ACE Mid-Atlantic

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Mid-Atlantic Amusement Parks of the Past: Buckroe Beach and Ocean View Amusement Parks

by Billy Tyson

Growing up in Newport News, my siblings and I were fortunate to have two quaint little amusement parks not very far from us on opposite sides of the Chesapeake Bay, one in Hampton and the other in Norfolk. True to form, they were a source of great amusement with their rides, games, attractions, novelties, and oddities. Although these parks are now just a distant memory, I have fond memories of my parents loading us up in the station wagon and heading to either Buckroe Beach or Ocean View Amusement park. I especially enjoyed the Dips and the Rocket roller coasters but also enjoyed the Dodgem Bumper Cars with that unique smell of the crackling electricity. I remember the laid-back atmosphere and the sights and sounds of a wonderful carnival. I heard that at Buckroe Beach some people would try and bribe the operator of the Cascades and the Old Mill Stream (or what it was more commonly referred to, the “Tunnel of Love”) to have it break down at the opportune moment. Popcorn, cotton candy, candied apples, and all sorts of goodies were available.

I can remember in 1977 when the movie RollerCoaster came out showcasing Ocean View and the Rocket. I so enjoyed watching those opening scenes as they panned the park and the coaster. As you saw Timothy Bottoms’ character scaling the Rocket checking the track, it was surely a site to see. I can also remember in 1978 when Ocean View was closing, and they were filming the Death of Ocean View Park. The opening scenes of that movie showed the park and the Rocket. This movie is where they would blow up the park along with the Rocket rollercoaster. Well, the Rocket was stubborn and refuse to go down. I read that a demolition team rigged the coaster with plenty of explosives and that the explosion was so loud that it shattered windows in nearby buildings, but that the Rocket was still standing and would not come down easily. They tried it again but to no avail, as the Rocket once again remained standing. The third attempt finally took down the Rocket as the demolition team sawed through the Rocket’s supporting wood structure and pulled them out with a tractor as the explosion took place. With all its faults the movie had many good views of the park and the Rocket. I sometimes think of these parks as I travel down Interstate 64 and cross through the Hampton Roads Bridge tunnel.

Both parks date back to the 1890s, when Virginia Electric and Power Company (VEPCO) would develop its street car line and the railroad would add tracks that would make it feasible to bring throngs of people from all around to the beaches of the Chesapeake Bay and to the amusement parks for decades of fun well into the later part of the 20th century. These old-fashioned parks were called trolley parks since they were at the ends of the trolley or streetcar line. Buckroe Beach was always known for being more of a family park, whereas Ocean View during World War II was more of what they called a sailor’s park due to the volumes of sailors that would visit from nearby bases. This was a mixed blessing to the park as it led to the games and other entertainment vendors offering a seedier class of attraction to draw in the sailors and their money. Dudley Cooper, the owner of Ocean View park at the time, was able to get rid of the concessionaires, who effectively acted as independent contractors, and their seedy operations. The post-war years brought a more friendly park.

Buckroe Beach’s first coaster was a small one called the Jack Rabbit, which was replaced by the Dips roller coaster designed by Miller/Baker and built by the Philadelphia Toboggan Company in 1920. Buckroe Beach had an elaborate Kiddy Land with rides such as a boat ride, a car ride, a small Ferris wheel, and a train ride to name a few. Buckroe Beach had other rides such as the Scrambler, the Octopus, the Paratrooper, an adult Ferris wheel that provided a spectacular view, and other rides. There were many games of chance and skill including the popular Pull A String. Along with the coaster, another great ride Buckroe Beach was known for was its 1920-vintage Carousel, this antique merry-go-round features 48 intricately carved horses and two stately chariots. It was at the park for nearly 65 years, and after the park closed the park owners had an offer to sell it to a group in Portland, Oregon, but the city of Hampton convinced them to sell it to Hampton to keep it in the area. It is now housed at the city’s downtown waterfront and was restored to its original beauty back in 1991. Perhaps the only thing left in Buckroe Beach of the amusement park (except for the memories) is the Miniature Lighthouse.

Ocean View was known for the Rocket and other coasters like Serpentine and Leap the Dips that had graced its shores along with other rides such as the Carousel, the Ferris Wheel (which gave you a wonderful view of the Chesapeake Bay), a Tunnel of Fun, and a Sky Ride with a nice view of the park. Not to mention Ocean View’s unique collection of sideshow-type attractions. Performers came in all varieties — human and animal, legitimate and bizarre. Ocean View also had a wonderful Kiddy Land with several rides for the children. Ocean View grew piecemeal over many years into a collection of fun rides and silly diversions. Ocean View also had its share of carnival games and the trinkets they had.

Due to factors such as the high cost of rides and their maintenance along with insurance, the profitability of the parks eventually declined because they were not the go-to destination anymore. Then in the mid-1970s, newer, larger theme parks opened in the region, Busch Gardens in Williamsburg and Kings Dominion in Doswell near Richmond, and the people were going there. So, in 1978, Ocean View Amusement Park received visitors for the last time, as did the Buckroe Beach Amusement Park in 1985.

It is sad that these parks were lost to the bulldozer, but with the technology of today we can revisit those days at the park and remember the fun times they provided.

