which was right near the FP center. Roaring Rapids is basically the kind of ride you'd expect by the name- a circular tube ride through rapids. Since it's a Disney ride, there is also a character- a large audio animatronic reptile named Q'araq. As I queued, I noticed that all the other guests were covered in ponchos, but I just stuck my purse under my waterproof jacket and hoped for the best. My favorite memory of this ride was screaming and laughing with my fellow passengers in a way that completely transcended our language and cultural differences. (you're seated in a circle facing the other guests, so this felt like a more collective experience than other attractions)
Embarking on a water ride 1st thing on a cool, damp day may not be the best decision I have ever made. Actually, it probably would have worked out fine if I'd kept my feet in the air instead of resting them on the ground. At one point, a huge wave flooded the bottom of the boat... and therefore my sneakers. I made a mental note to buy new socks so I'd be less miserable... but that would have to wait until I felt like taking a shopping break.
Right now, I was still on a mission to experience the attractions I most wanted to see so I power walked over to Pirates of the Caribbean. I was eager to ride this version of Pirates since it was supposed to be completely different than the ride of the same name at other parks. Unfortunately, when I arrived, the area was roped off with a sign posted that the ride was temporarily closed. Well, that was definitely a bummer. I just hoped it would be open sometime that day. Meanwhile, I had to figure out my next stop. Shanghai Disneyland is quite spread out so I didn't want to head all the way across the park. I saw that Soaring Over the Horizon had a 20 minute standby line so I decided to do that at 9:30, with the idea that I could then keep my 10am FP as a souvenir. In truth, the attraction was virtually a walk on- woo hoo! I was assigned a seat in the coveted top middle section, which was perfect. What was less than ideal were all the people around me with their cell phones out apparently taking photos- really?!?
Soaring is pretty much the same ride as the revamped version at the US parks, which take visitors on a virtual ride above some major world landmarks. However, it ends in Shanghai; I think each location where the ride is installed has its own ending unique to that location. Also, the pre-show video was entirely different, featuring a female narrator in some kind of tribal dress. However, I was pleased that it includes similar touches to the US versions such as imploring a man to take off his Mickey ears.
After Soaring, I headed back to check on Pirates and I was stoked that it was now open- yay! The queue was only posted as 5 minutes- so basically it was another walk on. I can't even describe how unique and amazing this ride was- even to someone who is basically unfamiliar with the Johnny Depp Pirates franchise upon which it is based. I am at least familiar with the wonderful score to those movies, and it proved to be epic background music for a theme park attraction. Shanghai's Pirates of the Caribbean takes the Disney dark ride to new levels of awesome, and I loved it. It absolutely lived up to all the hype. (I'd been trying to avoid specific spoilers but it was impossible to miss the rave reviews)
I'd meant to follow all the advice I'd read not to criss-cross the large park, but I decided to toss logic away and head to Tron next because I simply could not wait to ride it. But I made a diversion when I noticed that the single rider line for Seven Dwarfs Mine Train was only 5 minutes. This ride seemed basically identical to the one at WDW which meant that it was fun but short.
And then it was on to Tron Lightcycle Power Run. After taking a few moments to admire and photograph chains of what looked like futuristic motor cycles that were zooming above the walkways, I was itching to ride. So I went to store my bags in a locker which proved to be more confusing than it needed to be. There seemed to be 2 types of lockers; I ended up using one that required a coin and felt fortunate that I actually had one. I expected the coin to be refunded after use, but somehow I was an idiot and unable to figure out how to retrieve it.
I'm not a fan of hugely scary rides so I did plenty of research on Tron before leaving home; I was happy to conclude that it was something I should be able to enjoy, like virtually all Disney coasters. The ride vehicles are unique and require you to sit as if bent over on a motorcycle. I was too excited to pay much attention to those boarding the ride in front of me when I was in the short queue. Once I got on, I pulled the handlebars toward me as instructed... but felt very insecure. The cast members seemed to inspect the vehicle for safety but I still wasn't sure. As the ride launched vertically at great speed, my whole being felt like "Holy shit, I'm going to fall out of this thing and die!" I clenched the handlebars as hard as I possibly could, as if my life literally depended on it, in hopes that would help keep me from falling off the vehicle. This was quite obviously not the ideal mindset with which to enjoy a theme park ride.
What I saw of the ride seemed pretty cool. (I admit to closing my eyes at times) And other than my perhaps irrational fear of falling out of my seat, it didn't seem very scary. The ride zoomed at a fast speed through the curves of the building, but there were no inversions or big drops. I decided that I wanted to ride it again and hoped I'd enjoy it more after being secure in the knowledge I was capable of surviving it. But just... not right away.
I hung around Tomorrowland a little longer and rode Buzz Lightyear Planet Rescue, which is similar to the shooting ride at the other parks. Inexplicably, I got a great score of 627,480; I usually do pitifully despite enjoying the ride. I was also thrilled to see a photo op with Stitch, since that character has been a big part of the Disney trips with my nieces.
I headed back over to Fantasyland to experience Peter Pan, which was similar to the classic version except it was enhanced by more modern technology. It was now noon and I was amazed that I'd already been able to ride virtually all of my top priority attractions. The only one I missed was Voyage to the Crystal Grotto, but that was because it had a sign out front that it would be closed all day. There was still a ton to see, but I was relieved at having accomplished so much already. It was time for me to slow down and marvel at the park itself. One of the first things I did was to buy a pair of colorful Mickey Mouse socks so I would no longer need to walk in the pair that had been soaked on Roaring Rapids.
I finally was able to wander over to the Enchanted Storybook Castle, the biggest at any Disney park- and the first that is not dedicated to a single princess (Sleeping Beauty in California, Paris and Hong Kong; Cinderella in Florida and Tokyo). As a full fledged Princess wannabe, I always enjoy the castles in the theme parks and it had been really hard to basically ignore it due to my plan to tackle rides first. I'd seen some criticism online about the castle being too big, but I felt that it suited the scale of the park. I also liked that it was unique, and not a carbon copy of any existing castle. It also was clearly designed with the idea of staging shows in front on an integrated stage.
For me, a trip to any castle park isn't official until I have walked through the castle. So I was ridiculously excited to finally step inside Shanghai Disneyland's castle for the first time. I loved the chandelier and the 4 mosaics of seasonal scenes from recent Disney movies (Princess and the Frog, Tangled, Brave and Frozen). Granted that I am relatively easy to please, but I was very happy with the Enchanted Storybook Castle.
After wandering around Mickey Avenue a bit and enjoying the shops, I returned to the castle for lunch at Royal Banquet Hall. I'd made the reservation the previous night through my hotel when I'd purchased my park ticket. Dining in the castle would have been an absolute must even if Shanghai Disneyland had numerous upscale dining options- but it's an absolute no-brainer since it's only option in the park where guests can enjoy a nice sit down meal.
The experience began with the opportunity to take a Photopass picture with a Princess Aurora. It appears that she is currently the only princess who poses for these photos, but I imagine that it could eventually vary since the Shanghai castle (as well as its restaurant) is not specific to a single princess.
After the photo, I ascended a staircase to the dining area. I was seated in a delightfully colorful section that was themed to Sleeping Beauty. After I finished my meal, I was able to walk around to see the other rooms which were themed to Mulan, Princess and the Frog, Cinderella, and Snow White. Because I'd eaten late and it was a slow day, there were not many people around as I wandered and I was happy that I could take photographs that were devoid of random strangers. The Mulan room was the most interesting, since it was so small that it contained one single table meant for a large party of 12. It appeared like it could be closed off and used for VIP's. All in all, I enjoyed the whimsical decor, especially the 2 sections devoted to relatively recent Disney films.
Obviously, the most important part of any lunch is the food, and I am pleased to say that I found the offerings to be both delicious and beautifully presented. Royal Banquet Hall offers a 3 course prix fixe meal. The menu contained descriptions of each item in both English and Chinese and also a picture, so it was easy to order. Based on both my palate and the my tendency to choose the most adorable options, I ordered the Roasted Tomato Soup and Parmesan Foam, Cinderella's Pumpkin and Chicken Stew, and Prince Charming's Chocolate Trio. Everything was very tasty, and I particularly loved how my chicken was stuffed in a small actual pumpkin. Despite the fact that it was named for Prince Charming, my dessert included an chocolate shaped like Olaf from Frozn- how can you not love an Olaf dessert?!
