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.
My alarm was set for 5am which means only one thing- another early morning flight! This one was at the comparatively normal hour of 8:15, and was scheduled to land at 12:40pm. (Japan is an hour ahead of everywhere else I visited so the flight was only 3.5 hours) I prefer to be able to get into a destination early enough to get out and do something, especially when I don't have the luxury of time. But that doesn't exactly make it any more fun to try and get myself up and moving at an unnatural time.
The front desk had been very helpful in arranging a cab for me, and I didn't have to wait at all. As we pulled out of the Hong Kong Disneyland Hotel at 5:45am, I noticed half a Christmas tree outside- ha, I actually caught them in the act of overnight decorating!
The airport is really close to Hong Kong Disneyland and the process of checking in and going through security went smoothly, with no items being confiscated. I had some time before my flight so I checked out various options in the food court and ended up deciding on a bowl of ramen which was delicious. Have I mentioned that I enjoy eating soup/noodles for breakfast in Asia? Well, it can't be said enough. I also had a Coke Zero because caffeine was necessary.
My flight to Osaka was on Cathay Pacific (as opposed to its affiliate Dragonair, which I flew into Hong Kong) and that meant that I got to enjoy my favorite economy airplane seat. I can never rave enough about the design of the Cathay seatbacks. At the top is the standard video system, which nicely includes a USB port. Just below that is my favorite feature- a narrow tray that is wide enough to store glasses, ear plugs, or small headphones. It sounds like a really trivial thing, but I always find it incredibly useful and convenient. Below that is the pull down tray for meals, which of course is the kind where you can just pull down a cupholder if you'd like so that you aren't cramped in your seat if you want a glass of water. There are also a couple pouches on the seatback. I'm pretty sure that there was also a power port below the seat. Economy flights will never be luxurious- but they are far more comfortable on Asian carriers than US ones. Plus the service is generally great too.
Of course, the flight included meal service. I had the congee which also included a side of strawberry yogurt. For an airplane meal, it was pretty good.
If I had to choose a favorite country, it would be Japan so I was really excited to be headed there. There are so many reasons why I keep returning. I feel very comfortable everywhere I go- in the sense that I never have to fret about safety. I revel in all the crazy and adorable kawaii items that abound. And there's always plenty for me to see- from my usual favorite activities, like theatre and Disney, to experiences that are foreign to my everyday life, such as temples and scenic little towns. I know enough Japanese so that I don't feel quite as lost as in other countries where I can't say a word in the native tongue. In college, I studied Japanese to fulfill my language requirement and unexpectedly gained a lifelong appreciation of the culture. So it's a country very close to my heart.
After the plane landed, I had no trouble going through customs. I couldn't find an ATM so instead I just changed some US dollars into yen to supplement the small amount I'd had left from my previous trip. I made my way outside and easily found the rail station. There were 2 different options and the lady managing the queues didn't seem at all interested in helping me figure out the advantages of each; she just wanted to keep the flow moving. I felt overwhelmed for a few seconds but I finally just picked one. I have no idea if it was the fastest or cheapest way to go, but I figured that as long as I could get to Namba station, it was all good. And I knew both options would stop there because it's a major station.
The train ride was pleasant enough; looking out the window and knowing I was in Japan made me very happy. I got off at Namba station and, as I was walking through the station, I came across a shop with the most adorable cat shaped breads- so typical of the unexpected delights I stumble upon in this country. My hands were too full with luggage to navigate into the small store but I took a photo and hoped that I'd be able to return later.
My hotel wasn't supposed to be too far from the station but I'd seen some discussions online in which people recommended taking a taxi. That was definitely the better option when one has luggage and is in an unfamiliar city. Japanese taxis are like little luxury limos when compared to the dingy ones I've taken in the states; the drivers typically wear white gloves and seem totally professional. I rarely take them due to the expense and prevalence of excellent public transit options, but it's nice to treat myself sometimes.
I chose my hotel because it was located near the Dotonbori area, which seemed like a fun place to stay, and because it got fabulous reviews. As soon as I walked in, I knew I'd made an excellent choice. I mean they even gave me bath salts at check in! The staff couldn't have been more helpful or friendly, and I enjoyed the stylish boutique feel of the place. Plus, the location was as perfect as described. I usually like trying different hotels when returning to cities but if I should ever find myself back in Osaka, it would be very hard for me to stay elsewhere.
By the time I got myself together, it was after 3pm. My plan for the day was pretty much just to wander around and check out a couple places in the Umeda area. Naturally, I gravitated first to Dotonbori. My hotel was practically right on the canal, just across from the famous Glico Man neon sign. I'd actually never heard of the sign before planning this trip but apparently it's been around for over 70 years and is an icon of the city. Particularly at night, crowds gravitate to the Ebisu bridge where they can take photos of the famous landmark.
My hotel was also just a block away from the Shinsaibashi shopping area, a pleasant undercover pedestrian street which was home to a couple stores I wanted to check out: namely, The Disney Store and Sanrio Gallery. I enjoyed walking browsing at various stores ranging from Lush cosmetics to a store selling Disney themed costumes for pets. The 2 stores I'd intended to visit were definite highlights. While I resisted the temptation to actually buy any Hello Kitty items, I bought some adorable little trifles at the Disney Store: character themed lip gloss, hand cream, and candies.
I was getting hungry and I had a definite idea of where I wanted to eat so I headed to the subway once I'd finished shopping. I still had a Suica card from my trip the previous year with Julia, so I added some value to it and took a short ride 3 stops to Umeda station.
The train let me off in an interesting area, more modern city-like than the more distinctive locale where I was staying. As I was navigating my way, I checked out each of the ubiquitous vending machines to see if they might have something intriguing, as I typically do. I was super excited to see the grape jello drink that had greatly amused me on my previous trip! If you're not familiar with my 2015 Japan trip report, this beverage comes in an adorable small metal bottle decorated with purple. There are visual instructions to shake it... and it has actual jello in it... which had taken me by surprise despite the fact that it's pictured on the bottle. I was happy to relive a fun memory by purchasing one to drink later.
Once I got my bearings, I didn't have much trouble finding the Gudetama Cafe using my Google Maps app for help. Unfortunately, I hadn't been able to identify a Hello Kitty themed eatery in Osaka... but Gudetama is another adorable Sanrio character who is newer and less well known to Americans. Basically, he is a lazy egg... and who can't love an egg who wants to climb back into his shell or, alternately, fall asleep with bacon as a blanket?
Despite the fact that the restaurant wasn't crowded, they sat me all the way back in a corner. Part of me wonders if they wanted to hide the gaijin (foreigner). After initially handing me a Japanese menu (which would have sufficed because it included photos of each menu item), someone handed me an English language one. I had to start with a chocolate latte since it was decorated with an image of Gudetama and I'm a total sucker for cuteness. Likewise, I ordered the White Curry because it was made of yellow rice molded to Gudetama's shape, under a blanket of bacon. I'd been warned by online reviews that it's not the best meal ever (I mean, it's almost entirely rice and curry sauce) but it was by far the most adorable. I enjoyed it well enough, but I can't say that it wouldn't have been more satisfying with some meat. In all, it was a really cute little place on the 7th floor of a mall. I loved the attention to detail, such as chairs in the shape of egg shells.
My next order of business was to find a shop where I could buy a CD of the Japanese version of the musical Elisabeth which I'd seen in 2015. No, you can't just download it from the iTunes store or Amazon... and the only online stores which sell it require a Japanese address, much to my chagrin. So I'd researched the location of a store in Osaka; if that failed, I knew where there was a store in Tokyo which should have it. I had to keep checking Google maps because I felt like I was walking in circles without finding my destination. Somehow I figured out that the store was on the 29th floor of an office building... which wasn't super intuitive at all. Even when I took the elevator, I was a bit skeptical that I was in the right place.
But then I got off and found the store. Before I could enter, I stood and gaped in awe and wonder at the window display. It was all Hello Kitty Takarazuka! Holy kawaii heaven! Obviously I love Hello Kitty, but I have also really been interested in the Takarazuka Theatre troupe, which is a wildly popular group of performers where all the roles are played by women. Sort of a reverse of Kabuki. Super popular in Japan- especially the women who portray men- they perform a lot of musicals and one of their most popular is Elisabeth. I'd seen them perform a revue in London many years ago and had been fortunate enough to see a fully staged version of Takarazuka Chicago a few months earlier in NYC. The combination of Hello Kitty and Takarazuka was perfection.
