As I hinted at in my Asia Trip Recap blog post, I definitely ran into some hiccups during my recent trip to all of the Disney theme parks in Asia. What I didn’t say is that the biggest hiccups came from my day at Shanghai Disney Resort. Just writing this down is making me wish I could go back in time and literally do this ENTIRE day differently. The only reason I’m sharing my experience at all is so other people can avoid the same pitfalls I encountered. And I’d also like to say that I had a completely different experience my first time visiting back in 2016, which you can read about here. But first let me start back at the beginning…
Shanghai Disney Resort was never originally supposed to be a part of this vacation. I had previously been and it was one of the best experiences I could have hoped for, and since I knew I had a limited amount of time for this 2018 trip, right from the onset I was sure I would skip trying to fit Shanghai in. That was until I started working on my flights and realized one of the cheapest options had a 12-hour layover through Shanghai on my way to Hong Kong. I figured I'd leave the airport for a few hours and have just enough time to do all of my favorite things, plus some of the things I had missed out on during the previous trip.
My flight landed in Shanghai at around 6:30am. I was most worried about getting through customs because I did not have a hotel reservation to show them. It ended up being no problem at all and I was given a 24-hour free visa. From the research I had done prior to arriving, it seemed like taking the metro to the park should be super easy and inexpensive, so that was what I was planning to do. I headed from customs out into the airport confidentially and went straight to the metro line. This is when all of the trouble started. It appeared there was no way for me to buy a ticket without cash or Alipay. I hadn’t thought to bring any local currency with me and I did not have Alipay so I started scouring the airport for an ATM. Here’s where things got interesting. I could not find one ANYWHERE. I tried to ask for help 3 times and received different directions each time so I kept running back and forth all over this giant airport. After wasting an hour, I tried to exchange a $20 bill (literally the only cash I had on me) at the currency exchange booth. The lady behind the counter told me there was an $8 transaction fee no matter the amount I was exchanging and I knew I'd need more than $12 cash to use the metro that day. Out of desperation I downloaded Alipay and tried to use it to buy my metro ticket. At first it seemed to work but no ticket came out of the machine and I couldn’t read the message in Mandarin. By this time an employee was now attending to the counter by the metro entrance and even though neither of us spoke the other one’s language we figured out how to communicate and she let me through the turnstile without a ticket after explaining that it would be about an hour and a half metro ride to Disney. So there I was, armed with a map all in Mandarin, knowing I'd have to make two transfers, and the name of the lady who just helped me (hoping that would be enough to get me OUT of the metro when I arrived to my station outside of Disney). As I headed down the stairs towards the first train, I realized this was a very bad decision. I’d already wasted so much time and I was worried about getting lost or in trouble when I tried to exit the metro on the other side. No one really seemed to speak English and I was picturing myself stranded in Shanghai with no money and no way to communicate. So I decided to scrap the entire plan and just hop in a taxi.
I left the airport, got in the taxi line, and asked my driver if he took Alipay, thinking I’d just dodged a bullet. We got to Disney no problem (it was about a 15 minute drive) and I tried to use my Alipay to pay the driver. It doesn’t work. I proceeded to spend 15 minutes trying to input every form of payment I owned into Alipay. Nothing worked. My driver was NOT pleased. He asked me if I had cash about 20 times. Finally I pull out that the US $20 bill and said that it was all I had. He grabbed it from me and kicked me out of the cab. At this point the park had already opened and I missed rope drop.
Luckily I had already purchased my ticket so I went to get in line with my trusty QR code. The lines were SO long and everyone was squished together like sardines, pushing and shoving. I was prepared for this (it happened last time) but I was NOT prepared to stand out there in that line for 40 minutes while all the pushing and shoving went on. By the time I got into the park, I was just relieved to have made it. I started walking towards the castle and realized that I had to get a locker. My backpack was killing me already. (It was extra heavy from all of the things I needed to bring in my carry-on for the plane ride). I went to the locker area and luckily all of the machines took credit cards! I started taking the steps needed to get a locker but when I put my credit card in to pay, nothing happened. I tried all of my cards and nothing worked. I thought it must be my credit cards so I called the credit card company from a bench outside of the locker area. They said nothing was wrong on their end and they couldn’t even see a transaction trying to go through. I was so so frustrated. I asked if there was an ATM somewhere but was told there wasn’t. I then went into a nearby store and asked if there was a way to buy a voucher for a locker. They took me to guest services. From there I was eventually put in touch with a manager. The manager walked back with me to the lockers and we tried it all over again. She couldn’t figure out the issue either. Finally she gave up and gave me a voucher. (I will say that while this was all going on the cast members could not have been nicer or more helpful, which obviously I really really appreciated.)
