China has seen a huge number of theme parks spring up over the last decade. Most of these have been standalone parks, but there has been one international standard chain, known in English as Happy Valley, which made its debut in Shenzhen in 2002. A second park was added in Beijing in 2006, followed by Chengdu and Shanghai in 2009, and Wuhan this year. A sixth park is scheduled to open in Tianjin next year. One of the interesting features of these parks, at least when compared to other countries, is the fact that they have all opened to the public while still unfinished. Three years ago I visited the Shanghai park in its first weeks, when one of the six coasters and most of the other attractions had yet to be commissioned, and the same thing happened at Wuhan a few days ago. As such, it was a delight to be back in the now finished park to catch up on the rides that I'd missed.
Our visit began with a session on Fireball, which at the time of my last visit had already developed a few rough spots despite being only a few weeks old. The ten million yuan question was how well the local maintenance teams could cope with maintaining what was fundamentally a very aggressive coaster. I'm delighted to report that these engineers apparently know their business, as the ride was running brilliantly, and considerably better than quite a few other wood coasters I can think of!
We were joined for part of our visit by two members of Roller Coaster Dream (过山车之梦), a local coaster enthusiast group, and while there was a definite language barrier it was still great to make new friends with the same hobby. I couldn't quite suppress a slight giggle every time one of them used the phrase Chinese knockoff, all the more so since it was said in a slight American accent!
It was also quite refreshing to see members of two groups working together for a common goal. There is quite a bit of bad blood between certain coaster enthusiast groups, and it seems to have gotten worse in recent years. It is a shame to see how childish things have gotten in some quarters, given that we're all trying to enjoy the same hobby. Personally I've never had any interest in the politics; if an event interests me, then I'll apply to be a part of it regardless as to which club happens to be running the show. But I digress.
Management at Happy Valley laid on a few trams to bring our group around to the other coasters quickly. There was a strong lateral wind blowing as the group rode the Diving Coaster, resulting in those on the left hand side seats getting pretty wet during the splashdown portion of the track. I had the option of riding a second time in the extreme left hand seat of the second row, and generously decided to let someone else take my place!
A few laps on the Mega Lite followed before we were brought to the Mine Train Coaster (#1828), a themed clone of the amazing Mine Train Ulven at Bakken. While the layouts of the two rides are identical, they do not feel even close to the same; the version here was far less intense, and, by extension, somewhat disappointing. Having said that, the lacklustre rides might have been because we were on the first trains of the morning, before the wheels had warmed up fully. I'd have liked to try again later in the day, but the hour long queue precluded that.
The group was released to enjoy the park once we exited the mine train, and most of us headed directly for the two remaining coasters. Spinning Coaster had developed a definite rattle since my last visit, but was still spinning well, making it a much better ride than any of the Golden Horse versions. A few minutes later, we'd conquered Lele's Chariot. It was time to see what else the park had to offer.
Our first stop was at an installation of Desperados, which was just as ridiculous as the other versions out there, if not more so given that the calibration of the guns was well off where it should be. From there we headed to Storm Chaser, a dark ride using a clone of the Spiderman system supplied by the little known Austrian company C2 Turnkey Solutions. The plot involved a group of storm chasers on an abandoned Caribbean island, and while the implementation felt a little disjointed it was still a fun way to spend a few minutes.
The park also has a clone of the Soarin' rides at the Disney parks, and it was quite a surprise to discover that this wasn't actually a Chinese knockoff. The machinery here was supplied by German company Huss Rides, and marked the first installation of their Movie Base Flying Theatre product. As clones go it actually wasn't bad, though the projection screen suffered from considerable distortion at the edges, causing buildings to change shape as they vanished from view.
The remainder of the day was spent on a whirlwind tour of some of the smaller attractions; the Sky Drop, the Disko Coaster, the North Pole Adventure, the Flying Island, the Magic Show, and the Haunted House.