I'd read that this was a character meal, but I started to get nervous as my main course appeared before I caught site of any characters. But eventually I was visited by Mickey, Minnie, Donald and Daisy- all of whom were dressed in charming Renaissance costumes. It was a nice touch that the characters were wearing unique outfits that I'd never seen before (except in photos from the restaurant). All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed my meal. It wasn't cheap, but I felt that the overall experience was well worth the money I spent.
After I exited the castle, I could see crowds lined up for the daily parade, Mickey's Storybook Express. I felt fortunate to stumble across the parade which I hadn't thought I'd be able to catch that until later in the week. I found something to stand on so I managed to have a decent view without a lot of heads in the way. (I hate taking photos which are partially obscured by heads) It wasn't the best parade ever, but it was fun and worth seeing- especially since I didn't have to go out of my way to seek it out.
I continued to spend time taking things slowly and exploring the park. If I had one thing to change about my time in Shanghai Disneyland, I would have spent more of my first day on rides since the queues were so short. But, at the time, I had no way to predict that the remaining 2 days I had allocated to the park would be much more crowded. On the other hand, the emptiness of the park allowed me to easily snap some nice, uncrowded photographs. One of the areas I lingered in was the Garden of the 12 Friends, an area toward the front side of the castle which is decorated with beautiful murals of Disney characters who represent the 12 Chinese zodiac signs.
When I saw that there was little to no line for the Meet Mickey experience, I had to go there. The building which houses this meet and greet is a rather innocuous tent-like structure. However, once I got inside, I found myself in a brightly decorated room with pictures of various Mickey cartoons. At the end, there were paintings of Disney characters in front of the castles from the 5 other Disney castle parks; I always love homages to the world of Disney theme parks! Finally, the room to meet Mickey was decorated with a painting of the Shanghai castle. I was excited to see that Mickey himself was dressed in his opening day costume- again, a unique outfit that I hadn't previously seen in person. It was a wonderful photo opportunity in all respects. The only downside of not having a line was that I wasn't unable to linger in the initial room to better appreciate all the details.
After wandering through Adventure Isle and stopping for photographs with Judy Hopps and Nick Wilde from Zootopia, I made my way to the Storyhouse Stage for the 3:15pm "Tarzan: Call of the Jungle" live stage show. I hadn't known what to expect but I loved this show! The performance featured music, dance, and gymnastics- and it was easy to understand and get caught up in it all even if you didn't know any Chinese. The relationship between Tarzan and Jane was highlighted in a very romantic way, with the 2 of them often flying on ropes or hoops above the stage. Tarzan definitely ranks among the top stage shows I've seen in all the Disney parks.
After another ride through the fabulous Pirates of the Caribbean, I decided to check out to another stage show: the 4:40pm Eye of the Storm Captain Jack's Stunt Spectacular. It started with a pre-show in which the audience stood while... something happened with Pirate characters on a landing above us. It seemed to be meant to be funny but there was a huge language barrier and I felt really awkward. That feeling continued well into the main show, where I kept waiting for epic stunts. Well, they finally appeared near the end, along with Captain Jack Sparrow. The few cool moments really weren't worth waiting through the preceding events. I'd recommend skipping this one, unless you are fluent in Chinese (or even if you are as it didn't seem to be my type of humor) but your mileage may vary.
I considered riding Tron again, but I still hadn't quite recovered from my terror earlier in the day, at least not sufficiently to try it again just yet. Instead, I just admired and photographed the bright lights of Tomorrowland. Disney parks always take on a new feeling after dark, and Shanghai's futuristic land really looked fabulous as the Tron building was illuminated with various colors.
The park closed at 7pm with Ignite the Dream - A Nighttime Spectacular of Magic and Light. At around 6:30, I was able to claim a decent spot to stand in front of the castle to watch this show. One of the advantages of the large scale of the castle was that they could do a lot with projections which could be seen very well by a large amount of people even if they were not close. The show was really enjoyable and made good use of pyrotechnic and colored fountain accents, but I sorta wished it had its own theme song or something to better define it.
When the show ended, I decided to exit the park through the entrance to Disneytown with a 2-fold purpose: to avoid some crowds and to linger around the shops for awhile. I purchased some breads at BreadTalk as well as a chocolate cake pop that was decorated like a Halloween pumpkin from Spoonful of Sugar. I was full from a late lunch, so I just wanted a couple snacks, along with an extra roll to eat for breakfast the next day. When I was finally ready to leave, I had no trouble catching a bus back to my hotel.
My first day at Shanghai Disneyland was definitely a success; the park absolutely lived up to my years of anticipation. I loved having the rare opportunity to explore a new theme park- one which defied all conventions including the fact that it's the only park where Tomorrowland is to the left if you are entering and facing the castle, while the western/adventure themed area is to the right. I'd read many reports of bad guest behavior such as pushing/cutting in lines, but it honestly didn't feel any worse than other parks. Maybe I was lucky. The park is definitely unique, but the most important thing is that I felt like it was full of the true Disney spirit- particularly in some amazing attractions and consistently wonderful cast members. I was also really pleased that I'd been able to do far more on my first day than I'd expected- and that, after a rainy start, the weather soon improved. I looked forward to having 2 more chances to enjoy this fabulous new park. But, in the meantime, I was excited to be heading into Shanghai proper the next day.
I kept waking up again throughout the night which continued to baffle me. Finally at around 6am, I decided to get up for good. I had one of the breads from BreadTalk for breakfast- this one looked like an alien and was really adorable.
Since I was ready early, I spent about an hour walking around and taking all the photos I could of the Toy Story Hotel. I felt unexpectedly sad to be leaving such an adorable "budget" hotel which was way nicer than the value hotels in the Florida resort. The cast members were great, and I had no problems when I asked the bell staff to transfer my luggage to the Shanghai Disneyland hotel where I'd be checking in later. I was definitely excited to be able to stay in the more deluxe hotel, but I knew I'd always have fond memories of my first 2 nights in Shanghai at the Toy Story hotel.
I'd booked my Shanghai tour using my Gmail account and had been due to receive a confirmation of my pickup time the day before my tour. When I hadn't received any word from the tour company, I realized that Gmail- like social media sites- was blocked by the Great Firewall of China. So while at the park the previous day, I'd scrambled to email from a different account and eventually received word that I'd be met at my hotel at 8:30am. For the remainder of my time in China, it was quite interesting having to use bing.cn for searches instead of typing right into the Google search box on my phone's home screen. I was actually relieved that I didn't have ready access to social media as the US election results came in throughout the day (due to the time difference) although I was able to get updates on the gist of matters through texts and following the threads on one of my online message boards. Following the unfolding events proved a bit distracting, but I was thankful for the distance and I've tentatively planned to be in China again for the 2020 election.
My guide, Lisa, arrived at my hotel just slightly after the scheduled time. I'd booked a private tour for the convenience of being able to cover a lot of ground but I'd been a little nervous that I might feel awkward being treated like a VIP. I realized quickly that I had nothing to worry about- from the moment I met Lisa, I felt like I was traveling with a good friend. Lisa sat in the back seat of the car with me, and showed me photos of the places we'd be visiting. We also briefly discussed the US election as well as differences in life in China compared to the US. It was really fun to travel with her. She felt that I was distracted by the election and while that was true to an extent, I'm a natural introvert who tends to feel motion sick in cars... so any perceived aloofness probably came from several sources.
Our first stop was the water town of Zhujiajiao where we arrived at 10am. When I'd first dreamed of traveling to Shanghai Disneyland, visiting a water town was high on my wish list. But after I ended up cutting my time in China due both to Visa and other planning issues, I didn't think I'd have the time. Splurging on a private tour allowed me the chance to spend time in both a water town and downtown Shanghai on my one free day. I'm not sure if I'd have managed all the transit effectively on my own although it would have been technically possible.
