Society has collapsed. Mob rule, bedlam, and anarchy are the norm. Unnamed vandals and costumed thugs roam the lawless streets; unruly clans devour every inch of space squeezing the life out of the remaining panicked innocents. The once pristine land has been laid to waste, water is in short supply and the unflinching heat shows no mercy as the polluted skies are ablaze
Welcome to Shanghai Disneyland!
It may sound like “Mad Max: Hell Takes a Vacation” but if we are to believe the early reports from the soft opening of Shanghai Disneyland anyone foolish enough to venture within a five-mile radius of the place better be well equipped with zombie busting chainsaws, spiked shoulder pads and enough face paint to scare off any post-apocalypse survivors (I’m already bald so I have that going for me). Only the bravest of the brave or perhaps the most foolish of the foolhardy would even consider visiting Shanghai Disneyland at this early stage; yes folks Parkeology is going to take a field trip!
Long before the opening date for Shanghai Disneyland was announced Shane, myself and our families had independently planned trips to Tokyo and of course the Tokyo Disney Resort (which I generally consider to be the best in the world). Once we realized that we were going at nearly the same time our schedules were adjusted and coordinated so that we would be visiting at the same time.
Cool, wonderful, a dream come true and then Disney announced the June 16th opening date for the Shanghai resort, this overlaps when we will be in Tokyo, a mere 3-hour flight away. Plans were changed again. While Shane will luxuriate in the splendor of the Japanese parks for the duration of his trip my half of the Parkeology team will depart early and head to Shanghai.
All was well and good until the park’s soft opening began and we got reports of hundreds of thousands of excited and confused Chinese tourists overwhelming the park’s infrastructure. Photos of huge snaking lines extending for hours simply to get a glimpse of a Disney Store emerged. We saw images of trampled flowerbeds and toddlers relieving themselves in the bushes. I started to think that perhaps we have made a mistake. Going from hyper-organized Tokyo to reportedly chaotic Shanghai was not sounding like too much fun. There is no doubt that I have some trepidation about our new itinerary but then I remembered a few things.
This is continuing a long tradition of attending the grand opening periods of new parks for me. I was at Epcot in 1982, I was at Disney-MGM Studios in 1989, we were at the grand opening of Animal Kingdom in 1998, and we visited Disney’s California Adventure and Tokyo Disney Sea during the Grand Openings as well. We coincidentally were in Hong Kong in 2005 and were able to visit Hong Kong Disneyland within days of the gates swinging open. The opening of a new Disney park is a big deal, things change quickly and there is always a sort of electric excitement during the early goings. They are seldom smooth and they always have bumps to work out but considering how much hype the Shanghai park has and the larger than average scale they have built it on it is worth continuing the Grand Opening streak.
Unlike Disney-MGM Studios, Animal Kingdom, California Adventure, and Hong Kong Disneyland Shanghai Disneyland appears to have enough to do to fill a couple days (even without the unavoidable massive lines). Sure, Tokyo Disney Sea opened with a full slate of fantastic attractions and has added more in its first decade and a half but after the debacle of Euro-Disney Disney started building tiny parks void of major attractions.
Disney-MGM Studios had 6 attractions on opening day with exactly ONE ride and a tram tour; the other 4 attractions were relatively small-scale shows.
Animal Kingdom had 12 attractions (not bad) but Other than Countdown to Extinction (Dinosaur) and Kilimanjaro Safari the rest were shows, walking tours or forms of transportation.
California Adventure took a new approach and opened with an impressive sounding 24 attractions, more than most parks have even after decades of operation. However, a closer examination reveals that tortilla shops, bakeries, and a slew of off-the-shelf stock carnival rides counted towards the total. Once again and perhaps more obvious than ever (after all the previous parks had wonderful environments while this park was more or less a barren wasteland) this was a park with perhaps 2-4 legit attractions depending on how generous one wants to be.
Hong Kong Disneyland hit the scene with a great atmosphere nestled in a valley and surrounded by mountains but boasting only 15 attractions made up of a couple larger scale rides and filled in with shows and smaller scale attractions such as the Tea Cups. Furthermore, none of them were new or unique to this park and many of the repeats were done on a smaller scale than previous renditions. The park itself was also tiny.
I’m not even going to mention Disney Studios Paris that was and remains such a deeply embarrassing effort by Disney that it is truly best forgotten altogether.
I enjoyed the opening of each of these parks despite the dearth of legitimate E-Ticket rides. Even California Adventure (by far the weakest of these at opening) held it’s fair share of fun for me.
Now let’s look at Shanghai Disneyland. On opening day, they are claiming the same number of attractions as California Adventure, 24. Of those 4-6 appear to be legit E-Tickets with two of them (Tron and Pirates) setting new benchmarks in their respective categories. Others are expanded and improved versions of classics (such as Peter Pan). The remaining attractions hold a solid mix of medium level rides such as a new version of Buzz Lightyear or an all-new boat ride launching from the castle. Add to that a mix of new shows and the very grand scale of the park and it appears on paper that this will be the best park at launch since Tokyo Disney Sea. In fact, one could make a very sound argument that there will be more legitimate things to do at Shanghai Disneyland than there is to do right now at Animal Kingdom, Disney Hollywood Studios, Disney Studios Paris, Hong Kong Disneyland and even Disneyland Paris; all of which have been opened for many years.There may be maddening lines and even unruly crowds who are not familiar with theme park etiquette but at least there will be stuff for them to see and do!
Additionally, some of these early chaotic reports smack a bit of racism painting the Chinese to be uneducated and undisciplined savages set loose to ravage Disneyland with ignorant abandon. The truth is that Shanghai is one of the most international and cosmopolitan cities on earth. The infrastructure of Shanghai will put to shame any and all cities in the United States and most of the world for that matter.
China is the second wealthiest country in the world and it’s growth rate far, far exceeds that of the United States. This is not a country of barbaric fools but rather one of the oldest cultures on earth extending thousands of years beyond that of our own and filled with a lot of excited fans with an unprecedented pent-up demand for the product Disney has to offer.
In Disneyland Paris, I have seen toddlers roaming naked in stores as parents change diapers in full view of other park guests. I’m not talking about in or even near a bathroom or other private location. I mean literally in the middle of a jam crowded store with hundreds and hundreds of people streaming about. I have also seen people climb trees, trample flowers and generally destroy their surroundings at Disneyland Paris in attempts to get a better view of a parade.
In the U.S. parks, I have seen hundreds of examples of slovenly and flat out dangerous guest behavior ranging from blatantly throwing copious amounts of garbage on walkways to vomiting in public to drunken brawls and worse. In fact, the worst guest behaviors I have ever seen can all be attributed to various American guests (USA! USA! USA! We’re #1!!!!!!!). Ignorance, foolishness, and unawareness are not unique to China.
And so as we inch towards the grand opening and our synchronized trips I do have my concerns but I also have a lot of excitement and anticipation. I know that Tokyo Disney will be great, it always is, but I wonder what exactly I am getting us into with Shanghai.
At the worst we will get to say that we were there for the grand opening (in this case, we go two weeks after the actual first day but still within what Disney is considering the Grand Opening period). At best the park and the population will surprise and delight us with their ability to both handle the crowds and themselves. In either case, it will be an experience unlike any we have had before.