As Shanghai Disneyland prepares for it's grand opening, two other areas within the Shanghai Disney Resort are now open to the public: Disneytown and Wishing Star Park. As you may have guessed, the former can be likened to Downtown Disney or Disney Springs stateside while the latter takes guests on a long, beautiful stroll with views of castles and cliffs in the distance. Yesterday I had the chance to explore them both, giving them the attention they deserve before being overshadowed by the festivities of today.

My journey actually begin on the Shanghai Metro where four trains and a dozen or so stops got us from our hotel to the Disney Resort station. This aptly named stop is actually the end of Line 11 and empties almost directly into Disneytown and the entrances to Wishing Star Park and Shanghai Disneyland. As you pull into the station, a helpful message suggests that guests purchase return tickets in advance, presumably due to the influx of passengers that will be trying to head home at the end of each night.

Our first destination after arriving in Disneytown (well, following a session of looking longingly at the park entrance and admiring the castle) was the World of Disney. Like in the states, this is a souvenir hub and is also attached to the more specialized retailers D-Street and Trend-D. Luckily for us, grand opening merchandise was already on sale and so we got some of our shopping out of the way, picking up key-chains, shirts, and bags that celebrated the occasion. We also picked up a "Magic Passport" which will apparently entitle us to some prize if we collect all of the required stamps during our park adventures.

After leaving World of Disney about 700 yuan (around $110) lighter, it was time to head onward to another resort mainstay: Lego. As anyone who's ever tried to walk by the Lego stores in Walt Disney World or Disneyland knows, there are always plenty of photogenic characters made out of Lego bricks that can be spotted both inside and out of the store. This location was no exception, featuring multiple Marvel heroes as well as characters from Mulan, Aladdin, Up, and other classics. While I didn't look too carefully at the merchandise, what I did see were sets that were available back home and so there was no need to open my wallet. Meanwhile nearby Hot Toys was temptation overload, offering high-end figures and replicas from Marvel, Star Wars, Pixar and others.

Disneytown is home to several shops and restaurants ranging from one-offs to chains and dining from both the east to west. While it was somewhat tempting to eat somewhere familiar like the Cheesecake Factory, we ended up having lunch at a Xin Wang instead and I'm so glad we did. I absolutely loved each dish we got (spicy fried rice, roasted mixed vegetables with garlic, and bbq pork) and our bill was still only about $25! Plenty of the other dining locations looked great too but I fell head over heels for this place.

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If you're looking to walk off lunch, then a loop around Wishing Star Park will certainly do the trick. There are two entrances/exits to the park which will take you past the Shanghai Disneyland Hotel and around Wishing Star Lake. As I mentioned earlier, it is a long but very pretty walk that's worth doing if you have the time and energy. While not everything was quite open yet (namely a playground area), there will be convenience stores and plenty of restroom stops along the way. Plus, if you're looking to cut your journey in half, there's a ferry service you can take straight over to the Disneyland Hotel.

Overall, I was a little surprised at how small Disneytown was. That being said, it was packed with a plenty of great shops, delicious restaurants, and tons of nice people — my wife even got stopped twice by people asking for photos with her. Alas, it was also a tease getting to barely peek into the park while seeing the towering Storybook Castle from several angles. Also, contrary to reports of bad behavior early on, I didn't observe any issues on my visit and it was actually not as busy as I had anticipated.

Now, it's on to the main event — stay tuned for more coverage from the grand opening of Shanghai Disneyland!