Shanghai Surprise and Hong Kong Hospitality: A 2018 China Pre-Trip Report

Discussion in 'Other Lands' started by CaptainCook, Jun 15, 2018.

  1. CaptainCook

    CaptainCook Mouseketeer

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    After almost a year of planning, we are only 3 weeks away from our trip to China! I thought I'd document our story here in case it can help anyone else with their trip planning. There certainly is a dearth of information available for planning trips to the Disney parks in China as compared to WDW and DL.

    We are a Canadian family of 4 with two kids - DS(13) and DD(11). We're trying to see some of the world's big sights while our kids can (and will) travel with us.

    The planning for this trip began as an idea several years ago, when our kids were smaller. The itinerary intrigued us as a 'maybe someday' idea. That was before Shanghai Disneyland was open, and Shanghai wasn't on the earliest drafts of our itinerary.

    But after multiple visits to WDW, a stop at DL on a California road trip a few years ago, and then a day spent at Disneyland Paris last year while on vacation in Europe... we realized that (a) we were halfway through the Disney Parks bucket list, (b) our kids were now old enough for China, and (c) we could knock off another two parks by visiting Shanghai and Hong Kong.

    We have never traveled with a tour group before, and did look into using one for this trip. There are some pretty cheap trips to China available these days. But ultimately the itineraries didn't meet our needs, and we decided to strike out on our own. This will be our first trip to Asia and our first trip to a country that does not use the Roman alphabet so... yeah. It's gonna be interesting. No counting on just sounding out words on street signs to make it through!

    At the end of the day, Disney constitutes just a small part of our trip. We'll have one day at Shanghai Disneyland to start, and one day at Hong Kong Disneyland to end, and in between will be all of the historical and cultural and scenic stuff. We probably wouldn't be going to China if we weren't interested in seeing the country as well as the parks.
     
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  2. CaptainCook

    CaptainCook Mouseketeer

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    Some of our current issues:
    • We applied for our visas about a month ago. We mailed our passports and applications off on a Saturday, and the passports came back in the mail with the visas 13 days later. The application process was detailed, but not as difficult as I expected it to be. You do need to provide a complete itinerary, including where you will be staying each day and proof of how you'll be moving around (e.g. photocopies of train tickets, etc.) At the time we applied for our visas, we did not have our train tickets yet purchased, since they can only be purchased 30 days out. On those dates in our itinerary we simply said "Train from Beijing to Xian" without giving a specific train number, and it worked out fine. I will say that after our visas arrived, I noticed on the itinerary I had assembled for the application that I said DD was born in 20017 instead of 2007. And they still processed our application.
    • Right now we are in the process of buying train tickets. We are purchasing these through China DIY Travel; you tell them what train you want and they navigate the Chinese system to buy the tickets for you for a small fee. On our trip we are moving around between 6 cities in China, and only one leg is by plane; the rest are trains. Train tickets are released 30 days before travel, and DIY Travel buys them as soon as they are released. Our first 30 day window opened a few days ago, and they purchased our tickets no problem. We received an email at 5 a.m. EDT to let us know they were successful. Second leg of the trip, the window opened a few days ago, we received another email confirming purchase at 5 a.m. Today was our third window and when we woke up today, there was no email waiting for us. By lunchtime we were getting worried and emailed the agency. Of course, by then it was the middle of the night in China. The reply we got from the agency said "Do not worry, we will purchase your tickets for travel on July 15 tomorrow." Only problem... we were wanting to travel on July 14 (and our booking with them clearly said so). By the time they got back to us again, they said there were no first class train tickets available, and we could only travel second class on a different train (that also happens to be slower). But the way they worded the email implied that there never had been first class tickets available - when I suspect that what really happened is that because they didn't purchase fast enough, all of the first class tickets sold out. Anyway, it will be fine, but if you buy tickets through an agency like this I would check and double check and triple check that they are prepared to buy for you as soon as tickets are released. Tickets do go quickly, even though we aren't traveling during a peak period. Fingers crossed that we wake up to an email in the morning saying our second class seats have been successfully purchased.
    • Our last travel-related SNAFU relates to our Shanghai Disneyland park tickets. We booked our stay at the Toy Story Hotel several months ago, and just recently purchased our park tickets through the Shanghai Disneyland website (park tickets are only sold a few weeks in advance). While both our hotel stay and our park tickets are visible on the site, they do not appear to be linked. This is causing us some concern, as there are two big advantages to staying onsite: one is that you get an extra fastpass to use at the park, and the other is that you can use the Disneytown park entrance and get in 30 minutes early compared to the much more crowded main gate. I am pretty sure that we will get the fastpass if we visit the concierge at the hotel when we arrive. However, what limited information we've seen seems to indicate that we need to go to the main gate to get our tickets printed before we can enter the park. This means we'll miss out on early entrance, as well as having to use the much more crowded entrance. But we're having trouble confirming whether or not this is true. When we send an email to Disney, we get a canned kind of answer that doesn't really answer the question we asked, and when we try to use the online chat feature, we keep getting a message saying no English-speaking staff are available. We might need to get on the phone to China to figure this one out.
    • I just booked a mifi unit rental with 3G Solutions for the duration of our stay in mainland China. The rental, including VPN and 10 GB of data, cost about $90 plus a $100 deposit. That should allow us to post to Instagram, use Google apps, etc. while we're there. We'll stick to using hotel Wifi when we can so we don't burn through the data, but the mifi will be nice for entertaining the kids while we're on the go. Of course, the first time I tried to process this rental, my credit card was flagged for fraud and the transaction didn't complete. I had to contact the bank to sort that out and then try again.
     
