It turns out all the hype that's surrounded Shanghai Disneyland since it broke ground five years ago was well-founded: the park is gorgeous and packed with exclusive attractions, like a pirate-themed "land" called treasure cove and Little Mermaid-themed pools. It's all more than enough to convince even casual Disney fans to hop on a 13-hour flight.
But before you pack your bag or planning your meet-and-greets, read on what you need to know before heading to Shanghai's new Disney park:
Before you leave:
First things first: obtain a visa.
If you’re an American citizen, you’ll need a recent passport as well as a Chinese Visa, which costs around $140. It is recommended to apply for your Visa about a month before you leave, but Chinese consulates are not available in every city, so it’s best to get everything prepared well in advance of submission.
Preload your phone with necessary apps and prepare for limited communication.
Websites like Twitter, Facebook, and Google, as well as Gmail, are blocked within mainland China. You can bypass the firewall, but it requires setting up a VPN for both your phone and requisite websites, which is cumbersome but inexpensive. Ordering a Chinese SIM card in advance for your phone (if your device meets the requirements) is helpful, as is obtaining a mobile WiFi device if it does not. You can also handle this at the airport, but it may be more costly and time-consuming. Sign yourself and family members at home up on WeChat in advance, too, which offers free multimedia messaging while abroad.
Related: Shanghai Travel Guide
Pack absolutely everything you may need.
The resort is located in an industrial area, and medicine, amenities, and other must-haves will not be readily available. There are a few makeup and beauty stores in Disneytown, but no drugstores, so make sure all your necessities are in your suitcase.
If you have dietary restrictions or picky eaters, bring breakfast snacks.
Disney is always incredibly accommodating for any kind of food allergy or restriction, but only a small fraction of the food at Shanghai Disneyland is Western. There are familiar foods for lunch and dinner, sure, but breakfast can prove to be the most challenging for anyone on a specified diet. Pack small snacks and granola bars to have on hand, especially if you have little ones who won’t take kindly to the food, and keep a stash back at the room for late-night eats once the hotel cafes close.
If you’re visiting Shanghai Disneyland for more than one day, which you should, stay on-property. The cost for Toy Story Hotel and Shanghai Disneyland Hotel are much less than stateside hotels, but both are remarkably nice.
Bookend Your Trip
If you want to experience the rest of Shanghai as well, make sure Shanghai Disneyland is a bookend of your trip and not in the middle. The airport is much closer to Disneyland than it is to the heart of the city, making it convenient for arriving or departing flights.
Once you arrive:
If you’re heading to Disneyland straight from the airport, have the address of your resort, in Mandarin, printed out on paper.
Because the park is so new, taxi drivers may not know exactly where it is by name. Be sure to have local currency for the fare, and, upon landing, tuck the kept half of the immigration form you receive on the plane into your passport holder—and don’t lose it! You’ll need it when you come back through prior to boarding your return flight.
When visiting the parks, keep an ID on you at all times.
Shanghai Disneyland tickets are non-transferrable, and though it’s in the fine print, proof of identity may be required for entry.
If you’re making a day trip from Shanghai, take a train instead of a taxi.
It is a lengthy journey most cabs will not want to or know how to make. Disneyland is far from Shanghai’s city center—over an hour by train, with a short walk to the gate—but convenient, as “Disney Resort” is the final stop on Line 11. Try to avoid rush hour, which can be quite hectic, and download the Explore Shanghai Metro app in advance, which offers easy directions in English throughout the system.
Leave enough time to get home from the parks.
Be sure to stay informed about evening train schedules, and if you're staying off-property, buy a round-trip ticket from the get-go. Ticket sales stop at a certain time, for which there is even an overhead announcement reminding guests to do just this.
Jet-lagged? Coffee is easy to find, if you know where to look.
Unlike stateside parks, there’s no proper Starbucks inside the gates, but there is a massive one hiding to the side of World of Disney within Disneytown. (If you’re approaching from the Steamboat Mickey fountain, as most do, keep walking with the store on your right.) The hotels makes a mean cappuccino as well; you can find your caffeine fix at Toy Story Hotel’s Sunnyside Market or Ballet Café within Shanghai Disneyland Hotel.
Shop at every single store you find.
Different items are carried at each hotel, in Disneytown and within the parks, and you’ll want to spot them all. Be sure to visit Lotso Shop for Buzz Lightyear bobbleheads, Tinker Bell Gifts for princess-themed jewelry, Trend-D for feminine Disney-themed purses and Whistle Stop Shop for monogrammed ears.
You’ll want to spend at least one afternoon—or meal—within Disneytown.
The dining options available are vast, and all are incredibly high-quality, providing some of the best food throughout Shanghai Disneyland property. There are the regular shopping and photo ops—Lego’s first Asia boutique is here, naturally—and even an all-Mandarin production of The Lion King, which is beautiful, despite being lost in translation.
But there’s a whole section of Disneytown that’s very easy to miss.
It’s called Lakeshore, and it’s separate from the main strip next to park gates, hanging out over Wishing Star Park’s massive body of water. It contains The BOATHOUSE, one of Florida’s new signature restaurant, as well as a few shoe stores, toy shops and a Korean beauty outpost.
Be more patient than usual.
Even though it’s Disney, and experiences at other foreign parks may be different, don’t expect all of Shanghai Disneyland Resort to be English-friendly, as on average, only one of every three staff members speak the language. Buses on-property can be a bit tricky to navigate, so make sure you’re in the right line, in the right place, whenever you’re unsure.
Upon your departure:
Leave yourself plenty of time to get to the airport.
The language barrier at the Pudong Airport can be immense, and some flights booked through partner airlines will not allow guests to fully check-in online, so plan to leave about four hours before your international flight. Double check your terminal before you depart the hotel, and check in advance about taxis, which may not be as readily available as they are in the city center.
Flying elsewhere within China before you go home?
Be prepared to wait. It’s common knowledge that flights within the country frequently run behind schedule.
Be aware of China Eastern Airline’s idiosyncrasies.
It’s the most popular airline within China, but can provide for a much different experience than American companies. Phones cannot be used in airplane mode at all throughout the duration of the flight, as is the case with portable batteries, and requested seats through their stateside partner, Delta, were not honored upon check-in. Despite already having been through security, my flight also required all water bottles to be emptied out prior to boarding. There were multiple meals offered, and the in-flight entertainment provided plenty of English language selections, but the differences are noteworthy for American travelers.