Shanghai Surprise and Hong Kong Hospitality: A July 2018 China Family Trip Report - VIDEO ADDED p. 3

Discussion in 'Other Lands' started by CaptainCook, Jul 24, 2018.

  1. CaptainCook

    CaptainCook Mouseketeer

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    We are back! 48 hours ago, we came home from a two-week trip to China that was the culmination of years of dreaming and a ton of planning. It all paid off in a trip that was nearly flawless and definitely ranks among our best trips of all time. We are proof positive that you can go to China without speaking the language, travel the country on your own terms rather than being tied to a tour group, and live to tell the tale.

    I will say up front that we spent one day in Shanghai Disneyland and one day in Hong Kong Disneyland, but the majority of our two weeks were spent seeing sights that have nothing at all to do with the parks. I'll provide detail about our Disney days here since that's the purpose of this message board, but be forewarned that I'll also summarize what else we saw and did in the country. Feel free to skip those parts if your only interest is the parks.

    We are a family of 4 - me (Carrie), DH (Chad), and two kids, Liam (13) and Mallory (11). I think we nailed it with taking the trip at this time. Our kids were a great age for this trip.

    We began planning our trip to China about four years ago. Traveling and trip planning is a significant hobby of ours, and we started stringing together a family-friendly itinerary full of exciting sights and activities. The Great Wall... pandas... acrobats, perfecting our chopstick skills, karst mountains. Maybe even a visit to that Disney park over there in Hong Kong. The trip would have to wait a few years though, until the kids were a little older.

    In the meantime, a couple of things happened. First, Disney opened the new park in Shanghai in 2016. Shanghai wasn't part of our original itinerary, but with the park now open, we added it on when we got serious about making this trip happen a year or so ago.

    Second, we traveled through a few European countries in 2017, and on that trip we spent a day at Disneyland Paris. That trip marked the halfway point in terms of us completing the Every Disney Park bucket list. It hadn't been a deliberate goal before then, but it's become a fun common purpose for our family in the time since. That gave us a bit more incentive to add Shanghai on to our China itinerary.

    We knew July may not be considered optimal timing to go to China, due to the heat and due to summer holiday crowds. But our trip planning is also bound by the school calendar.

    So we hoped for the best, braced for the worst, and set off.
     
    Last edited: Jul 25, 2018
  2. KJTex

    KJTex Earning My Ears

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    Glad you guys made it back. Can't wait to read all about your adventures.
     
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  4. Disney127

    Disney127 DIS Veteran

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    Can't wait to hear about your trip!
     
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  5. CaptainCook

    CaptainCook Mouseketeer

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    Saturday July 7/Sunday July 8 - Toronto to Shanghai

    We left home bright and early at 7 am for the 3 hour drive to Toronto. It's construction season in Ontario, Canada where we live, and we didn't know what to expect for highway closures. As we left home, we received notice of a 75 minute delay on highway 401 about 10 km away from the airport due to a spill of some sort. Luckily, it was cleaned up by the time we got there, and we had no major delays.

    Our flight left pretty much on time at 1 pm, and despite it being 14 hours nonstop on Air Canada from Toronto to Shanghai... the flight was not as bad as I'd expected. We all watched several movies and tried to sleep. I found the seats to be quite comfortable, and my back didn't hurt at all. Usually it's killing me after just a few hours in most seats.

    We were served a hot lunch shortly after takeoff, and an 'evening snack' of noodle cups and sandwiches. The noodle cups came with chopsticks, and the kids thought that was awesome - a great start to our China adventure.

    One aspect of the flight that disappointed me was that rather than flying east or west to Shanghai, we took the polar route, up over Alaska and the Arctic circle into Russia - but the flight crew maintained a strict 'windows closed' policy on the aircraft so that passengers could sleep. I would have liked to look out over those parts of the world (especially since it was still daytime when we passed over them) but was unable to.

    We landed around 3 pm on Sunday, and taxied to the gate, and everyone was up out of their seats - and then the pilot came over the PA system and announced that he had to back the plane up 1 foot to fit the apron lines, which had been freshly repainted. So we had to wait for everyone to re-stow their luggage and be seated again. Groan.

    We finally got off the plane. It was easy enough to get through health check, finger printing, immigration and customs. Truthfully, it didn't feel all that different from the Toronto airport. Our driver from Mr. Orange was waiting for us with a sign. We had pre-booked most of our transfers from airport or train station to hotel with this car service in multiple cities across China. This saved a lot of time and confusion in getting on our way quickly after landing or disembarking, and was a great decision we had made in planning our trip.

    It was an easy drive to Disneyland with no traffic - less than half an hour. We checked in at the Toy Story Hotel.

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    We had booked our hotel stay separately from our park tickets, and wanted to take advantage of an offer that gives guests who book both together through the Disney website. The advantage includes an extra Fastpass to use in the park, as well as access to the park through a separate entrance for hotel guests only that would be a great time saver. We had booked both parts of our package through the official Disney website, just not at the same time; but only because we booked our hotel stay back in February to ensure availability, and park tickets weren't released until June.

    We knew Shanghai Disneyland was going to be crowded in July. We'd been watching attraction wait times online for the past few weeks, and knew that three-hour waits weren't uncommon, and that most Fastpasses would be gone early in the day. We wanted to take advantage of every little time saving trick that we could.

    The moment of truth arrived: we inquired about the perks we were hoping for. The main desk clerk referred us to the concierge desk, and the concierge deferred to her supervisor, Sasa. After much runaround, the hotel told us that because we had not booked our hotel stay at the same time as our park tickets, we were not eligible for the extra Fastpass. This is something Disney definitely needs to change, because the only reason we didn't buy them together was because park tickets were not released early enough. We did book both parts of the deal through Disney's official site, which I'm sure is the behaviour they are trying to drive. We were incredibly disheartened not only to be faced with one less Fastpass in hand, but also to have to endure rope drop and paper ticket issuing at the main gate, which I've heard is a crowd-control nightmare.