    Last edited: Jun 15, 2018
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  4. CaptainCook

    CaptainCook Mouseketeer

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    Our trip itinerary:
    • July 7 - depart Toronto on direct flight to Shanghai
    • July 8 - arrive Shanghai
    • July 9 - Shanghai Disneyland
    • July 10 - Shanghai city tour (on our own: the Bund, Pudong, Yu Gardens, Tianzifang). Overnight sleeper train to Beijing.
    • July 11 - visit to Mutianyu section of the Great Wall, acrobat show, Wangfujing street market
    • July 12 - Forbidden City, Tianneman Square, Temple of Heaven, sample peking duck. Overnight sleeper train to Xian.
    • July 13 - Terra Cotta Warriors, rent bikes to tour the old city wall, Muslim Street
    • July 14 - train from Xian to Chengdu. Rest day - not much else planned.
    • July 15 - Pandas! And visit to Jinli Street.
    • July 16 - flight to Guilin, drive to Longji rice terraces. Spend the day there then transfer to hotel in Yangshuo.
    • July 17 and 18 - in and around Yangshuo. Riding bikes, rafting on the river, hiking. Liu San Jie Impression light show.
    • July 19 - transfer to XingPing, train to Shenzhen, transfer to Hong Kong
    • July 20 - Hong Kong Disneyland
    • July 21 - Big Buddha, Victoria Peak
    • July 22 - flight home
     
    Last edited: Jun 15, 2018
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  5. CaptainCook

    CaptainCook Mouseketeer

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    Newsflash: the second class tickets have been purchased! Phew. Crisis averted.
     
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  6. CaptainCook

    CaptainCook Mouseketeer

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    https://www.china-diy-travel.com/en/trains-in-china-what-are-the-classes-of-travel/

    Here's the China DIY Travel website page that explains the difference between classes of travel on Chinese trains. The difference between first and second class isn't huge. It's a 4-hour-long midday trip, so we won't miss the comforts of first class all that much. And we'll save about $120 in total by purchasing 4 second class tickets rather than first class for this leg of our trip (Xian to Chengdu). We did manage to get 2 pairs of seats beside each other (in adjacent rows) that border the aisle. Second class trains are configured as 3 seats - aisle - 2 seats.
     
