Shanghai Wild Animal Park

4th May 2019

Shanghai Wild Animal Park has an eponymous metro station on line sixteen of the city metro, but for whatever reason it is located almost two kilometres away from the park it was built to serve. My initial thought was that a pre-existing stop must have been renamed, but online research has revealed this hypothesis to be incorrect; the park dates from 1995, while line sixteen was constructed in 2013. The positioning of the station makes even less sense when you realise that the elevated route that the line follows comes within twenty-five metres of the park's southern boundary. This curiosity is how the place came to the attention of coaster enthusiasts in the first place; a group travelling to Shanghai Haichang Ocean Park a few weeks before our trip spotted a previously unknown family coaster from their train window and passed the details on.

Shanghai Wild Animal Park

I'd intended to get to the park for its advertised 8:00am opening, but I badly underestimated how long it would take me to get from my overnight hotel beside the airport. As such I was almost an hour behind my planned schedule by the time I arrived at the ticket office. Self-service machines were available, but as per usual they were limited to local payment providers, so I headed instead to a cashier who sold me the required piece of paper and a park map for 130 RMB (~€16.79). I stepped through the gate and immediately found myself in the middle of a large crowd that was watching a member of staff leading an elephant along a midway. After about ten seconds I decided that I'd seen enough wildlife for one day and made my way towards the ride area.

A small army of staff members were working on the Family Coaster (#2662) as I approached, but it turned out that they were just wrapping up their early morning safety checks. Moments later I'd bought a 30 RMB (~€3.87) ticket that entitled me to a single lap of what turned out to be a perfectly respectable coaster, albeit one obviously knocked off from a well known European design. The train was the same slightly terrifying model seen on Creep Caterpillar at Nanchang Sunac Land, making for a nice upgrade over the more generic equivalents seen at Century Park Shanghai and Gucun Park. The comfort level was excellent, and I'd probably have ridden more than once if the ticket price had been a little lower.

The park has a handful of generic flat rides with equally generic names, such as Controllable Plane and Rotating Chair; those wishing to partake of them are asked to "keep good order, refrain from smoking or eating snack, and keep public hygiene". There is also a substantial Ferris Wheel, and I'd have ridden it today had it not been closed for maintenance. I took a few photographs for my collection and wandered around for perhaps half an hour before heading to the exit.

 

Shanghai Haichang Ocean Park

4th May 2019

One curiosity of the rapid expansion of metro systems across China is the way that the authorities plan ahead by constructing stations in places where there is no obvious need for them. The most famous example is Caojiawan Station in Chongqing, but there are plenty of others around the country, including in Shanghai. When it was first built Lingang Avenue Station had just one building within a two kilometre radius, and though others have been constructed since the area remains largely vacant. A brand new road stretches across fields close by with four junctions, all of which have yet to be connected to anything.

Family Coaster

The biggest addition to the area since the station opened is Shanghai Haichang Ocean Park, a spectacular theme park and aquarium that premiered in 2018. The developers invested serious money to create a top quality facility, and the ticket prices reflect that; single day admission costs 360 RMB (~€46.49), just ten percent less than the price of an off-peak ticket at nearby Shanghai Disneyland, and almost double what it costs to spend the day at Happy Valley Shanghai. The park was not crowded despite my visit being on the last day of a national holiday, and I suspect the admission cost to be a large part of the reason why.

The larger of the two coasters was testing with empty trains on my arrival, and a member of staff at the queue entrance told me through translation software that I should come back in thirty minutes. I decided to use the time to tick off the Family Coaster (#2663), my third encounter this year with a Zamperla 80STD following earlier hits in Alabama and Indonesia. The train on this installation was themed to look like an aeroplane, but aside from that the ride looked much the same as the other thirty-two versions of the type I've ridden since my first encounter with the genre at Holiday World back in 2003. Operations were exceptionally efficient by local standards; I waited just twenty minutes despite an almost full cattle grid.

With that done I made my way across to Steel Dolphin (#2664), a custom layout "Blitz" coaster from Intamin and the first ride of its type in China. The layout begins with a gentle descent out of the station onto a launch track, which accelerates the train up to its top speed of 85 kilometres per hour. A steep climb and top hat prefix a blend of airtime hills and turns, including a sideways tilt mounted directly above the park entrance gate. A descent through a shark mouth leads onto a second launch track which gives the train a slight additional kick into a few more turns, a fake water splash effect, and an airtime hill that concludes on the brake run. The design is significantly less intense than other recent Intamin efforts (such as Red Fire) and arguably better as a result; rather than being extreme the layout is pure fun. I could have happily ridden all day.