    Finally Sasa said that what she could do was to refund the park tickets we had purchased (even though they were marked as non refundable) and then allow us to re-purchase them through the hotel, which would get us the package deal. The refund is supposed to take up to a month to process; fingers crossed that it actually comes through sometime.

    We were issued our park tickets, and I was disappointed to see that they were all Toy Story themed. I've kept a ticket from every Disney park we've visited, and they've all been blue Mickey Mouse themed tickets. I'm hoping to frame them all one day, and was hoping for consistency. Oh well.

    We booked a mid-afternoon Roaring Rapids Fastpass with the concierge now that we were eligible for it. The hotel-arranged Fastpasses are not linked to the regular Fastpasses you book using the Shanghai Disneyland app once you're in the park, so you can hold one of each concurrently. It didn't take long for the hotel-arranged Fastpass to show up in our account on the app, which we had set up before leaving home. So that was a good sign that we would be ready to start booking more Fastpasses as soon as we got into the park the following morning.

    We felt relatively good after our long flight, so we freshened up a bit in our room, and then walked over to Disneytown for something to eat. The walk took about 10-15 minutes. It was hot out, perhaps 85F, but nothing worse than what we'd left behind at home. We had checked out the Disneytown restaurant directory online ahead of time, and were planning to eat at Food Republic, but this was the first place that culture shock really kicked in for us. The food looked good but also foreign, and we were unsure of where to jump in. And the real kicker was how crowded and chaotic the restaurant was, how we couldn't read most of the signage, and that there were no free tables anywhere. Frankly, we found it a bit overwhelming. We decided to leave and look elsewhere instead. We settled on Kokio Noodles and Bar which was decidedly quieter, where we split a couple different bowls of noodles.

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    Before calling it a day, we shopped a bit at World of Disney.

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    Our key observations were that there were no Christmas ornaments for sale, which I'd pretty much expected, but hoped wouldn't be true because I like to collect one from every trip. There were also limited trading pins that say Shanghai on them, and there was lots and lots and LOTS of Duffy and friends merchandise. Before walking back to the hotel, we located the hotel guest Disneytown entry gate so that we'd know where to go in the morning. And with that, we called it a night.

    (I really didn't take many photos on our first day, but not to worry - I will more than make up for it in the days to come.)
     
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  6. Simba001

    Simba001 Mouseketeer

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    I hadn't heard about a health check.... could you explain what that entails?

    I'm not familiar with Mr. Orange transfer services, but will now look into it. I am not wanting to deal with the Pudong airport taxi situation.
     
  7. CaptainCook

    CaptainCook Mouseketeer

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    Monday July 9 - Shanghai Disneyland - Part 1

    Everyone woke up 4:30 am from a combination of jet lag and being super excited for our day at the park. We went down for breakfast at the Sunnyside Market on the ground floor of the hotel. It opened promptly at 6:30 am. There are only 4 tables inside, but we were the only ones eating there; everyone else was heading for the sit-down Sunnyside Cafe next door.

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    There was an amazing assortment of cute pastry items at the Market, which made it hard to decide what to order. We were also riding the 'first day at Disneyland' high, and likely went a bit overboard! The doughnuts were ok, but looked better than they tasted. The pork moon cake was delicious. We finished up as quickly as possible and headed out the door to the park around 6:55 am.

    The first shuttle bus to the park was scheduled to leave at 7:10 am and there were already several buses' worth of guests waiting in line for it.

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    We had planned to walk, figuring it would take 12 or so minutes to get to the Disneytown gate. We headed out and took the 'back way' to shorten the trip as much as possible. We arrived at the park entrance just steps ahead of the first busload of hotel guests. We weren't the first ones in the park, but we were pretty close!

    Bag and ticket check only took a few minutes, and we were in the park at 7:20 am. Official park open would be at 8 am. We stopped in front of the castle to take a couple of quick photos while Chad tried logging into the app to book our first in-park Fastpass.

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    Unfortunately, the front of the castle is one of the places in the park with poor wifi. We couldn't get onto the app, so we continued on to to Peter Pan, our first planned ride of the day, while we kept trying to access it. There was no wait to ride Peter Pan so we did that, and enjoyed the modern version of the classic attraction.

    We were able to log into the app successfully as we were coming out of the attraction. By then it was about 7:45 am and Fastpasses for Soarin' were already booking for 5:30 pm! We chose not to book one, since that would tie up our Fastpass availability for too long. Instead, we booked 7 Dwarfs Mine Train with a return window of 9:40-10:40 am, and headed over to Soarin' to ride standby before the queue got too long. The wait time was posted as 60 minutes, so we hopped in line.

    I should perhaps say now that we knew heading into one day at Shanghai Disneyland that we would not have enough time to see and do everything. Our plan was to do the attractions that were unique to Shanghai, spend some time soaking up the park atmosphere, and not worry about the rides we've done many times before. Peter Pan was a good fit for this strategy, because it was interesting to see how much the updated technology added to the experience.

    On the other hand, we had had the opportunity to ride Soarin' Around the World before, so this wasn't really new. However - we were surprised to see that the queue and pre-ride show were completely different here than they are elsewhere. They have a very Indiana Jones vibe to them in Shanghai. So that wound up being a good use of our time. We made it to the pre-ride show after 35 minutes, then boarded the ride, and enjoyed it immensely, as always - it really is one of my favourite attractions.

