Making Shanghai Disney Less Overwhelming

Making Shanghai Disney Less Overwhelming
Making Shanghai Disney Less Overwhelming
Enchanted Storybook Castle is the largest of all Disney castles–emblematic of how big–and overwhelming–the rest of the park is. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

Last week, I showcased 5 things that made Shanghai Disney an amazing park. With that list, I identified ways those visiting can really enjoy the park. For Disney fans, it is an experience worth having on your bucket list. That said, the park is huge. It is difficult to traverse. It is very hot and humid. Moreover, it’s often extremely crowded. Today I suggest 5 opportunities that could make Shanghai Disney easier for guests to experience. In doing so, I’m putting on my Imagineering/Operations hat and suggesting ideas that would really support the experience at Shanghai Disney. Some are big, expensive ideas, but some are very simple solutions that would support a greater guest experience. I’ll start with the low/no cost opportunities and then move to the bigger ticket items. It’s my list for making Shanghai Disney less overwhelming.

1. Direct Them to the Cool Zone

While the park is very big with so many facilities, it’s not very apparent where you go when you want to cool off. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the center of the park at the Enchanted Storybook Castle. Here in the exterior corridors, you find guests squatting in the shade trying to take a break from the heat. When this first started happening, operations placed benches to create a more suitable experience. Now they not only sit on the benches, but they are squatting in front of them as well. The result is that the area is very congested, and not conducive to having built the biggest, most expensive, most beautiful castle ever.

It's hard to appreciate the beautiful mosaics when everyone's laying around the castle corridor. Photo by J. Jeff Kober
It’s hard to appreciate the beautiful mosaics when everyone’s laying around the castle corridor. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

Meanwhile only a few feet away–and in the same hourI took the above shot–I find this scene during the lunch hour:

Making Shanghai Disney Less Overwhelming
Three major indoor dining rooms, and plenty of air conditioning. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

It’s Pinocchio’s Village Kitchen, adjacent to the castle. It is enormous inside, with several major rooms inside–all air conditioned. And most of them were sitting empty during the lunch hour. If only everyone knew that relief was just a few feet away.

We found the same thing later on at Marvel Universe and Star Wars Launch Bay. You could barely walk through with so many people who had just sat down on the ground.

Making Shanghai Disney Less Overwhelming
Even a superhero has difficult getting through these crowds. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

A few years ago when temperatures got really hot, and crowds were really dense, Magic Kingdom created what was known as Cool Zones. Simply put, they handed out small cards to guests that directed them to attractions where there was ample air conditioning like The Hall of Presidents and Carousel of Progress. I think something similar needs to be promoted in the park guides and app here. Whether it’s seeing Frozen, visiting Stitch Encounter, or watching cartoons at the Walt Disney Grand Theater–home of The Lion King at night–would provide relief from the heat. If nothing else, a sign or two re-directing them to quieter food and beverage venues like Pinocchio’s or Tribal Table. Guests need to know there are options–especially in the heat of the day.

2. Add More Evening Hours

The park is much cooler in the evening. Why not find a way to allow resort guests to stay after hours? It might entice them to go back to their hotels mid afternoon when the heat is intense and the crowds worse. It’s done so often at Walt Disney World and elsewhere. It’s an easy, cooler solution to reducing the biggest problems in the park–and it might help justify higher room rates.

Making Shanghai Disney Less Overwhelming
A beautiful time of day to enjoy the park–only it’s closed. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

4. Re-Direct to Disney Town

My first day, I arrived at the resort around evening and ventured over to have dinner at Cheesecake Factory–located not far from the exit where guests come through directly from the park into Disney Town. I was lucky that my table could take in some of the fireworks. I thought that one of the brilliant ideas by Imagineers was to build Disney Town on the guests’ right-hand side as an entertainment/shopping/dining option when they exited the park. To my surprise, however, few were in Disney Town after the park closed. It wasn’t until I walked back out that I saw that guests were largely exiting the same way they entered the park–through Mickey Avenue.

Making Shanghai Disney Less Overwhelming
Disney Town from within the park entrance at night. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

The next day, we started heading down the path to Disney Town having made a turn out of Tomorrowland. Taking a few steps down the lane, we found other guests heading toward us, claiming that the exit to Disney Town was closed. I was surprised, and walked further down the lane. It wasn’t closed–it just looked that way. The whole design gives the impression that it’s closed.

Making Shanghai Disney Less Overwhelming
Disney Town late afternoon at the main entrance. It was difficult to ever see much traffic going through. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

With crowds being as crazy as they are, I think that Disney Town is tremendously underutilized. If I were an operating partner vendor, I would be frustrated about the design of that path leading out of the center of the park. It reminded me of how both Mondavi Wines and Wolfgang Puck (who is also at Disney Town) were given bigger attendance expectations when California Adventure first opened. Both eventually pulled out not long after that park opened. There’s enough people crowding that park that those venues need to be better promoted. Certainly the path/entrance needs modification.

