The Wanda Group was until relatively recently one of the largest theme park operators in China, with thirteen major developments around the country. However the company has encountered strong headwinds over the last few years, resulting in the sale of over $11 billion worth of assets. The company's entertainment business was snapped up by Sunac China Holdings in late 2017, leading to a wide scale rebranding exercise. We learned about this only after arriving at Nanchang Wanda Theme Park where the sign over the entrance had a different name to the one that we were expecting.
The park is currently almost a rite of passage for enthusiasts, as it is home to the country's tallest, fastest, and longest coasters in both wood and steel categories. Before we could get to either however we found ourselves at the entrance to Creep Caterpillar (#2607), a Golden Horse Family Coaster with a particularly angry lead car and a transfer track for two train operation (which I suspect has never been used in anger). There was no queue whatsoever, and we figured that we might as well get it out of the way. I'd hoped to be able to leave my glasses on given the tame nature of the layout, but was told that they had to be removed "for safety". The experience was exactly as expected; a pleasant if eminently forgettable ride. (Readers should be aware that we were required to present our admission tickets in addition to our wristbands in order to board; this bizarre policy was in effect across the park.)
Moments later we'd arrived at the entrance to Python in Bamboo Forest (#2608), an enormous wooden coaster created by Great Coasters International. Park management has imposed a 188cm (6'1" height limit) for passengers, an arbitrary and thoroughly asinine restriction on a ride designed and engineered by a western company, and not one calculated to please international visitors. In theory this rendered the experience off limits to both myself and Bruno, though we were able to bypass the checks by slouching very slightly as we waited. Once seated we had plenty of time to look around as the staff worked through their checking procedures. The station was fairly spartan, though I spotted a sign with ride statistics, along with a stapler and an enormous packet of rubber bands; the purpose of the latter was anyone's guess.
The ride begins with a right turn and a few gentle bumps placed parallel to the loading station. The lift hill comes next, and its positioning allows guests a good view of central Nanchang from the apex. The rest of the layout is effectively a double out-and-back design that runs parallel to Jiulong Avenue, a ten lane artery running from the nearby motorway into the city centre, though it has been upgraded with slight turns between most of the airtime hills that transform what would have been a good ride into a truly outstanding one. The layout has a brief dead spot at the top of the first turnaround, which could have done with being a bit lower, but that constitutes a very minor nitpick indeed. I preferred the front seat over the back, though there wasn't a huge difference in experience between locations.
After two laps we made our way across to Coaster through the Clouds (#2609), currently the biggest coaster in China. We arrived a few minutes ahead of the posted opening time, but decided to camp out and in due course a member of staff indicated that we could enter the queue, which stretches a little over two hundred metres from end to end excluding two areas of cattle grid. The operators were busily trying to get a bank of TV screens to work when we arrived at the station, and spent at least a minute fumbling with a remote control and switches before someone thought to step across to the far side of the platform and turn the power on. My eye was drawn to an interesting sign that talked about damaged phones, mentioning iPhone, Samsung, and Cottage Machines. My first thought was that this was a poor translation, but it turns out that locally built devices are indeed given that name.
In due course a member of staff methodically unlocked a combination lock on the gate, allowing a bunch of us through. It was hard not to laugh as he carefully spun the dial behind us, providing a very practical demonstration of just how inefficient Chinese coaster operation policies can be. We took our seats in the front car, then waited, and waited some more as the operators faffed about. The sky was visibly darkening throughout this time as rain clouds moved in, but there was no point in getting visibly agitated it would likely slow things even further. After what felt like an eternity the staff pressed the button, sending us up the seventy-four metre hill into the skies.
The apex of the cable lift leads into a turn and around one hundred metres of perfectly flat track at the heights, a quirky beginning that to the best of my knowledge has not been replicated elsewhere. Passengers have of the order of fifteen seconds to appreciate the view before the first drop, which is taken at a seventy-eight degree angle. The descent is smooth and thrilling, and is followed in short order by an over banked right turn that is very reminiscent of the start of Millennium Force. A powerful airtime hill with minimal clearance beneath a support represents the highlight of the layout, which continues with a delicious blend of speed, airtime, and forces. The design is perhaps a tiny bit homogenous, but it seems unlikely that the average visitor will care very much.
The heavens opened in spectacular fashion just moments after we returned to the station, closing virtually every ride in the park for more than two hours. One of the few exceptions was the Haunted Kiln, an unconventional walkthrough with theming that made much more sense to me after I learned that the nearby city of Jingdezhen is known as the porcelain capital of China. The experience consisted mostly of static sets, but there was a projection in the first room, and towards the end we saw live rats running through grooves cut into the floor, an interesting touch that would almost certainly fall foul of health regulations in the western world. (Readers should be aware that the park is really not set up for heavy rain as the paths have no drainage to speak of; those visiting in poor conditions would be well advised to wear waterproof boots as puddles can be deeper than they look.)
Anita spotted Coaster through the Clouds testing as the conditions began to clear, and though we were not the only people to rush back we were nevertheless just in time to lay claim to the back car of the first train. The experience was considerably more thrilling in that location, and after disembarking we decided that it was worth going back for a another lap. We ambled the two minutes from the station to the exit, paused to take some photos, dealt with calls of nature, and headed back into the queue – and managed to arrive at the station before the staff had begun to load the next train. Though I didn't time things, my guess is that it took us over ten minutes all in, which was easily long enough to run two full cycles with time to spare.
The park has a spinning coaster with an identity crisis. Spinning Porcelain, Blue and White Spin, and/or Porcelin Puree (their typo, not mine) was closed for "maintenance" today, though there was no sign of any activity around the hardware and other closures in the area suggested that this may have been a cost saving exercise. We'd expected to miss the knock-off suspended looping coaster too due to a posted 185cm (6ft) height limit, but the staff on Soaring Dragon & Dancing Phoenix (#2610) were not performing checks. The restraints on the train had plenty of room in them, to the point that a two metre person would probably have been fine. That said, those who don't count their coasters should avoid the ride at all costs; the first drop was excellent, but questionable tracking over the rest of the course coupled with hard plastic seat bodies resulted in an ordeal that we'd have been as happy to eschew.
There were no other attractions on our hit list today, and as such we decided to wrap our visit with two laps on Python in Bamboo Forest followed by a lap on Coaster through the Clouds. Bruno and Anita went back for one last trip through the clouds while I took some photographs from the motorised cycle railway nearby. With that done we made our way towards the exit and the nearby metro station.