I originally assumed that was just a promotional window display, and was amazed to discover that actual Hello Kitty Takarazuka items were for sale! Major squee!!! I ended up buying 3 little keychains- 1 with Mimmy (Hello Kitty's twin; you can tell it's her because she wears the bow on the opposite side of her head) in a gorgeous lavender dress and 2 of Kitty dressed in a stylish men's black suit. The latter were incredibly adorable and are among my favorite travel purchases ever. And oh yeah, almost incidentally, I also picked up the Elisabeth CD that I'd been wanting.
I wandered around some more shops in the Umeda area, the most interesting of which was the Neko Mart which sold a bunch of cat themed items. (Neko is the Japanese word for cat) I'd hoped that they might have some cardboard box cat toys in the shape of the locales from the Neko Atsume phone game, but they no longer seemed to carry any. It's probably just as well, as those might have been difficult to take home.
Nearby, I spotted a Mister Donut. Of course I did. Because Mister Donut is my friend! (I'd made that pronouncement in 2005 when one appeared as if out of nowhere to save me from hunger). I scanned their offerings and naturally decided to buy one of the cutest ones, a Snoopy shaped donut flavored like white chocolate. So adorable!
I took the subway back to my hotel, and lingered a little outside to gaze at the Glico Man sign in all its nighttime neon wonder. Then I relaxed in my luxurious, generously sized bathtub and used the Butterbear bath bomb that I'd purchased in Hong Kong. Aaaaaah! Before going to sleep, I admired my small purchases and ate the yummy donut. I'd had an amazing half day enjoying the city of Osaka- I didn't see any actual tourist sites, but sometimes it's nice just to wander and explore a new city.
I relished the opportunity to sleep in a bit, waking up around 8:30 but lazing in my comfortable bed until around 10. As I was getting ready, I thumbed through a hotel brochure and stopped dead in my tracks when I saw Hello Kitty's face emblazoned on a few items. What?!?!? Without even knowing it, I'd stumbled into a hotel that sells exclusive Hello Kitty items! Specifically, the brochure advertised 2 different designs of bottled water... and, much more intriguingly, 3 different cans of green tea: Peach, Apple, and Vanilla. Vanilla green tea definitely sounds like something I'd enjoy even without the Hello Kitty marketing so I made it a point to seek some out in the lobby later.
I decided to explore the Dotonbori area more than the cursory quick looks I'd taken the previous day. This found me walking down a pedestrian street lined with a cacaphony of colorful signs- many with wacky oversized models of food. I loved it. I walked into a few souvenir stores and stumbled upon many items with an odd looking character on them- he reminded me of Harry Potter... if he was wearing red and white striped robes with a blue bow in the middle of his head. I later discovered that the character's name is Kuidaore Taro and he is a happy clown who is a bit of a symbol of Osaka. Originally, the clown was a large statue in front of a restaurant; the restaurant has closed but the merchandising opportunities live on.
There was also a fair amount of merchandise based on the Glico Man sign. I was excited when I saw a T-shirt featuring Hello Kitty in a semblance of the pose of the runner in the sign. But unfortunately, it only came in child sizes. Boo.
Turning off the main street, I entered another covered passageway which I later discovered was the Ebisubashi shopping arcade. I admired the many overhead banners that were decorated with drawings of cats with flags of various Asian countries. I have absolutely no idea what their purpose was... but I love cats, and I love Asia. So they were beautiful.
Soon I found Hozenji temple, a very small place that I really only sought out because it was so close to my hotel. The temple is best known for its unique moss covered statue. I enjoyed the unexpectedly quaint spot just off the busy pedestrian areas.
When was walking past the Don Quijote store across from my hotel, I decided I might as well go in and check it out. I'd heard of this discount chain but had never been in one. I immediately gravitated to the candy section since I'm always in search of more of the funky Kit Kat flavors Japan is famous for. And suddenly, right before my eyes, I saw a rainbow of colorful Kit Kat boxes lining the wall. Holy crap, I'd hit the Kit Kat jackpot! In all my years of searching for Kit Kats, I don't I've never come across a store with so many varieties- not even the much lauded store in Tokyo station (which had actually been disappointing). As I scanned the flavors, I looked with faint hope for the elusive purple sweet potato flavor which was my holy grail; that flavor was local to the Okinawa region so I didn't really expect to ever come across it in a store. But wait... did I see a purple box? Yes, I did! I don't know if I could have been more excited if I'd found a pot of gold.
Not wanting to lug around a bunch of chocolate, I decided to return later; eleventy billion boxes of Kit Kats were not going to sell out in a few hours. Needless to say, the next time I see a Don Quijote store in Japan, I am definitely going to stop and go inside! (even though the rest of the multilevel store was very underwhelming)
I decided that I'd take the opportunity of a mostly unplanned city day to visit a cat cafe. There were at least 2 nearby and I decided on "Neko No Jikan" because I liked the name. (it means "Cat time") Recently, when working on this blog, I discovered that this was the very first cat cafe in Japan so it was probably a good choice. During the hour I spent there, I was absolutely the only guest which was pretty cool. It was nice to relax for a bit in the company of adorable felines. Since the entrance fee included a beverage, I ordered a Green Tea Au Lait which was simple but tasty. Having not eaten, I was disappointed that the only snacks they sold were kitty treats; I bought some but obviously they didn't do me much good.
The cafe had a nice assortment of cats. One of my favorites was Brutus, a large fluffy grey and white beauty. And by "large", I am not trying to use a euphemism for fat; this cat was just plain big! I would have liked to have played with the kitties using one of the toy rods lining the walls, but they charged a nominal fee to rent a toy for 10 minutes and it didn't seem worth it. I haven't seen other places charge for using toys, but I suppose at least it would keep people from hogging them. (one guy at the Tokyo cat cafe the previous summer had monopolized quite a collection!)
Once my hour was up, I was getting really hungry. So I started walking vaguely in the direction of Shinsaibashi, keeping my eyes open for somewhere interesting to grab a bite to eat. And that's when I saw "Kanahei's Yurotto Cafe", which I correctly surmised was themed to cute animal characters. I had absolutely no familiarity with the characters... but they were adorable so I went inside and climbed the stairs. I had to place my order before going inside and getting seated. I decided on the udon soup, which was topped with edible images of 2 of the characters- definitely cute! It was also quite tasty.
When I'd entered the restaurant, someone motioned at statues of 2 of the characters and said something about a photo. So I snapped a photo. It wasn't until I was seated and watching other people that I realized that you're supposed to take a photo with the characters. Ooops. Missed opportunity. At any rate, the restaurant was completely adorable and I was so happy to have stumbled upon it.
On the way out, I stopped at the obligatory gift shop. It was practically a given that I had to buy the little pink stuffed bunny that was dressed in a chef outfit; it was the symbol of the restaurant. But I also saw a stuffed cat that was the same size and I waffled on whether to make the purchase. Eventually, I decided on a new life motto which made the decision for me: "Life is short, buy the cat."
Now that I wasn't starving, I was finally set to take the subway to my main destination of the day. Yes, I actually had an actual tourist attraction planned! I wanted to check out Osaka Castle, particularly because my many trips to Japan have been shockingly lacking in castle visits; I don't think I've been to a single one unless you count being able to catch sight of one in the distance.
Osaka Castle was built in the 16th century, but the original structure was heavily damaged during both the Meiji Restoration and WW2. The current version is a restoration which now functions as a museum. I enjoyed seeing the exhibits, though I wasn't thrilled that photography was not allowed in many areas. The top floor of the castle offered an excellent vantage point for panoramic views of Osaka
I'd been hoping to see some beautiful fall colors framing the castle and I was not disappointed- the landscape was dramatically draped with red, yellow and green foliage. I really enjoyed walking around the grounds of Osaka Castle Park both before and after my visit. I exited in a different direction than my origin, which allowed me to see more of the area. On my way to the subway, I was amused to see what looked like an amateur baseball team standing in a semi-circle and working on their stretches.