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    Exiting Soarin', we found a couple of park tickets, stamped with today's date, on the ground. I tried returning these to a cast member, thinking someone would be looking for them, needing them for Fastpass booking or room charging or some such use. Instead, the cast member acted like I was crazy for caring. As the day went on, we found more and more park tickets on the ground, and it became clear that this was just a case of littering. On the bright side, I did find several Mickey Mouse themed park tickets, and kept one of them to add to my colour- and character-coordinated park ticket series.

    Just a few steps later, we found a 100 yuan note on the ground beside a snack cart. We picked it up and tried returning it to the cast member at the cart, who wouldn't accept it. I was starting to feel like returning things to their owners is simply not done in China. We pocketed the yuans (vowing to spend them at Disney; not hard to do) and moved on.

    From Soarin' we went to the Camp Discovery Challenge Trails. They had opened right at 8 am (we had heard they usually open sometime later) and we knew that the line there builds quickly, but the wait time was still only 20 minutes. The trails were on my must-do list for the day, and they did not disappoint - they were a lot of fun. Note that you must wear closed-toe shoes to be allowed on, and that you can change between the easy, medium and difficult options at each challenge.

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    Chad and Liam attempted the difficult waterfall challenge and made it by the skin of their teeth; there were a few times I thought they were not going to finish. There is also a bypass option, so you can skip the waterfall altogether if you so choose.

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    Since we were close to Pirates of the Caribbean, we went over to check the wait time. It was posted at 70 minutes, so we opted instead to use our 7 Dwarfs Mine Train Fastpass. I'm glad we had the Fastpass, because the standby line was already a couple of hours long. With that done, we went online again to book another Fastpass. The only ones available were Pooh or Buzz Lightyear for 6:25 pm. We booked Pooh and moved on.

    The sun was out and the day was starting to heat up, so we looked for a snack cart. I wanted to try the Donald Duckburg ice pop.

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    We had our refreshments as quickly as we could. It took no time at all for them to start melting in the blazing sun. As we ate, we walked back to Pirates. The wait time was now posted at 80 minutes, and we decided 'now or never' (since there are no Fastpasses for this ride) and got in the queue.

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    The Pirates queue was the low point of the day for us. It was hot and crowded. The line started out in the sun, and even when it wound its way under shelter, it wasn't the same icy cold queue we've come to expect at the Pirates attraction in Orlando. There was a lot of pushing in the queue - an aspect of the local culture that would take some getting used to - and a lot of litter, though to be fair, there weren't many trash bins. Another thing we remarked on was how lawless it seemed - after getting into the queue, we really didn't see another cast member again until we were in the boarding area.

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    This observation would turn out to be prophetic. Although the queue for the ride was long, not all of the corrals were in use. We had been in line for over an hour when suddenly something happened that we can only liken to a jailbreak. Hundreds and hundreds of people started running by in the corral beside us that previously hadn't been in use. We were bewildered for a bit until we surmised that they had likely opened the extra queue space without doing any crowd control to ensure those already in the queue had priority over the newcomers. It was disheartening to have been in line for so long, only to see so many people essentially get a Fastpass to the front. We were still quite a ways out from where the lines merge together. There was nothing we could do about it, so we smiled through gritted teeth and queued on.
     
    Last edited: Jul 26, 2018
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  8. CaptainCook

    CaptainCook Mouseketeer

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    I am suddenly having all sorts of crazy formatting problems. Is there an issue with posting 10 or more photos in a single post? Perhaps that's it - I will have to break this up into multiple posts.

    Bear with me!
     
  9. CaptainCook

    CaptainCook Mouseketeer

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    Health check is simply a walk-through if you don't have any illnesses to declare (there are laws for example about disclosing HIV positive status) and if you aren't coming in from a yellow fever area where you would need to provide proof of vaccination.

    It may be relevant to you to know about our entry experience into Hong Kong though, if you will be traveling there. We took a private transfer vehicle across the border into Hong Kong from the border city of Shenzhen. Our driver rolled down the window and spoke to the border agents and handed over our passports. There was a health check agent there at a separate window, and she opened the door into the vehicle and waved what I assume was an infrared thermometer around inside, looking for signs of infection. Thankfully we passed.

    Mr. Orange provided excellent service to us throughout China. Great drivers, nice vehicles, and easy to step off a plane or train and locate someone waving a sign with a smiling orange and your name on it!
     
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  10. CaptainCook

    CaptainCook Mouseketeer

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    Monday July 9 - Shanghai Disneyland - Part 2

    Finally we boarded the ride with a total wait time of about 90 minutes. There was a lot of trash in the boat that we picked our way over to get to our seats. But I do have to agree with everyone who says the ride is spectacular; it really is unlike anything else. I am certainly glad that we stuck it out and got to experience it.

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    After the marathon wait for Pirates, we were ready for some lunch. We chose the Wandering Moon tea house, since it had something that appealed to all of us. We had some meat and veggie skewers, corn on the cob, and watermelon, with some cold drinks to wash it down. (Fluid intake was critical in the heat. I had a refillable water bottle I had brought from home, and kept topping it up at the drinking water stations around the park. But again, I would liken the heat and humidity to what you'd experience in Florida at the same time of year, no worse.)

    When we had finished eating, we realized that the next Tarzan stage show started in 11 minutes and that if we were quick, we could make it there before the show started. We booked it over and got seats near the top on the side that were still excellent view seats. The show was fun and we enjoyed it.

