On our recent trip to Shanghai, in addition to a few day trips to explore more traditional Chinese spots in and around the city, we made sure that a trip to Shanghai Disneyland was high on our priority list. (Note: This isn’t a sponsored post, we just had a great time and want to share our experience!)
When we were based out of Beijing, trips to Shanghai were a relatively common occurrence. A couple of hours on the bullet train, and we could escape smoggy Beijing to visit my mom’s side of the family, eat all our favorite local foods, and just have a change of pace.
As for the differences between Beijing and Shanghai, people often say that Beijing is an intellectual’s city—one of art, politics, and discourse, whereas Shanghai is more about business and fashion. Much about Shanghai lies at what can sometimes feel like a dizzying intersection of East and West: looming mega malls, the slick attention to fashion whether in the OOTD of its residents or the modern architecture, and even the availability of more Western foods (on this recent trip, we saw a really sad, neglected salad bar…baby steps).
Even on my first trip to Shanghai sometime in high school, I realized how much more at ease I felt in Shanghai than in other Chinese cities—primarily because of how much more Westernized it is, in the way of life, how people act, and what they consume.
Shanghai Disneyland is a perfect microcosm of East and West at play. Characters, stories, and experiences that are unmistakably American, localized for Chinese fans. I mean, there was a 45-minute long Tarzan show that was fully in Chinese, complete with Phil Collins-esque singer and acrobatics!
The result is 100% delightful, as familiar as it was unexpected, and something you should definitely check out if you’re ever in Shanghai! We had what could pretty much be summed up as *the perfect day* exploring everything Shanghai Disneyland had to offer—from Cinderella’s castle, rides and attractions to some veeery interesting local snacks.
We all felt like kids again (25- to 30-year-old kids) on a day that started early in the morning and ended when night fell. That said, we’ve gathered some tips to have an absolutely perfect day at Shanghai Disneyland.
How to Have the Perfect Day at Shanghai Disneyland
1. Spring for VIP passes and get escorted by Disney employees
Okay, okay, so this is not an easily attainable first step to having the perfect day at Shanghai Disneyland, but a close friend of a friend who’s local to the city generously hooked us up with VIP passes that helped us bypass allll the lines.
What’s more, we were escorted by a couple of Disney employees who knew exactly which rides to go on and in what order. See the guy in the aviators? Our totally boss guide who was like the don of Disney.
We now know what it feels like to be celebrities at Shanghai Disneyland.
We started off in Toy Story Land, which had an insane ride that looked deceptively simple but was actually incredibly vomit-inducing, but also on the bright side, made fast friends of our motley crew. Also with us that day were friends from home, Zoe, Mark, and Justin.
Here’s Yilin, our awesome friend who hooked us up with the VIP passes. Disney is one of those Breakfast Club sort of experiences. You can’t go to Disney with someone and not become friends with them. It’s, like, impossible.
From there, the jazzy new Disney Shanghai Tron ride––wait time, 0 minutes! I could get used to this…
2. Get dizzy in a Hunny Pot
The best part about going to any Disneyland is that you remember all of the things that used to make you irrationally happy. For me, this was Winnie the Pooh.
I basically forgot how much I loved Winnie the Pooh growing up until I was confronted with a whole Winnie inspired world, and was dizzy spinning around as fast as I possibly could make our Hunny Pot go.
Sure the narration was all in Chinese, but, oh bother, does it change how enjoyable it is?
3. Go for thrills and noms on Pirates of the Caribbean
The Pirates of the Caribbean ride got a major update from California Disneyland/Orlando’s Disney World when it hopped across continents. We ended up on the ride, and somewhere after we got splashed by water…
…we started smelling some pretty tantalizing aromas, wafting towards us as we sailed past the ride’s restaurant(!) where people were chomping on platters of food.
Honestly, a brilliant move, as by this time in the day we were pretty hungry. Plus, our Disney employee insiders gave us the tip that this was by and large the best food in the park.
Now, I’ll say that there were also Western food options sprinkled elsewhere in other zones selling things like pizza, burgers, and fries, and I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t jonesing for some local Shanghai pizza, but we decided to go with the Pirates of the Caribbean themed Barbossa’s Bounty. “Come and have a feast!” Don’t gotta tell me twice.
You could get giant ribs, chicken legs, and a whole fish. Yes, a whole fish. WELCOME TO CHINA!!!