I took the train back to Namba station, with the intention of finding the store I'd seen the previous day selling adorable kitty shaped breads, which I happily located. On the way, I stumbled across an underground shopping area that had many signs announcing "Namba Walk x Hello Kitty"; I'm not really sure what that was about. I was disappointed not to see any Hello Kitty touches (or special items for sale) other than the signs, which were cute.
While in the area of Namba Walk, I saw a Baskin Robbins. Since they usually have flavors that aren't available in the US, I went to take a closer look. On the counter, I saw a sign displaying pictures of the most adorable little sundaes that were designed to look like animal faces. Of course, I absolutely had to get the cat one! The flavor I wanted to try, Maple Sweet Potato, was fortuitously a very suitable color for a cat. I'm not sure if many adults order these "Happy Doll" sundaes... but this is Japan, so maybe they do. At any rate, my cute little bowl of ice cream was a delicious treat.
While I was at the station, I also bought shinkansen tickets to travel to Tokyo the next morning. Since I wasn't using a railpass, I'd be able to ride the Nozomi shinkansen which is the fastest train on the route.
I'd become a little familiar with the area so I had no problem finding my way back to my hotel; it was a very pleasant walk when one isn't carrying luggage. I was excited to stop in Don Quijote and pick up a stash of 5 different flavors of Kit Kats which I'd never tried before. I didn't care how cumbersome it would be to get them home, I'd make it work somehow. A quick overview of the flavors I bought:
Sake- This was the most intriguing of the bunch, and it actually does contain a trace of alcohol. I brought a bag into work where they were a big hit. Very fun!
Purple Sweet Potato- These are sweet and yummy, although I probably wouldn't have placed the flavor if I hadn't known it. Anyway, they are purple which in itself makes them awesome.
Roasted Tea- These had a very nice, distinct tea flavor.
Kobe Pudding- Had a taste that reminded me of creme brulee. Very good.
Momiji Manju- These are really cute with a maple leaf design. According to wikipedia, Momiji Manju is a maple leaf shaped steam bun with a bean jam filling that is wrapped in sponge cake. These were just plain weird- at first, I thought they tasted off.. but then I sorta thought they were ok. But I'm not really convinced. Fortunately, I got the smallest box of these (since they had a small box available)
4 hits and 1 miss... not bad. And it was awfully fun trying them after I got home! They bars are packaged in mini wrappers inside the boxes, so it's easy to try a couple flavors at a time.
I stopped by the front desk of my hotel on the way back and was elated to be able to purchase a can of the Hello Kitty Vanilla Green Tea. The bottled water looked cute, but it wasn't exactly practical. Due to the fact that the can of tea had fallen behind some other items, I hadn't tried it until I started writing my blog about Osaka which reminded me that I'd brought it home. After searching my entire home for 2 hours, I found it exactly where I thought it was- just hidden under some other items. Hmph. Anyway, I made myself a cup, estimating the amount of tea I'd need, and I really liked it. It was a bit sweeter than normal green tea (which I love). Even if it didn't come in cute packaging, it would be a winner.
It was still rather early (around 7) when I got back into my hotel room. I debated heading back out to try some takoyaki, a traditional Osaka delicacy made of balls of fried octopus. Not wanting to miss what could be my only chance to try it in its native city, I dragged myself back out after I'd spent some time relaxing in the room. They sell takoyaki at stands all over Dotonbori so my first task was to figure out where to buy mine. I spotted a place with a giant octopus outside that advertised bacon cheese flavor so I stopped there, with the idea that anything fried with bacon and cheese can't be bad. Unfortunately, the sign was lying and they did not actually have the bacon cheese flavor available, so I reluctantly got the regular one. I got there pretty much just in time to take a seat inside.
So yeah... I had takoyaki. I can say that, and it's 100% true. Unfortunately, it was... not exactly my favorite food item that I've ever tried. In particular, I didn't really like how tough it was to chew the octopus inside. I couldn't finish my order, and I was glad no one was around to see me wasting food when I chucked the remainder in the trash.
Back at the hotel, I cleansed my palate by trying one of the cat breads. To my delight, it was filled with chocolate! Now that was more like it! I relaxed with another hot bath, this time using the bath salts they'd given me at the hotel. I was surprised that they were green, but they were really nice and soothing.
Somehow, my travels through Japan had not previously taken me to Osaka (except to get to Universal Japan) and I quite liked the city. It had the energy and craziness of Tokyo without being as intimidating. Plus, the Dotonbori canal and the castle area had some charm to them. I'd definitely love to return and spend some more time in this fun city. But for now, it was time to pack my stuff up again in preparation for visiting my 3rd Disney park of the trip: Tokyo Disney.
I'd made a reservation for a late morning Shinkansen train to Tokyo which allowed me to sleep in until just before my 9am alarm. For breakfast, I had another one of the cat breads I'd bought in Namba station- this one had a yummy cream filling; It was fun trying these adorable treats and being surprised at their taste. I relaxed and finished packing before it was time to check out of the hotel.
I could have taken a subway to Shin-Osaka station but I felt like the journey might be cumbersome with luggage, so I splurged for a taxi. I was a tad disappointed that this driver was not wearing the customary white gloves, but he gave me a candy so that made up for it.
In the station, I successfully managed to negotiate my way through a convenience stand so I could purchase a snack and beverage for the 3 hour ride. I didn't end up photographing or noting my purchases, but I wouldn't be surprised if I bought an onigiri and a Coke Zero.
Riding a Shinkansen is a pretty relaxing experience. The seats are more comfortable than an airplane and the bathrooms are huge and clean. The only thing that would have improved the ride would have been having wifi. I'd never previously ridden the Nozomi shinkansen since they are excluded from railpasses, but it didn't seem much different than the trains I'd ridden. It was just faster.
Unfortunately, I wasn't on the side of the train that could see Mount Fuji. But I did get nostalgic as we passed through Kyoto station, site of the hotel where I'd stayed with Julia the previous year. We often looked out our window on the bustle of trains passing by.
Once I arrived at Tokyo station, I made my way to the train for Maihama which feels a bit like it's in a different zip code. But I managed to successfully get myself on a train without needing help or making any major mistakes so that was a big win. (I had some... issues in 2002 and 2005; on my subsequent trips, I took the bus from the airport in both 2012 and 2015 so this was my first time arriving at the train station with luggage and not having a problem)
I was excited when I disembarked at Maihama, the station that is the gateway to the Tokyo Disney Resort. I was staying at the Tokyo Disney Celebration Hotel, a new "moderate" property that Disney had acquired from another company and then renovated. I used quotes around moderate because the prices are not what I'd call cheap, although they are comparatively less than the 3 deluxe properties in Tokyo. Price was definitely a factor in my booking, but I was legitimately curious to experience the new hotel and the photos looked really cute. The biggest downside to the Celebration hotel is that, unlike the other Disney hotels (and official hotels like the Hilton and Sheraton), it's located a good 20 minutes from the parks. I therefore wouldn't recommend it to anyone traveling to Tokyo Disneyland for the first time- the Hilton and Sheraton are much more convenient at a comparable price. (and possibly even less if you get a good deal) Other than the Disney branding, they also offer more amenities.
I knew there was a bus that transported guests from Tokyo Disney to Celebration, but there really weren't good signs at Maihama station to indicate the location of the bus stop. By the time I figured it out, I was really exhausted from dragging my luggage around and practically ready to collapse.
The exterior of the bus was very cute and whimsical, although the interior was more ordinary. To get to the hotel, we had to drive through a not-very-pretty-or-magical industrial area. Moreso than the distance, the fact that the bus went through such ordinary neighborhoods is what made the location feel really remote from the parks. (I've stayed at hotels in WDW that were a similar distance from most, if not all, of the parks but you're still on property so you still feel part of the magic)
The hotel itself was delightfully cute. I was staying in the Wish building, which has a fantasy theme. (there is also another section, called Discover, which has more of an adventure feel) Entering the lobby brought me into a delightful world full of bright, warm colors; the swirls of purples and teals and hot pinks were the perfect palette for me. The decor delightfully evoked Alice's Tea Party, Aladdin's Carpet, and the Carousel. I also noticed little displays with models of Pooh's Hunny Hunt, the wonderful Tokyo exclusive ride.