    We used the bathroom nearby (good facilities, mix of western and squat toilets, toilet paper provided) and headed over to Roarin' Rapids to use our Fastpass. It was just after 2 pm and it was hot, and a water ride sounded like a great idea. We were surprised then to see that we were pretty much the only ones in the queue who elected not to purchase a rain poncho for 1 yuan to wear on the ride. (I shuddered to think of all that plastic hitting a landfill afterwards.) We actually thought it was quite funny to see so many people so keen on not getting wet on a water ride. The attraction was good fun and we did, of course, get soaked - though probably not as wet as we've been after riding Kali River Rapids. But we dried out very quickly in the sun afterwards.

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    We came around the front of the castle, and passed Dumbo. Mallory wanted to ride, so we joined the 30 minute queue. This was not a great use of time (I swear the ride was no more than 45 seconds), but it made her happy, so there you go. Coming off of Dumbo, the afternoon parade was going down Mickey Avenue, so we watched the last 3 or 4 floats pass us by. Luckily we were able to see the Mulan float, which felt very apropos in Shanghai.

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    We walked through the castle to admire the mosaics there...

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    ...and came out by the Voyage to the Crystal Grotto, which had a 10 minute posted wait. We hopped in that queue, and enjoyed the ride. It gives some good views of the back side of the castle. Next up, Toy Story Land. We had seen Toy Story Land in Paris last year, and were content with making this a quick rather than extensive visit. We jumped on Woody's Roundup with a 10 minute wait, since that is not something they have in Paris.

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    And then we took a break at the Toy Box Cafe, and had some alien pizzas to eat. Again, not something they had in Paris.

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    We were starting to feel a bit of urgency to fit in our last few attractions. We did the Hunny Pot Spin with another 10 minute wait.

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    And wandered through the Alice in Wonderland maze.

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    And at 6:30 pm we headed over to the Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh to use our last Fastpass of the day.

    We did a bit of pin trading (something we found to be not as widespread here as it has been on trips to other parks - but admittedly, our day was pretty packed with fitting in attractions). We checked on the wait time for Tron, which was posted at 75 minutes. Instead, we did the Buzz Lightyear Planet Rescue on standby with a 20 minute wait.

    People were settling in for the castle projection and fireworks show, Ignite the Dream, and we made the call to skip it since we had seen Disney Illuminations in Paris and it's essentially the same show. The wait time for Tron dropped to 40 minutes. Chad and Liam got into the queue; Mallory did not want to ride it, so I stayed with her and we took some photos of Tron all lit up at night while we waited for the boys. By the time they were off the ride, the fireworks had just begun, and we were watching the side view from Tomorrowland. Liam enjoyed Tron so much that he wanted to ride it again, and the posted wait time had dropped to 20 minutes. This time I went with him, and Mallory and Chad stayed behind. To our great surprise it was a complete walk-on. The benefit of skipping the fireworks, I suppose! As we exited the ride, there were masses of people running to join the queue - a sure sign that the fireworks had just ended.

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    Chad and Mallory had done Buzz Lightyear two more times while Liam and I rode Tron. We had less than an hour to go until park close, and decided to try riding 7 Dwarfs Mine Train one more time. The wait time was posted as 50 minutes when we joined the queue, and we made it through in less than 30 minutes. Good thing too, because the queue was rather stinky. I thought it was BO, and Chad thought it was urine. Either way, it was kind of gross.

    With our last ride done, we did some shopping on Mickey Avenue as we made our way out of the park. The kids each picked up a pin to add to their collections. We took the shuttle back to the hotel since we were pretty tired from walking all day. The Sunnyside Market was still open when we got there, and we picked up some snacks to take back to our room to enjoy. I got the Shellie May panna cotta, which was pretty cute. It was strawberry favoured. I thought the Gelatoni panna cotta was even cuter, but I didn't want matcha flavour.

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    Liam had to try the cucumber chips - cucumbers are his favourite.

    And that was the end of our day at Shanghai Disneyland. A few more observations before I wrap this up:

    Things we didn't get to do that we wanted to - very few. We didn't do the castle storybook walk through, and we didn't get to see Mickey Avenue during daylight hours. The other things we didn't do were things we chose to skip based on past experience. We knew we would only see one stage show, and prioritized the Tarzan show over the Jack Sparrow show.

    With a bit more time, we could have done the Pirate Cove playground area, the Jet Packs (similar to Astro Orbitor) or spent more time wandering taking photos (something only I would enjoy).

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    We only saw one character meet and greet all day. We don't usually seek these out, but would probably have jumped in line if we'd seen Mickey and Minnie in their traditional Chinese garb. I suppose we still have a chance to do this once we get to Hong Kong.

    Further observations from our day:

    People smoke everywhere.

    People run everywhere. There are signs and announcements instructing guests not to, but no enforcement.

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    We could count the number of Westerners we saw all day on one hand. This truly is a Chinese park.

    I'm surprised there is so much English spoken and signage in English given the very small non-Chinese attendance. Many cast members do not speak English per se, but they do know the few key words they need to know to assist an English-speaking visitor. ("Fastpass", "how long", "how much" etc.)

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    The lack of a queuing mentality is surprising. Even when you know to expect it, it's something else to actually experience it. We'll need to work on doing as the Chinese do if we want to keep up during our time in China.

    The use of umbrellas drove me crazy. Many, many people used umbrellas to shield themselves from the sun, which isn't a problem when everyone gets enough personal space. But in China, you don't have that. We would be packed into an attraction queue like sardines, and people would have their umbrellas up, and not only did we keep getting poked in the face by them, but it also made it difficult to move or to see.

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    (If I thought the umbrellas were bad on a sunny day, they got exponentially worse during the rainy periods we experienced on our trip. It became a running joke on our trip that Mom thought that the Chinese were insufferable with their umbrellas.)

