There are twelve Disney parks worldwide; six of those are Castle Parks. Sleeping Beauty Castle
at Disneyland Park led the way, followed by Cinderella representing Walt Disney World and
Hong Kong’s Disneyland’s original castle (opened in 2005) was transformed into Castle of
Magical Dreams in 2020 to represent all of Disney’s princesses and queens. Enchanted
Storybook Castle at Shanghai Disney Resort is the latest (and the greatest in terms of sheer size and scale).
I’m a lifelong lover of all things Disneyland, an avowed Disney geek, and now, a Disney author of 100 Disney Adventures of a Lifetime and Eat Like Walt, and Walt’s Disneyland. In this six-part series, I’ll highlight some of my favorite adventures and magical experiences around the Disney world. Let’s go castle hopping together! Together, we’ll visit each park after their recent anniversary; in just the way that Castle-hopping is one of the adventures I highlight in my book, I invite you to virtually visit each park with me!
Enchanted Storybook Castle at Shanghai Disneyland is the tallest, largest, and most complex Disney castle ever built. Four mosaic murals showcase Disney princesses in all four seasons, featuring Rapunzel, Tiana, Merida, Elsa, and Anna. Meanwhile, Snow White gets her tribute with Once Upon a Time, an interactive walk-through attraction. The adventure takes you through the Magic Mirror portal and into an enchanted dimension where forests grow, creatures talk, and fairy tales come true. Guests can also travel through the castle’s caverns aboard boats in Voyage to the Crystal Grotto, an attraction akin to the Jungle Cruise and Storybook Land Canal Boats. However instead of the Disney fairytale miniatures that besotted Walt, the Crystal Grotto features life size characters from Disney animated movies. (Fun Fact: Walt’s personal collection of miniatures, including some he built himself, can be seen at the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco, California.)
Shanghai Disneyland is the only park where the main thoroughfare that doesn’t resemble the classic Main Street (Tokyo’s World Bazaar strikes a similar chord despite the different name and look). Instead, guests enter from Mickey Avenue, also the hometown of Mickey and his pals. The nostalgia vibes we crave after passing the turnstiles are there, along with vibrant and colorful neighborhoods commemorating the optimism of Disney. Animation fans will be entertained by plenty of historical references.
The Gardens of Imagination—created specifically for Shanghai Disneyland and the first land in any Disney park designed as a botanical oasis—introduces a new location to meet Mickey Mouse. The queue features a colorful gallery of portraits depicting Mickey’s impressive career. At the end, you’ll find Mickey waiting inside a diorama with Enchanted Storybook Castle in the background.
While Walt was developing Pirates of the Caribbean at Disneyland in California, he told his Imagineers to think bigger than the Audio-Animatronics they had successfully built for the Carousel of Progress and Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln at the 1964–1965 New York World’s Fair: “That’s fine for Mach 1. But I’m thinking Mach 3,” he said. Being the last fully realized attraction Walt worked on, Pirates of the Caribbean remains a sentimental favorite. At Shanghai Disneyland, Imagineers honor the original attraction while catapulting it to Mach 10! Pirates of the Caribbean: Battle for the Sunken Treasure is like nothing else at any Disney park in the world. With cutting-edge Audio-Animatronics figures, state-of-the-art media, and a unique ride system, this may be the ultimate swashbuckling experience—and as close to being inside the iconic film franchise anyone can get. And just like its predecessor, there is a Blue Bayou inspired restaurant situated on the water. With a dramatic show kitchen, Barbossa’s Bounty specializes in grilled and barbecued fare such as Captain Jack's Chicken, The Dutchman's Grilled Squid, and Caribbean Grilled Portobello.
The Garden of the Twelve Friends is a peaceful stroll off the beaten path. More than a garden, the whimsical walkway has a unique take on the Chinese zodiac, or shengxiao. Disney and Disney·Pixar personalities represent each symbolic animal: Remy (rat), Babe (ox), Tigger (tiger), Mushu (dragon), Kaa (snake), Maximus (horse), the Jolly Holiday Lambs (sheep), Abu (monkey), Alan-a-Dale (rooster), Pluto (dog), and Hamm (pig). Bambi’s bestie, Thumper, was recently retired to make room for the new rabbit in town, Judy Hopps. The Garden of the Twelve Friends transforms into the New Year’s Wishing Garden during the Lunar New Year celebration. Guests write their wishes for the upcoming year on special cards, which they can hang throughout the garden to usher in a year of good luck.
Eight is a lucky number in China and the eighth themed land at Shanghai Disneyland is coming soon! Fans of Judy Hopps, Nick Wilde, and Flash—the Department of Mammal Vehicles (DMV) worker in super-duper slow motion—will take a trip to Tundratown. Here, guests will be fellow Zootopia citizens in the fully immersive land based on the 2016 Academy-Award winning animated movie (which is wildly popular in China). Be on the lookout for its debut.
In the splurge category, Adventures by Disney (ABD) offers a one-of-a-kind vacation in China. The twelve-day adventure spans six cities and includes excursions to iconic monuments such as the Great Wall and other UNESCO Cultural World Heritage sites including the Terracotta Warriors and Horses. Learn how scientists are devoted to the preservation of endangered pandas at China’s premier institution—the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, and enjoy a modern version of a classic Chinese acrobatic performance. ABD travelers will also have insider-led visits to Shanghai Disneyland and Hong Kong Disneyland. Thousands of years of history plus countless hours of the fun Disney does best.