The fanciful theming extended to the hotel room, the centerpiece of which was an entire wall decorated with the most adorable, cheerful mural depicting Fantasyland and Mermaid Lagoon attractions. The wallpaper on the other surfaces was more understated, but if you looked closely, you could see that it featured line art designs of several attraction vehicles. The room featured 2 twin beds and 2 sofas which could be converted into beds; it would be really nice for families. (note: they did not have rooms with fewer beds) I'd booked a room with a garden view, which overlooked the center courtyard. It wasn't as amazing a room (or view) as can be enjoyed at the deluxe hotels in the resort, but it was quite nice.
After settling in, I took a quick walk in the garden which was decorated with topiaries that lit up at night to resemble Main Street Electric Parade floats including the Cheshire Cat and Pete's Dragon. And then I went outside to catch the bus back to Tokyo Disney. The waiting area was lacking in any seats... which didn't matter in the mornings when there was a queue but which would have been nice when no one else is waiting. I probably could have waited inside the lobby, but I didn't want to chance missing the bus.
Overall, my plan for my limited Tokyo Disney was to focus on the special event activities that would be new to me. I'd just been there the previous year so I had only allocated 2 full days and one night to the parks, which is not nearly enough for a comprehensive visit. I was really excited to finally experience Christmas season at Tokyo Disney Resort (TDR) since I've done most of the other holidays (Halloween, Easter, Tanabata, and I've had a brush with summer events).
I decided to spend my first night at Tokyo DisneySea (TDS), which was celebrating its 15th anniversary throughout the year. As soon as I entered the park, it was impossible to miss one of the centerpiece decorations, the Wing of Wishes ship which was located by the Aquasphere. I hadn't read very much about the anniversary so I was pleasantly surprised by this visual treat, a majestic steampunk boat with Disney characters which perfectly fit the park's theme of adventure. TDS really is good at creating beautiful visual magic.
I really wanted to see Out of Shadowlands, the new show which had recently replaced my beloved Mystic Rhythms so I headed in the direction of the theatre in anticipation of the 5:15 performance. I was about to go inside when a cast member stopped me and asked to see my ticket. Apparently the only way to see the show was to enter a lottery and hope for the best. The lottery kiosks were halfway across the park (closer to the entrance) and I didn't feel like hustling back there on the off chance I might have good luck. That was seriously a bummer, and I chided myself a bit for not having done enough research.
To cheer myself up, I headed to Sindbad, one of my favorite rides which fortunately never seems to have much of a line. The combination of the cheerful Alan Menken song ("Compass of your heart") and Sindbad's adorable tiger sidekick, Chandu, always make me smile. After the ride, I walked across to the Sultan's Oasis so I could finally try a Chandu Tail snack! I'd been disappointed that they were not available on my most recent trip due to a temporary summer menu change. I'd seen photos of this chicken cream bun which is shaped like Chandu's tail and it was just as cute in person. It was also quite tasty!
It was not, however, enough to fill me up- especially since I hadn't had a proper meal all day. So I went to Zambini brothers counter service and had a satisfying plate of Spaghetti Bolognese. On the way, I admired some of the Crystal Points which were displayed for the anniversary- they were quite beautiful at night, glowing with color. If you spent ~$25 on a wand, you could interact with them... but I passed on that option.
After eating, I decided to wait for the Colors of Christmas: Nighttime Wishes show that was scheduled to take place at 7:55pm on Mediterranean Harbor. I staked out my spot about an hour and a half in advance because I was a little exhausted, especially my feet, and it felt good to just sit and listen to happy Christmas music while gazing at a volcano. I actually didn't have a great vantage point- there were some things I really couldn't see- but it was better than standing. The show itself was cute, but slightly disappointing since I guess I expected more watercraft.
Tower of Terror still had an 80 minute wait so I grudgingly decided it wasn't going to happen that night. I consoled myself by snacking on alien mochi, one of my favorite TDR snacks. I couldn't resist buying their adorable Christmas themed case, which was in the shape of an alien with reindeer antlers.
I really enjoyed seeing all the diverse Christmas decorations around the park. Each area was festive in a thematically appropriate way and it was fun to wander around after dark amid all the lights and Christmas trees. It was a little chilly out so I wore the Gelatoni scarf that I'd purchased in Hong Kong. Since it wasn't available for sale in Japan, I got a number of compliments on it. (if it had been for sale, I'm sure eleventy billion people would have been wearing one)
Since all the rides I was interested in had long waits, I decided to spend some time exploring the shops. I quickly found the purple Beast TDR shirt that I'd been coveting ever since seeing it online and gleefully scooped it up. When I found a cute soft zip up TDS fleece that was on sale for 50% off, I couldn't believe my luck... Yes, please!!! I also bought the cutest fuzzy Olaf socks which ended up becoming my favorite footwear for lounging around at home throughout winter.
I left the park at about 9:30 because I was ready to go, even though it was open until 10. I was glad that there was only a very short wait for the bus to the hotel. I must confess that part of me was tired and ready to go home to the US... but another part of me wanted my Asian adventure to continue indefinitely.
I have a note that I enjoyed the glow in the dark stars on the hotel room ceiling... but I haven't found any other mentions of those decorations so I am doubting my memory.
I got up when my alarm went off at 7:15 and managed to make it to Tokyo Disneyland (TDL) a few minutes before the 8:45am early entry. I wasn't really interested in the Monsters Inc ride (which is the only one usually open during early entry) so instead of speed walking to an attraction, I leisurely walked around admiring TDL's Christmas decorations. I loved how books featured prominently in the theme- There was a tree made of books by the entrance to World Bazaar, and the decorations around the hub were like pop-up storybooks.
I quickly went on a few rides as soon as the park opened- I was the 2nd party on Pooh's Hunny Hunt, and then I went over to experience the Haunted Mansion Nightmare Before Christmas overlay which never fails to delight me. After that, I headed over to another favorite, Splash Mountain. Riding a water flume in 55 degree weather is... interesting. At least the water doesn't soak you as much in Tokyo as in the US.
I still hadn't eaten, so eventually I headed for my traditional TDL breakfast spot, the Great American Waffle Co. The Mickey waffle with chocolate sauce was worth waiting in a bit of a long line. Yumm! With this meal, I managed to eat waffles in every Disney resort this trip- with 3 different characters: Donald, Darth Vader, and Mickey.
I decided to catch the 10:40am Disney Christmas Stories parade and was able to snag a halfway decent spot without having to wait too long. The parade itself was very cute and peppy with floats themed to classic Disney characters as well as Lilo and Stitch, Beauty and the Beast... and the ubiquitous Frozen. The parade stops at one point and of course my spot had an extended look at Elsa and Anna. I still love Frozen but it really doesn't need to be in every. show. and. parade. At least they didn't use "Let It Go" (which I still love but it's so overexposed). I really liked how the song "We need a little Christmas" from Mame featured prominently in the soundtrack.
Even though I'd had a waffle, I was still a bit hungry so I headed over to check out the snacks in Toontown because I remembered they had some cute items on my last trip. I ended up having a cream cheese filled pretzel which was served in an adorable little Toontown paper wrapping. It was quite yummy, of course. I'm glad I went over there because it gave me a chance to check out the cute Christmas decorations.
While doing my obligatory browsing of the shops, I came across a Blu Ray set that I'd never seen before. When I took a closer look, I noticed that it included a full performance of Legend of Mythica, the TDS harbor show I'd seen and completely loved in 2012. If that wasn't enough of a gem, another of the discs included Mystic Rhythms, a show that I'd seen many times in TDS before it had closed. I was beyond excited at my discovery! I love how Tokyo puts out blu rays that include full length shows and parades... especially since their entertainment offerings are always top notch. Obviously, I purchased the set!
At some point I headed to Tomrrowland to enter the lottery to try to win a ticket for the reserved seating for the Once Upon a Time night show. However, when I got there, I discovered that they weren't holding a lottery for that evening. So I halfheartedly entered for the 12:55pm show of "One Man's Dream II" only because I was there already and figured I ought to enter for something. I'd seen the show before, but admittedly it had been quite awhile. Of course, since I didn't really care, I actually won that lottery. Figures.