My first lap was in the back seat, which was absolutely great. I went back for a second in the front that was going very well until the second launch, where the train came to an abrupt halt. Moments later I spotted the operators running from the station towards our impromptu parking place. They were in much more of a hurry than I was, given that I had the perfect vantage point high above a lagoon to watch an ongoing Jet Ski show. They brought a set of chocks for the wheels as well as restraint release tools, and they were evidently well practiced at their task as the entire process was handled in less than five minutes. Climbing out of the train was a little interesting given that there was nothing between my left hand side and water perhaps twenty feet below, but in due course I was walking down the stairs and back to the station to retrieve my glasses and camera.

Steel Dolphin

Ten minutes later a distinctive paaaaaaarp noise indicated that the empty train was on its way back to the station. I found myself wondering why we'd been evacuated at all given how fast resolution had been, and concluded that the second launch track must not have enough power to move a fully loaded train from a standing start. The ride didn't reopen immediately, so rather than hang around I went to explore the rest of the park, starting with the Whale Shark Hall, an enormous aquarium. Many of the exhibits were decorated with artificial coral, while others had more elaborate theming, notably a submerged propeller aircraft.

My next hit became Adventures in the Sea, a tracked dark ride that was heavily influenced by (though not copied from) the Ariel's Undersea Adventure at the American Disney parks. The lead protagonist was a mermaid officially named Amy, though anyone not reading the subtitles could be forgiven for confusing her with her better known animated cousin. A pre-show talked about the bad guys at SeaWorld, though I suspect this to have been accident of language rather than a deliberate attempt to slight the American chain, especially since the majority of local visitors are unlikely to have heard of it anyway. The ride itself was very good, mixing scenery and footage with an underwater tunnel, though it lost a few points for having some scenes reset before they were completely out of sight.

I made my way over to Snow Train, a journey through artificial mountains past elaborate scenery and animal exhibits, only to find that it was closed for completely invisible maintenance work. I also went to look at Lava Drifting, a brand new spinning rapids ride from Canadian manufacturer WhiteWater, but decided that it wasn't quite warm enough to risk spending the rest of the day in wet clothes. This decision, made for the best of reasons, was a mistake; I've since learned that the ride is the longest of its type in the world, stretching almost a kilometre from start to end, and that record isn't likely to fall in the near future. Perhaps I'll get back to it some day.

After a few more minutes of wandering I decided to wrap up my visit with a few more laps on Steel Dolphin. I completed a back seat and had just joined the line for a second round when the ride shut down temporarily due to a protein spillage. I decided against waiting, but instead took the problem as my cue to head for the exit, counting my blessings that I had at least had the opportunity to experience two and a half laps. (Friends visiting the park a few hours after me were unfortunately not as lucky; the ride apparently had another failure after I left, as it was closed to guests for the entire afternoon despite regular test launches).

Lava Drifting

 

Shanghai Disneyland

4th May 2019

It was just before lunch time when I left Shanghai Haichang Ocean Park giving me an entire afternoon free to do something else. One option was to go into the city and do something cultural, such as a temple or a museum; this was quickly ruled out. Another possibility was Happy Valley Shanghai, which had added the world's first B&M family inverted coaster since my last trip back in 2012; this was certainly tempting, but I decided that it was more trouble than it was worth when it became apparent that the metro journey would take more than two hours. The best choice seemed to be a return visit to Shanghai Disneyland, as it would give me time to repeat my favourites while also doing some of the attractions I'd missed on my previous visit.

I used my phone to buy an online ticket in the hope that I could make some fast pass reservations, but the system wouldn't allow me to book anything until after my ticket had been scanned at the gate, by which stage there was nothing left. As it turned out this wasn't a problem, as the park wasn't even remotely busy for the duration of my visit; the longest wait times I saw were posted at an hour, and the two attractions at the top of my shopping list (TRON Lightcycle Power Run and Pirates of the Caribbean: Battle for the Sunken Treasure) both peaked at fifteen minutes. I clocked up a total of thirteen rides over a five hour period, an impressive tally for any Saturday afternoon and a particularly impressive one on a holiday weekend without any fast passes. I'd probably have managed even more if I'd been rushing around, but I was content to take things easy and smell the proverbial roses, something I should probably do more often.

My first task on arrival was to find some food, and in the interests of time maximisation I decided to buy a hot dog from a concession stand. It wasn't possible to purchase without an included drink, which wasn't a big deal – but I was less than impressed when my choices were limited to Pepsi or sweetened lemon tea despite bottled water being available. The same issue arose a few hours later at my dinner stop, when I was handed a bottle of Pepsi without asking for it; I can only assume that The Mouse has a sponsorship deal with local dental surgeries. (In the middle of last year I took the decision to radically reduce my soft drink intake in favour of water, one of a number of lifestyle changes that allowed me to shed more than ten percent of my body weight over a few months. This is well worth doing for those going to China, where some major coasters can have park-imposed weight limits as low as 75kg.)