Zhujiajiao was a really charming little town, a bit like a small Bruges with a Chinese flavor. During the 2 hours we spent there, we walked through passageways and bridges overlooking tranquil canals. We rode on a traditional wooden boat through one of the canals and then stopped for a visit to a private garden which was really beautiful. We walked through some markets but I wasn't really interested in making any purchases- just in taking everything in. This was the kind of place that is perfect for me to tour- a small, charming area that is conducive to wandering and photography. I'm so glad I was able to work it into my itinerary. For me, the splurge was definitely worth it.
In the early afternoon, we headed back to the city. My guide recommended having a dim sum lunch at Din Tai Fung, which is a chain based in Shanghai. She helped me choose (I think I got pork and crab dumplings) and it was all really delicious and fresh! On the way out, we walked past a window where you could see the chefs preparing the dim sum.
During the afternoon, my guide led me on a few short walks through several areas of Shanghai including Tian Zi Fang and Yu Garden Bazaar. As we strolled down one narrow passageway that reminded me of Vietnam because it had a crazy array of electrical wires overhead, my guide posited that the area would be torn down and rebuilt sometime relatively soon. Because of my obvious affinity for felines, she showed me a cat cafe where I was somehow able to hold an adorable kitty without having to pay a fee- that was a definite highlight! The finale was a visit to the Bund, the pleasant waterside walkway where you are treated to the classic Shanghai skyline view. I would have kicked myself if I'd visited the city and not seen this iconic sight.
I'd mentioned to my guide that I hoped to eat dinner at a Hello Kitty restaurant I'd read about online, Hello Kitty Bistro Bianco. She researched the place and ensured that I found my way there. It wasn't too far from the Bund, on the 7th floor of a shopping center. After we found the restaurant, I said my goodbye to Lisa and embarked on my first Hello Kitty meal of the trip (not counting airline food)
When you arrive at Bistro Bianco, you enter through the souvenir store and walk up a swanky red carpeted suitcase into a small dining room where cheerful musical animations were projected onto one of the walls.
The restaurant was absolutely adorable, yet with a touch of sophistication. From the extensive menu, I chose to order the salmon cream pizza, which was charmingly shaped like kitty's head, and a non-alcoholic berry Hello Kitty drink. The food was good, if not the greatest- but I didn't expect otherwise. The entire reason to visit a Hello Kitty themed restaurant is the atmosphere and I totally adored my time there. On my way out, I purchased a plush version of their logo- a Hello Kitty in a chef hat.
After dinner, I battled the crowded streets so I could go back to the Bund to see the night view of the city, which was gorgeous. I'd considered trying to visit the Disney Store across the water, but the crowds were wearying so I decided to head back to Shanghai Disneyland. It was a pretty straightforward trip on the subway, requiring just 1 transfer, and it took about an hour. I was glad I had a chance to ride the Shanghai subways since I like to sample local mass transit on my travels. Before the end of my tour, Lisa had helped me buy a ticket but I'm sure I could have figured that out on my own. Just like in Beijing, my bags needed to be scanned in order to enter the subway.
The modern Disney Resort station was appropriately decorated with Disney characters. There were some English signs, but it was very confusing trying to figure out how to get to the Shanghai Disneyland hotel. Someone ended up pointing me in a direction that required me to walk around the building. The usual foot traffic patterns may have been altered since, at that time (7:40pm), the park had closed and most people were headed away from the resort.
In the morning, I'd felt a bit reluctant to leave the Toy Story hotel. But as soon as I walked into the of the Shanghai Disneyland hotel, I began to fall in love with my new home. The colorful lobby featured a stylish and adorable sculpture of Disney characters playing musical instruments, as well as a live piano player in the corner. Everything was new and elegant, while still feeling homey and family friendly. The cast member who checked me in was wonderful (as I'd come to expect from all Shanghai cast).
I once again reserved a theme park view room- but this time, the upgrade was more justifiable because the hotel offers a straight-on view of the castle, with water and gardens closer by. I absolutely adored that view. One of the most enchanting features of the room itself were the headboards which lit up in a magical way if you hit a certain button; it took me awhile to figure that out but once I did, I kept pressing that button every so often and giddily watching the little show.
When I explored the hotel further after I got settled, I found myself outside Lumiere's restaurant... and all the Beauty and the Beast touches completely stole my heart. If there had been any remaining twinges of missing the Toy Story hotel, they instantly vanished. I decided I absolutely must eat there the next day. But in the meantime, I bought a chocolate mousse in a panda shaped cup from the Ballet Cafe, a quick serve restaurant which was decorated with a sculpture of a dancing Hippo from Fantasia. I flat out loved the beautiful Shanghai Disneyland hotel and looked forward to spending 2 more nights there.
Before I went to sleep, I tried to order a ticket online to see the Lion King musical the following night. However, after going through several hoops, I was thwarted by the fact that the website did not allow foreign card holders to purchase tickets within 24 hours of the performance. There were tons of seats available, so I correctly figured that I'd be able to pick one up at the theater the next day. That was just one of the experiences I had to look forward to during my remaining 2 days at the park.
I'd decided not to set my alarm, and to take my time getting to Shanghai Disneyland in the morning. I woke up at around 7 and the first thing I did was to walk over to the hotel room window and gaze outside. I'd been able to see the castle the previous night illuminated in the darkness, but by daylight the foreground had come alive with lovely gardens and walkways. And I was thrilled to see the sun!
I went down to Lumiere's Kitchen to see if I could eat breakfast there without having a reservation- fortunately, it was no problem. The buffet itself was just ok- I think my favorite item was the congee, sprinkled with fish floss and some other accents. But I was overjoyed to dine in a venue surrounded with Beauty and the Beast decor, since that's probably my favorite Disney movie of all time. The restaurant features character meals, although I wish they were actually the characters from the movie instead of the usual classic characters (in their usual attire). There were photopass photographers present to capture pictures of me with Mickey, Minnie, Goofy and Pluto- both with their cameras and with mine. It was a wonderfully cheerful way to start my day.
After walking around the hotel and discovering areas such as the beautiful Little Mermaid themed indoor pool, I decided to explore the walking path to Shanghai Disneyland. It was an absolutely delightful, peaceful walk through the hotel gardens and over a couple of charming bridges. I'm not sure if it was the quickest way to the park, but it definitely proved to be my favorite and took 20 minutes if you walked slowly. (the other options were to take the bus or a boat, which I tried later)
I tried to stop at the Lion King box office before I entered the park, but it wasn't open yet. Also, I noticed that the gate from Disneytown to Shanghai Disneyland could only be used for re-entry so I had to walk all the way back from the theater to the main gate. I ended up entering the park at abut 9:30, a half hour after the scheduled opening. I repeated the path of my previous visit by heading to the Adventure Isle Fastpass booth and was shocked that all the FP for Soaring Over the Horizon were gone already! The standby line was either 75 or 135 minutes, depending which sign you believed.
One of my first stops was at the Avenue M Arcade, the largest shop on Mickey Avenue. My purse had been annoying me, even though I'd had no problems carrying it all over Japan the previous year. Perhaps it had been more comfortable in summery weather, when I didn't have a coat on. In any case, I decided to buy a backpack, which ended up working out much better for the remainder of this trip. The one I chose was a nice quality light beige backpack which was decorated with colorful stamp-like symbols that represented the park.
I wanted to see the 10:15am castle forecourt show, Golden Fairytale Fanfare. However, there was an announcement stating that the show was cancelled due to inclement weather. Personally, I didn't find the weather to be "inclement"; it was barely drizzling. Another attraction on my wish list was Voyage to the Crystal Grotto, which was closed yet again for the day according to a sign in front of the park. So I headed to the Explorer Canoes which only had a 20 minute wait. I'd never experienced a canoe ride at any of the parks before, although they exist in Anaheim and Tokyo. I couldn't understand any of the narrative and anyone who witnessed me attempt to kayak in Halong Bay knows that I'm absolutely worthless at paddling. Fortunately, the theme park canoes seem to head in the correct direction regardless of the guests' abilities. It was a fun activity for a change of pace, but not something worth a long queue. I think I enjoyed watching the canoes glide through the water more than I actually enjoyed being in one, though.
