10 Shanghai Disney Resort Tips For First Timers

Opened in 2016, Shanghai Disneyland Resort was a whole new adventure for international Disney Park explorers. Set in mainland China, this resort embraced its technological bent and introduced us to things like Tron: Lightcycle Run years before it came to the United States.

Opening Disneyland in Shanghai was not just a significant undertaking for Disney; it became a symbol of US and Chinese relations as well. In fact, it's majority owned by Chinese interests, so it is very much a piece of Shanghai more so than it is Disney. You'll also see that relationship throughout the park as Shanghai Disneyland leans heavily into the culture of its home in China.

While it isn't as big as Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World, it's pretty close. Shanghai Disneyland is the second-largest Disney park in the world. While its nearby cousin, Hong Kong Disneyland, can be an easy one-day adventure, Shanghai will need more time to appreciate it fully.

Shanghai is a very different Disney Park

While these differences may seem insignificant to non-frequent Disney Park visitors, Shanghai Disneyland Park is a very different park. As soon as you walk in, if you're familiar with other Disney Parks, you may be startled to discover that Tomorrowland is to the left and the adventure-focused lands are on the right. Try not to fall into auto-pilot mode, or you may find yourself lost. You may want to use your phone map or a physical one at first to get where you're going in the most efficient way.

Not only is its layout flipped from the majority of other Magic Kingdom or Disneyland-esque parks, but it also needs a lot of the rides that the other international parks have in common. You won't find rides like It's a Small World, Haunted Mansion, Jungle Cruise, or Space Mountain here. What these ride differences signal to first-time visitors, however, is that there is a lot to experience that you haven't experienced before, which is a good thing!

English is more limited

Rides and signs may be in both English and Mandarin; however, English as a language in general is more limited at Shanghai Disneyland. Many cast members may only speak a little English, so be prepared to use a translation app. You'll need a translation app that works explicitly in China, like Baidu. You can also use the translation element in the WeChat app which is handy for payments and keeping in touch with folks while in China, a lesson learned in personal experience.

Keep in mind that Google products don't work in China. Even if you download a VPN, using Google products in mainland China is a very hit-or-miss process.

When interacting with cast members, if you don't speak Mandarin, just be patient. Shanghai is the largest city in China and a major player in the world's economic sector, so English is widely spoken. However, that gets complicated when you're trying to also speak Disney English with all of its intricacies, inside jokes, and slang.

Duffy is everywhere

While this isn't the case so much at Hong Kong Disneyland, Duffy the Disney Bear is a bigger deal at Shanghai Disneyland Park. Duffy and his friends originated at Tokyo Disneyland, though he's making his way through the other Asian Disney Parks as well. September at Shanghai Disneyland is even Duffy Month, with all new merchandise, snacks, and shows to celebrate everyone's favorite Disney bear.

You'll see bits and pieces of Duffy around US parks, especially if you're a pin trader. Duffy and his pastel pals' faces crop up in random merchandise from time to time, but the majority of their story resides in the Asian Disney parks.

For those unfamiliar with the lore of Duffy, he originated in Tokyo as Mickey Mouse's teddy bear. As Mickey's stuffed best friend, Duffy and his pals like StellaLou and ShellyMae went the way of "Toy Story." They come to life to spread the joy of friendship everywhere they go. Honestly, it's very meta for Disney.

Plan for two or three days

Like many of the other international Disney Parks like Hong Kong Disney, Shanghai Disneyland can be visited in just a day. Though that's true, it's better to allow yourself 2 or 3 days to fully experience everything at the parks, from the parades and rides to the nighttime shows. If you're familiar with the size of Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom, Shanghai Disneyland is just a bit smaller in land size (as we mentioned above), so it's tricky to get through everything.

Since there is little crossover between Shanghai Disneyland and all the other Disney parks around the world, you'll want plenty of time to explore. For example, the incredible Pirates of the Caribbean: Battle for the Sunken Treasure will be unlike any Pirates ride you've ever seen. It transports you to a sunken ship graveyard with the pirates as they hunt for treasure. Between that and the incredible parades, you'll have a jam-packed few days.

Stay onsite

With just one theme park, Shanghai Disneyland Resort's petite stature extends to its hotels. There are only two hotels in Shanghai Disneyland: the Shanghai Disneyland Hotel and the Toy Story Hotel. The Art Nouveau style inspires the first, while the Toy Story Hotel transforms guests almost by magic into a world of toys and make-believe.

