By Beth Deitchman
Can you remember the first time that you walked into a Disney park? That feeling of wonder and amazement is universal, but it’s even more magical when you’re walking into a brand-new Disney park. Shanghai Disneyland marks Disney’s first theme park in mainland China and brings the pixie dust and magic to within driving or transport distance to more than 300 million people—many of whom have never before experienced a Disney park or resort. On the eve of Shanghai Disney Resort’s opening, D23 spoke to Walt Disney Parks and Resorts Chairman Bob Chapek about the Shanghai guest experience. “We have pictures of the very first child that walked into the park on the very first day of trial operations, and she looked like she was 2 or 3 years old,” Chapek told us. “And she’s pointing up to the castle with her mouth open—agape—and just marveling at what she was about to experience.”
We’ve been marveling at Shanghai Disneyland throughout the opening celebration, and we caught up with some fellow Disney fans who were among the first to experience the park on opening day, June 16, 2016, and who had come from near and far for this momentous occasion.
D23 Charter Member Brian Wirtz has made it his “mission” to witness all of the major Disney park milestones, so he and his wife couldn’t miss the opening of Shanghai Disneyland. He was in attendance for Disneyland’s 50th anniversary and Hong Kong Disneyland’s grand opening, to name just a few, and he remarked, “I think the scale of crowd and the enthusiasm are at a whole other level here.” We talked with him near the “gorgeous” Enchanted Storybook Castle, where he stressed, “Mickey Avenue is beautiful and unique.”
United Kingdom native Jamie Darani has also been to multiple Disney parks around the world—he’s a self-described “massive Disney theme park fan.” Darani was wowed by all of the detail, as well as the resort’s wonderful cast members. “The cast members are so friendly and excited,” he said. “I don’t think I’ve met a single cast member who hasn’t been buzzing with excitement.”
This was, of course, D23 Member Lei Yu’s first visit to Shanghai Disney Resort, but he promised us it wouldn’t be his last. He’s such a Disney fan that he’d even brought his D23 Membership Certificate with him to the park opening. “The combination of Chinese culture is great,” he observed. And after riding Soaring Over the Horizon, he had a new favorite attraction. “The high definition and the sky—it’s awesome,” he said. Yu is also already a devoted fan of Pirates of the Caribbean: Battle for the Sunken Treasure. “I felt like I was really in the Caribbean and really in the battle!”
Yu’s friend Harry Han thinks that Disney fans in China will love details like the Silly Symphony references on Mickey Avenue. “The first moment when I walked in here, I saw Mickey Avenue and all its detail. For us, that’s very cool. And the colors of Mickey Avenue are so beautiful.”
The little details also appealed to Annie Cheng, who describes the park as her “dream place.” “They have many merchandise just designed for China—or inspired by China—like Mickey and Minnie in very traditional Chinese costumes,” she says. From the tops of buildings, to the gardens, to the fountains, Cheng appreciated the care that was taken.
Some veteran Disney park fans pointed out subtle differences in translating iconic favorites to the brand-new resort. “I’ve tried the Chinese version of the turkey legs,” Charlie Wang told us. “It tastes a bit different from the one in the States but it’s great—I really like it.”
Song Li liked the American-influenced barbecue he’d enjoyed at Barbossa’s Bounty, in Treasure Cove, where he’d also had a memorable experience riding Pirates of the Caribbean: Battle of the Sunken Treasure for the first time. He said, “Pirates of the Caribbean is an original Disney attraction, and I can still feel Walt Disney there and feel his power and his vision there.” And though he was thousands of miles away from where it all started (with a mouse), the Disney magic and legacy are just as strong.