By 11:15, the weather apparently was less inclement so I was able to watch the 15 minute Golden Fairytale Fanfare show. It was a fun musical production which featured characters from Snow White, Frozen, Aladdin, The Little Mermaid, and Brave. Of course, Mickey and Minnie came out for the finale. Other than the inclusion of the ubiquitous Frozen (which already has its own full length show), I thought it featured a good selection of characters and music. Visually, I enjoyed seeing some artistic touches that seemed to elevate the show. One thing I noticed is that the castle seemed to be designed specifically to include several areas to use for staging shows; this is in contrast to some more awkward looking performance platforms at the hubs of other parks.
After the show, I revisited Pirates of the Caribbean which fortunately didn't seem to ever have insanely long lines- and even more fortunately, had a single riders line. After I got off the ride and attemped to scan my ticket to add the ride photo to my Photopass account, I realized to my horror that I'd lost my park ticket. Not only did I intend to exit the park (and re-enter) to buy a ticket to Lion King... it was a 2 day ticket that I needed to use the following day as well! On the plus side, I'd already created an online Photopass.cn account and linked my cards- I would have been in a million depressions if I'd lost all my Photopass photos!
So I made an unscheduled addition to my plans to stop at Guest Relations. Between feeling like an idiot for losing my ticket and worrying about what would happen and if the language would be a barrier, I was a bit frazzled although I tried to remain as calm as possible. Fortunately, the cast members were wonderful and very eager to assist. They even gave me a pin and some stickers to cheer me up! It took about 15 minutes but in the end, after calling my hotel (where I'd bought the 2 day ticket), they issued me a paper ticket for the day and told me to inquire at my hotel about replacing the ticket for the next day. In a way it sorta worked out because my original ticket (like the one from my first day) had looked exactly like a hotel key card- and now I was able to get one that looked like a real, legit ticket which would be a much better souvenir! So at least there was a bit of a bright side.
Once the ticket matter got settled, I had no problems making a quick stop into Disneytown to get a Lion King ticket for the evening's show. I was also offered the same discounted price as I'd seen online.
I decided it was finally time to attempt riding Tron again, courtesy of the single riders line. You may recall that 2 days earlier, I was literally gripping the handlebars for dear life because I thought I might fall to my death if I let go. Now that I was armed with the memory of surviving, I was able to let myself relax a bit- and I enjoyed it way more than my previous experience! It was basically as fun and cool as I'd originally anticipated. Once I got used to the unique seats and was able to trust that they were secure, it wasn't really scary.
For lunch, I stopped at Pinocchio Village Kitchen which made me smile recalling many meals at a WDW restaurant with my nieces that we dubbed "Pinocchio's Village Haus of Silliness" since for whatever reason, we always ended up in hysterics during our meals there. Obviously, being alone in a foreign country didn't lend itself to any sides of silly antics during my meal. But I did enjoy my Peking Duck pizza that was shaped like Mickey's head. I'm pretty sure I saw someone changing a diaper while I was there but fortunately it wasn't near me. I've seen that happen at Le Cellier in Epcot, so I couldn't feel that such behavior was unique to Chinese guests.
After lunch, I decided to watch the 2:45 showing of "Frozen: A Sing-Along Celebration". Having seen similar shows in Paris and WDW, it wasn't high on my list. But since I had the time and it was nearby, I figured I might as well. The show was all in Chinese but the language barrier never bothered me anyway. It was fun and seemed similar to the Paris version, but definitely not a duplicate. For some reason it seemed to lack a bit of a something compared to other parks, although I couldn't put my finger on it.
I decided to go back to the hotel to relax a bit before going to the theater. But first I walked through Disneytown and took my time admiring the creations in and around the Lego store. I also realized that you could get up close to the Up themed displays in the outdoor balcony that I'd been admiring from afar- very cool!
Before heading back to my hotel, I stopped at Spoonful of Sugar intending to get a Mickey Matcha (green tea) cake pop and a Minnie marshmallow wand. However, I later discovered that the cake pop they gave me was a Minnie Red Velvet. Not a big deal (especially since I had another day to get the other flavor)- and if that's the worst language issue I experienced at SDR (not counting the unfortunate Captain Jack Sparrow stunt show), that's pretty darn great.
I decided to take the bus back to the hotel since the stop was nearby. Once I got back, I went to talk to the concierge desk about my ticket situation, as I'd been instructed to earlier by Guest Services. The nice CM told me I'd need to visit Guest Services outside the park the next day to get a replacement ticket which confused me since I'd specifically been told that the hotel would be able to help me. On the plus side, he was already completely aware of the situation. He wrote down some info that he told me to photograph to show them, and assured me that it would all be easy.
I relaxed a little in the hotel and also edited some photos. And then I took the bus back to Disneytown. I was super excited to be seeing a full fledged musical at a new-to-me theatre, especially as I had not had a chance to see one on my previous trip to China. The Walt Disney Grand Theatre was gorgeous, with oversized murals of various Disney shows decorating the lobby. At intermission, I snuck up to the mezzanine level so I could take a couple photos looking down on the lobby and the murals. Unfortunately, I didn't have my good camera with me, so they didn't come out as well as they could have. I was tempted to buy a stuffed Simba but I resisted since I figured I could buy the same item in NYC if I really wanted one. But I did have to buy a T-shirt once I saw that they had the show name printed in both Chinese and English. I wrestled with deciding on a size, and finally settled on a medium despite the CM trying to convince me that a small would fit. It turned out that the medium is kinda big, but I'd rather have a roomy shirt than another too small one. (as the shirts I buy from Asia are often a little smaller than expected)
I was seated toward the front of the orchestra section; if I'd been able to choose my seat online, I would have selected one a few rows back. Sadly the audience was as empty as it appeared when I'd looked at the seating chart online. No wonder they started offering discounts.
As expected, the opening number ("Circle of Life") was magical and didn't require any language skills to grasp its essence. I was more concerned with the rest of the show, especially the book scenes, which is why I'd been a bit hesitant to buy a ticket in spite of my passion for theatre. But I never found my mind wandering, despite not knowing any Chinese. The energetic and talented cast drew me in. Plus, I was quite captivated by the 2 percussion guys who were in boxes on either side of the stage- they were really into each of the musical numbers; on a totally shallow note, the one nearest to me also had a wonderful smile.
I was surprised to see that the theatre displayed electronic subtitles during the musical numbers. Unfortunately for me, they were all in Chinese so they were not at all helpful (not that I needed translations for the lyrics). I don't recall ever seeing that type of thing at a musical before, anywhere in the world. There seemed to be more talking from the audience during the show than I'm used to, but it wasn't a disaster. Especially since I couldn't understand either the chatter or the dialogue onstage.
I really felt the line "there is more to see than can ever be seen" (insert Chinese translation) that is sung in both the opening and the finale. When I first saw The Lion King, I never ever imagined that life would take me to all 7 continents. I think this was my first time seeing the show since I'd actually traveled to Africa. And obviously I was right smack in the middle of a journey to explore destinations both new and familiar. I felt so overwhelmingly grateful for all the adventures I've been able to take to so many wonderful places around the world. The Lion King was the perfect end to another wonderful day at Shanghai Disneyland.
I'd set my alarm for 7:10am but I woke up well before that. I'd like to say that was because I was deeply motivated to make the most of my last day at Shanghai Disneyland. But, in reality, it was probably more because my feet were aching.
It was a beautiful, sunny Friday morning and I decided to take the Wishing Star Ferry to the park since I hadn't yet tried that mode of transportation. Probably the biggest downside to travel by boat is that they only run every 20 minutes. (I'm not sure how often the buses run) However, you can easily see whether you've just missed one or if one will be arriving soon so that makes it easier to decide whether to wait. The ride itself is a pleasant, short trip across Wishing Star Lake. Like the bus, videos are broadcast on a monitor- in fact, it may have been the same video loop.
The first thing I had to do when I arrived at the park was to go to the Guest Services location outside the gates to get a new ticket to replace the 2 day ticket I'd lost the day before. I was a little nervous, but it was a quick and easy process- and yay, I got another paper ticket!