We ended up getting the whole fish, the braised venison shank with carrot, and Barbossa’s BBQ pork ribs, which were all pretty solid. Everything was coated in slightly sweeter sauces than we normally might have gone for, but it was perfect for local Shanghainese tastes (Exhibit A: Hong Shao Rou, Red Braised Pork). Plus, the whole fish was served on a bed of Shanghai Cai Fan (Rice with Salted Pork and Greens)—very nice touch!
A tableside visit from some Australian method actor who played Jack Sparrow didn’t hurt either.
4. See Cinderella’s castle
We were lucky to see Cinderella’s castle at all different times of day–during the day in its full glory (and, yes, squad photo was obligatory)….
…and completely sparkling and lit up at night. It was pretty magical. Plus you can even go inside!
5. Eat all the Mickey-Mouse-shaped things
Half the fun of Shanghai Disneyland is seeing all the different ways that foods can be made into Mickey Mouse shapes. I’m talkin’ muffins, danishes, cakes, cookies…
And even mooncakes! In hindsight, we really should have tried one of these…
The list goes on. Ice cream, rice bento boxes, desserts, and yes, BOILED EGGS. I can attest to the fact that I spent most of our time in a rather long cafeteria line ogling this egg and trying to figure out just exactly how it was achieved.
LIKE HOW?!! HOW DID THEY DO THAT??!!!!!?
But as for most things at Disneyland, one doesn’t ask questions. One only enjoys the literal and figurative ride. The ice cream was far less beguiling and just as enjoyable, made with awesomely rich ice cream from a local Shanghai dairy company.
Bonus if you wear Mickey (or in my case, Minnie) Mouse swag whilst eating Mickey-Mouse-shaped things.
6. Pause for a curious meat snack
Notice my praise at this moment is more…tempered when it comes to the two meat snacks in question: first, a turkey drumette and second, a corn dog.
I’ll gladly tell anyone who asks that one of my strongest personal reasons to go to Disney is for the smoked turkey leg. I also speak for my mother when I say this. Say what you want about everything else, but that smoked turkey leg is one of the best things out there. So much so that we made our own recipe!
Suffice it to say I was very excited when we saw a line snaking around for the Shanghai Disneyland drumettes.
These weren’t turkey legs, but the little drumstick part of the turkey wing, which was still frankly enormous. That said, the flavor left something to be desired, it was a sweet sort of sauce that just wasn’t nearly as good, but it did seem to be the most popular park snack regardless.
Secondly, the corn dog. A hot dog dipped in a super fluffy batter—less dense than your standard cornbread coating—and coated in pork sung or pork “floss” as some may know it.
It’s a meat on meat whammy and was also vaguely sweet? But it was pretty unanimously deemed better than the turkey drumstick.
There were also a host of other snacks that we didn’t have enough stomach room to check out: cherry and caramel popcorn, egg tarts, and sausage rolls. Half the fun is in trying it!
7. Bask in the glory that is Mulan in *actual* China in the Disneyland parade
I’m going to validate every stereotype there is and say that I <3 Mulan. As Disney princesses go, she’s a badass, and her romance with Shang is actually built on battle wounds, not just eye fluttering and pie-making.
So I’m a big Mulan fan, and I have to say, when the Disneyland parade started up and the Mulan float idled past, I was like WOW I’M IN CHINA LOOKING AT MULAN.
Me being uber excited:
Every float was more elaborate than the last, and we’d definitely recommend pausing the rides and checking out the parade!
Plus, it’s the perfect time to stop for something sweet—Mickey Mouse-shaped chocolate muffin, plz—and a coffee to help you power through the rest of the afternoon and evening!
Of course, you must go to none other than Remy’s Patisserie!
8. Check out the wall of Disney zodiac characters
As everyone knows, anthropomorphized animals are the foundation on which the Disney empire is built, but one fun attraction was seeing the zodiac garden of animals. I snapped a shot with monkey Abu (I’m a monkey!) and Remy. Neither Sarah nor I are rats by the zodiac’s reckoning, but obviously, Chef Remy is bae.
9. Take ridiculous photos anywhere and everywhere
This may be the best part of Shanghai Disneyland—there are just too many photo/Instagram traps and fun moments, so it’s best to put aside your reservations around snapping photos and just go with it because the results can be pretty spectacular…
And just plain old bizarre—like this llama I found while waiting for everyone else’s bathroom break.
And of course one must pause for a cuppa tea in Wonderland.
Getting there and back
For anyone curious, we used a ride-sharing app to get to Shanghai Disneyland, but the Shanghai metro system is very convenient and easy to navigate for non-Chinese speakers, and there’s a well-situated metro stop that’s just a short walk away from the front gates!