Having opened on June 16, 2016, the Shanghai Disney Resort is the newest outpost of the House of Mouse and the sixth Disney Park to open its doors to magic-loving guests worldwide. But, for folks who’ve never traveled to Asia before, the thought of visiting Disney in China can be daunting, to say the least.
Luckily, as someone who’s not only been to Shanghai Disneyland but also lived in the Middle Kingdom, I’m here to ease your worries, let you know what to expect and pass along some insider tips. So, let’s get to it!
Planning Your Trip to Disneyland Shanghai
All set to plan your Shanghai Disney vacation? Before you buy those tickets for Chinese Disney World, there are some things you need to keep in mind.
You’ll Need a Visa to Visit
To even go to China, you’ll first need to get the proper travel visa. For Americans, the easiest way is to apply for a Tourist Visa, or “L” Visa. United States citizens have a few different options, from a Single Entry visa valid for three to six months up to a Multiple Entry “L” Visa valid for up to 10 years. Each option costs $140, no matter which one you choose.
Or, if China isn’t the only stop on your trip, you could also consider taking advantage of the 144-Hour Visa-Free Transit Policy. Think of this as a six-day stopover that allows you 144 hours of visa-free travel, with some limitations.
In order to qualify, you must be flying on to a second country after stopping in Shanghai. If you’re planning a whirlwind tour of the Disney Parks in Asia, this can be a decent option. For instance, possible itineraries include USA–Shanghai–Hong Kong–USA or USA–Shanghai–Tokyo–USA.
However, as nice as it is to save $140 per person, you do need to use caution when utilizing the 144-Hour Visa-Free Transit Policy. As it is still relatively new, some travelers have experienced difficulties, including even being denied boarding for their flight. Plus, the visa exemption requires you to stay within the region. So, you wouldn’t be able to split your time between Beijing and Shanghai, for example.
Whichever option you choose, be sure to bring your passport – and, if applicable, your visa – with you to Disneyland. You are required to show your documentation to gain entry to the park, and a photo of your passport won’t be sufficient.
How to Get to Shanghai Disneyland
While Shanghai has two different international airports, the closest to Disneyland is Shanghai Pudong International Airport (PVG), at roughly a 25-minute car ride. If Disney is the first or only thing you’re doing, this is where you should plan to fly in.
However, if you’re also planning to check out some of the city’s cultural sights, Shanghai Hongqiao International Airport (SHA) might be better. Conveniently located near the heart of the metropolis, it’s just a short trip from must-see destinations like The Bund or French Concession.
To get to Disneyland Shanghai, you have a few different options. The easiest and quickest method, at around 25 minutes, is taking a taxi. Alternatively, though it does take some setting up beforehand, you can also use DiDi, China’s main car share service (available for download in English on Google Play and the App Store).
Finally, you can also make like the locals and hop on the metro or the city’s Maglev train. Just keep in mind that while this is easily the cheapest way to get to Shanghai Disneyland from Pudong International (around $1 if you only take the metro), it isn’t the quickest route, clocking in at between 45 to 80 minutes.
When to Visit Disney in China
Just like going to Disneyland or Disney World, when you decide to visit matters. Nestled along the southeastern coast of China, Shanghai gets hot and sticky in the summertime and bitterly cold in the winters, thanks to the wind blowing off the East China Sea. For milder temperatures, plan your trip during the spring and autumn months.
You’ll also want to schedule your visit around China’s public holidays, namely Chinese New Year (called Spring Festival in the Middle Kingdom) and National Day, which is actually a multi-day soiree known as Golden Week. While Americans are accustomed to only one day of celebrations, Chinese holidays are typically days-long affairs. As such, many Chinese use the time to travel back to their hometowns and, of course, go on vacation.
Needless to say, things can get pretty busy around that time. So, be sure to steer clear of:
Chinese New Year – January and February
Qingming Festival (Tomb Sweeping Day) – Beginning of April
Dragon Boat Festival – Beginning of June
Mid-Autumn Festival – Early to mid-September
National Day and Golden Week – First week of October
Where to Stay at the Shanghai Disney Resort
Shanghai Disneyland is home to two immersively themed hotels: the Shanghai Disneyland Hotel and the Toy Story Hotel. The Shanghai Disneyland Hotel is the resort’s flagship property and most luxurious hotel. Here you’ll find some of the Shanghai Disney Resort’s finest dining, including a Beauty and the Beast-inspired character meal at Lumiere’s Kitchen.