Rex's Racer

With my hunger satiated I joined the thirty minute queue for Rex's Racer (#2665), a shuttle coaster added to the park two years after its grand opening. The time passed quickly enough, and before long I was looking into the station, where my eye was caught by a plate crediting the hardware to Walt Disney Imagineering Research and Development Inc in California. This claim will likely come as a surprise to the engineering team at Intamin, who were engaged by Disney in the late noughties to produce a variant of their Surfrider design without spinning cars. This model is the third of its type following two earlier installations at Disneyland Paris Studios and Hong Kong Disneyland, and as with its twins it is a decent if not outstanding ride that is worth doing at least once. The experience from the front row was very good, and I'd have ridden again if the wait had been a little shorter.

I next made my way across to Voyage to the Crystal Grotto, a hybrid attraction that can be described in two ways: a dark ride with a large outdoor section, or a boat ride with a small indoor section. This was, in a word, disappointing. Our journey routed past a number of static displays featuring characters from Disney movies, including Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, the Little Mermaid, Mulan, and Tangled. Dancing water effects added a tiny amount of life, but they couldn't quite compensate for a complete lack of animatronics. Worse yet, the seating on the fully loaded boat faced inwards, and as a result I could only clearly see around half of what was already a limited offering. The final portion underneath the Enchanted Storybook Castle was moderately interesting thanks to projection mapping effects and a dramatic soundtrack, but it wasn't compelling enough to rescue a thoroughly lacklustre attraction.

From there I went to the "Once upon a time" Adventure which was equally uninspired. A group of about twenty of us climbed a lengthy spiral staircase inside the castle, where we were met by a cast member who guided us through a series of 3D projections featuring portions of the Snow White fairy tale. Some of the special effects were technically impressive, but the majority were eminently forgettable, and we spent far too long in front of each scene. It is worth noting also that the narration was only available in the local patois without subtitles, and while I do appreciate that the park is primarily aimed at the local market it was a shame not to see at least some effort at internationalisation.

Towards the end of last year it was widely reported that Winnie the Pooh was at risk of removal from Shanghai Disneyland at the behest of the Chinese leader Xi Jinping, due to the local population using the character to poke fun at him. There have been no further developments on this story six months on, and thus I was able to fully appreciate The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, an old-school dark ride that is as near as matters identical to the version found at Walt Disney World Magic Kingdom. My favourite portion came towards the end as my car moved through a room with a surprisingly convincing simulated rainfall effect, augmented by animated droplets at ground level.

Pooh

The wait for Seven Dwarfs Mine Train was posted at ten minutes, which I decided was short enough to justify my giving the ride a second chance. My lap in car seven was a lot more enjoyable than the earlier one had been, aided perhaps by better weather, but I still found it underwhelming. The real issue for me was one of pacing; the layout started and ended well, but a minute-long tour of a mine in the middle did the experience no favours despite the obvious calibre of the visuals. This is something that the Legoland parks have gotten right; quite a few good family coasters start out with slow journeys past theming, and that approach works far better than having the gentle portion in the middle.

The one unique selling point for the ride is the way its cars can rock from side to side, though my feeling is that the family friendly layout doesn't show the full potential of the hardware. Personally I'd like to see the same trains offered as a retrofit for a more aggressive mine train, such as one of the 785m models or even a custom model such as Colorado Adventure or Mammut. If anyone from Vekoma is reading this, then you know what to do. (While ride manufacturers are listening, it'd be great to have a modern suspended swinging coaster to replace some of the lost classics such as the Big Bad Wolf and Eagle Fortress).

I disembarked and made my way across to Pirates of the Caribbean: Battle for the Sunken Treasure, where I clocked up four rides over a one hour period. I've covered the experience in depth (pun absolutely intended) in my previous report; the only thing I'd add is that I've never felt the need to marathon an attraction that wasn't a coaster before, which says more than trite words ever could. The battle scene with physical ships coupled with computer-generated imagery may be the best ten seconds of dark ride ever created, and I do not use those words lightly. There's a really interesting article on the technology behind the experience at Coaster101, which I'd recommend to anyone who's not worried about a few spoilers.

My day concluded with four laps on TRON Lightcycle Power Run. There was a short yet steady queue, and given that it was quite a surprise when the cast members decided to shut down one side of the dual loading station thirty minutes prior to the park closing. On the plus side the change was made without interrupting operations; on the minus side, the remaining trains stacked on the brake run as there was nowhere for them to go. After about thirty seconds in situ I decided to remove my camera from the glovebox, where I was just in time to snap one final photograph for posterity.

TRON