    The kids were asked to pose for photos a few times, and I was asked once. It was kind of fun, and didn't happen enough to be annoying.

    Overall we felt very welcome, and had a great time.
     
    Last edited: Jul 26, 2018
  11. Simba001

    Simba001 Mouseketeer

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    Thank you
     
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  12. Disney127

    Disney127 DIS Veteran

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    Enjoy reading your trip report, love the photos. We leave for Shanghai DL (hitting all 3 Disney parks in Asia) in 2 weeks and I am trying to prepare myself for the heat and people. We can usually handle the heat and humidity when we visit Asia but I am kind of worried about the crowd culture. The one and only time we visited China, I had to stand my ground when people started pushing and shoving my young daughters around.

    Looking forward to the rest of your trip report :-)
     
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  13. KJTex

    KJTex Earning My Ears

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    Thanks for the information. I have a couple of questions if you do not mind: Did you have any issue using the app inside the park? I know you mentioned that wifi in front of the castle was bad -but eventually you got on right? I have read reports where you need a China phone number to get onto the app and book fastpasses??? Also, will the Disney photopass photograpers take your picture if you give them your own camera to use? For Tron, did you use the lockers to store your bags?
     
  14. CaptainCook

    CaptainCook Mouseketeer

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    We set the app up before we left home. It sends you a text to confirm your registration. We were able to access and respond to that text from home while we still had cell service to do so. After we purchased our park tickets at the hotel, they automatically showed up in our account on the app as well. So we didn’t have any trouble with the app aside from the wifi availability. Typically it did not work inside any attraction, or in certain outdoor areas in the park. We did get on after we got out of the dead zone in front of the castle.

    We didn’t make use of any photo pass photographers, so I can’t answer that question. I recall seeing them at least once, but I don’t recall seeing them as often as we do in the US parks. But, we didn’t come up Disney Avenue when we entered the park in the morning (where they are usually most noticeable at home), because the Disneytown entrance brings you in the side of the park. Maybe they were around and I just didn’t notice them.

    We were on Tron at the end of the day when it wasn’t busy, and the CMs were directing us away from the lockers and directly into the attraction queue. They had us put our bags in something like a shopping cart as we boarded the ride, and they wheeled it out to meet us as we disembarked. It did occur to me as I dropped my bag in that this was the first day of my trip and it would suck really bad if all my camera gear disappeared on the first day! But of course it was fine. I will admit that I am not a particularly risk averse person when it comes to Disney security, though. I’ve also left my camera bag unattended at Blizzard Beach and on Castaway Cay without too much concern.
     
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  15. BecBennett

    BecBennett Statistically, 6 out of 7 dwarves are not happy.

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    I'm enjoying reading along. Looks like we're heading to a seminar in October not far from Shanghai, so I'm hoping to hit up both Shanghai and Hong Kong while we're over there. So I really don't have much time to plan
     
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  16. CaptainCook

    CaptainCook Mouseketeer

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    Tuesday July 10 - Shanghai

    We slept in until 8 am, which felt luxurious after a couple of long days. After getting ready and packing up, we had breakfast at the Sunnyside Market again. One of the other tables was occupied. This morning's breakfast consisted of muffins for the kids, a pork moon cake for me, and an egg tart and sausage roll for Chad.

    We were due to meet our Mr. Orange driver in the hotel lobby, and he was there a few minutes before 10 am. He did not speak English, but we communicated pretty well using a translation app on his phone that all of our Mr. Orange drivers used. He would speak into his phone and the words would pop up in English on the screen. Not grammatically correct, but clear enough that we could discern the meaning.

    We loaded our bags into his minivan, and set out for downtown Shanghai. There was some traffic, and the trip took nearly an hour. The first stop we had requested was The Bund, and the
    driver dropped us off at the Peninsula Hotel since he could not stop right on the road. As we pulled into the hotel driveway, we were met by an employee asking if we needed assistance with checkin. We told him no, we were only being dropped off to do some sightseeing. That did not deter him in the least, and he went on to interpret with our driver regarding our pickup location, allow us into the hotel to use the bathroom, and then offered us cold water before we set out for our walk. Lovely service for people who weren't even hotel guests!

    We were literally steps from The Bund, so we crossed the street and climbed up the steps to get a good view across the river into Pudong.

    [​IMG]

    We took many photos of the iconic skyline, and then walked the length of The Bund. The kids were approached here again for a photo and obliged.

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    We then took a detour inland to find Old Shanghai and Yu Garden. It took a couple of tries, but eventually we found our way.

    Old Shanghai was chaotic and crowded with tourists and a bit overwhelming. We made our way across the zigzag bridge amidst throngs of people, and passed the famous steamed bun restaurant (we'd hoped to eat there, but knew it would be closed for renovations).

    [​IMG]

    Instead, we picked up soup dumplings and drinks at a nearby takeout window...

    [​IMG]

    ...and took them to the entrance to Yu Garden where we purchased tickets and went inside looking for someplace shady and cool to eat. The dumplings were ok, but not great. We then toured the garden with the rest of our available time, and poked our heads into a couple of souvenir stalls back in the bazaar area before our driver met us in Old Shanghai at 2 pm.

    [​IMG]

    I was a bit surprised by Yu Garden. It had less garden, and more buildings and hardscape, than I expected. It was still lovely, just not quite what I expected.

    Right before we got picked up, I noticed Chad's backpack was hanging half open, and we figured out that we had been the target of an attempted pickpocketing. Luckily nothing went missing. This part of town is packed with people and has a high concentration of tourists, so I'm sure it's a haven for this sort of thing - beware and be aware.

