Shanghai Disneyland: Fun but Crowded

Shanghai Disneyland officially opens for business on June 16, 2016, but Disney has been making a limited number of tickets available for many weeks for “testing” purposes. I actually wasn’t planning on ever going to Shanghai Disneyland (I’m from Tampa, just an hour away from Orlando, home of Disney World), but recently everyone I know has been scoring tickets through their personal connections, and my wife was no exception. She scored some tickets through our four-and-a-half-year-old daughter’s pre-school connections (those guanxi start early!), so the three of us did the Shanghai Disneyland soft opening thing on a rainy May 29th. 30,000 other visitors still showed up.

I’m not going to do anything remotely approaching a full review; this is just a collection of my own random observations.

Everything Looks Nice

For now, anyway, everything looks nice, meeting the standard I would expect from Disney. I do wonder how well the park is going to wear, with a projected 60,000 visitors shuffling through the park daily once it officially opens. Still, it all looked impressive enough to inspire me to take this lame selfie:

Selfie at Shanghai Disneyland

One thing that struck me as really weird, though, is that Disney seems to be dying the water in its artificial ponds and streams. Why?? So bizarre.

Blue-Green Water at Shanghai Disneyland

The Marvel Presence

Disney owns Marvel now, and while there were no major Marvel “rides” or characters strolling the grounds, there was a “Marvel Cinematic Universe” installation. It was there that I witnessed this impressive display of American soft power:

Captain America "Soft Power" at Shanghai Disneyland

The Lines

OK, this is Disney, so expect long lines. At one point, in a very brief period of insanity, I got in line for the Tron lightcycle roller coaster even after being told the wait was 3 hours. (My wife and daughter were going to go do the Peter Pan ride.) After I was told the wait was actually 4 hours, I snapped out of it and went and joined my family for the scant two-hour wait for Peter Pan. (Hey, at least we were together!)

Long Lines at Shanghai Disneyland

One thing that impressed me about Disney was the ubiquitous wheelchair access that is still fairly uncommon in China. It was good to see people in wheelchairs also getting the Disney experience.

Wheelchair Access at Shanghai Disneyland

I should mention that there is a “Fastpass” option that allows ticket holders to skip long lines if they show up for the designated ride at the right time. I had thought these were for sale in Disney World (adds a nice class struggle aspect to Disney’s lines), but in Shanghai you just have to line up to get them, until all the time slots are gone for the day. So you have to choose between lining up for hours to get on a ride and lining up for hours to get a Fastpass.

For the first half of the rainy day of waiting in lines, I was sort of regretting coming at all, but two things happened to brighten my mood. The first was a random Chinese high school kid giving me an extra Fastpass for the Tron lightcycle roller coaster. I was waiting in line, alone (the line was down to “just” two hours later in the day), and he targeted me to give away his extra Fastpass, practicing his English at the same time.


Yeah, as modern as Shanghai is, there are still plenty of inconveniences that piss off us cranky laowai residents. But then this kind of thing happens. It really improved my mood, and probably my whole opinion of the day at Disneyland.

The Tron lightcycle ride was a lot of fun.

Thanks, random Chinese high school kid!

Star Wars

The other thing that inexplicably brightened my mood and threw me into a bout of irrational childish glee was running into Darth Vader on patrol with two Storm Troopers. The great thing about him was not that he was tall, or that he was commanding, but that he was in character. He didn’t shake any hands or pose for any pictures. He was all business. There was a little boy trailing around behind him, dying to steal a moment of his attention. Vader brutally ignored him.

Then when Darth Vader reached an overlook, he angrily shook his fist at the park below. I liked to imagine that was him resenting his new overlord, the Disney corp.

Darth Vader at Shanghai Disneyland


OK, so there’s this parade everyone seems to make a big deal out of. It was almost canceled because of the rain. The parade was better than I expected, and I found the Frozen ice monster to be the highlight:


Troops of Chinese girls in blond wigs was also kind of amusing (here’s just one):


Projector Mania

I mentioned that I’m most familair with Disney World which is, by the way, quite old already. So it was interesting to see how Disney would make use of new technology in its most modern park. The answer? Liberal use of projectors. Projected images on walls, on ceilings, on water, even on a whole castle. It works well, and it’s even quite cost effective. The final light show, which used to be mostly fireworks, now makes a whole lot more use of projectors and lasers. (Also better for the environment.)

Laser Light Show at Shanghai Disneyland

Worth it?

Would I go again? No way. At 30,000 visitors, the park already felt very crowded. Lines were ridiculously long. And the projected visitor volume once it officially opens is 60,000 people. That is insane.

The sad part of this is not only that visitors will feel ripped off by their unexpected visit to LineLand, but also that the Disney staff, so carefully trained, are definitely going to have the cheery enthusiasm pounded out of them by the relentless onslaught of Chinese tourists. My wife observed how most Chinese guests coldly ignored all the Disney-style friendly greetings offered up by the staff.

I wish Disney’s famous service could be a shining example for China, but I’m not too optimistic about that.


John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.


  1. I’m in China now and have been wanting to go check it out, but waiting a half day in line doesn’t sound like my idea of a good day. I always wondered why they don’t make the lineups more interesting… at least play some movies or something? Or better yet, just let you take a number and get notified on your phone when it’s time to go line up. Why make you stand in line when you could be out spending your life savings on souvenirs and junk food?

  2. I believe this might explain the blue water:

  3. Jon Åslund Says: June 9, 2016 at 6:21 am

    My only experience has been with Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea. I was extremely impressed. The care for detail in everything built was fantastic. Would love to visit the others to check out the difference. I was there with a young baby and we could even take him on some rides. The queueing was intense, but not as bad as you describe. But maybe we skipped everything that had too long queues and went for the shorter ones. Some queues were also quite fun by themselves.

  4. This was entertaining and fun to read, John. I miss you!

  5. haha makes me tired just to think of it!! :O

  6. I’ll never forget the time I waited in line for 4 hours to go to the observation deck on the Oriental Pearl on National Day. Waiting in ridiculous lines is like a rite of passage in China. It’s something anyone who’s spend a decent amount of time here has to do at some point. But after you’ve done it once or twice…you’d just prefer to stay home on holidays instead.

  7. Nice tips, have a friend visiting this weekend and am sending him your post.

    Just an FYI regarding Walt Disney World, FastPass is free at all Disney Parks, including WDW.

  8. Hey John, I would like you to know that your recent romp about Disneyland made it into German newspaper “Tagesspiegel” @ (sorry german, no english). But it sounded like you were interviewed, so you might already know about this.

  9. […] (Oh, and nope, I’m still not planning any new trips to Shanghai Disneyland!) […]

  10. David Fung Says: January 12, 2017 at 9:47 am

    Hope that Shanghai Disneyland won’t make 8 out of 11 years lost even receiving onslaughter of Chinese tourists like Hong Kong Disneyland. According to MingPao Hong Kong, the HongKong Disneyland couldn’t make any profit out of its revenue stream after deducting the management cost and franchise fees to Walt Disney.

Leave a Reply