By this point I've wasted at least another 30-40 minutes and am extremely hungry and tired from the jet lag but at least I had a locker and was finally ready to start my day. I headed to Remy’s Patisserie where I grabbed a Mickey-shaped savory muffin and a Diet Coke (it was delish, btw). I ate my food outside and tried to reset the day. After I finished my meal I was feeling pretty optimistic again. I headed over to the castle to get some photos. The last time I was there it was raining the whole trip and this time the sun was out and shining and I was excited to get some non-glooming photos. I did this for a short while and then the Golden Fairytale Fanfare show began. I was really excited to see this because last time I was there it was cancelled due to rain, so I had never seen it. It was a really fantastic show and I was so thankful I got to see it this time. Things were really looking up!
From there I headed directly to Pirates of the Caribbean. This is my favorite Disney ride of ALL the rides at any Disney park. The technology is incredible and the ride itself is just so imaginative and immersive. I love this ride because they have a single rider line that NO ONE uses. So I walked right on the ride (again, things were really looking up). After I got off I decided to do it again… because, why not?! I maybe would have done it again but I felt like I should try some other things since my time at the park was so limited.
When I got off the ride I decided to get my first FastPass of the day (rookie move). I chose Snow White because it seemed to be the most popular FastPass and had the longest wait time by this point in the day. The next available FastPass was at 3:30 so I booked that one. At this point it was about 12pm. In hindsight I want to ask myself, "what were you thinking?!" First, I know better than to wait until noon to book my first FastPass but also, I had to head back to the airport around 4/4:30pm so the fast that I even booked a FastPass for 3:30 was just silly. None-the-less, that was my decision.
I finished exploring Adventure Isle but did not do any other rides over there. I was trying to figure out which ride to do next but everything already had such a long wait (this is what happens when you don’t follow your “plan”). So instead I headed over to the Alice in Wonderland maze and thought I’d explore that for a while since everything was starting to feel really crowded. At that moment the clouds started to roll in. It was like the day was turning on me again.
I took the long way around the park so I could take pictures as I passed all of the long lines. I headed over to the new Toy Story Land that hadn’t been there on my last visit. I spent a bit of time hanging out here. Then I decided to walk to Tron and do the single rider line. By this point it was about 2:00 in the afternoon. I got to the Tron entrance and the single rider line was closed. I asked the cast members if it would open again and they said they didn’t know but I couldn’t do single rider at that time. The regular line was a bit too close for comfort in terms of wait time, so I left. And this was when the wheels came off for me emotionally. Maybe it was the jet lag, maybe it was the accumulated stress of the day, maybe it was the gloomy clouds, or maybe I was just being a high maintenance princess in that moment, but as I turned away from Tron and began heading back to the front of the park, I could barely keep it together.
It was also at this same time that I started to stress out about getting back to the airport. I still had no cash and I knew I was going to need to find some before I could get in another cab. I was also worried about getting back through customs and onto my flight on time. And I was hungry. So I went in search of a cute Mickey-shaped snack to eat really quickly before I left (because you know, Mickey-shaped anything is always the cure). I found a sign for what looked like an adorable Mickey sundae. I tried to order it at the counter and the cast member told me that it wasn’t available but that I should get this elaborate Mickey hot chocolate instead. Since the weather had started to get colder and I was feeling sad I thought, “why not!”. I started drinking this very rich hot chocolate and within 15 minutes felt like I was going to pass out. You know that feeling you get when you’re sick and you think you'll either hurl or faint and you're just not sure which will come first? That was me. So I quickly found a bench and sat there for 20 minutes until the feeling passed… and that pretty much ate up the remainder of my time at Shanghai Disney.
With a heavy heart I went and got my bag out my locker and started walking towards the Disneyland Hotel. I thought for sure they would have an ATM, someone would speak English, and they could help me figure out my cab situation. When I got there they told me their ATM was broken and that I’d need cash for my cab to the airport… So more hilarity ensued but I did eventually get cash, get in a cab, and make my way to my final destination. Everything was fine from that point on and I made it through customs and onto my flight with no further issues.
SOOOOOOOO what did I learn from all this? I guess the biggest takeaway is always HAVE CASH. LOL. And sometimes it’s worth just springing for the more convenient option right from the start, even if it costs a bit more. I wish I would have just gotten a taxi right away instead of trying to take the metro by myself in a country where I didn’t speak the language. My whole day probably would have been different. I also didn’t even try to adapt my itinerary once things started to unravel. I made ridiculous FastPass and entertainment choices, and that’s really on me. I know better.
That said, I DID get to spend the day in a truly beautiful Disney theme park and for that, I know I’m super lucky. And heck, it makes for a good cautionary tale now. I do plan to put together a suggested Shanghai Disney itinerary for anyone who is planning to head to this park so they don’t end up wandering around aimlessly like I did. Hope you found some humor in my story and I promise the rest of my Disney vacation was nothing like this part.
Have you been to Shanghai? Share some of your favorite tips below in the comments section!