    From Yu Garden, we were driven to our last destination of the day, Tianzifang. This is a maze of alleyways in the French Concession that have been converted into shops and art galleries and restaurants.

    [​IMG]

    It was touristy but beautiful, and still populated by way more Chinese than foreigners. Our first stop here was at Tono's Palace, a cat cafe we had found online. Mallory is a major cat lover, so this was a real treat for her.

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    The majority of the cats hang out on the first floor, so we waited until we could get a table there. The cats were mostly friendly and quite lazy. They all wear sports jerseys, and the one we spent the most time with was also wearing a pearl necklace.

    [​IMG]

    The cleanliness of the cafe left a bit to be desired, as it probably does for most cat cafes. It was also expensive, as cat cafes are, because you're paying to support the cats, as well as for the food. We split one plate of waffles that came with fruit and ice cream, and each of us had a fresh fruit juice or smoothie, and our bill was about 280 yuan or close to $60 CDN.

    [​IMG]

    We had an hour or so left to do some shopping. There are lots of interesting little shops to browse and the prices, while likely higher than elsewhere in China, were still very reasonable by the standard set at home.

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    I wanted a ceramic birdhouse and a large beautifully painted flask, but questioned how I would carry both of those around China for another two weeks, and so I left them both behind.

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    Interestingly, Tianzifang was the place where I saw someone (a child) peeing in the street for the first time.

    Our driver met us again promptly at 4:30 pm, and we set off for the Shanghai Main Railway station. It took about 40 minutes with traffic. Once there, he escorted us to the ticket window to help collect our tickets. However, he was more confused about the process than we were. DIYChina, our train ticket travel agent, had given us excellent instructions (including links to a few YouTube videos to watch) that spelled the process out. First our driver tried pointing us to a self service kiosk, not knowing that foreigners can't use them and must go to a ticket window. Then he led us to the ticket window around the back of the station, rather than the one that was closer. But eventually we got there, and had our tickets printed - not just for our trip to Beijing, but for all four legs of our rail journey. This is supposed to cost 5 yuan per ticket for the trips not originating from the station where you have them printed, but they did not charge us the extra fee.

    With tickets in hand, going through security to get into the station was very quick and easy, and we also quickly found our waiting room. We then had more than an hour to kill in a hot and stuffy standing room only environment (there are seats, but not nearly enough for the number of passengers being processed). We killed the time buying snacks to eat on the train, and using the bathroom, since we figured it would be a better, cleaner bathroom than the one on the train. The bathroom had one western toilet compared to about 19 squat toilets, no toilet tissue, and no soap to wash up. We were definitely outside of the Disney bubble now.

    Our train boarding began 20 minutes before departure. You can tell when you're boarding because your train number on the electronic board turns green - and also because there's a noticeable stampede toward the platform.

    Our compartment on the D class sleeper train was nice and new, small but comfortable, and with 4 berths in each compartment, we had one all to ourselves.

    [​IMG]

    The bathroom situation on the train was decent, with one western toilet per car, toilet paper included. We each had storage space and an electrical outlet in our berth. We ate our snacks, played several rounds of Heads Up, and did a bit of web browsing and reading before bed.

    [​IMG]

    The trip to Beijing would take about 11 hours.

    (We rented a mifi unit from 3G Solutions for our trip. It came with 10GB of data and a VPN for about $78 US for the 12 days of our trip on mainland China. It was occasionally spotty, but overall it worked well. We used hotel wifi when it was available to cut down on our mifi usage. At the end of our trip, we'd used just over 5 GB.)

    Next up: Beijing!
     
    Shock13, BecBennett and bkmanhole like this.
  17. BecBennett

    BecBennett Statistically, 6 out of 7 dwarves are not happy.

    Joined:
    Aug 21, 2007
    Messages:
    4,945
    Do they feed you on the train?
     
  18. CaptainCook

    CaptainCook Mouseketeer

    Joined:
    May 7, 2009
    Messages:
    375
    No, they don’t. There is a dining car on the overnight train with food you can purchase, and there’s a snack cart that makes the rounds on the shorter haul trains. The trains have hot water spouts on them - cup o’ noodles is very popular train fare. You can buy the noodles in the train stations, too.
     
  19. CaptainCook

    CaptainCook Mouseketeer

    Joined:
    May 7, 2009
    Messages:
    375
    Wednesday July 11 - Beijing

    I didn't sleep well on the train last night, and I am not sure why. It was quiet enough and comfortable enough. But I felt like I drank a big caffeinated drink before bed, and I was still wide awake at 2 am.

    We were all up for the day at 6 am. Everyone washed up as best they could on a train (there is a large sink area where everyone brushed teeth, combed hair etc. before disembarking). We packed up and got off the train on schedule at 7:07 am. We were due to meet a new Mr. Orange driver in Beijing, but nobody was there to meet us when we came into the arrival hall. We started to head out the west exit to look for him before having a change of heart and going back to the arrival hall again - and this time he was there waiting. We must have just missed him. After this false start, we quickly learned that our drivers would meet us inside inside the train stations, not outside.

    It was 7:30 am by the time we pulled away from the train station, and those precious minutes counted, because now we were in the thick of morning rush hour traffic. It took about two hours to get out of the city from the Beijing South railway station to the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall, and unfortunately, it rained the whole time, and only rained harder as time went on. When we got there, we were disappointed but not surprised to learn that the toboggan down from the wall was closed due to the rain. Womp womp - riding the toboggan was half the reason we had chosen to visit this section of wall. We purchased round-trip cable car tickets instead.

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    One benefit of the rain was that it likely kept the crowd levels low. We were able to catch a shuttle bus pretty quickly to the start of the cable car. We waited in line for a cable car for perhaps 15 minutes before getting one.

