After three years living in Shanghai, China, I can say with confidence that this place is home. My family and I absolutely love it out here. But now that we have a Disneyland … oh my goodness, this California girl is definitely home!
Prior to living in China, we lived in Southern California where we frequented Disneyland and Disney’s California Adventure. We have also been to Walt Disney World in Florida as well as to all the other Disney locations around the globe, which include: Paris, Hong Kong, Japan, and now Shanghai. I know. I literally have to pinch myself whenever I stop to think about what an incredible “check off the bucket list” this is.
So being a sort of Disney park aficionado, I have put together a list of things I’ve noticed as a foreigner living in China that are especially unique to Shanghai Disneyland. The park opened earlier this summer in June, and we’ve already been to the park three magical times! I’m sure everyone has seen by now some of the bigger, newsier items about the park, such as how it has the largest castle and the fastest roller coaster. But here are a few observations that may be a little more surprising …
1. There are no lines for churros.
In what world is there not a long line at the churro carts? Seriously! You’re probably thinking the only way this is possible is if there are actually no churro carts at Shanghai Disney Resort. Wrong! They totally do sell churros, and for the record, they taste as amazing as ever (especially since I haven’t had a legit Disney churro since our last trip to LA a year ago).
My speculation for a missing queue at the one-and-only churro stand at Shanghai Disneyland is that the locals simply don’t know what churros are — yet. This won’t last long. Chinese palettes favor desserts that are not too rich and not too sweet, and churros are neither, making the perfect Chinese treat. In fact, churros remind me of a popular Chinese street food of “fried dough” that are very similar in size and shape. Hmm … this is giving me an idea of rolling a few of those babies up in cinnamon and sugar and making my own Chinese churro!
2. There is no Main Street, U.S.A.
While all the other Disney parks open up with a “Main Street,” that idea is quite foreign to Chinese citizens. Main Street, U.S.A., as many Disney fans know, is reminiscent of Walt’s neighborhood growing up in small town Missouri. It’s one of those Americana images that while lovely, doesn’t resonate here. So in an effort to make Shanghai Disney Resort “authentically Disney” but also “distinctly Chinese,” the park was intuitively designed with a much shorter “Mickey Avenue” that in my opinion, still happily has a Main Street vibe. With a lot of elaborate detail and even more “character,” similar to Toon Town, Mickey Avenue is where the Fab Five live, and it’s absolutely charming.
3. The Lion King Broadway show is performed in Mandarin!
I saw both Broadway productions of The Lion King in New York City and in Shanghai within just six months of each other, so I felt I was in prime position to critically compare the two. “The original will be better,” I ignorantly told myself as I got settled into my seat at the magnificent theater in Disneytown (Shanghai Disneyland’s version of Downtown Disney). Boy, was I wrong.
After the first scene, my friend sitting next to me whispered, almost reverently, “Chills. Everywhere.” To say we were blown away was a total understatement! Neither of us speak much Mandarin, but it didn’t even matter.
Maybe it’s because I am so emotional about Disneyland being in China (being the wife of a Disney cast member will do that to you!), or maybe it’s because everything is still so new and exciting, but I thought the Chinese actors who played Mufasa, adult Nala, and Scar, particularly, were so on-point, intense, and beautiful, and had powerful voices! And the Chinese elements thrown in, like the songs Zazu sang when he was imprisoned in the bone cage (he had the crowd roaring with laughter) and the intensified fatherly sternness of Mufasa (which I believe caters to an audience of Chinese parents who are much more strict than Western parents) in the scene where he disciplines young Simba were simply perfect.
4. There is Peking duck pizza in the shape of a Mickey Mouse head.
5. There are more adults than kids.
As I mentioned in a previous article about parenting in the U.S. versus China, children are outnumbered by adults as a result of the one-child policy. Most family groups we observed at Shanghai Disneyland consisted of two parents, two grandparents, and one child. We even ran into Chinese friends of ours who had their kids, their parents, and the family nanny, known as “ayi.” Um, brilliant!
Because of the high ratio of adults to kids, and elderly adults at that, there are many places to sit down and rest throughout the park. Garden-like areas and walking paths abound, as the older population love to meander about enjoying the beauty of their surroundings. There are also more sit-down shows as attractions here at Shanghai Disney Resort than any other Disney park, which takes into consideration the guests and the often rainy, unpredictable weather.
6. The fashion of guests is very matchy-matchy.
In all of the Disney parks, we’ve noticed there seems to be a unique, country-specific style and personality when it comes to showing off one’s Disney pride. In Japan, guests go all out wearing Disney paraphernalia from head to toe with colorful wigs, bright costume-like outfits, and Duffy Bear purses (they’re obsessed with Duffy!). The little European boys who go to Paris Disneyland come all dressed up as Peter Pan (I die of cuteness). And in the U.S., it’s not uncommon to see little girls all done up like a princess with glittery makeup and hair extensions.
In Shanghai, the Disney style, so far, seems to follow a fun trend found among couples. Young people, especially, love to wear matching outfits with their significant other. But not just matching, they like to look clever and coordinated with cutesy logos on their tops that “go together.” Head to a Disney store here and you’ll even find several really cute options tailored specifically for this purpose. I’m tempted to buy something matchy for me and my husband to wear the next time we go to Shanghai Disneyland, and I promise you it won’t be in neon pink or orange and say something like, “Family Reunion 2016” on it!