If you’re traveling with kids, you can’t beat the Toy Story Hotel. Ideally situated across the street from the theme park and Disneytown, you’ll be able to make a quick retreat back to your hotel room at the end of the night.
Of course, you can also opt to stay off Disney property. Pudong is Shanghai’s business district. So, you’ll find several international hotel chains just a short ride from the theme park. During my visit to Shanghai Disney, my family and I stayed at the Holiday Inn Shanghai Pudong Kangqiao and found it quite enjoyable, but there is also a Novotel and Courtyard by Marriott nearby.
That being said, Pudong doesn’t have much to offer tourists beyond Disney. If you do opt to stay in an off-property hotel and are planning to do more in Shanghai than just Disneyland, I highly recommend moving to a more central hotel downtown for the rest of your trip.
Shanghai Disneyland Tickets
Traveling to the other side of the globe can be expensive. Fortunately, Shanghai Disneyland tickets are pretty affordable compared to what you’d spend for a day at Walt Disney World or Disneyland in California. In general, guests can choose between either a 1-Day or 2-Day ticket.
Similar to Disney Parks stateside, prices for Disneyland Shanghai tickets vary depending on when you visit. Additionally, a 25% discount is provided to children (ages 3-11), senior citizens (ages 65 and up) or guests with disabilities (proof of disability required). Current ticket prices include:
Regular Admission – Select Weekends and Most Weekdays: 435 RMB or approximately $64
Regular Plus Admission – Select Weekdays and Weekends: 645 RMB or approximately $80
Peak Admission – Most of the summer and select Chinese and international holidays: 659 RMB or approximately $97
Peak Plus Admission – Select days in summer and Chinese holidays: 769 RMB or approximately $113
Things to See and Do at Disneyland Shanghai
As a vast nation with a storied history, it’s only natural that China is home to one of the largest Disney Parks, Shanghai Disneyland Park, taking second place at 963 acres. Unsurprisingly, there’s a lot to do there, from thrilling rides and stage shows to Disneytown, the resort’s take on Disney Springs and Downtown Disney.
To really experience it all, you should plan to spend two to three full days at Shanghai Disney. However, for guests who don’t mind skipping carbon copies of Disney World and Disneyland attractions, then one day is doable.
Personally, this was my approach. Unless you’re traveling to China specifically to go to Shanghai Disneyland or are planning to stay in the region for several days, then a day, possibly a day and a half, is enough. If you’re anything like me, there are so many incredible things to experience in the rest of the city and beyond that your time might be better spent not riding Seven Dwarfs Mine Train or The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh for the umpteenth time.
Can’t-Miss Disney Shanghai Attractions
So, what can you do at Chinese Disney World? Shanghai Disneyland has many strengths. It’s beautiful, uniquely Chinese design. Wide-open spaces full of wandering and expansion possibilities. However, variety isn’t one of them.
If you’ve visited Disney World, Disneyland or any of the other international parks before, chances are you’ll find some of the attractions in the Shanghai resort a little same-y. I know I did! But don’t worry, there is still a fair amount unique to Disneyland Shanghai. They include:
Pirates of the Caribbean Battle for the Sunken Treasure – Towering screens and a dark vibe make for a thrilling swashbuckling adventure you won’t soon forget; arguably the best ride at any Disney Park
TRON Lightcycle Power Run – A motorcycle-style roller coaster (Coming soon to the Magic Kingdom!)
Unique & Fun
Alice in Wonderland Maze – A whimsical garden inspired by the live-action film with plenty of photo opportunities
Roaring Rapids – An exciting water raft ride that will get you drenched
Jet Packs – A space-y carousel à la Astro Orbiter
Voyage to the Crystal Grotto – A slow-moving boat ride past glittering fountains and Disney character sculptures
Can’t-Miss Copies with Updated Tech
Peter Pan’s Flight – A Disney classic with an extended ending
Buzz Lightyear Planet Rescue – A Buzz Lightyear shooting gallery ride with improved visibility when aiming
But, that’s not all! From traditional Peking opera to the spectacle of the Beijing Olympics opening ceremony, the Chinese people love their live entertainment. So, it’s no wonder that you can find a whole slate of exciting stage shows at the Shanghai Disney Resort, like the rollicking Eye of the Storm: Captain Jack’s Stunt Spectacular. You can even do tai chi with Chip ‘n’ Dale and Donald Duck.
