If you’re having a hard time deciding how to spend your five weeks of vacation this year, Kay Sinon has a great idea for you.
An 11-year Arrowhead veteran and Workers’ Compensation Program underwriting analyst in our downtown San Diego office, Kay and her boyfriend embarked on a whirlwind, worldwide Disney tour last year, visiting the parks in Shanghai, Hong Kong, Tokyo and Paris during three weeks in November, in addition to visiting Disneyland® and Disney World® in previous years.
Kay says the trip is for the young-at-heart, but not for the faint-at-heart. “It was exhausting – but incredible,” she said, “a sensory overload.”
She first visited Disneyland® when she moved from the Philippines to San Diego in 2005. Shortly thereafter she became a passholder. “That’s when I learned there were other parks. I first visited Disney World® in 2008 and began dreaming of visiting the others. We started planning our overseas trip in 2011. It’s not a cheap tour!”
First stop: Shanghai Disney Resort
“Shanghai has the biggest Disneyland® – Magic Kingdom – and the largest castle,” Kay said. “The park is huge, very spread out – and we did a lot of walking during our two days at the park.
“Theme parks are new to Chinese culture,” she explained. “They’re not familiar with theme park etiquette, especially to no cutting in lines.”
When asked about the food, she said they had everything, from Chinese to Italian and American. “There were plenty of what they called ‘Western’ choices: burgers, pizza, pasta – even a Cheesecake Factory and Wolfgang Puck!”
Her favorite rides? “Pirates of the Caribbean – This is NOT your ordinary Pirate of the Caribbean ride. Here your boat goes fast, slow, spins around, goes backwards and sideways, in addition to the unbelievable special effects. (Ride along here.) And Tron Lightcycle Power Run was amazing! You’re on a rollercoaster, but your seat is actually a motorcycle. Riding it at night, with all the lights was very futuristic.” (Experience the ride here.)
Kay said they were a little nervous at starting their trip in Shanghai, mainly due to the language barrier. But a Chinese-speaking friend from Resource Pro helped her out with basic sentences she’d need to translate. “Thanks to Shirley Jiang, we made it to our hotel without a hitch,” Kay recalled.
Second stop: Hong Kong Disneyland Resort
“The park wasn’t as big as Shanghai’s, but more of the size of our Disneyland. It was very hot and humid; think Florida during the summer, times three,” she explained.
“One thing I found interesting is that they didn’t have a Haunted Mansion ride; instead it’s called Mystic Manor, due to their cultural beliefs in the dead and afterlife. I actually liked it better. Instead of ghosts, the backstory is that the owner of the manor is a collector of ancient artifacts, a la Indiana Jones. It’s a trackless ride, so you’re not really sure exactly where you’re going next; the animatronics, lights and special effects were stunning.” (Enjoy the ride here.)
“Luckily, Hong Kong is very English-friendly. Signs are easy to read, both in English and French. We ventured out into the city, riding the subway downtown. Their train system is unbelievably good.”
Third stop: Tokyo Disney Resort
The park was “surprisingly humongous, but very crowded,” Kay said. It’s divided into two parks: Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea. “These were the two most elaborate parks and absolutely the cleanest – I could’ve eaten off the ground! No trash, no dried gum stuck on the sidewalks. I was mesmerized by all the intricate detail. This place was sensory overload. I’d glance at something, then examine it more closely, and before I knew it 10 minutes had passed!
Tokyo Disneyland is comparable to Disney World’s Magic Kingdom,” Kay explained. “Walking into Tokyo DisneySea, you’re immediately greeted by a huge volcano that erupts sporadically throughout the day. Inside was a ride: Journey to the Center of the Earth. It was my favorite: again, the lights, the ‘creatures’, the whole experience was phenomenal.
“And the food: An incredible array of food – all so intricate that you almost didn’t want to eat it. You could tell they spent a lot of time not just preparing the food but in the presentation. They had a crazy amount of popcorn flavors: coffee, curry, soy sauce & butter, black pepper, watermelon and green tea.
We’ll always have (Disneyland®) Paris
“We found a great deal on Kayak,” Kay recalled, “but we had to fly home. So we were home for eight hours – long enough to unpack, repack, shower, nap and then head out again for Europe.
Disneyland® Paris is quite small; it took Kay and her boyfriend six hours to see everything, mainly because the park wasn’t crowded. The park has two sections: Disneyland (comparable to Magic Kingdom) and Disney Studio Park. They ate at Bistro Chez Remy, home to Ratatouille. Kay’s favorite was the castle (“It’s got an animatronic dragon”) and Crush Coaster, an indoor roller coaster with characters from “Finding Nemo.”
“This was a very expensive trip – in fact, we spent almost as much in Paris as we did at all three Asian Disney parks combined," she said.
Would you do it again?
“Absolutely, in a heartbeat,” Kay said. Just let my bank account recover first! If I could only revisit one, it would be Shanghai. There was just so much to see and do – more shows and restaurants that I’d like to visit.”
What advice do you have for others wanting to make the trip?
“Don’t do it all in one trip - you’ll be exhausted, and I got sick,” Kay replied immediately, then she added these valuable tips, such as:
- Look for deals on Kayak, Groupon, etc. Book hotels with free breakfasts.
- Book your flights to arrive mid-to-late afternoon, to help with jet lag. Be sure to book transportation from the airport to your hotel.
- Do your research beforehand. YouTube was particularly helpful.
- The only visa you’ll need is for Shanghai. But as of last year, it’s a free visa IF you stay just in Shanghai, and for six days or less.
- Build rest time into your travel schedule: make your arrival day a day to rest and get acclimated, then hit it hard and early the next day at the park.
- Don’t be timid about venturing out into the cities (other than Shanghai, due to the visa needed).
- Rent a portable Wi-Fi device. You may need to reserve ahead of time or have the device mailed to your home before you leave.
- Before you go to China, you will need to download a VPN (Virtual Private Network) on your cellphone/laptop to have access to Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Yahoo, Google and other American websites.
- Be aware that in different countries they have different power plug prongs. However, if you are staying in Disney property your hotel will have American plugs. Just purchase a set of adapters from Amazon to be safe. In addition, bring an extension cord so that you can charge multiple devices at once.
- Purchase paper currency from your bank. This is very handy, because train stations only take cash. It eliminates circling around the area, looking for ATMs!
- You do not have to stay with Disney Hotels, because they’re frankly more expensive. There are neighboring hotels that are considerably cheaper and offer the same type of services.
- Learning few phrases in the native language doesn’t hurt. Memorizing how to say hello and thank you is a good starting point.
“While we were in Paris, I remembered a quote by Walt Disney - If you can dream it, you can do it,” she recalled. We actually did it – and you can, too!”