It hasn’t even been open for a full two years, and already Shanghai Disneyland has become well known by international Disney fans as a cherished mecca. It’s now the world’s sixth “Magic Kingdom” complete with familiar elements and attractions enhanced beyond belief.
Like all of its core parks, The Walt Disney Company’s latest on mainland China is based on the original Disneyland in California with a fairytale castle at its center. However, Shanghai’s Enchanted Storybook Castle is the largest ever constructed and dwarfs the one in Anaheim as it welcomes citizens of the most populous country on Earth.
Shanghai Disneyland is predominantly visited by locals with only a smattering of Americans—yours truly included—and Europeans mixed in, but all are catered to. Signage and prerecorded safety spiels are in both Chinese and English. PA announcements and attraction scripts are generally only in Chinese, however.
In regards to speaking with staff, ride operators are bilingual with only retail and food services personnel exhibiting a more frequent communications barrier. Nonetheless, Disney is pretty much a universal language unto itself, and it’s never much of a struggle to get by.
Overall, the park can best be described as a beautiful hybrid between Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom and Epcot because this one—catering culturally to the Chinese—remarkably has no Main Street nor train at the entrance. Instead, an abbreviated shopping bazaar opens to a wide array of gardens and waterways in front of the castle, more akin to the World Showcase at Orlando’s latter park.
Of course, there is still a classic Fantasyland and Tomorrowland. The first features great rides like Peter Pan’s Flight, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train and Voyage to the Crystal Grotto.
Peter Pan is the same great suspended attraction remembered from childhood but with the latest projection technologies applied, and the Crystal Grotto is this park’s closest facsimile to the Jungle Cruise boat ride, alternatively passing by marvelous animated fountain tableaus.
READ MORE: Toy Story Land Coming to Shanghai Disneyland in 2018
Meanwhile, Tomorrowland is the coolest looking version anywhere on the globe with an aesthetic similar to the namesake movie. Here the highlight is the now legendary TRON Lightcycle Power Run, Disney’s fastest ever roller coaster themed to the company’s other futuristic film. To say this ride is thrilling would be an understatement. Something about being in the motorcycle position while going over 60 miles per hour is simply breathtaking in the glowing environment.
In fact, deep immersion is perhaps the single best attribute of Shanghai Disneyland. Even over at Adventure Island—elsewhere known as Adventureland—the stunning rock formations of Roaring Rapids tower over the landscape. Its dramatic waterfall cascades over a fun archaeological Camp Discovery ropes course below.
Entering Treasure Cove, a large body of water awaits with ominous pirate ships floating in the distance. There may not be a Mark Twain or Columbia to set sail aboard, but the Explorer Canoes are considerably more popular than in the States. Still, the signature attraction is Pirates of the Caribbean: Battle for the Sunken Treasure.
The classic has been significantly enhanced, though. While there are delightful homages to previous versions of the ride, this one takes its cues from the film franchise more than anything else. That means “Yo Ho (A Pirate’s Life for Me)” is reserved only for a singular brief chorus while Hans Zimmer’s iconic score takes center stage for the remainder.
The high-tech ride system allows boats to float as before, but a dual drive system can cleverly accelerate and decelerate the vehicles forwards, sideways and in reverse for an altogether unique path. Expertly designed physical sets and seamless video projections engulf guests in the exciting action as never before as they are taken above and below the sea. Even without fully comprehending the Chinese dialogue, this Pirates remains the ultimate theme park attraction.
To make the most of their time at the park, Americans can also download the Shanghai Disney Resort app to mobile devices. Like in the U.S. a helpful digital map shows directions and one’s current position in the park as well as wait times for attractions. Best of all is how it interacts with the Fastpass service—essentially the same as the premium MaxPass from California’s Disneyland but for free.
Guests need only pull up their smartphones to select a ride and available window to return to an expedited queue. Alternatively, Fastpasses can also be procured from Guest Services kiosks in Adventure Isle, Fantasyland and Tomorrowland.
Because of its remarkable list of familiar and distinct attractions, Shanghai Disneyland should be on the list of every dedicated Disney fan and theme park enthusiast.
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