Singapore has for years drawn tourists with Universal Studios. Malaysia boasts Asia’s first Legoland. And in 2016, Shanghai got its own Disneyland, joining Hong Kong and Tokyo as the only Asian cities hosting the most popular theme park brand in the world. And it’s no wonder that the ‘happiest place on earth’ has set its sights on mainland China. A 2014 report by construction consultancy AECOM said the country’s theme-park attendance exceeded 108 million visitors in 2012 and 2013, and estimated that by 2020 theme park turnout would outpace the market in the United States. International brands want in, and local developers are paying more attention to originality and quality. Here are some of the parks already leading the way…
Silverscreen dreams: Lionsgate Entertainment World Zhuhai
Zhuhai’s status as an entertainment and theme park hub get a shot in the arm at the end of July 2019 with the debut of the country’s first ‘vertical theme park‘, packing as many as 25 rides into the new complex on the island of Hengqin. As well as themed dining and retails spaces based on some of the biggest film franchises of the past few years, the 230,000-square-foot indoor theme park lets film fanatics live their Bella fantasies via the Twilight-themed Bella’s Journey – a ride through the series’ most compelling moments; enter the world of The Hunger Games and take on the Capitol in the 3D motion simulator ride Mockingjay Flight – Rebel Escape; and enjoy try to break out of a high-security prison a la Sylvester Stallone in Escape Plan in a high-tech escape room experience.
The China brand: The Happy Valley amusement park
Ever since its debut in Shenzhen in 2002, the Happy Valley amusement park chain has been capturing the hearts of thrill seekers. And the brand has been ambitious, opening several parks across the country, including in Beijing, Wuhan and Shanghai – its eighth park is due to open in Nanjing in 2020. Of all the Happy Valley parks, the one in Chengdu, opened in 2009, is the most kid-friendly. There’s the pirate show that cost RMB 20 million (HK$23.6 million) to build, while magic shows and wandering clowns are ready to entertain.
Other attractions include dance shows, a circus and a cartoon cinema. In 2013, the park invested RMB 500 million (HK$590 million) in an extension of its Happy Light Year section, which showcases high-tech features such as a 4D theatre. Family-friendly rides abound, but there are still plenty of hair-raising options for the daredevils out there, too.
Big thrills: Chimelong Paradise, Guangzhou
When it comes to amusement parks, size matters. And this mammoth Guangzhou complex is China’s biggest. It’s divided into several smaller parks, including a sprawling network of rollercoasters fit for the most daring souls. Among its craziest rides is the 10 Inversion Roller Coaster, only the second ride in the world that manages to turn brave customers upside down 10 times. The complex also houses a giant safari ground, where visitors can hop onto a tour vehicle and admire large animals like elephants, giraffes, hippos and white tigers (the park is a breeding research facility for the felines).
If you’re trying to beat the heat, Chimelong Paradise also incorporates an elaborate water park with a wide variety of swirling slides and inner-tube rides, as well as a wave pool. Doing everything here could take several days, but the on-site hotels mean you don’t have to leave the park as you rest up. And if you still want more Chimelong, you could head to its sister park in Zhuhai, home to the world’s biggest aquarium.
Small but fun: Hong Kong Disneyland
Although it’s the smallest of all of the Disney parks, Hong Kong Disneyland has been consistently expanding since its opening in 2005. One of its most anticipated developments was the Iron Man Experience, which launched in 2017 as the first Disney ride anywhere in the world to be based on a Marvel character, thanks to Disney’s acquisition of the comic book brand in 2009.
The attraction involves chairs that simulate motion as visitors join Tony Stark to fend off extraterrestrials attacking Hong Kong. Ant-man and The Wasp: Nano Battle, which opened in March 2019, expands on the story as guests follow the titular Marvel heroes on an interactive quest. But if you’re looking for a more traditional Disney experience, parades and fireworks take over Main Street USA every day, and musical fans can head to the theatre to watch and sing along to Disney’s classic tunes.
New and impressive: Shanghai Disneyland
The world’s sixth Disney park in the Pudong area consists of six themed lands and two hotels. Disneytown is its shopping, dining and entertainment district; the first Mandarin production of The Lion King stage musical is housed at Disney Grand Theatre; visitors can meet all the Disney princesses at the Enchanted Storybook Castle (Disney’s tallest castle), housing restaurants, shops and more; and Gardens of Imagination will be Disney’s only garden-themed land, featuring 12 Chinese zodiac murals.
Make a splash: Royal Ocean Park, Shenyang
The main draw of this huge complex, located just outside Shenyang in China’s northeast, is its Hawaii Water World, where you can spend a day lazing on an artificial beach, sliding down twisting tubes and floating in a 6,000-square-metre wave pool. But make time to also visit Ocean World, where you can admire towering aquariums of tropical fish, elegant displays of glowing jellies and dolphin shows. If these aren’t exotic enough for you, head over to Polar World, where belugas, penguins, seals and a polar bear give a glimpse of arctic life, albeit far from their natural habitat. There’s also an area dedicated to land animals, housing creatures like small primates, tortoises, snakes and peacocks. And finally, families can enjoy a few mercifully gentle amusement park rides. Ferris wheel and merry-go-round, anyone?
Natural adrenaline: Discovery Adventures Andaman Moganshan Park
Located not far from Shanghai, the mountains of Moganshan have long served as a nature retreat for urbanites, and it is in this idyllic setting that Discovery, the nature and science-focused media brand, has created its first theme park.
Opened last year, it provides a varied outdoor experience over 100 hectares of green, including world-class survival programmes, leadership certification courses and the biggest climbing wall in China, all designed in accordance with international safety standards. Other activities include zip-lining, riding all-terrain vehicles, mountain biking and obstacle courses. After a day of working out, the on-site luxury hotel operated by Andaman Resorts offers a calm retreat with breathtaking views – as well as Discovery channels on the television.
Quirky theme parks in China
1) Angry Birds
This officially licensed park themed on the hit mobile game features a castle-like slide structure, an interactive playground and a 4D theatre.
2) China Dinosaurs Land
The whole family will enjoy this lost world, which houses games and rides related to dinosaurs, as well as museum halls displaying fossils.
3) Window of the World
The theme here is replica landmarks. The Eiffel Tower, the Taj Mahal, Mount Rushmore and more can all be seen in one day.
Asia attractions to test your guts
Fuji-Q Highland, Japan
This ride has the world’s fastest acceleration, reaching 172 kilometres per hour in 1.8 seconds. The wind hits your face so hard screams are inaudible.
2) Battlestar Galactica
Universal Studios, Singapore
Two rollercoasters on separate tracks, intertwined, allow you to experience several near collisions when the trains pass just inches from each other.
3) T Express
Everland, South Korea
It’s steep and fast, but the most impressive aspect of this rollercoaster is its striking wooden structure.
Cathay Dragon flies from Hong Kong to Chengdu 14 times a week, to Guangzhou 14 times a week and codeshare to Dalian 7 times a week
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This story was originally published in June 2017 and updated in August 2019