I arrived at the park at about 8:30am. Since the park wasn't due to open until 9am, you'd think that would put me in a great position. But you'd be wrong. I have no idea when they actually started letting people in, but by the time I arrived at the Adventureland Fastpass distribution station, the line was completely insane.
I figured that I'd have to be better off by going directly to Soaring over the Horizon and getting into the standby queue. The line stretched out far beyond the interior queue but I still got in line, figuring that it would move reasonably quickly. After all, this was still before the park was even supposed to be open. Unfortunately, that plan didn't work out as well as I'd hoped. Something seemed a bit off when there was no music playing in the queue. After waiting for quite awhile and looping through many claustrophobic areas, it seemed like the line completely stopped moving just as I was getting relatively close to the boarding area. There were some cast members coming around saying... something... but it was all in Chinese. I had no idea what was going on.
Eventually, some people started to leave the line in response to whatever was being said. But not everyone was leaving so I decided to be stubborn. I got the impression that the ride was down, but it wasn't clear to me what my alternatives were. I think I made the correct decision as eventually the line started moving and I was handed a Re-Entry pass to use later in the day; I'm guessing that those who backed out of the queue did not receive these passes but I could be wrong. So at least my wait wasn't totally in vain. However, by then it was 10:30am and I had essentially wasted 2 prime park hours with little to show for it.
I hadn't eaten yet so I headed over to Il Paperino Waffles, since I still wanted to try the waffles. I ordered a Plain Donald Waffle and ate it outside with a lovely view of the castle. I think every Disney park should have a quick serve waffle restaurant. After I was done eating, I passed by a sign listing times for a "Tai Chi with Character" show which intrigued me; I hadn't seen any signs about this show on previous days and am guessing that it may only be performed on days when there is a higher crowd volume.
I went to check if Voyage of the Crystal Grotto was open and was thrilled that it actually was! I think the sign said it was a 30-40 minute wait, which was acceptable. When Shanghai Disneyland had been first announced, I had been most intrigued by the description of this ride which was said to be a boat ride through (or under) the castle. My mind had swirled with delight imagining the potential for a truly magical experience! Fortunately, I'd already read lukewarm reviews of the actual ride that was built or else I would have been hugely disappointed. The vehicles only journey under the castle briefly at the end- the rest of the ride is outdoors and takes the guest past stationary statues of characters from movies such as Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, The Sorceror's Apprentice, Mulan, and The Little Mermaid. It was pleasant, but the character scenes weren't even nearly as adorable as the charming, detailed miniature fairy tale dioramas that you can see on boat rides in Anaheim and Paris. In fact, I enjoyed some of the displays you could see from the dock as you exited the ride more than the ride itself. It could have been so much more!
The Alice in Wonderland Maze proved to be a good attraction to visit on a very crowded day, so I'm glad that I still needed to do it. Based on the Tim Burton film, it's not really much of a challenge as a maze but it was enjoyable enough to walk through. It was probably more interesting (and definitely more unique) than Crystal Grotto.
As I was walking in front of the castle, I stumbled upon a performance of the Shanghai Disneyland Band. Talk about being in the right place at the right time! While I was taking a video of their performance of the Mickey Mouse Club song, I was excited and surprised when I saw Big Cheese himself, Mickey Mouse! Mickey stayed and conducted the rest of the set. TDecorated in fun and colorful costumes, the band members were energetic and full of Disney spirit. The inclusion of Pharrell's "Happy" seemed to be an odd music choice- but it didn't matter because the 12 minute performance itself was absolutely fabulous and one of the highlights of my day. So much fun! (I later saw the band performing toward the front of the park, and am glad I caught them in front of the castle)
It might be fitting that right after seeing Mickey lead the band, I finally was able to try a Mickey matcha (green tea) cake pop. (I'd tried to order one the previous day, but had been given a Minnie red velvet one instead.) It was yummy, and I was glad to enjoy a flavor that was unique to Asia. As I waited around for the Tai Chi show, I experimented with taking photos of the cake pop with the castle in the background.
The last of only 3 Tai Chi with Character shows for the day was at 1:25 and there was no way was I going to miss it. Performed toward the front left side of the castle, this joyful little performance was another of my highlights for the day. When it first started out with a gentleman performing Tai Chi, I got a bit worried that it wouldn't be what I expected. But soon Chip, Dale, and Donald Duck arrived, dressed in beautiful Chinese costumes. Their antics livened things up and made for a fun and unique 15 minute show.
All the rides had long queues- Tron single rider was listed at 45 minutes- so I decided to take a short break at the hotel for a couple hours. That gave me a chance to wander around taking some more photos, and also to soak my feet in the tub. On the way back from the park, I stopped at the convenience store by the boat dock and picked up a random beverage; it turned out to have some kind of citrus pulp in it so I wasn't thrilled with the texture. (also, looking at my photo, I am wondering if it was expired- it's stamped with "2016.8.30")
When I returned to the park at about 4:15, they weren't letting anyone in right away. I think there was a technical glitch with the entrance kiosk. It wasn't a long delay but it was frustrating because I was itching to get back into the park to enjoy my final hours.
I first headed to use my return pass for Soaring... which now had a standby wait posted at 195 minutes! The return queue seemed painfully slow, but it really only took about 20-30 minutes. A full 1/3 of the theatre I was in was blocked off so that definitely contributed to the delay. (I am not sure how many theatres they have, but it's at least 2 thought I'm not sure the status of the other theatre(s) that day) It was fun to ride again- but it absolutely was not worth 2.5 hours of my day to get to do so!
I went back to Pirates of the Caribbean to take one final ride. I used the single rider line, but that may not have been necessary since the queue was once again short. It was still amazing. The effects and the music are really mind blowingly awesome.
Since I still hadn't yet ridden Tron at night, I headed in that direction. A lot of other people must have had the same idea- it was really crowded and they weren't even letting people into the locker area when I first arrived. The single rider line was listed at 60 minutes but it was imperative for me not to miss my chance to ride in the dark, so I was willing to wait. This was the first time the line was long enough that I actually saw the videos displayed overheard. Until then, I hadn't realized that the storyline of the ride was that you were in a race. But I saw the loop play so many times that it got old really quickly. Fortunately, it only took about 20-30 minutes to board. And then something incredible happened- the cast member pushed my handlebars in closer to me which locked the seat more tightly. Ha! I had actually been sorta right to think that on my first ride, the restraints hadn't been quite right. Admittedly, they still must have been within the parameters of safety but there was at least a speck of a reason why I felt like I needed to hold on for dear life.
I was hungry but couldn't resist the lure of riding One Last Tron, since I was really starting to love the ride. The single rider wait was a little longer this time but to my delight, I was seated in the very front row! Awesome! I relaxed and enjoyed the experience for all it was worth- flying through the grid with the wind on my face on my pseudo-motorcycle. It felt like a perfect ending to my Shanghai Disneyland adventures.
I got off the ride at around 7:30. I could have stayed in the park to watch the "Ignite the Dream" show again but... I was good. I didn't feel like dealing with crowds, especially since I was hungry and therefore irritable. I decided to walk back to the hotel and just enjoy the peaceful evening. The scenic path to the hotel was very quiet and I tried to appreciate each moment. Even though I hadn't hurried, I was able to catch the last 5 minutes of the light show from outside the Shanghai Disneyland Hotel- where they also had the music piped in. Although I hadn't planned on it, I'm actually really glad I had the opportunity to watch at least some of the show from this panoramic vantage point across the lake. Because the castle is so majestic, I could even make out the projections pretty well. Seeing a few magical minutes of "Ignite the Dream" felt like an exclamation mark at the end of my day.
I stopped by the Ballet Cafe to (finally) get some quick dinner, though I later realized that I probably should have ordered room service. My Rigatoni with meatballs was more peppery than I'd have liked but I ate it all because I was so hungry. I enjoyed looking out the window toward the park as I dined in the quiet restaurant.
When I got back to my room, there was much to do to get ready for my departure the next morning. I had to get up at 4am to catch the cab I'd arranged with the front desk for my 7:15am flight. Fortunately, I was heading to the airport that was closer to the resort so the ride would be shorter.