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  7. CaptainCook

    CaptainCook Mouseketeer

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    In today's trip report news, we have pretty much finished booking most of our transfers. We decided to book transportation in advance for as many legs of this trip as possible for a few reasons:
    • It is reportedly difficult to hail a taxi in some areas in China
    • We need vehicles large enough to fit four of us, plus four pieces of luggage, when changing cities
    • It is pretty darn awesome to get off a plane or train, be able to skip the taxi queue, and have someone waiting for you to continue on the next leg of your journey
    • We are pretty regimented with our travel itineraries. We don't often fly by the seat of our pants. We know ourselves well enough to know we don't need to be flexible with when and where we'll need to make use of their services.
    We booked with an agency called Mr. Orange Transfers (https://orange-transfer.com/) for most of our transfers. They were able to quote us a package price for doing multiple legs of the trip with them across multiple cities. We chose them because of competitive prices, their vehicle size suits our needs, and their customer service department speaks english. We didn't want to pay for guides to accompany us, but it's reassuring to know we can contact the booking office if we need to adjust our itinerary, and they can translate to the driver for us. We paid a deposit via Paypal and can pay the remainder with Paypal on the first leg of our trip to avoid having to carry around cash. There are enough positive reviews on TripAdvisor for us to feel comfortable doing so.

    Mr. Orange will be transporting us on the following legs:
    • Shanghai airport to Disney hotel
    • Shanghai Disney to Pudong, Yu Gardens, and Tianzifang before taking us to the train station
    • Beijing train station to Mutianyu Great Wall to our Beijing hotel
    • Beijing hotel to Beijing train station
    • Xi'an train station to Terra Cotta Warriors to our Xi'an hotel
    • Xi'an hotel to Xi'an train station
    • Chengdu train station to Chengdu hotel
    • Chengdu hotel to Jinli Street and back to hotel
    • Chengdu hotel to Chengdu airport
    Then, we have a local guide/driver, Michelle, who will meet us in Guilin, take us to the Longji rice terraces, and then to our hotel in Yangshuo at the end of the day. She works at the hotel where we are staying in Yangshuo.

    Finally, we have one more transfer arranged with Delight Car. They'll be meeting us at the Shenzhen train station and transporting us across the border into Hong Kong.

    There will be a couple more legs of the trip where we'll need to arrange a local taxi, but it's reassuring to know that so much of this is already settled.
     
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  8. BLTtinkerbell

    BLTtinkerbell DIS Veteran

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    Following along. I am starting to plan a trip to Hong Kong & Thailand.
     
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  9. Shock13

    Shock13 DIS Veteran

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    Thank you for posting everything! China is on my top 5 places to visit and love all the info. I look forward to your trip posts. :)
     
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  10. AquaDame

    AquaDame Disney Cruise Line Moderator

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    We're doing a similar trip to you in reverse, but going in November and booked most of the trip through Catherine Lu Tours. Very interesting to hear about your experience with the trains... now I'm nervous! Following along so I can learn from you! :worship:
     
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  11. CaptainCook

    CaptainCook Mouseketeer

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    Today was a busy trip planning day, but not for a good reason.

    This morning we got an email from China Air notifying us that our flight was cancelled. We are mostly taking trains as we travel through China, but we did book one internal flight, from Chengdu to Guilin. We were supposed to arrive in Chengdu at night, spend the next morning at the panda research centre, have that afternoon to spend at the hotel pool and/or on Jinli Street, spend a second night in Chengdu, then fly out early the following morning to Guilin. From Guilin we were planning a day trip to the Longji rice terraces before transferring to Yangshuo. This plan worked because Guilin is located in between the rice terraces and Yangshuo. It would be a shorter drive to see the terraces by going directly from Guilin, rather than settling into Yangshuo and then making the trip.