In retrospect, I'm really glad I had the opportunity to see "One Man's Dream" again. It's a really cute show, and I love how the costumes and scenery in the opening song transition from Black and White into an explosion of color. The 30 minute show was a fun mix of classic Disney characters, villains and princesses. Plus, since the show's been around for awhile, there was refreshingly not a hint of Frozen! My seat (which was assigned through the lottery) proved to be a very good location for taking photos.
When the performance let out, it was just about time for the 1:20pm "Happiness is Here" parade which I'd been slightly disappointed to (mostly) miss on my previous trip. I sat somewhere behind a row or 2 of other seated guests so, once again, I wasn't in the best spot for photography. But, really, I was just so glad I finally got to see this joyful carnival themed parade, with its catchy theme song, and brightly colored floats that were interspersed with characters on a semblance of merry-go-round animals. It was wonderful.
Earlier in the day, I'd gotten a Fastpass for Space Mountain and the parade ended just inside my window to ride. Afterwards, I headed across the park to catch the Country Bear Jingle Bell Jamboree. I'm not a huge fan of the Country Bears... but, as I've mentioned, it was a top priority for me to see as much of the special Christmas entertainment as I could. It was a cute show. As I started taking photos and trying to tweak my camera settings (I typically shoot in manual for shows), I was admonished by a cast member that I had to turn off my LCD screen. So basically I shot blindly, not knowing if the settings I'd selected were optimal or not. Fortunately, the photos came out ok. It's interesting how TDR has rules at some theatres about LCD screens- I've encountered that at least once before, but it's not consistent and I don't think I've seen it at any other Disney resort.
I had a reservation to eat lunch at Restaurant Hokusai the next day but it looked like I'd be spending the rest of the day at TDL and therefore would probably want to spend all of the next one at TDS. It's been a tradition for me to eat at this traditional Japanese sit down restaurant on each of my previous 5 trips. So I headed over at around 3:45, thinking that it would be a good time to get a table since it was between lunch and dinner. However, I was stopped at the entrance and told that I couldn't get in without a reservation. I was really surprised- I don't recall being unable to eat anywhere in TDR without a reservation (although the wait might be long). I have definitely eaten at Hokusai without reservations many times; I don't even think it's one of the most popular dining locations. Still, if it was later in the evening, or on a weekend, I could have understood that there were no more spaces available for the day. But before 4pm...? I'd at least expect there to be no shows, and there ought to be some way to fit in an extra person. But this is Tokyo where rules are rules... so my tradition had to be broken. Next time, I should make reservations for more than 1 day if my itinerary isn't nailed in stone just to be safe.
A silver lining was that I had a chance to try the Hungry Bear Restaurant, which is somewhere I'd been wanting to try. Not surprisingly, the counter service restaurant was pretty empty; 3:45 really isn't a popular time to dine. I had the pork cutlet curry which was very good and an excellent value for the money. I'd definitely return there.
After I exited the restaurant at 4:30, the sun was already setting. The sky was absolutely gorgeous... strokes of blue and pink which occasionally blended into purple. I took my time admiring the view and taking a ton of photos of the castle. And then I headed over to catch "It's a Small World." I was amused that Hava Nagila was playing outside the attraction.
My blisters were really getting to me so, at about 6:15, I staked out a front row spot for the 7:30 Electrical Parade Dreamlights. Technically it was a bit early, as you are only officially supposed to wait until an hour before parades. However, as long as you aren't spreading out a mat, the cast members apparently turn a blind eye. At 6:30, it was time for the ceremonial unveiling of the mats as everyone else simultaneously took out their ground covers and arranged them for their parties. I just remained seated on the cold ground.
It was getting a bit chilly; I stuck my hands in the bottle holder compartment in my backpack, improvising something to serve as gloves. The parade was as amazing as always- and this time I got to see the Peter Pan float which had been inexplicably absent the previous summer. Plus, they mixed in some Christmas songs and decorations for the holiday season. I could watch it every night... and I love how every few years, they exchange out some of the older floats for newer ones using even more amazing technology.
Afterwards I was ready to leave the park. No regrets- especially after sitting on the cold ground for 1.5+ hours. (the ubiquitous mats used by the locals are definitely useful in winter) Fortunately, it was another quick wait for the bus.
Back at the hotel, I took a shower which felt great. The water pressure was among the best of any hotel on my trip. It may seem lame that I had a series of early nights while at Tokyo Disney, but my feet were seriously aching and it was pretty cold. I'd basically achieved all my TDL objectives. Since I'd just been to the resort a year earlier, this visit was a bonus and I really just wanted to take advantage of the Christmas festivities- and I'd succeeded. I even got to ride most of my favorite attractions as well.
In an effort to arrive at Tokyo Disneysea (TDS) by 7:45 for "Happy 15" aka Tokyo Disney's version of early entry, I set my alarm for 6:15am. Unfortunately, despite my best efforts, I just missed getting on the 7:10am bus. There were already a ton of people waiting in line before I got there. I was annoyed, but tried to look on the bright side- instead of being one of the last people standing on that bus, I'd be able to get a seat on the next one.
I ended up getting to the park at around 7:40 and the line for early entry was enormous. Fortunately, I wasn't interested in Toy Story Mania which is inexplicably super popular at TDS and which is the initial target destination of at least 90% of guests. Instead, I headed directly to the Tower of Terror which was still pretty empty. I love that the Tokyo version has its own story, with the curse of Shiriki Utundu. I was disappointed, however, that the exit gift shop seems to have less and less Tower of Terror specific merchandise each time I visit.
There were 3 daytime shows I wanted to see: 2 of them (the new Out of Shadowland show and the refreshed Big Band Beat) performed at various times of the day. However, only their initial 12pm shows were completely open for standby queues. (Big Band Beat had limited standby tickets to the other performances; as I discovered 2 days earlier, Out of Shadowland was exclusive to lottery) I also wanted to see the 15th anniversary harbor show, Crystal Wishes Journey, which was only performed at 11:45am. I went to the lottery machines in hopes that I wouldn't have to make the extremely difficult choice of deciding on only 1 of these 3 experiences, all of which were high on my priority list. Unfortunately, the lottery machine spit on my hopes as I didn't win for either of the 2 stage shows. It really is unfortunate that visitors who have limited time at the parks are not able to see all the entertainment offerings unless they have luck on their side. While Big Band Beat is still technically an option if you want to wait long enough and sit in the balcony seats.... there is no getting around the fact that those who do not win a lottery must choose between Out of Shadowland and Crystal Wishes Journey. It would be impossible to do both. (note: you can only enter the lottery once per show per day... so it's not like I could have tried the lottery for a different performance time after losing for the time I'd initially tried) On the positive side, at least I didn't have to wait in the insane line that I saw when I passed by the lottery area at 10am; there was no wait when I was there. Waiting in a long queue to lose would have been a doubly bitter pill.
Meanwhile... I headed over to Journey to the Center of the Earth which still had a very short standby queue at 8:30am. I was feeling a bit tired and cranky, especially after my lottery experience, and it annoyed me when a CM was instructing me how to hold my backpack.
One of the shows I most wanted to see was the Christmas themed harbor show, A Perfect Christmas which had 2 performances; I decided to catch the 9:30am one to be sure that I wouldn't miss it. This is a show where some activity happens in the waters but most action takes place at 3 locations around the harbor. Luckily, I stumbled upon a decent spot near one of those areas although it did require me to stand. The show featured character sets dressed in their Christmas best who alternated between the various performance spots. I saw Goofy/Max Goof/Minnie Clarice as well as Duffy/Shellie Mae (!!) and then Donald/Daisy/Scrooge/. I saw Mickey and Pluto headed off somewhere, but unfortunately they never performed in my area. It was a really fun show and I enjoyed it a lot more than the evening Christmas show which I'd seen a few days earlier.
