SHANGHAI, CHINA – The first guest entered the newest Disneyland at a full sprint. He leaped and thrust a finger in the air. He screamed happily at the lines of cast members cheering on the sides of a rainy Mickey Avenue, China’s equivalent of Main Street USA.
Then, he turned left and continued running toward TRON Lightcycle Power Run. History might never know his name. It was 11:32 a.m., and Disney’s sixth park, after five years, $5.5 billion and unprecedented cooperation between governments, had opened.
This was not like the legendary 1955 opening of Anaheim in Disneyland, in which women’s heels stuck in the fresh asphalt. Shanghai Disneyland is beautifully ready.
Merideth Stoecker, of Kansas City, Mo., walked in the front gate and let out a guttural scream. She was celebrating her 29th birthday. She wore a shirt that said: “I Can’t Keep Calm I’m Going to Shanghai.”
“Best. Birthday. Ever,” she said.
Sophie New flew from Canberra, Australia.
“I’ve already cried,” she said. “It’s such a special day.”
The throng of people waiting to get in the park was immense. The first-day guests were allowed in slowly to avoid trampling.
Christian Ahuis of Cologne, Germany, was running down Mickey Avenue when he spotted Marty Sklar, the former head of Imagineering and one of the first ever Disneyland employees in the 1950s.
“Marty,” Ahuis screamed, and posed for a picture. “That’s the best part of the day. I got my picture taken with Marty. I’m such a Disney geek.”
Lu Zhang, who lives in Anhui Wuhu, China, said she wanted to pass on Disney culture to her 10-year-old, Shu Ying.
“I like Mickey, and I want her to like Mickey,” Zhang said. “I am very happy to take my daughter.”
Shanghai Disneyland features the biggest castle in Disney history, and it is a five-mile walk to make it all the way around the park. Rain trickled onto first-day guests in ponchos and carrying umbrellas, but no one seemed to mind.
In China, rain is a symbol for fortune.
“This first thing I noticed was the immense size,” said Thomas Taffinder of Orlando. “The castle is huge. I’ve been looking forward to this day ever since they announced they were building it.”
The cast members lined the streets waving, smiling and shouting encouragement to guests.
“They did a great job making people feel so welcome,” said Ingrid Lohne, who lives in Beijing. “I feel like I’ve been here before. It makes me feel so happy.”
Most people who walked, skipped and danced their way into the park, made a quick left turn and headed toward Tomorrowland. The word on social media is that TRON Lightcycle Power Run is the must-do ride in Shanghai.
The new park is so vast, with such wide walkways, that even a large crowd doesn’t make it feel overwhelming.
Wait times by mid-afternoon were about 20 minutes on TRON Lightcycle Power Run, 40 minutes on Peter Pan’s Flight and 90 on Soaring Over the Horizon. One guest reported only a 20-minute wait on Pirates of the Caribbean: Battle for the Sunken Treasure.
By 4 p.m., the skies darkened and the downpour began. People headed for restaurants and into the souvenir shops.
Bob Iger, chairman and CEO of the Walt Disney Co., stopped on Mickey Avenue to take pictures with guests. One of them was Benedict Sowart of Orlando.
“This is insane,” Sowart said. “Unbelievable. Unreal. I’ve been waiting for this for years. It’s the experience of a lifetime.”
Iger, along with members of the Peoples Republic of China’s Communist Party Central Committee, opened the day’s festivities with a ribbon-cutting ceremony minutes before the first guests entered.
“East meets west. Past meets future. And anything is possible to those who believe,” Iger said.
Iger read a letter from President Barack Obama praising Disney and the Chinese government for “blending an American business within the cultural tradition of China.”
A choir sang “When You Wish Upon a Star” in Mandarin and English. Then Iger said (in Chinese) “It gives me great pleasure to welcome you.”
When Iger spoke the language, he got a huge cheer.
Kendell Haynes and Valeria Aleman traveled together from New Jersey. They’ve visited every Disney park in the world.
“How many people can say they were here?” Aleman said with a smile.