Like the other Disneyland Hotel variations around the world, Shanghai Disneyland Hotel is going to be the most expensive option. This deluxe-level hotel is much different from its Victorian-style counterparts. The Art Nouveau style is very unique for the central hotel of the resort. The Toy Story Hotel, on the other hand, will be a slightly more affordable option, akin to a moderate-level hotel.

Both hotels on-site have free transportation to the park itself. The Shanghai Disneyland Hotel also has a water taxi option, and the Toy Story Hotel is walkable from the park. In either case, you have an easy commute to the park for a day of fun.

There will be cultural differences

Mainland China is a different place than Hong Kong. More than that, different areas of China will feel worlds away. Beijing is totally different than X'ian. Shanghai may be more technologically advanced and Westernized than other parts of the country, though you'll still encounter fairly large cultural differences from the Western World. For example, spitting in public or letting kiddos go potty in public.

You will also encounter other toileting differences, even at Shanghai Disneyland. If you visit other parts of mainland China, many of the touristy areas will have two types of toilets available in public bathrooms: seated (Western style) and squat. Shanghai Disneyland also has both types of toilets for visitors to use for their comfort and preference.

It's also possible you'll get a lot of attention from strangers. From personal experience elsewhere in China, having tattoos makes you a prime target for curious attention and sometimes even folks grabbing at your tattoos. Don't be surprised at the stares or even requests for photos. Westerners are a curiosity, so just be aware beforehand, and it'll feel less shocking in the moment.

Try to avoid crowds

For parkgoers who don't mind early wake-ups, the easiest way to avoid crowds is to rope drop Shanghai Disneyland. One trick to making that time more efficient is to stay at a hotel on-site since hotel guests get a special entrance that avoids the majority of the entry queue.

If you aren't staying at a hotel on site, your best bet is to arrive at the gates by 7:30 a.m., even if the park doesn't open until 9. You can also pick up a Fastpass to skip the majority of certain line queues as a specific time of day at guest services or on the Shanghai Disney Resort Official App. These Fastpasses are still free, though they are limited each day.

Weekends and big public holidays are also to be avoided if you want to have the smallest number of fellow tourists. The two biggest holiday weeks to watch out for are Labor Day (May 1st to 7th) and National Day (October 1st to 7th).

Pack only the essentials

Surprisingly, this advice doesn't just refer to water bottles and sunscreen–though both are critically important. Shanghai can get very hot, especially in the summer months, so you'll want that water bottle for sure. There are refill stations all around the park for you to hydrate when you run low.

You'll need your passport to get into the park and will want some cash on hand as several of the food kiosks are cash-only. Selfie sticks and tripods are still prohibited at Shanghai Disneyland and will be confiscated by security if you try to bring them inside.

By packing your essentials like cash before anything extraneous you may want to bring for a park day adventure, you ensure the best possible scenarios for yourself. Sure, there are ATMs at the park, but do you really want to pay the fees to withdraw money if you don't have to? You'll also be eating into valuable park time instead of eating tasty treats by waiting at the ATM.

Plan your rides based on availability elsewhere

Shanghai Disneyland doesn't have some of the rides that other Disney Parks worldwide have, like Small World. That means there aren't as many familiar attractions to skip over when planning your park day. Even so, there are several attractions you won't find anywhere else or that are different enough to make the queue or fast pass worth it.

As we previously mentioned, the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Shanghai Disneyland is absolutely worth being noticed. In addition to that, you can hop aboard Tron: Lightcycle Power Run, Soaring over the Horizon, Camp Discovery, and Rex's Racers. With the exception of Tron, which is now at Walt Disney World, these other rides aren't available at other Disney parks.

Be forewarned that Soaring over the Horizon (similar to Soarin' at the US Disney parks) is also one of the most popular rides at Shanghai Disneyland. If you want to ride this, it's advised that you queue for it early or try to get a fast pass. Otherwise, you could be waiting upwards of 2 hours for this simulator.

Bring food for picky eaters

Despite its Disney appearance, Shanghai Disneyland isn't as Western as many of the other parks. That extends particularly to the food offerings. You won't find as many Americanized foods here, so picky eaters should bring their own food to avoid going hungry. Note that the food brought into the park cannot be something that needs to be heated or has extremely pungent odors. Durian fruit is specifically not allowed.

Breakfast seems to be one of the more difficult times of day for anyone looking for a more Westernized menu. It may be an excellent trip to broaden one's culinary horizons, though being a bit on the safe side by bringing snacks along is never a bad idea.

Character dining — when the characters come out for photos and meet and greets during the meal — is available at the park and the Shanghai Disneyland Hotel, too. Even if the food doesn't impress you, perhaps a hug from one of your favorite characters will make up for it.