The Mouse has finally has made his way to mainland China. Shanghai Disneyland officially opened last week with a big party and even bigger crowds. And unlike the Disneylands in Tokyo and Hong Kong—both of which were modeled after Disney’s properties in Florida and California—this one is designed to incorporate local culture.
According to an article on TravelPulse.com, Disney focused on making the new park authentic for Chinese visitors so that they would feel a stronger connection to the facility. There’s significantly less Americana (the main road, for instance, is called Mickey Avenue instead of Main Street USA), and Chinese elements are incorporated into many areas of the park—from stuffed Minnie Mouse dolls wearing traditional Chinese qipao dresses to animals from the Chinese zodiac featured alongside characters like Winnie the Pooh in the “Garden of Twelve Friends.” There’s even a Mandarin version of The Lion King musical that’s expected to be wildly popular.
What’s more, the food is strongly Chinese; resort managers say about 75 percent of the fare has Chinese roots, with another 20 percent categorized as Asian. The park also opened without a monorail; as the Los Angeles Times noted, who needs one when Shanghai has a real maglev train and regular bullet train service?
Don’t get us wrong—the park still has Starbucks, a Cheesecake Factory, and a Wolfgang Puck restaurant. And there are plenty of familiar rides and attractions: In addition to the Enchanted Storybook Castle—the biggest, most ornate, and most technologically sophisticated Disney castle—Shanghai Disneyland features six “lands,” including Adventure Isle, which has water rides, ropes courses, and a simulated “flight” around the world; Fantasy Land, with rides and adventures featuring classic characters such as the Seven Dwarfs; Tomorrow Land, which features Star Wars and Tron, as well as characters such as Lilo and Buzz Lightyear; and Treasure Cove, with water rides, shipwrecks, and Pirates of the Caribbean attractions. There is also a 100-acre lake and two hotels—one of which has a Toy Story theme.
Overall, big numbers are expected for the $5.5-billion, 1,000-acre theme park; some say it will become the most visited theme park in the world. Most experts predict Shanghai Disneyland will attract 18 million guests annually in just five years and could eventually draw as many as 50 million a year. (To put that into perspective, the Walt Disney World resort in Orlando drew 19.3 million in 2015.) Sounds like both the visitors and Disney execs will get to call this park the “happiest place on earth” (or, in this case, the “地球上最快乐的地方”).
Tickets to Shanghai Disneyland average 300 yuan (US$45.70).
Matt Villano is a freelance writer and editor based in Healdsburg, California. In more than 18 years as a full-time freelancer, he has covered travel for publications including TIME, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, Sunset, Backpacker, Alaska Airlines, and more. He is a senior editor for the Expedia Viewfinder blog and writes a monthly food column for Islands magazine. Villano also serves on the board of the Family Travel Association and blogs about family travel at Wandering Pod. Learn more about him at Whalehead.com.