In the process of wandering around and trying to figure out what to eat, I found myself in line at Cape Cod Cook-Off which was home to the My Friend Duffy stage shows. (there is also a shorter line if you want to eat but don't want to see the show) I thought I heard someone say that it was a 40 minute wait, but the line moved really quickly and it ended up being closer to 20-30. I was intrigued since I'd never seen the show before, but I also laughed at myself for waiting in such a long line for something so ridiculous, especially since I didn't really love any items on the menu. But they had a special dessert served in a cute souvenir cup that they called a "Coffee Cupcake" even though it really didn't seem like a cupcake and I ordered a cheeseburger as well. You can't choose your seats- a CM will direct you to an open table after you get your food. You can only stay for a finite amount of time- the time when you must leave is printed on a stand on your tray. I was given about an hour from when I was seated, which would have been enough time to see each of the 2 shows twice in full.
My Friend Duffy ended up being the most delightful surprise of my time at Tokyo Disney- it was such a cute and happy show! There are 2 different 10 minute shows which are performed with a short break in between. The first show chronicles Duffy getting over his reluctance to travel with Mickey and includes a song that sounds quite a bit like "Officer Krupke" from West Side Story. The 2nd is the story of how Shellie Mae was created when Duffy wanted a friend, and it includes a lot of really basic Japanese 101 phrases. It's just pure fluff and sweet, innocent fun. You just can't help smiling.
When I was done eating, it was time for me to choose once and for all between Out of Shadowlands and the 15th anniversary Harbor show. I decided on the former, partly because it would allow me to sit in an actual theatre. Even though I arrived 25 minutes early, the venue was almost full. It was a cute show, but it was really disappointing when compared to the former inhabitant of the theatre, Mystic Rhythms, which had been among my favorites. I'm glad I saw it... but I wonder if it was the best choice, especially since I absolutely will never have a chance to see the Harbor show I missed.
One of my favorite things about TDS is the super secret single rider line at Indiana Jones Adventure ride. It isn't really advertised, but if you tell the CM at the line that you would like to do single rider, they will let you in a special queue. The sign at the ride said that the standby queue was 70 minutes; there were only 2 people in front of me for the single rider line and I got on really quickly. It's a great ride, but I probably wouldn't have been able to fit it in if I'd had to wait standby.
Since it was convenient, I stopped in American Waterfront to watch the quick Year of Wishes Greeting which is really just a car carrying a few characters in their 15th anniversary costumes. It was fun enough since I was there, but it wouldn't have been worth going out of my way. However, the Gelatoni caramel gelato & chocolate mousse I enjoyed afterwards was well worth seeking out- especially since it came in a cute souvenir cup! To me, it tasted like caramel ice cream, chocolate mousse and some kind of corn flake things on the bottom, all topped with chocolate syrup, something fruity, nuts and a cookie that looked like an artist palette. It was an ideal snack- both adorable and tasty!
Most of the rides had queues that were longer than I cared to wait, and I really was more interested in experiences, anyway. So I decided to wander to the entrance plaza at the front of the park to see if there might be any characters posing. I was happy to run into Clarice, Pluto, and Goofy all in really adorable and unique costumes. Although I wasn't able to get a photo with the former, I managed to timidly insert my way into posing with the 2 dogs. (this was an area where you just had to go up to the characters rather than waiting in an organized line) My picture with Goofy is one of my favorite character photos ever- he mimed for me to hold up my DSLR and then he posed as if he also had an invisible camera in his hands.
I'd never seen the "A Table is Waiting" show, although it is included on one of the DVD sets I own. However, I wanted to make a point of seeing the Christmas Cuisine version since it was only seasonal. Also, the show was scheduled to close soon so this would be my only chance to see it. It proved to be delightful, with various characters performing with oversized foods from all over the world. That probably sounds weird... but the only really wacky moment was when several people dressed as various food items laid down on top of each other to form a hamburger. Most of the show was the same as the non-seasonal version but they performed a special Christmas finale to the tune of "We Wish You a Merry Christmas"
After the show, I enjoyed some quiet moments on the deck of the SS Columbia, a replica of an ocean liner that sits at the edge of the theme park. The sun was just beginning to set, and I was able to enjoy the scenery and take a few dramatic photos. I could see crowds packing the walkways... but the deck of the ship was a welcome island of serenity, removed from the theme park hustle bustle. Taking photos of the park at dusk/sunset was probably one of the best things I did all day- the park is always gorgeous, but it's even more beautiful when with the backdrop of a dramatic sunset.
Earlier in the day, I'd tried to enter a queue to get a photo with Shellie Mae in her Christmas outfit. I was disappointed that the line had already been cut off, but the CM told me I could come back at 5. In retrospect, it seemed odd to me that it would be so long before her next meet and greet, but I didn't question it. I'm positive that she said 5- I know Japanese numbers and I'm also pretty sure she showed me 5 fingers. At any rate, I decided to check back before 4... and she was meeting already! Once again, the line was closed. And this time, it was closed for the rest of the day. I was kinda bummed- not as much for not getting a photo (although that would have been really nice), but because I'd received incorrect information. I feel like Tokyo Disney has been getting harder and harder for foreigners, which is ashame. There is the whole deal with lottery tickets to the shows, plus they've made it a bit harder to get hotel reservations. And now I was getting bad information. I know that part of me was just tired and cranky (I had blisters that were killing me), but I think I had some legitimate concerns that made me a bit sad... and also a bit nostalgic for simpler times.
In hopes that some nourishment might improve my mood, I decided to eat dinner at Cafe Portofino, a cafeteria style restaurant that had a few special meals for the 15th anniversary. I ordered the Linguine Pomodoro with Italian Meatballs, which came with an edible decoration commemorating the 15th anniversary. It was perfect.
After dinner, I decided to wait a few minutes for Fantasmic, the evening show around the harbor which I always enjoy. I'd already decided I'd probably leave the park afterwards... even though it was very early and it was my last night of theme-parking. I wanted to end on a high note... and my feet were really killing me. I didn't feel a need to go back on rides I've already ridden many times before, and there were no more shows I hadn't seen. I hadn't been originally scheduled to include TDR on this trip at all, so I considered all of my time there a bonus already.
Back in the hotel, I relaxed and messaged my friend, Ellen, who I was planning to meet the next day in Taipei. She mentioned that there was a CD of the My Friend Duffy show and I immediately decided I needed it. This was when I regretted staying so far from the parks- if I'd been in an onsite hotel, there would have been plenty of time to pop into a park... or at least into the Bon Voyage shop outside the parks. But I didn't feel like taking a 20 minute bus to get there. Admittedly, it might have taken me 20+ minutes to get there from some of the onsite hotels, but they psychologically feel so much closer. Plus, the monorails run more frequently than the buses. Fortunately, I found a source to order from after I got home; it was more expensive than if I could have found it at the park, but I'm just glad to have the recording.
So my last night at Tokyo Disney ended with a bit of a whimper. I wish I'd had enough time to fit in everything I wanted to do, especially to see the TDS shows that I missed. But I'm grateful for all I was able to experience, especially that I could finally see their Christmas event. I'm sure I'll be back.
When I woke up just before my 8am alarm and I saw that it was raining outside, I was grateful that I was headed to the (indoor) airport rather than to the theme parks. I made a quick trip to the convenience store downstairs to get an onigiri for breakfast and finished packing.
I'd confirmed the shuttle bus times at the hotel the previous night, and had decided to take the 9:24 shuttle which would arrive at Haneda in plenty of time for my 12:15 flight. I was surprised when I found out that the bus doesn't pick up guests in the lobby area. Instead, I was directed to a small, barely covered kiosk at the side of the road next to the hotel. I've seen nicer public bus stops in my home city (where public transit kinda sucks) so this was definitely a disappointing way to end my stay at Tokyo Disney. I didn't wait for too long, but it was soggy and dreary and I felt quite vulnerable standing by myself with my luggage.
It was sad when the bus drove on the highway past Tokyo Disney Resort- I glued my eyes on my last glimpses of the resort. I brightened when I saw a sign on the bus promising free wifi... but unfortunately I was never able to connect. Still, the bus ride was fine; it got me to the airport at about 10:30am.