4. Insert a Mermaid

What do mermaids have to do with making Shanghai Disney less overwhelming? At the corner of Fantasyland and Treasure Cove lies a green pasture. Across from it is a gift kiosk:

Making Shanghai Disney Less Overwhelming
Scuttles Shiny Things. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

It would seem that the expectation here would be to put in a Little Mermaid attraction. The space is about right for that venue. And I think that attraction is really needed sooner, as the amount of traffic on the right side of the castle moving into Fantasyland far exceeds traffic on the other end. That omnimover attraction would do much to move a lot of people through an experience, hopefully diminishing some of the crowding that is happening in that section of the park.

Making Shanghai Disney Less Overwhelming
Restrooms and props, intended for an eventual Toy Story Land. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

But that’s probably not what’s planned for next. More likely are designs to build a Toy Story land between Fantasyland and Tomorrowland. If it ends up similar to the versions in Hong Kong or Paris, that will probably mean a handful of carnival style attractions in an outdoor venue. Those attractions draw people into the area. But those same attractions don’t have a very high throughput. Thus, guests are standing in the sun in a slow wait to board those attractions. If you’re going to do dolled-up carnival rides, then do an attraction a la Mermaid Lagoon at Disney Sea. You need more places to go inside and cool off.

5. Just Add Transit

One of the biggest mistakes I feel was made in the park was to not put in a train. It’s startling to come to this very cool train station at the entrance to the park, and not see any train. On the surface I understand why–trains are common in China. A bulk of the visitors came by train. Why would an old-fashioned locomotive be of interest?

Making Shanghai Disney Less Overwhelming
The beautiful, but inaccessible train station. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

The fact of the matter is, transit-style attractions not only offer a ride experience, but a break from the park because you get to sit and enjoy, all the while helping you to get from one end of the park to another. There are two possible attractions that would do this:

First, add a train. The biggest problem here is that the train station dead ends into the theater next door, keeping you from making the track circular. No problem. One could do a dual track type experience similar to Tokyo Disney Sea. One end of the track would be the train station. Another end could be near Soarin’ or better yet, in Fantasyland. What a treat it would be to have an attraction that would bring you from back end of the park to the front end? It is such a big park. And what if you added a visit to the prehistoric world of dinosaurs like at Disneyland around the back side of Adventure Isle?

Second, the lagoon at Adventure Isle needs a ship–one that actually sails! It doesn’t have to be quite as big as the Columbia at Disneyland, but it could make a trip around that island. Of course, there needs to be a few more things to see on said island. But it would create another option that people can visit and enjoy. This may not be a transit style attraction, but it would offer another option for an area that is very crowded during the day.

Making Shanghai Disney Less Overwhelming
Why not a ship that sails? Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

Addressing Shanghai Disney’s Problems

Shanghai Disney is really amazing. But with the heat, humidity and crowds, there are solutions for making Shanghai Disney less overwhelming. Some of my suggestions are quick turn around ideas. Some require investment. The important thing is finding ways to make the park less overwhelming for those who attend.

J. Jeff Kober

9 thoughts on “Making Shanghai Disney Less Overwhelming

  1. ,”most beautiful castle ever” -excuse me? That ugly, boxy thing is a joke compared to Disneyland Paris´ marvelous castle. I have talked to may people who actually think it is the worst castle Disney has ever designed – no grace, no style – it´s just big and in your face – as is the entire Shanghai park, imho.

    1. I do love the Paris castle as well. It’s a great castle. And I can see that the exterior color for Enchanted Storybook seems a bit odd. But with the smog, I think that bolder shade works better in its favor. Moreover, I think when you have experienced the castle in its entirety, one would have to say this is the most beautiful–particularly when seen on the inside. The view up the center atrium is beautiful. The murals are very cool. Accents and details leading to and through “Once Upon a Time” are very interesting. And Royal Banquet Hall may just be one of the most elegant Disney restaurants you can ever hope to visit in a Disney restaurant–including Club 33. Add to the fact that it serves as a great backdrop for shows and fireworks, plus a passageway underneath for The Crystal Grotto. So yes, I think it’s perhaps the most beautiful–and even most amazing castle ever.

  2. On the surface I understand why–trains are common in Japan – what does the fact that trains are common in *Japan* have to do with Shanghai?

  3. Just so there is no misunderstanding – great article! I just realised my comments sound a bit harsh, which wasn´t my intention. I still think the castle is pretty ugly, but things like that are highly subjective, of course, and I did not want to criticise your article or point of view.

  4. I find the building program and the scale of the Shanghai Castle to be fantastic, and from pictures that “lobby”/atrium looks spectacular. On the negative side having so much in there has made it harder for the castle to successfully use forced perspective, as such the detailing and massing are “busy”. I think “ugly” is too harsh, I’d say it is “inelegant”. My personal favorite castle from a detail point of view is the original, from a scale point of view it’s Cinderella…especially how at WDW it looms over Seven Seas Lagoon. Paris is in a category all by itself…I love the way the landscape reaches up and forms the castle, and the composition is marvelous, but in places it looks too much like a “miniature”, and that even allowing for forced perspective some of the towers “look” too small to be habitable…but those are minor quibbles, overall it is a beautiful castle.

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