I felt sad for my Shanghai Disney experience to end. I'd enjoyed the park even more than I expected. There were a few things I didn't get to do due to the unpredictability of the crowds, but I was glad I'd been able to experience everything that was most important to me. I was going to miss this unique resort- especially the wonderful hotels, helpful cast members, unique rides, and yummy sweet shops. But I couldn't be too depressed since the next day would bring me to Hong Kong Disneyland for the first time in 3 years. And I know in my heart that I'll return to Shanghai Disneyland someday.
Since this was my first trip to Shanghai Disneyland and it's a band new park, I thought I'd post some overall thoughts in case they are helpful to anyone reading this.
I was extremely impressed with my stay at the Shanghai Disney Resort. I'd had some concerns based on reports of bad behavior by crowds- particularly things like constant cutting in line. I was very relieved that I didn't notice very much of that- certainly not enough to impact my experience.
The park itself had a great Disney feel- something I really can't translate to words other than to say that I felt the familiar joy that I experience on my best days at Disney parks. It was obviously designed on a more epic scale than smaller parks like Hong Kong; as others online have commented, there are a lot of empty spaces and attractions were more spread out than at any other park. Still, it didn't seem any harder on my feet than, for example, the Tokyo parks.
Shanghai Disneyland itself was very distinct from all of the other castle parks. I enjoyed various Chinese touches, such as the Garden of the Twelve Friends which depicted Disney characters as the 12 Chinese zodiac signs. I'm not sure why the positioning of Tomorrowland and the Western/Adventure lands (in this case Adventure Isle and Treasure Cove) were flipped from their usual layout; maybe it was a Feng Shui thing.
All the Cast Members I met were wonderful- friendly and eager to help. Although not everyone could speak English (and the level of English proficiency varied), I didn't have any significant problems with a language barrier except the time when apparently Soaring broke down when I was in line and the announcements were made only in Chinese.
The crowd level was wildly unpredictable during my stay, so I'd recommend that if you happen to be there on a day with low attendance to take advantage of it and experience as many attractions as possible. The nice thing about the large scale of the park is that it never felt uncomfortably packed even on the day when lines were consistently quite long.
Unlike some other recent Disney parks, Shanghai Disneyland opened with a very complete set of attractions including some unique stunners. Tron Lightcycle Run and Pirates of the Caribbean (which is completely different from the ride of the same name in other parks) were the main standouts for me; I rode each of them 4 times over the course of my stay and they never got old. Peter Pan's Flight and Roaring Rapids were also very much worth trying- the former being a technological improvement over the similarly named ride in other parks. Soaring Over the Horizon is only slightly different from versions in other locales but I always find it worth riding.
I unfortunately didn't get a chance to experience the Camp Discovery Challenge Trails, which are elevated rope courses through a mountain. There was always too long a line, and I'm not sure it's quite my thing (especially since you can't take a camera along). But since it's such a unique attraction, it would have been nice to have tried it. I also wasn't able to visit the "Once Upon a Time" castle walk-through since it always had an hour or so wait whenever I checked.
I intentionally skipped some rides that were not unique such as The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh and Hunny Pot Spin (just like the tea cups, but different theme). The only attraction that left me disappointed was Voyage of the Crystal Grotto which had the potential to be something really special; instead, it was merely a pleasant boat ride.
I can't really speak to the efficacy of Fastpass since I never actually used one. The single rider lines at Tron, Pirates, and Seven Dwarfs Mine Train were much more useful to me.
2 of my favorite memories are of smaller shows that I happened to catch. The Shanghai Disneyland Band was great so if you happen to see them out performing (I didn't see scheduled times listed in my guide), it's worth stopping to check them out. The Tai Chi with Characters show was also a delight, especially because of its uniquely Asian theme.
Tarzan: Call of the Jungle was the standout for stage shows- very beautiful, almost like Cirque de Soleil- and I didn't feel any language barrier. In contrast, I cannot recommend Captain Jack's Stunt Spectacular- a couple brilliant moments were not worth the majority of the time when the language barrier totally prevented me from grasping the basic plot or laughing at the apparently low brow humor.
A unique entertainment option is the Walt Disney Grand Theatre which showcases full scale Broadway musicals that require a separate ticket. The production of Lion King playing during my visit was top quality. I am a bit concerned at how low the attendance was, but I hope that this venue will continue to showcase Broadway quality productions in the future.
My meal at the Royal Banquet Hall was the culinary highlight of my stay and I absolutely recommend splurging on this meal. I enjoyed the taste and presentation of the food, as well as the chance to see characters in fun attire. And of course it's always magical to eat at the castle. I'd recommend making reservations since I'm sure it can get full on busy days. I think it's the only sit down restaurant in the park.
The sweet shops in the park and Disneytown were another of my favorite things. I loved having a couple convenient spots where I could purchase small treats like cake pops, marshmallow wands and decorated cookies. I felt a void in the other Asian parks afterwards since they did not offer any analogous shops.
I stayed in both of the hotels at Shanghai Disney Resort and both were outstanding; I enjoyed staying at both of them and am glad I decided to split my stay.
You can't go wrong with the Toy Story Hotel and its prices are an excellent value. I adored staying in this bright fun place and felt that it was way nicer than the value resorts in Florida. It's very close to the park though walking isn't recommended (I don't think there are sidewalks all the way); I had no problems with the frequent bus transportation. I wouldn't necessarily recommend paying extra for a room with a view unless you really want to be able to see a bit of the castle from your hotel room.
The Shanghai Disneyland hotel is an amazing place to stay if you want to splurge. The price seemed relatively reasonable since it was more affordable than deluxe level hotels in other resorts such as Tokyo and the US. The park view room upgrade was well worth it to me since it offered a gorgeous panoramic view. But you could also enjoy that same view, and the light show, from just outside the hotel. The beautiful and peaceful walking path through the hotel grounds and Wishing Star Park was a delightful way to travel to and from the park. However, if walking is an issue, the boat ride was also lovely and the bus was very efficient.
In a rather shocking turn of events, I woke up before my 4am alarm. This turned out to be quite fortunate because I received a call at 4:20 that my taxi had already arrived... 10 minutes earlier than the time I'd discussed with the front desk the previous evening. I took one last look out my window at the beautiful view of Shanghai Disneyland surrounded by darkness and said a silent goodbye. I recalled some of my wonderful adventures, which were now lovely memories. I know I'll be back sometime- the only question is when.
The cab ride to Pudong airport on the dark Saturday morning was uneventful. It took approximately 30 minutes to get there- it was still pitch black out so the ride was rather boring, especially since my driver didn't speak English.
At the airport entrance, all luggage had to go through an X-Ray machine. I was surprised that, 2 hours before my 7:15am flight, the check-in counter still was not open. I grudgingly got into the queue- I just wanted to get to the gate and slump my tired body down in a chair. Fortunately, the counter opened about 15 minutes after I got in line.
When I'd traveled from Beijing in 2013, I'd been surprised that I needed to remove cameras as part of the pre-gate area security procedure. I was fully prepared to do so this time; however, in 2016 Shanghai they required removing battery chargers but not cameras. I had 3 small portable chargers so I took them out of my bag and placed them in a bin to go through security. The security officer seemed to spend a good deal of time examining each of them, although I didn't think anything of it until he held up my bright purple lipstick sized charger and explained that since it had no numbers on it, I could not take it on the plane because there was no way to prove that it didn't exceed the limit. Now, I knew for a fact that this was the least powerful of my 3 chargers and there was no way it was even close to the maximum allowed charging power. But there was nothing to do (as the agent would not be persuaded) except to say farewell to my relatively new shiny purple charger which remained at security as I moved on to find my gate.
Although I was tired, I followed some instructions on signs to get a text with a free wifi code while I waited to board my plane. But I never received the promised password so no wifi for me. Also, there was a distinct lack of vending machines in my downstairs gate area. It really wasn't that thrilling of an area, but I was just happy for a place to sit.
I had to walk outside to board my aircraft- fortunately, the weather was decent. I'd debated the merits of watching a video on my 3 hour flight but ultimately that decision was made for me when I took my seat and noticed the lack of a seatback video system. So I just relaxed and got some sleep.