Meeting Disney Characters
It wouldn’t be a trip to Disney without meeting some Disney characters. Luckily, there are plenty of opportunities at Shanghai Disney. Not only can you meet icons like Mickey and Minnie, but you can also see quintessentially Asian characters, including Duffy, his gal ShellieMay and their pals StellaLou and Gelatoni.
If you’re fans of the Disney Princesses or Marvel characters, don’t pass up the opportunity to say hello. Since these characters tend to be native English speakers, you may find them especially chatty, making for a particularly memorable interaction.
Shanghai Disneyland Dining
One of my absolute favorite things about traveling through China (heck, traveling anywhere) is the food. Whether you’re in the mood for Western dishes like pizza and burgers or authentic Chinese cuisine like roasted duck and noodles, you’ll find it all at Shanghai Disney. Even a classic turkey leg! The only thing missing is DOLE Whip.
In general, restaurants inside the park tend to offer a mix of both: mostly Chinese and other Asian cuisines with a few Western options. You’ll also find some fun fusion dishes. Think pizza topped with Peking roast duck. Typically, Asian-style meals come with chopsticks and a spoon. However, if you’d prefer a fork, those are also on hand.
With all that walking around, you’re going to want to stay hydrated. Luckily, unlike the rest of China, where it isn’t safe to drink from the tap, water fountains and water bottle refill stations are plentiful (and safe!) at Shanghai Disney.
If you keep an eye out, you’ll even see hot water faucets. This is because water is traditionally served steaming hot in the Middle Kingdom. For all the Americans accustomed to ice water, this will come as quite a shock. Should there be a language barrier when ordering a freezing glass of H2O, simply ask for bīng shuǐ (bing shway).
Don’t Forget to Wander (and Shop!)
One of the highlights of Shanghai Disneyland Park is its distinctly Chinese touches. Gone is the nostalgic Main Street, U.S.A., replaced instead with the whimsical Mickey Avenue. You’ll also find a surprising amount of open space.
One of the favorite pastimes for folks in China is spending time outside, specifically hanging out in parks. (For a taste of the tradition, don’t miss the beautiful Fuxing Park in Shanghai’s former French Concession.)
Naturally, China’s Disneyland has its own version. Along with the Alice in Wonderland Maze mentioned earlier, don’t miss the Garden of the Twelve Friends, a playful oasis inspired by the Chinese zodiac where the animals are played by beloved Disney and Pixar characters. Not only are these spaces great for a relaxing break, but they’re also a fun spot for taking photos, another unofficial national pastime.
While Instagram may be banned in China, that doesn’t mean the Chinese people are social media novices. In fact, they’re pros when it comes to posing for photos. (Don’t be surprised if you see a toddler or grandma throw up a peace sign with the rest of their clan.) So, be sure to take advantage of the many social media moments sprinkled throughout the park, like the Mad Tea Party in the Alice in Wonderland Maze.
Another thing you won’t want to skip is all of the shopping opportunities. No trip to Disney is complete without a souvenir or two. Luckily, Shanghai Disney is home to merchandise you can’t get anywhere else. Though stores can be found throughout the park, you’ll also want to pay a visit to Disneytown, the resort’s version of Disney Springs and Downtown Disney.
Tips and Tricks for Your Shanghai Disney Adventure
Ready to book your flight to China? Before you start packing, here are some tips and tricks to help you bridge the culture gap and climb the Great Firewall.
Be Prepared for Language Barriers
Though this is a Disney Park, you are still in China. In other words, almost everything in the park is presented in Mandarin, including the attractions. Personally, this wasn’t a problem for me. Not because I speak the language (in fact, I lived two whole years in Beijing knowing only the basics), but because most of Disney’s rides and even the shows can be appreciated through only the visuals.
I don’t know about you, but I hardly pay attention to a ride’s narration anyway. So, chances are you’ll just tune out the talking and sit back and enjoy the show. Part of the fun of going to a Disney Park in another country is appreciating what makes it different anyway.
As you might expect, that language barrier can also extend to cast members. Although English is required for cast members at the Shanghai Disney Resort, communication can still be challenging at times since skill levels can really vary. In general, I actually found more folks in Shanghai to have decent English as compared to Beijing.
While pantomime and a lot of patience will work in a pinch, I highly recommend you download a translation app before you arrive. Yes, it can be clunky, awkward and time-consuming to use during a conversation, but it will help you avoid a lot of communication issues. Pleco Chinese Dictionary (available on the App Store and Google Play) is another handy download that lets you look up Chinese characters.