    So we started debating our options: fly out that night instead of that morning (giving us another day in Chengdu); take the train instead of the flight (the train is a 7 hour trip and the flight is more like an hour); etc. We considered dropping the rice terraces off our itinerary and just heading straight to Yangshuo as quickly as possible. However, I was pretty disappointed. This has been on my China bucket list since the first draft of our itinerary. Just look at this place:

    [​IMG]

    Ultimately, we decided to take the evening flight out of Chengdu one day earlier. We'll still spend that day at the panda research centre, and visit Jinli Street earlier in the day. Then we'll transfer to the airport, take an 8:45 p.m. flight to Guilin, and look for a hotel to stay at in Guilin for the night before heading out on a day trip to the rice terraces the next morning and then transferring to Yangshuo after that day trip. It means we'll have a little bit less R&R while in Chengdu, but once we get to Yangshuo, we have 3 days at one hotel to settle in and relax a bit; so it should be manageable.

    So the new flight is booked, but we still need to rearrange our transfers and find a hotel in Guilin (which won't be a big deal - we're just there to sleep one night and really won't be using the hotel amenities at all.)

    In other trip news, we also got confirmation today that our last set of train tickets have been purchased. We will be travelling by train from Xingping to Shenzhen, however, we had to purchase tickets from Luizhou to Shenzhen. The train originates in Luizhou but stops in Xingping en route. From what we understand, they'll only release/sell the Xingping to Shenzhen tickets if the Luizhou to Shenzhen seats don't sell out. That's a risk we don't want to take, so we spent a bit more to buy the longer route when it was first released.

    These tickets, too, are second class seats, and we were told first class seats aren't available. So now I'm wondering if perhaps some trains just don't offer first class seats - maybe they didn't sell out on our last train either, but weren't available right from the start? We don't know.
     
  12. CaptainCook

    CaptainCook Mouseketeer

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    Awesome! DD has mentioned going to Thailand. Maybe we'll head there next. :)

    Thanks - I'll try to keep it up!

    You'll almost certainly have better weather than we will! But we're tied to the school vacation calendar. I haven't heard of Catherine Lu; I'll have to check that out.
     
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  13. AquaDame

    AquaDame Disney Cruise Line Moderator

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    I hadn't either but they have a ton of excellent reviews on trip advisor and I was feeling planning fatigue. Her quote was reasonable too so I just rolled with it. :thumbsup2

    That flight drama on top of the train drama... surely you're just getting it all out of the way and it will be smooth sailing from here!
     
  14. CaptainCook

    CaptainCook Mouseketeer

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    We have rearranged all of our transportation and booked a night at a hotel in Guilin. DH took care of all of this and had a heck of a time changing our reservation in Chengdu. We had two nights booked at the Crowne Plaza Chengdu Panda Garden, in two adjoining rooms to accommodate the 4 of us. He called to cancel one night, which they did, but they also cancelled our second room for the first night. Then when he called again to correct that, they wouldn't honour the rate at which we had originally booked. He wound up speaking to several people and making several calls to get it fixed. It's ironic that this hotel is the one international chain hotel we have booked for this trip, and it gave us such a hassle! We've had much better luck with the local boutique hotels.

    I still don't think we are back to the same rate at which we originally booked, but we're better off than we were with their first offer.

    I've been spending the day today formatting SD cards and charging camera batteries. I'm a big photography/video buff, and going on a trip like this gets me into the photography groove like nothing else. I'm trying to keep the amount of gear I'm taking manageable, but on our last trip my main camera died 3 days in; so what I really want to do is bring backups of backups of backups. In the end I want to travel light, so I'll have to be pretty ruthless.
     
  15. Tanzanite

    Tanzanite DIS Veteran

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    Cant wait to read your report went to Beijing last year just one day planning another trip in Sept or Oct so love to see your report . I would love to go to Chengdu .
     
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  16. CaptainCook

    CaptainCook Mouseketeer

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    We're another week closer to our trip. I spent several days this week in Washington, DC for a work function. I just got home today. On the trip, I was keenly aware of the whereabouts of my passport at all times, knowing that misplacing it now (with visa inside) would be a disaster!