For the 2nd time on this trip, I was flying a Hello Kitty jet. I wasn't quite as "jumping out of my skin" excited as I'd been on the first of such flights... but it still made me smile widely at the sight of all the Hello Kitty touches at the check in desk. And if that wasn't enough, I knew that Haneda airport had a great Hello Kitty Japan store and I made a point to linger there for a bit.
I was eager to get to the gate and see which Hello Kitty jet I'd be flying; the website showed 2 possibilities, one of which was the "With Magic Stars" plane I'd flown to Shanghai. I was thrilled when I caught sight of the "Around the World" jet! Not only would this be a different plane, but this was the same design as the first Hello Kitty jet I'd seen parked at Narita in 2012... the one that had inspired me to vow to eventually fly on that plane. So it was like coming full circle.
Normally I'm very good about waiting to board until my designated group. However, I was super excited to go back on a Hello Kitty plane and I also was hoping to get some photos of empty seats. So I snuck in line before I was supposed to and hoped for the best. I was relieved when they let me board, no questions asked. After taking a couple photos (but not too many since I did not want to hold up the line), I settled into my seat and enjoyed the adorable Hello Kitty video looping on the seatback.
As the plane was pulled out of the gate, I could see the ground crew smiling and waving. That is such a Japan thing... I was sad to be leaving my favorite country after only a brief visit but I am sure I'll be back.
During my time at Tokyo Disneyland, I could often see planes overhead. I'd carefully selected my seat so that I'd be on the side with the best chance for a view of the park. I'd once seen TDR during landing and it was an amazing view. Alas, the rain brought clouds which masked any chance I might have for a repeat of that view.
The 3 hour 45 minute flight was quite relaxing. I spent a good chunk of that time watching "The Secret Life of Pets" which was really cute. Once again, the in flight meal had a bit of a Hello Kitty touch in the form of a bow shaped carrot. After the meal was served, the flight attendants came around again- and this time they distributed little pink dixie cups of Hello Kitty cranberry ice cream! First off- any time ice cream is served on a flight is definitely worth celebrating. But it's especially fun when it's such a cute presentation... and when I opened the lid, the little pink Hello Kitty spoon was absolutely darling! I wouldn't necessarily choose Cranberry if given a list of flavors, but it was a wonderful treat.
After landing at Taipei's Songshan airport, my luggage made its way to the carousel rather quickly; Asia airports seemed to be quite efficient that way. There was no real wait for a cab and I zipped right in and handed the driver a print out of my hotel information. He promptly scoffed at the English. I hadn't had the foresight to print out this hotel's information in Chinese as I had for my hotel in Shanghai. So he pulled over and I fumbled looking for the hotel website online (thank goodness for international data!). It all worked out, but it was a humbling lesson for the future to print out hotel information in the local language, especially when visiting a country that doesn't use the Roman alphabet.
I'd decided to stay in the area of Ximending which I'd enjoyed visiting on my 2010 trip to the city. I'd fretted over choosing a hotel and found one that spoke to me because it was quite affordable and featured some really fun, brightly colored rooms. When I checked in, I somewhat timidly asked if I could be assigned a colorful room. The lady at the desk showed me 2 photos as she told me I could stay in a simple white and gold room that had a window, or a wildly colored one with no window. She seemed surprised that I chose the latter. But for one night... I can live without being able to see outside. And besides, when making any decision, I tend to go for the cuter option.
So I cheerfully headed up to my 6th floor room, where I reveled in a bit of a crazy typically Asian kawaii-ness. The walls were decorated with rainbows and cute characters. It was absolutely the perfect place to stay for my final night. I was amused when I opened the desk drawer and found a bag of Doritos, a pack of chocolate chip cookies... and a condom. Alrighty, then...
I was due to meet my friend Ellen, but she messaged that she running late. Remembering that there was a figure skating competition in China that weekend, I turned on the TV and flipped through the channels. I was very happy when I found a station broadcasting live from the ladies competition. It was a great way to kill some time while I waited.
I was really excited that things worked out so I could meet up with Ellen in Taipei. I've known her online for a number of years, although I'd only met her once in person. That was back when she lived by Disney World and she was great with my nieces during one of our trips! One day in 2015, I was shocked to see her announce on social media that she and her husband had moved to Taiwan to teach English! Since then, I have really enjoyed following her adventures. I admire her so much for uprooting her life, and taking advantage of the opportunity to live amid a totally different culture. We have many interests in common including Disney (obviously), the Phillies, and cats.
Spending the night hanging out with Ellen was like being with an old friend, even though I'd barely spent any time with her before in person. When she arrived at my hotel, I gave her some items I'd purchased on her behalf: a Gelatoni sweater from Hong Kong Disneyland and a Duffy Tron outfit from Shanghai Disneyland. She asked how much she owed, but her smile was truly all I needed. I suggested that she could pay for dinner if she really wanted.
I really didn't care what we did, although I'd suggested going to a night market store that she'd mentioned several times which sold cute items from Tokyo Disney. First she wanted to take me to a cat cafe in the same area. This cat cafe was different than others I'd visited- it was more like a restaurant that just happened to have cats roaming around. And a dog... which really surprised me!
I ordered a green tea latte which had a cat face designed into the foam. I also got some spaghetti which was... interesting... because it had tiny ears of corn mixed in. Oh those wacky Asians messing with my favorite foods! Our meals came with a plate of salad that contained a little jar of... something... that confused us. We also decided to get a plate of adorable cat shaped cookies. And of course, we couldn't resist the obligatory food to serve the cats- here, it came in the form of a plate of wet food.
When we were done eating, we wandered around the Shilin night market and eventually into the store Ellen had mentioned before. We both enjoyed wandering around and looking at all the cute merchandise, many of which were from previous years in the Asian Disney resorts. Ultimately, I couldn't resist a tiny Shellie May bear who was dressed as a cat from a previous Tokyo Disney Halloween. Ellen insisted on treating me since she felt the meal hadn't been equal to what I'd spent on her souvenirs, which was really sweet of her. Every time I look at the adorable Shellie May, I smile and remember that night in Taipei.
All too soon, it was time for Ellen to head back to her home in Taichung. I can't remember what we talked about, but we were never at a loss for conversation. Spending the night hanging out together was a definite highlight in a trip full of fabulous highlights. I'm so glad everything worked out so that she could make it into Taipei. My one regret is that it didn't occur to me to get a photo together until after we'd gone our separate ways.
Before returning to my hotel, I stopped at the convenience store across the street and bought some snacks: Pineapple Fanta, Kit Kat chunky cookies and cream, and Cheese Bacon flavor Doritos. Because even though there were nacho cheese Doritos in the hotel room, it was impossible to resist the opportunity to purchase a bacon cheese flavor!
My original plan had been to take a 7:50am flight home. However, 2 weeks before my trip, Eva airlines decided to cancel my original flight and instead they booked me on one that left at 7:30pm. The most important impact of this change was that I'd land in NYC after 9pm and there's absolutely no way I'd be able to make it to work the next day as planned. Fortunately, my manager was cool with this change- although it meant I had to use another vacation day.
Essentially I had a bonus day to linger in Taipei, but I had very little motivation to do anything major- especially because it was warm and humid out. I set my alarm for 10 am but I woke up earlier and lazed a bit. Once I felt like moving, I ate the onigiri and bacon cheese Doritos that I'd bought the previous night.
I lingered in the colorful hotel room until around 11:30, at which point I left my luggage with the front desk. I think I also arranged a cab for 4pm to take me to the airport. So that gave me a little over 4 hours for one final adventure.
Since I'd chosen to stay in Ximen because I liked the area, I figured it would be a good idea to actually spend a couple hours exploring the vicinity. After enjoying discovering some sculptures and many colorful signs, I was particularly glad to stumble into an area with several large graffiti-like murals. I found a shop with the cute homemade candies I like and bought 2 bags- one where the candies were shaped like sushi rolls and the other where they were decorated with pictures of Stitch.
I'd heard tales (and seen photos) of Sogo department stores with large clocks that look like the facade of "it's a small world" so I made it my mission to locate one of them. But I got temporarily diverted when I came across a "Mister Donut" shop in the Ximen subway station. I had to stop because, after all, Mister Donut is my friend. I was happy to see a really adorable strawberry piggy flavor. I always try to find cute food, and Asia is a great place for that.
