This post offers a head to head comparison between Shanghai Disneyland and Hong Kong Disneyland, weighing the pros and cons of each, so you can determine which park to prioritize if you’re thinking about heading to Asia. Some readers of our Hong Kong Disneyland Planning Guide and Shanghai Disneyland Planning Guide have started to ask questions along these lines, so we figured we’d answer.
You might be thinking, “what about Tokyo Disney Resort?” Well, we’re operating under the assumption that Tokyo Disney Resort is the reason you’re going to Asia in the first place. Our working theory–and the motivation behind this post–is that it might make sense to do a stopover at either Shanghai Disneyland or Hong Kong Disneyland.
However, we assume most people are not going to do both on your way to Japan. Once you factor in non-Disney points of interest (which we highly recommend–Japan is a gorgeous country and there’s also a lot to see and do in the cities of Shanghai and Hong Kong), it becomes a long trip if you do it all on a single trip. With that caveat, if you want to do all 3 in one fell swoop, we cover the logistical side of that in our 3 Disney Destinations on 1 Airfare post.
With that said, if for whatever reason our past blog posts have not already sold you on Tokyo Disney Resort, it is head and shoulders above both Shanghai Disneyland and Hong Kong Disneyland. Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea are like A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back to HKDL & SDL’s Rogue One and The Force Awakens.
That’s not to say the latter options are not good, but they just are not that good. (For those who aren’t Star Wars fans, the Tokyo parks are the Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King to the HKDL/SDL’s Hercules and Tarzan.) Anyway, on with the comparison…
Originality: Shanghai Disneyland – For better and for worse, Shanghai Disneyland is Disney’s most original castle park since Disneyland. While it’s possible to question whether this much tinkering with the tried and true formula was necessary, one big upside to choosing Shanghai Disneyland is that you’re getting a park that is almost entirely original. If you’re flying halfway around the globe to experience a park, this is a definite plus.
By contrast, Hong Kong Disneyland was built at a time in Disney’s history when the company was playing it very conservatively, and much of the original build was lifted directly from Disneyland in Anaheim. This is interesting on its own, and gives the park a sort of bizarro-Disneyland feel, but puts it low on the originality scale. Most additions that have been added during HKDL’s first decade have been original, so at least there’s that, but it doesn’t even come close to matching Shanghai’s high level of originality.
Flagship Attractions: Hong Kong Disneyland – This is a battle of Mystic Manor & Big Grizzly Mountain Runaway Mine Cars v. Pirates of the Caribbean: Battle for the Sunken Treasure & TRON Lightcycle Power Run. Of these, Mystic Manor and Pirates are the true headliners, and it’s almost impossible to choose a winner between the two. Both new classics, and showcase the pinnacle of Imagineering. They’re also sufficiently different from one another that it’s difficult to call one objectively “better” than the other. These are both top 5 attractions worldwide, and potentially vie for #1.
Instead, I’ll let the comparison between the #2 attractions in each park break the tie, and this one is a much easier pick for me. For all of the hype the TRON coaster has received from fans, it’s not as good as Big Grizzly. Unlike TRON, Big Grizzly is flawless, and iterates on several Disney coasters that came before it to create something special. (Sorry not sorry, TRON fans.)
Supporting Attractions: Shanghai Disneyland – Once you expand the attraction lineup beyond the top two, there’s no contest. Hong Kong Disneyland’s lineup is clone-heavy outside of the top 2. While you will enjoy plenty of these options, they don’t bring much new to the table that you won’t have experienced in the U.S. parks.
That’s not the case at Shanghai Disneyland. It offers the Camp Discovery Challenge Trails, Roaring Rapids, Jet Packs, Eye of the Storm: Captain Jack’s Stunt Spectacular, Voyage to the Crystal Grotto, plus dramatically different takes on favorites with Peter Pan’s Flight and Buzz Lightyear’s Planet Rescue.
Dining: Shanghai Disneyland – Both parks have really high quality dining. Given that you’re probably only spending a day or two at either one, you’re probably not going to exhaust your options at either one, but we still have to give the edge to Shanghai Disneyland here. The menus are more ambitious, the design is cooler, and there are some fun snacks. Again, though, both do dining (especially counter service) really well.
Charm: Hong Kong Disneyland – There’s an x-factor about Hong Kong Disneyland that is worth mentioning because it doesn’t really translate to paper. When you evaluate HKDL on paper, without this x-factor, it’s easy to underestimate the park. Then you get there in person and WHAM, you get hit square in the face with a big dose of “charm.” Just as many first time Walt Disney World fans are hit with a certain charm when visiting Disneyland for the first time, so too are many first-timers to Hong Kong Disneyland.
For whatever reason, there’s an intangible appeal. Perhaps it’s the feng shui that went into the design of the park. Perhaps it’s the mountains rising behind Main Street, Toy Story Land, and Tomorrowland. Perhaps it’s the dense jungle of Adventureland or Mystic Point. Whatever the reason, Hong Kong Disneyland pulls you in, and is a great place to simply be. There are flashes of this in Shanghai Disneyland, but it’s far less consistent. Too much of the scale is domineering and the park layout makes it feel less intimate, and less inviting.
Verdict: Shanghai Disneyland – We’ve become big advocates of Hong Kong Disneyland on this blog as a park that doesn’t deserve nearly the amount of derision that it receives from fans. Conversely, we’d probably say that Shanghai Disneyland has received a level of hype that’s disproportionate to its actual quality. (Given what was spent on the park, you could expect more.) However, one being underrated and the other being overrated doesn’t make the former better than the latter. Shanghai Disneyland still brings much more to the table that you can’t find in Walt Disney World and Disneyland, and is a worthy stopover destination on your way to Tokyo Disney Resort. That’s certainly what we’d recommend, and given that one visit to Tokyo Disney Resort is rarely enough (it’s like crack for Disney fans), you can certainly revisit Hong Kong in the future. Once the park has at least partially finished its makeover, increasing its originality, would probably be the ideal time. If you’ve been to either of these parks (or both), or are thinking about visiting in the future, we’d love to hear your thoughts on this ‘debate’!