    I am trying to re-learn how to post photos here; I've added many to past trip reports, but can't seem to figure it out now. I'd like to get that done in order to make writing a full trip report later that much easier.

    We are in the midst of late-stage preparations now - printing out documents (hotel confirmations, train station instructions, etc.) that we'll need to take with us, downloading other documents onto electronic devices (photos of the exteriors of restaurants we want to try to find, for example, in case we need to ask for directions) and the like. As I was traveling today and my flight home was delayed a number of times, I started thinking about bringing some snacks for the plane. It will be about a 14-hour flight and while the airline feeds you - we may not like what we're fed. :)

    This is the last weekend we have free before we travel so now is the time to take care of these things. We'll be busy at the office next week wrapping up work responsibilities before we go. Isn't it funny how much effort goes into spending time away from home!

    I'm also thinking again about the possibility of doing laundry on the trip, especially after reading Nomarian's trip report. We'd planned to bring enough clothes to last us all 16 days, but knowing how hot and sweaty it's bound to be, we may wind up burning through those clothes quicker than we think.

    OK - back to trying to figure out the photo thing. There must be instructions around here somewhere...

    ETA: Did I get it?

    [​IMG]

    OK, yes, I got it. But is it too big? LOL.

    This photo illustrates another one of the items we checked off the list this week: procuring some foreign cash to get our trip started.
     
    Last edited: Jun 29, 2018
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  17. Tanzanite

    Tanzanite DIS Veteran

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    Great you are all sorted you all must be getting excited . Have a question what camera do you use for video i am leaving to Japan to see my son at school there in 2 weeks .Last time i visited him didnt get great video so planning to buy new camera .I have a Go pro but not keen on it . I have 2 cameras always take 2 so have backup if one runs out of battery if i forget to charge it .Have a wonderful time safe trip and cant wait to hear about it.
     
  18. CaptainCook

    CaptainCook Mouseketeer

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    For video, I use a combination of 3 cameras:

    • Canon 77D (up until our last trip I had the 70D - but these are virtually the same). I use this the majority of the time - I appreciate that I can zoom with it.
    • GoPro Hero 5 - I use this mostly for action shots or anywhere the camera is likely to get wet. I set the Field of View to 'medium' rather than 'wide' so it looks a bit less like your typical GoPro footage.
    • iPhone 6 - the video on this phone is surprisingly good.
     
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  19. CaptainCook

    CaptainCook Mouseketeer

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    We are down to our last few days at home - this trip is starting to feel real! Unfortunately, I came across a worrisome news headline today. It sounds like there has been severe flooding across much of China over the past week or so, particularly in Chengdu, where all flights were cancelled yesterday. When I try Googling to find out more information though, I find news stories going all the way back to 2010 - it sounds like flooding in this city is a regular occurrence and happens almost annually. I can't find much specific information about the current situation, other than a video that's recently been posted to Reddit. The video shows a local transit bus driving through deep water and the bus riders are all in water up to their ankles. We don't hit Chengdu until about the midpoint of our trip, so hopefully the water has receded by then.

    The forecast for the first part of our trip looks promising (if you can trust it this far out). Rain in Shanghai, which is to be expected at this time of year, and clear skies in Beijing. Both places with a high of 30-32 C which is OK by me. It can go to 40+ at this time of year, and I'm thankful that it doesn't look like it will be that extreme. We've been suffering through very hot and humid weather here for the past few days (close to Detroit, so think of us as the Midwest). If we can handle this, I'm hopeful that we won't find what China throws at us to be all that bad.
     
  20. KJTex

    KJTex Earning My Ears

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    Thanks for thanks for posting all of this great info. I will be in Shanghai at the end of the month and am thinking about heading to Disney for a day. Would love to hear about it once you are there. What are the crowds like? Can you get around with only English? Have a great trip and Please keep posting!
     
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  21. BLTtinkerbell

    BLTtinkerbell DIS Veteran

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    Thanks for all your updates. I have been following along. I hope you have a wonderful vacation! Looking forward to hearing all about it.
     
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