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    It's a quick 4 minute ride to the top, and then you walk a bit further to the start of the wall, and access the wall itself via a ladder-like set of steps.

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    Unfortunately, visibility at the top of the wall was close to zero. It continued to pour rain, and there was thick fog to boot. We turned left from the wall entry point and started to walk. The crowds thinned out pretty quickly, and eventually we got to sections of the wall that had few other people. But we still couldn't see much, and it was raining so hard that I wasn't even comfortable taking out my camera unless we were in the shelter of a watch tower. We tried very hard to enjoy ourselves and wait the rain out for a couple of hours, but overall it was a pretty disappointing experience, and around noon we threw in the towel and came back down.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    We stopped at a Subway at the base of the cable car to buy sandwiches for lunch, and then because there was no seating available there, we took the bus back to the visitor centre to find a place to sit and eat them. Mallory in the meantime picked up a souvenir magnet from one of the hawkers along the way.

    Our driver was waiting where we had left him, so we started the trip back into Beijing. Traffic was better in this direction, so it didn't take long to get to our neighbourhood. We we staying at the Hotel Palace in the hutong district, and it did take a while due to various street closures to get to the hotel.

    [​IMG]

    Our driver attempted to drop us right at the door, and manoeuvred his minivan into the narrow alley where the hotel is located, only to encounter a car approaching from the other direction. We wound up reversing back out, which was an amazing feat of driving! Finally we got to the hotel and checked in.

    [​IMG]

    I loved the hotel's location and the chance to see inside of an old hutong. The central courtyard area, now roofed in and serving as the hotel's common room, was beautiful. Our room was traditionally styled and was a bit rough around the edges (think of loose bathroom tiles being duct taped back into place), but it was clean and comfortable. We could see the Forbidden City nearby from the rooftop terrace.

    By now it was about 3 pm, and we had tickets to the Chaoyang Acrobat show at 5:30 pm. We inquired with the hotel staff member who spoke English as to how to get to the theatre. First he said they would call us a taxi for 4:15 pm, but at 4:15 pm when we asked for it, he said that it would be too difficult to get one due to the rainy day and rush hour combination, and that we should take the subway. This was a bit disconcerting, since we now felt like we were at risk of being late for the show. But as soon as we left the hutong and hit the main street in our neighbourhood, we were able to flag down a taxi on the street quite easily. His price of 100 yuan was definitely inflated, but it was still raining and now it was starting to feel like we were running late, so we sucked it up.

    We arrived at the theatre right at 5 pm when the box office opened. We had purchased the cheapest class of tickets available, but individual seats are not assigned until you pick them up from the box office. We wound up getting second row seats with nobody in the first row. (I'm not sure what made these 'cheap seats' unless it was the fact that we had to crane our necks back to watch the one performer who balanced on top of a stack of chairs. The seats were excellent though, and I would buy them again.)

    [​IMG]

    We purchased popcorn and a drink to enjoy with the show, and entered the theatre.

    [​IMG]

    There was a no photography rule, but the number of people with iPads and selfie sticks was nuts, so I didn't feel bad taking some photos of my own. I would certainly recommend no flash though. All of the performers were amazing, and I would highly recommend the show. The girls on the bikes were awesome.

    [​IMG]

    The show lasted about an hour, and when we came back outside again, it was (of course) raining heavily. We spent about half an hour in the rain trying to hail a taxi, to no avail. During that time about 30 taxis passed us, some with passengers and some without, but none would take us, and we couldn't figure out why. Finally, we decided to try to decipher the subway system, and in hindsight we should have done that from the get go. It was $2.40 for the 4 of us, quick and easy. The first train we got on was unbelievably crowded, but people just kept getting on - I suppose the motto in China is that there is always room for one more!

    [​IMG]

    We took the subway to Wangfujing, and went in search of the famous weird and wonderful snack street, stopping off at McDonald's first to get Mallory something familiar to eat and use the bathroom. (As of this point in the trip - still no need to use a squat toilet yet.) We wanted so much to enjoy the snack street, but the rain was coming down hard, and navigating around crowds of people all carrying umbrellas was making me claustrophobic.

    [​IMG]

    We picked a few things to try for our dinner - a shrimp and quail egg combo for the boys, some fried dumplings for me - but it was wearing on us and finally we decided to call it quits and head out.

    [​IMG]

    But Liam looked disappointed, and asked if we could try one last thing. He really wanted to try eating a scorpion while we had the chance.

    [​IMG]

    So we bought one skewer with 3 scorpions on it, and each had one (Mallory passed), likening them very much in taste and texture to the tip of a chicken wing.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    We washed those down with a fruit skewer full of grapes, and then walked back to our hotel, happy that we'd stuck around long enough to try something exotic.

    Arriving back at the hotel, we filled out cards indicating what time we'd like to have breakfast and what we'd like to eat (Chinese or Western option). Back in our room, we did some reading and went to sleep.
     
    Last edited: Jul 28, 2018
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  20. CaptainCook

    CaptainCook Mouseketeer

    Joined:
    May 7, 2009
    Messages:
    375
    Thursday, July 12 - Beijing

    We slept well at the hotel. We had a room right off the main dining room and lounge area, and had expected it to be noisy. Instead, we woke up wondering if we were the only guests in the hotel, a question that was reinforced when we were the only ones to show up for the 7:30 am breakfast seating. The meal was actually served closer to 8, and we had two Western breakfasts, one meat dumplings and one vegetable dumplings between the 4 of us, and shared them all. I only had the dumplings, and they were delicious.

