The Fantawild Group opened its first theme park in China in 2006, but has expanded at a phenomenal rate over the intervening years. It currently operates twenty-two parks, and another twelve are in various stages of construction. At present the chain is made up of three main brands:
- Fantawild Adventure, located in Gansu, Shantou, Shenyang, Tai'an, Tianjin, Wuhu, Zhengzhou, and Zhuzhou.
- Fantawild Dreamland, located in Wuhu, Xiamen, Zhuzhou, and Zhengzhou.
- Oriental Heritage, located in Changsha, Jinan, Ningbo, Wuhu, and Xiamen.
The group currently operates an impressive eighty-five roller coasters, and though many are cookie-cutter attractions (not least seven Boomerangs, seven Fruit Worms, and three SkyLoops) the roster includes seven full size wooden coasters, all of which were designed by The Gravity Group. It was one of the latter that made Oriental Heritage an essential stop on our trip; we used a pre-booked driver to bring us to the park from our hotel in downtown Shanghai, a journey of a little over two hours.
The park was extremely crowded for our visit, with the majority of guests being children in school uniforms, not something we'd have predicted on a Sunday. All attractions had lengthy waits, and though paid fast passes were available through the official mobile app it was only possible to purchase these using AliPay or WeChat Pay, two local forms of digital payment that are generally unavailable to foreign visitors as they must be linked to a mainland Chinese bank account. (It is possible to use international credit cards in some places in China, though their acceptance is sporadic at best; I found that I couldn't use any of mine at the McDonald's at Shanghai Hongqiao International Airport. Apple Pay didn't work either).
We began our visit by checking out the wood coaster, but we were told that it wasn't open yet and that we should come back in an hour, a phrase in local parlance that equates to anything up to the rest of the day. Rather than hang around we decided to join the ninety minute queue for Stress Express (#2602), a genuine Vekoma Boomerang. The wait was reasonably pleasant thanks to a bench running the length of the cattle grid, a nice feature that we later discovered to be standard across the Fantawild chain. Every ten minutes or so a train would dispatch and everyone would play a brief game of musical chairs. Seats were not assigned, though availability was the luck of the draw, as the operators only allowed twenty-eight people into the station at a time. We were lucky enough to lay claim to the back car.
The soft vest restraints gave the impression that we were in for a decent if not luxurious ride, though I'm sorry to report that the comfort level was degraded significantly by a retrofitted seatbelt whose buckle was perfectly placed to get wedged against the average stomach. The operators seemed determined to make the harnesses as tight as possible, going so far as to have two different staff members push on each one to eliminate even the vaguest possibility of airtime. There was an announcement in the local patois after the checking process was complete, which I believe to have been an instruction to do neck exercises, as everyone other than us began moving their heads in circles. This provided an entertaining visual for the thirty seconds or so before we finally began to move. On the plus side, the track quality was fine; the only slightly suspect moment was a sideways thump on the reverse journey.
With that out of the way we made our way to Jungle Trailblazer (#2603). The queue was posted at two hours, but there was a member of staff at the entrance with a credit card machine selling instant access passes for 50 RMB (~€6.53) apiece. None of our cards would work, but there was a manager in the area who agreed to take cash instead. Moments later we were at the front of the queue heading towards the station. It was scarcely a surprise to see one of the ride's two trains parked on the transfer track despite the wait; clearly park management have realised that operating a single train on a ride built for two enables the sale of more line jumping passes while also reducing maintenance costs – a win-win situation in a part of the world where the average visitor will be blissfully unaware of what efficient coaster operations should be.
Operations aside, the ride was very good indeed. The layout featured an abundance of airtime, great pacing, and a perfectly engineered inversion that felt appropriate for the layout rather than something built to tick a box. The one minor criticism was of the tracking; portions were absolutely fine, but there were places that were very much in need of maintenance. It would be interesting to know whether any of the original track has been replaced in the two years and change that the ride has been open to the public; if the answer to that is no, then I can only hope that work is scheduled for the upcoming winter. Having said that, both of our rides were in the back row; it may be that the comfort level is more consistent up front.
The park's third and final coaster is Night Rescue (#2604), an indoor mine train from Golden Horse that is to all intents and purposes a clone of the 785m Vekoma design. The ride was running two trains and as such the queue moved quickly; we waited only half an hour. The lap bar was uncomfortably heavy, leading me to push against it for much of my ride, but aside from that minor irritation the experience was decent enough. A person in front of me filmed the entire experience on her mobile phone for no obvious reason, given that virtually all of the layout was in pitch blackness. There were a few theme elements to be seen but only for a second or so at a time.
With the coasters completed we took the difficult decision to move on to our next park. In an ideal world we'd have spent a bit of time exploring the other available attractions, not least a number of dark rides, but the sheer volume of guests today made that a poor option, as even the shortest queues were posted at an hour – time that we did not have if we wanted to explore the two other parks in the vicinity. We figured (incorrectly as it happens, but that's another story) that we'd be able to fill in the blanks at the other Oriental Heritage in our trip plan, and on that basis we caught a quick lunch of mystery dumplings before heading to the exit.