The in-flight meal was pretty good- I had chicken with noodles which also came with a side of yogurt. By the time it was served, I was pretty hungry. However, my dining experience was a bit uncomfortable because flight attendant made me put my chair in the upright position, while the person in front of me had their chair reclined. I was too tired to ask for an explanation.
My plane landed a half hour early. Hong Kong airport at just before 10am was much busier than when I'd last landed at 5am (in 2013). As soon as the plane touched down, I checked my social media which I hadn't been able to do for the previous 5 days. Of course, I was curious what I'd missed (well, except for the political discussion). But, more importantly, I was scheduled to meet up with an online friend, Sam, and I hadn't had any way to contact him to confirm our plans. I was quickly able to get in touch with him and determine that he was already waiting at the park entrance. I told him I'd be there as soon as possible.
I collected my bags, got some money from the ATM and a half hour or so after I landed I was in a taxi en route to the Hong Kong Disneyland hotel. As soon as I walked outside, I was assaulted with the typical island humidity which was a stark change from the slightly chilly weather I'd experienced in Shanghai. I'd already stuffed my jacket into my backpack- I knew I wouldn't need it during the next 2 days.
I hadn't ever been to the Hong Kong Disneyland hotel, and my first impression was quite favorable. But I really wasn't paying that much attention- I mostly wanted to get to the park so I could meet Sam and also go on one of my favorite rides anywhere, Mystic Manor. I wasn't able to get into my room, but I was able to leave my bags and head out to the park.
I'd heard that you could walk to the park but I wasn't sure of the path so I figured the bus would be more convenient. That may not have been the best decision since I had to wait a bit for the bus and I was disappointed at its lack of theming. Also, it stopped at the other hotel before arriving at the park/MTR station. On the plus side, I passed by the construction site for the newest hotel that would open in 2017, the Explorers Lodge. I couldn't see that much from the bus but I was very excited to eventually stay at the new resort. I mean, a hotel themed to exploration of exotic locations... that sounds perfect for me!
I finally arrived at the park at a little after 11am, which was just under an hour and a half from when my plane touched down. After crossing through the gates, I promptly spotted Sam. I'd never met him in person but I felt comfortable with him right away. Anyone who loves travel and Disney is by nature an ideal person for me to hang out with.
We set off for Mystic Manor full of excitement. All through the course of my planning, I'd been dreaming of having a chance to ride this attraction. I felt an extra surge of anticipation because I'd be introducing the ride to Sam who would view it with fresh eyes. It's a really unique ride which shows the story that unfold when a mischievous but adorable monkey opens a magic box that breathes life into inanimate objects. It's one of my favorites because of its combination of an adorable character, music, and intrigue- with the added benefit that people of all ages can enjoy it, since it's not scary or fast moving. Sam agreed that it was a great ride.
Because I like to be sociable when in the company of others, I didn't take as many photos as usual... and I also didn't write as many notes. I'm pretty sure that we enjoyed riding Big Grizzly Mountain Runaway Mine Cars, which is a fun roller coaster. We also took a little cruise on It's a Small World, which is obligatory for me in any park where the ride is open.
At around 12:40, we left the park because we had a 1pm reservation at Crystal Lotus restaurant at my hotel. I suggested walking which ultimately proved to be a better option than the bus- the path was quite pleasant and peaceful. While not as scenic as the path to the Shanghai Disneyland hotel, it was nonetheless quite lovely. It's about a 10 minute walk, which is not very long at all.
When I'd decided to add Hong Kong to my itinerary, I was determined to partake of the Disney dim sum meal that I'd read about online. I told Sam my plan, not sure if he'd want to join me, but he agreed. I emailed the hotel to inquire about making reservations but they told me it could only be done by phone. So I called, and afterwards the hotel emailed me a menu that we could choose from. The Disney dim sum need to be ordered in advance, although the restaurant also has an extensive menu of items that do not require advanced notice.
The restaurant itself was quite lovely, with a sophisticated decor that included crystal lotus chandeliers. But obviously the highlight of the meal was the Disney dim sum. We feasted on Mickey's Seafood Glutinous Pancake, Baymax Bun, Duffy & Shellie May Steamed Sweet Bun, Three Little Pigs Barbecue Pork Buns, and Little Green Men Pork and Vegetable Buns. With the exception of one Baymax bun that was slightly off in its presentation, these were all absolutely adorable! I enjoyed them immensely but I think Sam found the meal to be a bit too heavy in the carbs department (never a problem for me).
For dessert, we'd ordered the Tsum Tsum chilled pudding. I wasn't sure what to expect from these, but they were pretty good. Over the course of our time together, I had to explain Tsum Tsum to Sam, as well as Duffy/Shellie May. Not that there is really much to explain, other than the fact that these items/characters are super popular with the kawaii loving young Asian market who frequent the parks there. (although Tsum Tsum and Duffy are also available in the US) I personally feel no need to buy the tiny plush Tsum Tsum although there is no denying that they're cute. Anyway, I was really thrilled to have someone to share my dim sum meal with me- I don't think it would have been as fun solo.
After we ate, we headed back to the theme park for some more fun. We both enjoyed Hyperspace Mountain, the Star Wars themed version of Space Mountain. I wasn't as familiar with the movies but I knew enough to enjoy the ride; as with Pirates of the Caribbean in Shanghai, the music is familiar and epic enough for virtually anyone to enjoy regardless of their level of familiarity with the movie. We eventually ended up riding it a 2nd time.
Somehow, I managed to totally kick ass at Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters... I totally beat Sam's score. Ha! At Sam's suggestion, we took in a showing of Mickey's Philharmagic, a delightful 3D movie that is basically identical to the version in Florida (except for the theatre design itself).
I'd really wanted to see the live stage show, Mickey and the Wondrous Book, which was relatively new- it had premiered a year earlier. I felt like Sam mainly went just because I wanted to, but I think he genuinely enjoyed the show as much as I did. The storyline was based on the premise that Olaf was lost from his book, and Mickey had to find the appropriate place to return him. During the course of his journey, Mickey encountered scenes from The Jungle Book, The Little Mermaid/ Tangled/ Brave, Aladdin, and The Princess and the Frog. Of course he finally ended up in Frozen (where of course Elsa sang the ubiquitous "Let It Go") after which a Happily Ever After sequence, which contained brief references to other Disney stories, concluded the show. The performance was in Cantonese, but there were English subtitles at the side of the stage, and the songs need no translation. Sam and I both particularly liked the sequence from The Princess and the Frog which is not a movie typically represented in theme park shows.
One of my other major goals was to see the Paint the Night parade, which is a parade that was also performed in the Anaheim Disneyland park. Neither of us had previously seen it in either locale. Sam probably had the best description when he said that the parade felt like a rave. Indeed, it had more of a modern and party feel than other parades. Plus, the performers were all wearing very glittery makeup. The floats were heavy on relatively new properties like Cars and of course Frozen. I guess Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast are now considered "classic" but the true Disney classics were only present in the opening and closing floats. I was glad the parade acknowledged Disney tradition by including a bit of the theme of Main Street Electric Parade's baroque hoedown. I also liked how the castle appeared in projected rainbow colors when the parade was over.
I was a bit ambivalent about watching the "Disney In The Stars" fireworks and projection show but Sam wanted to see it so we found a spot to watch. It was a fun show, as these evening entertainments always are. But it had a fundamental problem- the Hong Kong castle was simply too small to be an effective canvas for projections. Especially in comparison to Shanghai! After my trip, Disney announced that the Hong Kong castle will be expanded which will definitely provide a better experience for any future night time projection shows. It remains to be seen if I will nonetheless become nostalgic for the original, small castle which has a nice intimacy during the daytime.
After the park closed at the very early time of 7:30, Sam and I said our goodbyes as he took a train back to his hotel which was in a more central area of Hong Kong. I walked back to the Hong Kong Disneyland hotel and I was finally able to check in to my room. When I saw that I was assigned to a room on the main lobby level, I asked nicely if I could possibly have that changed to a higher floor. I'm glad I asked because they ended up upgrading me to a room that had a balcony with a great view of the maze and the South China sea beyond.