    We packed up our bags and left them with the hotel while we went out for the day. Thankfully, it was overcast (or perhaps just smoggy) and dry outside. We began by taking the subway to Tiantandongmen, and purchased tickets to enter the Temple of Heaven park. There are two price points for tickets here, and you need the more expensive ticket to access some of the sites, including the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests.

    We started off by going to the area in the park where Beijingers congregate to exercise.

    [​IMG]

    We thought we might be on the late side for this, arriving around 9:30 am, but there were plenty of people there. We started out by watching a group of men playing something like hackey sack with an oversized shuttlecock, and it took no time at all for them to invite us to join them.

    [​IMG]

    That went on for quite a while and was good fun. Eventually they did of course try to sell us a shuttlecock of our own, and for 10 yuan/$2 CDN we did buy it.

    [​IMG]

    (This guy insisted I take his picture with Liam!)

    From there, we moved on to a guy who invited us to play something like badminton, but with paddles instead of racquets. He was impressed by Liam's skill (he plays on the school badminton team) and kept saying "Wonderful! Wonderful!" We also bought a badminton set from him for 30 yuan/$6 CDN.

    All around us, there was exercise equipment, and people doing chin ups and pull ups and swinging around on monkey bars and stretching. Most of them were elderly, and they looked like a very fit bunch. They were playing traditional music on portable radios, a group of women were chanting and playing a clapping game, a couple were doing tai chi, and overall it looked like a very fun and relaxing way to spend their day.

    [​IMG]

    We moved on through the park, through the Long Corridor, which was beautiful, and on to the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests. This was pretty spectacular to see in person, and definitely checked an item off the bucket list. We exited from a different direction than where we came in from, and wandered through a bit more of the park and the gift shop before deciding to head out.

    [​IMG]

    We took the subway back to our home station, Tiananmen East, and headed to the Forbidden City. It was around noon when we arrived. The kiosk for foreigners to buy tickets is surprisingly far inside the complex; we were sure we'd missed it. Finally we purchased our tickets, and headed into the 'real' Forbidden City.

    [​IMG]

    (The kids getting asked to pose for pictures again!)

    It too was pretty spectacular, though we were content to wander through the complex without going into all of the buildings themselves. It wasn't unbearably crowded, but it certainly was busy.

    [​IMG]

    We came out the north end of the Forbidden City, and crossed the road to enter Jingshan Park. This only cost 2 yuan/40 cents per person to climb up the hill to the pavilion at the top that offers a spectacular view out over the golden rooftops of the Forbidden City and reminds you of how large the complex really is. The climb looks imposing, but is not too bad. It took us around 15 minutes, and the staircase goes through a cool and shaded bamboo forest.

    [​IMG]

    Done now with the Forbidden City, we headed back to our hotel, which was only a short walk away. We took a brief break there before heading across the street to Siji Minfu, also known as "Mass Foodie's Roast Duck" on the big red neon sign.

    [​IMG]

    We had scoped this out as one of the city's popular spots for an excellent Peking duck dinner; outside the restaurant they have posted a number of awards that they have won. We arrived after 2 pm, hoping that a mid-afternoon meal would mean good seating availability, and were shocked to be told there was a 2 hour wait. We put our names in, but were a bit dejected as we headed back across the street to the hotel. We had Mr. Orange picking us up at 5 pm to head to the train station, and we were not at all sure that we'd have time to eat before leaving.

    Back at the hotel, Chad used a translation app to let a member of the hotel staff know about our conundrum, and asked for a recommendation for another nearby Peking duck restaurant. The staff member did not speak English, but seemed to indicate that he could help us, and indicated to follow him. We went back across the street to the restaurant, past the hordes of people waiting out front, through the dining room, up the stairs to another dining room, and directly to a table! He spoke a few words to a waitress and left us to enjoy our meal.

    [​IMG]

    We ordered a full duck and (after much confusion) the condiments and pancakes to accompany it; it wasn't clear to us whether these would be included or not. We also ordered some drinks and a bowl of plain rice for Mallory, who is a picky eater. The waitress brought out a huge bowl of grapes on ice as a starter. We were not expecting that, but they were nice, especially since we hadn't ordered any sides with our meal, not knowing exactly how much food it would entail. After the grapes, the duck came out, and was presented to us at the table before it was taken to a nearby counter for carving.

    [​IMG]

    (Initially I felt a bit silly about wanting to watch the carving, but other tables filled with locals were doing the same.) It came back to our table in a beautiful presentation with the condiments and pancakes on the side (good thing we had ordered these).

    [​IMG]

    The duck was delicious, and even Mallory had some and liked it. This meal was a fabulous experience and well worth the cost at 300 yuan/$60 CDN including our drinks.

    [​IMG]

    By now it was about 4:30 pm, and it was time to go back to the hotel to collect our bags and catch our ride to the train station for our 6:50 pm train. Our driver came a few minutes early and we set off for the Beijing West train station. Because we had already printed all of our tickets, it was quick and easy to enter the station through security, and locate our waiting room on the second floor. We picked up a few snacks for the trip from the shops in the train station, and boarded the train. This was a T class train, and not nearly as nice as the first overnight train we rode. We still had soft sleeper tickets, but the train was much older. There were no electrical outlets at each berth, just one out in the hall for the whole car to share. There was a lot of noise from the train itself, and a whole lot of smoking happening, despite the no smoking signs. I also witnessed an argument that stopped just short of a brawl between a passenger and an attendant who was managing the snack cart. It looked like it might be a long night.
     
    Last edited: Aug 12, 2018
  21. BecBennett

    BecBennett Statistically, 6 out of 7 dwarves are not happy.

    Joined:
    Aug 21, 2007
    Messages:
    4,945
    I love pekin duck was it enough for a proper meal?
     

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