Ever since the opening of Walt Disney World in 1971, a Magic Kingdom-style park has debuted in a different locale around the world in each subsequent decade. Tokyo Disneyland: 1983. Disneyland Paris (then called EuroDisneyland): 1992. Hong Kong Disneyland: 2005. On June 16, one of Disney’s most ambitious theme parks finally sees its day. Shanghai Disneyland Park, part of the Shanghai Disney Resort, a project in the works for more than 15 years, is an epic Magic Kingdom with unique experiences, Chinese cultural influences, and technological innovations.
As we anticipate the opening of Shanghai Disneyland, let’s peek through the curtain at what Disney has in store for its future guests.
First, let’s be clear that Shanghai Disneyland Park is a piece of a much larger resort. Two huge hotels and an entertainment complex accompany the park. The Shanghai Disneyland Hotel, likely the more costly option, will have several hundred rooms. Meanwhile, the Toy Story Hotel – the first time Disney has dedicated an entire resort to one movie – is far from subtle with its movie-inspired themes.
For instance, the exterior is painted with the seminal blue skies with white, puffy clouds (Andy’s original bedroom wallpaper). Giant depictions of the characters, much in the style of those at the All-Star Movies Resort in Walt Disney World, are found outside as photo opportunities. Each of the wings is based off of the principal characters: Woody and Buzz Lightyear.
Finally, the restaurant is called Sunnyside Cafe. Awesome sauce! I only wonder if they would serve strawberry pancakes in the shape of Lotso (who smells like the fruit). The YouTube video by MouseSteps/JWL Media shows off the concept art from last year’s D23 Expo.
Close to the lodging and park is Disneytown, essentially Shanghai Disney Resort’s version of Downtown Disney (now called Disney Springs at Walt Disney World). This entertainment district will feature a selection of shopping and dining options, in addition to a theater housing a live Broadway-style production of The Lion King in Mandarin. It’s sure to instill the “circle of life” values to new audiences and hopefully energize the district.
But the star of the resort is none other than the park itself, estimated to cost more than $3.5 billion. That would place it as the most expensive Disney theme park ever constructed, not adjusted for inflation. A stinging price tag may be worth it, indeed, as the soon-to-open experiences for guests are truly some of Disney’s coolest ideas in decades. Breaking down the park land by land shall reveal the artistry and ingeniousness situated all around the guests.
Buh-bye Main Street, U.S.A. Remember that Chinese guests would be unlikely to associate the old school American avenues with their heritage. Instead, Disney’s entryway into its Magic Kingdom is Mickey Avenue, a whimsical, yet classy series of neighborhoods where each of the spots has different character themes. Step into a Minnie Mouse confectionary or a Donald Duck gelato shop. Ratatouille and Lady and the Tramp will also stage their own dining locales.
The avenue leads up to the Gardens of Imagination, a special series of gardens with a few rides and some symbolic touches. The Garden of the 12 Friends features a series of animal statues based on the Chinese zodiac. Of course, each is a Disney or Pixar character, so representing the monkey and dog are Abu from Aladdin and Pluto, respectively. The luscious area will be a wondrous place to wander around and relax.
The quaint Fantasia Carousel and Dumbo the Flying Elephant are housed in this area – not in Fantasyland – and within little gardens of their own, no less. Nighttime shows and parades will be staged in the Gardens of Imagination as well. It’s the focal point of the park, as adjacent to this is the crown jewel of Shanghai Disneyland: Enchanted Storybook Castle.
Grandiose and immersive are what enter my mind when I see the castle (as visualized in this rendering video filmed by YouTube user Inside The Magic from the 2011 D23 Expo). I was in that arena when this initial footage was shared with the general public, and couldn’t believe my eyes. A boat ride will pass through this immense structure, intentionally not specified to one princess, but rather a collection of magical stories. Additionally, guests can dine here, meet with the princesses here, and transform into their favorite characters through the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique. Wise choices all around, although not for the parents whose purses and wallets will probably be depleted before you can say “bibbidi bobbidi boo.” It’s a spectacular manifestation of Disney’s castles to date and will amaze generations to come.