After I ate my snack, I took the subway to the Zhongxiao Xinsheng stop. There was a Sogo nearby and I walked all the way around the building.... and did not see any clocks, much less adorable Disney fixtures. Checking my maps app, I saw that there were a couple other Sogos nearby- maybe one of those was the one referenced on the web page I'd found when I'd checked earlier.
After walking a little bit, I was ridiculously excited when I made it to another Sogo and saw a gorgeous clock fixture above the entrance doors. Fortuitously, I'd managed to catch it around the top of the hour when some of the tiles had flipped to reveal international dolls from the ride as the theme song played. Unfortunately, there was something else going in front of the store so the sound was a bit polluted. Nonetheless, I was overjoyed to succeed in my mission.
I went inside the store to look around and was drawn to an area selling Sanrio and Hello Kitty items. I didn't want to actually buy anything, but I did want to take some photos of the cute merchandise. Unfortunately, that got me reprimanded by a staff member. Ooops. I walked around the immediate area a bit more before taking a subway back to Ximen.
I really wanted to visit the MLB Clubhouse store I'd come across in 2010 and fortunately I was able to find it. They still didn’t have any good Phillies merchandise but it makes me very happy to see a MLB baseball store outside the US. I also wanted to look at the Red House Theatre but its facade was covered due to ongoing renovations. But it was fun to browse the multitude of craft and souvenir areas inside. I found a stand selling cat butt magnets which were adorably funny- I'd love to be able to share a photo of them but there was a sign prohibiting photography which was disappointing.
When I got back to my hotel, I rearranged my bags slightly so they'd work for the plane ride. The cab arrived promptly and then it was a long ride to Taoyan airport. Checking in for my flight, I couldn't help but shed a couple tears- it had been such an amazing trip, filled with so many joyful Disney and Hello Kitty moments... and now it was ending.
But there was still one final place to explore. I knew that Taoyan airport had many Hello Kitty themed areas and I was determined to discover as many of them as I could find, after I changed out of my sweaty clothes and into something more fresh. I was kinda exhausted but I really enjoyed seeing check-in kiosks, a baby changing area, and a gate that were all themed to my favorite kitty. Perhaps my favorite area was a wall decorated with a map of the world with Hello Kitty themed clocks placed over a dozen notable cities which said to me "it's always Hello Kitty time... all over the world!" I regret that some of my photos didn't come out that great- probably because I was too fatigued to take the time to properly choose the angles and framing. (my carry-on backpack was heavy with souvenirs and electronics)
Of course, there was a Hello Kitty store... and since I was sad to be going home, I threw caution to the wind and bought some plush that I really didn't need but which were too stinking adorable to resist. One was a set of kitties dressed in the signature aviator logo of the shop, and the other was a tourist kitty holding a pink camera.
I was really hungry (and tired from walking so much around the airport) and I finally stopped at Mos Burger, a Japanese chain that I hadn't previously tried. I ordered a teriyaki chicken burger which was really good (once I removed the onions)!
Eventually I camped out at the gate and waited to board my flight to JFK airport. On the plane, there was a vacant seat between me and the woman on the aisle but I tried not to get my hopes up because usually when that happens, someone will sprint on at the last minute. But after the plane's door was closed, I let out a silent cheer. And then I wondered... I had a relatively large size Minnie Mouse from Shanghai in a bag underneath the chair in front of me... I'd have more leg room if I moved her to the vacant seat... plus wouldn't that be totally cute...? So I buckled Minnie in without caring whether the other passengers and flight attendants might think I was crazy! I had wifi on the flight so I kept posting pictures on Facebook of Minnie enjoying the flight- listening to the in flight entertainment, perusing the menu, holding a bottle of water.
Once we got to a stable altitude, I poked through the in flight offerings and was intrigued by a cartoon/anime that seemed to be based on Empress Elisabeth who is the subject of one of my favorite musicals. The show was in Chinese but the theme song was in English and I found it to be delightfully hysterical- especially when they showed the title character with the kind of adorable animal sidekicks that are so stereotypical for Disney princesses. I made it my mission to transcribe the ridiculous theme song lyrics so I'd have them for posterity:
My name is Sissi and now that you know you won't forget me at all.
Sissi oh oh oh
With all my animal friends I will live but I know I will give all my love to you
Oh Franz forever me, forever you
In the lovely castle where you live where one day I will come to.
We will be together joyfully
I will be your queen and our dream will come true.
My name is Sissi you know who I am and I'm in trouble again
Sissi oh oh oh
Please always say you are going to stay and I will smile (?) my own way.
Sissi oh oh oh.
Forever me, forever you.
According to my internet research after the flight, the series was actually Italian. I found an English language trailer which I think is pretty hilarious... though probably not as amusing if you aren't familiar with the musical. If you're interested, it's at https://vimeo.com/107680023
The rest of the flight was barely memorable. We had 2 meals served (I had pork cutlet and something that looks like pesto pasta... I need to do a better job of writing things down!), there was some turbulence for a bit, I surfed on the wifi, and I'm sure I got at least a nap in.
When we arrived in NYC, I was a bit ready to collapse. This was my first international trip with global entry- Unfortunately, the slip I got from the automated kiosk told me I needed to see an agent but I didn't notice until I was brusquely turned away when I tried to go through the usual fast lane. I think the problem was that the stupid kiosk took my photo before I was ready so it came out all sorts of weird. Oh well... back to reality after a couple weeks full of magical dreams.
I am so grateful that I was able to embark on this amazing adventure and that everything basically worked out wonderfully, with only the most minor of glitches. I can't even express the ridiculous joy I experienced at several key moments during my travels: riding in a Hello Kitty jet (twice), enjoying a brand new Disney park in Shanghai, and eating so many adorable food items.
The opening of Shanghai Disneyland was the main impetus for my trip, and the park exceeded my expectations. I thoroughly enjoyed my time in the resort- there was plenty to keep my interest and I was very impressed with the enthusiasm of all the cast members I encountered. I'm very glad I was able to stay at both excellent hotels, and to see The Lion King. Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of my time at the theme park was the unpredictability of the crowds. There were a few things I missed and I'm sure that the park will evolve so I hope to return.
Perhaps surprisingly, I feel like my brief visit to Osaka was my favorite stop next to Shanghai Disneyland. Those 2 destinations were the main "new" to me places on my trip so perhaps it makes sense on that level. But I also feel that it shows how much I truly love just being in Japan. I'm very much inspired to return and visit more cities and towns that I still haven't had a chance to visit. It will be a long time before I run out of places I'd like to explore in Japan.
Another highlight of my trip was being able to spend 2 Saturdays with internet friends. Sam and Ellen are both very fun to be around, and I have the best memories of the times I shared with them. I hope to meet up both of them again... in some corner of the world.
Mystic Manor is still perhaps my favorite Disney attraction and it alone makes it worthwhile to visit Hong Kong Disneyland. A day and a half was about the perfect amount of time to spend there since this was my 4th time visiting. I'm curious to return and see how the park evolves, particularly in light of relatively recent news of its expansion.
My feelings about the Tokyo Disney part of my trip are a bit complicated. While I definitely enjoyed the resort, I couldn't help but feel a bit disappointed that foreigners seem to face disadvantages in ways I'd never felt before. Shows require a lottery, restaurants require reservations (with no standby option even in non peak hours), cast members don't always communicate correct info... I'm sure part of my problem was that I visited at the end of my trip- my feet were aching and I might have been a tad Disneyed out. I wouldn't hesitate to return as my time there was overall quite wonderful. (everything was still tons better than my recent trip to WDW... which has caused me to question future visits) Honestly, I can't imagine traveling to Japan without popping into TDR.
I love stretching my comfort zone and exploring exotic places... but sometimes it's a nice luxury to enjoy a trip that is uniquely "me". 2 weeks full of Disney and Hello Kitty in my favorite part of the world could was just as fabulous as I'd imagined. I'll conclude with some translated lyrics from the theme song of Sindbad's Storybook Voyage at Tokyo Disneysea which seemed especially appropriate for this trip:
Life is the greatest adventure!
There is no map, there's no chart!
But if you seek life's great treasure,
Follow the compass of your heart!