Additionally, just like traveling to any other country where English isn’t the native language, doing your best to use a few words and phrases in Mandarin will get you far (and earn you points from the locals).
Basic Mandarin Phrases to Know
Hello – Nǐhǎo | nee how
Thank you – Xièxiè | sh-yeh sh-yeh
You’re welcome – Bù kèqì | boo kuh chee
How much? – Duō shǎo? | dwoh shauw (rhymes with cow)?
Too expensive! – Tài guìle! | tie gway luh!
I don’t understand – Wǒ bù dǒng | wo-ah boo dong
Check, please! – Măi dān | my dahn
Technology Is Your Friend
From high-speed trains to QR codes, the Middle Kingdom runs on technology, and the same thing goes for Shanghai Disneyland. Whether you need to get around the park or pay for a meal, chances are you’ll need your smartphone. Along with the Shanghai Disney Resort app, there are a few different apps I suggest you download to make your trip that much easier.
While it took a global pandemic to finally get on the QR code trend, China has been using the technology for years – and not just for restaurant menus. For a convenient way to pay for your snack or souvenir, consider downloading Alipay (available on Google Play and the App Store).
Previously, you had to have a Chinese bank account to take advantage of Alipay, but thanks to the new Alipay Tour Pass, the convenient payment option is now available to tourists. While you’re at it, also give a currency conversion app like XE a download.
For a country as reliant on technology as China, getting and staying connected can be a challenge. While public wi-fi is available in parts of Shanghai, it can be next to impossible to use if you can’t receive text messages. Luckily, as long as your phone is unlocked, you should be able to use a Chinese SIM card to solve the problem.
SIM cards can be purchased before arriving in the country for around $30 or upon your arrival for around $15 or less. Just be sure to buy a SIM card from either China Mobile or China Unicom, as these are the only providers which usually work with foreign phones.
Last but not least, don’t go to Shanghai Disneyland without a VPN. Thanks to the Great Firewall, many Western websites are banned in China, including Google and social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. The only way to scale China’s other great wall is with a VPN, which spoofs your location.
Although there are many free VPNs out there, they don’t always work in the Middle Kingdom. Since VPNs are technically illegal in China, the government is constantly fighting to shut them down. Your best bet is to go for a paid version. My personal favorite is ExpressVPN, available for $12.95 for a month.
Some Cultural Norms Can Be Surprising
If you’ve never been to China or Asia before, don’t be surprised if you experience a bit of a culture shock. During my two years in China, I witnessed some truly crazy things. Even if you’re only visiting for a few days, you’re bound to experience your fair share.
Spitting is commonplace in the Middle Kingdom, especially among the older generations. So, there’s a good chance you’ll hear or see a grandma or grandpa hock a loogie while waiting in line.
Something else that might feel familiar for some guests of Disney’s American theme parks is public bathroom breaks, particularly from children. Many parents opt to dress their little ones in the toddler version of crotchless panties (no, I’m not joking), making for an easy trip to the loo. Only in this case, the toilet may be a baggie held beneath a child’s bum.
Speaking of toilets, going to the bathroom in China can be quite an adventure. Rather than the Western-style thrones we’re accustomed to, Chinese people prefer squat toilets (the all-natural Squatty Potty). Understandingly, these can be a bit daunting for most Americans. Fortunately, bathrooms at Shanghai Disney tend to be evenly split between the two styles.
Ever wanted to feel like a celebrity? Just take a trip to China! Some tourists will find a lot of attention directed their way, especially if they’re Black, have blonde hair or are especially tall. Along with stares, you may even be asked for a photo. Though this can feel insulting in the moment, it’s typically only out of curiosity. So, just give a smile, snap a pic if you like and go about your day.
Despite these few quirks, chances are you’ll have a great time interacting with your fellow guests. Though direct, folks in the Middle Kingdom are also incredibly friendly. It isn’t unheard of for someone to strike up a conversation, especially with a foreigner. After all, you’re different and interesting (and a great opportunity for them to practice their English)!
All in all, with a little preparation, visiting Shanghai Disneyland can be downright magical. Whether you have a day to spend or two or three, you’re sure to leave with some incredible memories and just the right amount of pixie dust.
Have you ever been to Shanghai Disneyland? Let us know in the comments! Looking to travel to Disney World or Disneyland instead? Don’t miss our discounted Disney tickets.