Fantasyland mixes in some typical inclusions (Peter Pan’s Flight and The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, albeit in upgraded fashion) with some originals. The Honey Pot Spin carries the 100 Acre Wood theme by uniting the idea of Mad Tea Party, but with Pooh flair. Alice in Wonderland is not absent from the park, though, as a hedge maze will allow guests to meander through the unpredictable atmospheres with touches from both the animated and Tim Burton film versions – thus differentiating it from Disneyland Paris’s somewhat similar attraction. The Voyage to the Crystal Grotto is the aforementioned boat ride, and the popular Frozen sing-along show and Seven Dwarfs Mine Train from Walt Disney World will also be featured in Shanghai Disneyland. Eateries themed to the quaint Snuggly Duckling tavern from Tangled and a kitchen with Pinocchio influences shall satiate their hunger during a busy day at the park.
Tomorrowland – my favorite land in any Magic Kingdom park – gets a different treatment here. For one, its placement differs. It is usually to the right of the main entrance, but here at Shanghai Disneyland it exists on the left side of the park. Location aside, several attractions are special. The much-anticipated TRON Lightcycle Power Run, utilizing stellar lighting and musical effects, will allow guests to race one another in a coaster that zips through and outside the central structure. It takes the place of Space Mountain, but I suspect nobody is complaining, as we get the first officially complete TRON attraction at a Disney park.
Buzz Lightyear Planet Rescue deviates from the spinner and shooter clones found at other Magic Kingdom parks, whereas Jet Packs also has some different elements from the Tomorrowland spinners found elsewhere. Also in Tomorrowland are the interactive Stitch Encounter (much like Turtle Talk with Crush) and Star Wars Launch Bay. Tomorrowland feels somewhat lacking in quantity of attractions, though I am guessing there will be many ways to expand its options in the coming years. View what TRON Lightcycle Power Run will resemble in this visualization clip filmed at D23 Expo 2015 by YouTube user Allears.net.
Two special lands must also be discussed: Adventure Isle and Treasure Cover. The former, which radically alters the simplicity of conventional Adventureland areas at other Magic Kingdom parks, has more mystical and thrilling vibes. Roaring Mountain, the centerpiece, will play host to the Roaring Rapids ride. This looks like Grizzly River Run from Disney California Adventure, but enhanced to envelop guests in a more intoxicating and cohesive storyline. Camp Discovery will let younger guests release their sugar rush in an outdoor playground – much like Redwood Creek Challenge Trail, also adjacent to Grizzly River Run, making me sense a theme here.
Another hallmark from Disney California Adventure comes to Shanghai Disneyland: Soarin’. But this is not your 2001 Soarin’. Instead, it is Soarin’ Over the Horizon. This ’round the world version of the thrilling ride that simulates flight will soon debut domestically, too. Furthermore, a live Tarzan musical will add some jungle rhythm to Adventure Isle.
Nearby is the swashbuckling town of Treasure Cove, the first land completely themed to the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. Don’t expect Johnny Depp to make any appearances here on a daily basis, though it can be expected to witness his alter ego Captain Jack Sparrow in this territory. The Pirates of the Caribbean: Battle of the Sunken Treasure will be based on the movies, replete with duels and drama. A stunt show featuring our savviest, sword-wielding star will take place in El Teatro Fandango. The Siren’s Revenge is a ship-based playspace for the kiddos to exhaust even more of their energy, assuming they were not able to accomplish that in the aforestated Adventure Isle venue. In addition, Explorer Canoes will carry on the legacy of guests paddling their way through an exotic locale – although not in the theme of Davy Crockett, but rather with pirates. This DisneyParks YouTube video shows much of the cool concept art of the park.
Fewer and fewer excuses can be made of not traveling to Shanghai Disneyland – and staying in the Shanghai Disney Resort for that matter – upon examining the engrossment and refinement of this atmosphere. Considering that Hong Kong Disneyland and Tokyo Disney Resort are just a few short flights away, more reasons for developing a complete Disney Asia vacation exist. I sure hope to head to these destinations at some point, and I know all of us will be eagerly awaiting to see the videos and pictures released in light of the opening of Disney’s latest and greatest treasure: Shanghai Disneyland.
This is Brett Nachman, signing off. Follow me on Twitter for alerts of new editions of Disney In Depth, released on the first and third Thursdays of each month on Geeks of Doom.