We hadn't been hungry for dinner earlier after such a filling lunch. But after I settled into my room, I ordered some room service spaghetti and meat sauce. It arrived fairly quickly and was just what I needed to ensure that I wouldn't go to sleep with an empty belly.
Earlier in the park, I'd purchased a pair of aqua Gelatoni sweaters. I obviously don't need both of them for myself- one was for my friend, Ellen, who I'd be seeing in a week in Taipei. When I saw that she wanted one enough that she was considering taking a trip to Hong Kong just to get one, it was a no brainer for me to offer to pick one up for her. Before going to sleep, I messaged her with a photo of the sweaters. She asked me to confirm how much it cost but I pretended not to see the question; I'd already decided that her smile would be payment enough.
After waking up at 4 the previous day, it felt positively decadent to be able to sleep until around 8am. Obviously the first thing I wanted to do was to open the curtains to check out the daylight view from my room. It was a little hazy out, but I was not disappointed. The Hong Kong resort is probably in the most naturally scenic areas of any of the Disney resorts, and my room definitely highlighted that with its view of the sea and mountains beyond.
As soon as I showered and got dressed, I went downstairs so I could check out the maze that was visible from my room. On my way, I noticed that a Christmas tree had magically appeared in the lobby overnight as the resort was transitioning to its upcoming Christmas celebrations. The maze wasn't that challenging but it was a fun area to walk around. When I was done exploring the hotel grounds, I walked back to Hong Kong Disneyland.
My first order of business was to get some food. I noticed that Main Street Market sold Mickey and Darth Vader waffles so I decided to get one of the latter to be different. As I placed my order, the cast member informed me, as if issuing a warning, that it was black sesame and asked if I still wanted it. In fact, I was even more intrigued- yes, please give me a kind of waffle that I can't find at home! It was absolutely delicious, and I enjoyed both the sauces that were served with it- one was peanut, and another was a sweet flavor that I couldn't identify. I felt a little awkward when another family invited themselves to sit at my table, but it ended up being fine.
When I checked out the nearby Duffy store, I was excited to see that Duffy was meeting with Gelatoni... and there was barely any line. Obviously, it was a must for me to get a photo there! I'd already taken a photo with Duffy in China but this was my first time seeing a walkaround Gelatoni character; since he's a cat, I obviously have an affinity for him.
I enjoyed having some time to myself to relax, take photos and shop. I hadn't done much of the latter 2 activities the previous day because I knew I'd enjoy them more when I wouldn't have to worry about boring a companion. I particularly wanted to photograph the Christmas decorations that abounded despite the fact that the official celebration of the holiday hadn't yet started.
I took encore rides on both Grizzly Gulch and Mystic Manor and then I headed over to The Festival of the Lion King. Despite the fact that it's been playing since the park opened, I had never managed to fit it into my previous 3 trips. I was well overdue at taking it in. It was a fun show, similar to the one at Animal Kingdom although not identical.
While checking Facebook in the park the previous night, I had been saddened to learn that a friend's mother had died. Although as of this writing, I have not met this friend in person, I'd known her online for ages and I always felt so much joy seeing photos of her enjoying Disney World with her mom. I took a few minutes out of my park time to message her and ask how she was doing. It's amazing how connected one can feel with friends one has never met in person.
At around 12:45, I decided to leave the park to head into Hong Kong with the thought that I might return later. I took the Disney themed train one stop (the line is only one stop long) and then transferred onto a different line that would take me into Kowloon. Once I emerged from underground, I got my bearings and navigated to my destination: Hello Kitty Chinese Cuisine, a restaurant that I'd read about online which serves Hello Kitty shaped Dim Sum!
I was super excited to try my 2nd Hello Kitty themed restaurant of the trip. It was a small place, decorated with a bit of a Chinese flair to its character theming. I felt both at home and in awe in another venue that was filled with so much Kitty. I so wanted to buy the wine displayed in the window by the front but I didn't want to carry it around afterwards. Similarly, the only plush Hello Kitty was a bit too large for me to make a purchase.
I was asked if I wanted water or tea and I chose the former, expecting a refreshing glass of ice water. Instead, I was presented with an adorable tea pot full of hot water. I had no idea what the heck I was supposed to do with that! Culture shock is rather amusing sometimes. As I waited to be served, I looked around at everyone else's cute food. I couldn't help but enjoy the interactions of a young girl and her grandmom (I think) who were seated right next to me.
I wanted to take full advantage of what might be my only opportunity to dine there so I ordered 3 different types of dim sum. The BBQ pork pastry was good but the Shrimp Dumplings and Custard Buns were both more adorable and tastier. It was well worth going 45-50 minutes out of my way to make a stop here. But boy was I full when I left!
When I was done eating, I decided to walk to Victoria Harbour because it would be a crime to visit Hong Kong without catching sight of its iconic skyline. I also messaged Sam and we made plans to meet up later. It would be a bit of a late night for me, especially since I had an early flight the next day, but what the hell. It's rare for me to have a chance to hang out with a fellow traveler and I looked forward to going a bit out of my comfort zone.
On my walk, I stumbled across a staircase lined with small character statues. Intrigued, I ascended and found myself in the Hong Kong Avenue of Comic Stars which was a cute area with large, whimsical comic themed statues. Although most of which were based on characters with whom I was not familiar, I still really enjoyed them because they were colorful and cheerful.
Once I got to the harbour, I found the area around the Hong Kong Cultural Center to be alive with energy. I passed by what appeared to be some dancers rehearsing and then sat down for awhile to take in a drum performance. It was quite pleasant to sit with a view of the Harbour while listening to the sounds of percussion. Eventually, the guy who was drumming introduced his students to give a bit of a recital- these ranged from a 6 year old boy to a woman who'd only played for 2 months. To my untrained ear, they all sounded great.
After about a half hour, I moved on to sit somewhere with a more direct view of Hong Kong Island across the harbour. While I was relaxing there, I was approached by a man who asked if one of the students accompanying him could interview me to practice her English. The quiet girl proceeded to ask me questions about my time in Hong Kong... which were a bit awkward to answer when this trip I'd only been to Disneyland and Hello Kitty dim sum but I did my best. Also, when I travel, my name is officially Lin whenever anyone I don't know asks me to identify myself- no matter how innocent they may seem. At the end, I took a photo with the kids and the girl who interviewed me gave me an almond biscuit which I was way too full to eat at the time. I hope that talking to me helped give the little girl some confidence in her English.
I still had plenty of time to kill before meeting Sam, so I went to the Harbour City shopping mall to wander around for a bit. I ended up buying a cute bath bomb in the shape of a bear from Lush and a S'mores cookie. And then I went back outside to watch the sky line come to life with glistening lights as the sun began to fade away.
I was getting a little tired so I messaged Sam and asked if we could maybe meet a little earlier. He offered to cancel but I really wanted to get together again, and to do something that I generally wouldn't do on my own. But eventually he said he didn't think he could do it, I guess because he'd crashed earlier. I told him it was no big deal but in truth, I was terribly disappointed. I don't often get invited to do fun things outside my comfort zone, especially when traveling, so I'd been really looking forward to it. It was probably better for me not to be out late, but that knowledge didn't ameliorate my mood.
As soon as I got the message from Sam, I started heading back to Hong Kong Disneyland. Unfortunately, it would be too late to enter the park so I went right to my hotel. I took the bus from the transit center since my feet were tired and the walk would have been longer than from the park. I'm glad I did because I overheard the most heartwarming discussion between a little boy and his dad. The boy was talking exuberantly about how much he likes Ariel. His dad encouraged this, and told him that if kids laughed at him about it, they weren't really his friends. I forget exactly what was said, but it was totally sweet.
Back at the hotel, I spent some time in the shop and purchased a Gelatoni scarf that I'd been eyeing earlier. I also asked at the front desk for advice about heading to the airport the next morning. The gentleman down there was incredibly helpful, even going so far as to suggest that I settle my account then so I could save time in then morning. I wish I'd had more time to stay at the hotel- it was fabulous, right down to the level of service.
So I packed up my stuff once again, and tried to look forward to my return the next morning to my favorite country, Japan... instead of thinking wistfully of how fun it might have been to hang out in bars in Lan Kwai Fong.