Here are just a few links to the past of Buckroe and Ocean View.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XY5CBjWbDmQ

http://www.cncfirstdecaders6171.com/memorableplaces/buckroe.html

https://hampton.gov/DocumentCenter/View/5400/CC2014-6-1-slideshow-Buckroe-by-the-Sea-Resort-Hotels-RollerCoasters-and-Pound-Nets

http://www.virginialiving.com/culture/sand-and-spectacle/

Ocean View pictures

Buckroe Beach pictures

 

Coasters of China – Part 5: China Travel Tips

by Jill Morris

General recommendations for travel in China

Although it may be tempting to visit China simply for all the parks, appreciating Chinese amusement parks is really a matter of first appreciating and understanding China and then visiting the parks with that understanding. Comparing many parks directly with their American counterparts (unless they are very new) might make the Chinese ones disappointing (strange operating procedures, open construction zones, etc.). However, once you are able to separate “this is normal here” from “this park’s operations are strange,” you can enjoy these parks despite any differences between them and American parks.

Look for restaurants with picture menus (and point) if you don’t speak any Mandarin, take photos of the item you want and show it to the cashier at quick service restaurants at parks, or use a translation app (see below) to communicate with people with whom you do not share a language.

Getting money exchanged/paying for entry and other items

There are money exchange facilities in most major airports. However, it may be easier simply to withdraw RMB directly from your bank account from a Chinese ATM. Not all ATMs will work with foreign bank cards, but some do, and I have found this is the easiest way to get money. If the ATM asks for a six-digit PIN it will not work with your card no matter what the signage around it states. Others only ask for a four-digit one and will work fine.

Foreign credit cards also do not work in most places, including those that are owned by foreign companies (the exception is Disneyland). You will need cash to pay for almost everything. Most Chinese people will pay for all transactions using their cell phone (Alipay or WeChat Pay), but this won’t be available to tourists or even people on short-term work permits or business visas. Some businesses will not be happy about accepting cash but most do (far more than accept foreign credit).

Wifi and cell phones

Although SIM cards are sold at the airport in vending machines, these worked for some of the professors in my group better than others. Most SIM cards have to be tied to a Chinese national ID (which most visitors will not have unless they are immigrating), so our luck with using these has varied. If you will be in the country for a month or more and have a Chinese friend that can get a card for you with a normal plan, that will likely be your best option. Be sure to return the card to them so it can be properly canceled when you leave. Most plans will be 40 USD a month or less.

I recommend using ExpressVPN if you absolutely need Facebook, Google, etc. access while in China. It is not free, but it is worth the money. You will need a VPN to get past the country-wide firewall and visit many American websites. For a short trip this would not be required though. Additionally, if you travel close to any major anniversaries for the country or protests (like the ones currently in Hong Kong), the VPN may not work or will need updating before it will work.

Preload your phone with a translation app. It won’t be perfect but it will help. Be sure to download both languages (English and Mandarin) so it will work offline without a VPN if you are using Google Translate. It is not unusual to communicate back and forth with someone in a store this way. Most people know a little English (yes/no, hello, etc.) but not much. Staff at Disney need to know more, but don’t expect this at other parks. I also use pictures to communicate when English and Mandarin fail. (As an example, there are many different ways to ask for a bathroom in English in China: bathroom, restroom, water closet, WC, etc., but a picture of a toilet always works.)

Before going to China, set up a WeChat account for yourself, as this is how people communicate with one another in China. It has free voice and video chat for free too, so if you have people at home you want to communicate with, using WeChat is a great way to do so. WeChat can also be used to sign into free WiFi (including at the Beijing airport and many buses and businesses), so having an account is highly recommended.

Getting around

Unless you are fluent in Mandarin, using ride sharing services like Didi is incredibly difficult as most drivers will call you before picking you up. Additionally, Didi needs to be tied to a payment service through a cell phone. Most foreigners cannot receive a driver’s license in China either, so driving yourself is not an option (and honestly, you probably would not want to).

Public transit in China is fantastic though, so in big cities you won’t need to worry about driving or using Didi. Both buses and subways will be available to you, so look up whether the park you want to visit is reachable by one or the other. Subway ticket machines will usually have an English option. Both are very very cheap (100 RMB = $14 USD right now) as a bus ride in Changsha was 1.4 RMB. Subway ride prices vary by length, but are still incredibly affordable. Chinese subways tend to be new, and they run often and are very clean. They may be full (just shove in with everyone else), but are the best way to get around.

The only and most important issue to know with public transit is it will shut down at 11 pm (give or take) in most cities. Therefore, if you stay off property at Disneyland and need to get back to your hotel on the other side of the city, you may need to leave by 8:30 or 9 pm when the park is open much later. Plan for this when visiting any city. Look up when public transit stops running and make plans to make it back all the way while it is still running. Keep extra cash and the address/name of your hotel (and a photo of the front) in Chinese in your phone in case you decide to stay late and need a taxi.

Traveling between cities: The two most popular methods of traveling between cities is by air or by high-speed rail. If you are traveling between cities that have mountains between them, unfortunately your best option will be an airplane. However, if the cities are not on either side of a mountain, then you should be able to purchase high-speed rail tickets.

Personally, I love the high-speed rail system in China and can’t say enough good things about it. Trains are clean, fast, and run on time. Furthermore, they are relatively inexpensive, so they are a great way to get between cities and visit multiple parks. They will also be connected to subways in major cities (small stops in the country might not be so connected), and so it is easy to get between your hotel, high-speed rail, and subway.

To purchase high-speed rail tickets, go to Trip.com. Your receipt will come to your phone or email, and you will need it to get your tickets at the window when you get to the station. I recommend that you pick up tickets a day or two before your trip if you can (not possible if you are flying into the country, but picking up tickets before your trip will keep you from getting stuck in a long line at the window and missing your train — this happened to me once). You will need the passport of all members of your party and the receipt in order to pick up the tickets, especially if you do not speak any Mandarin. Multiple tickets can be picked up at once though, so if you are going to multiple cities just show multiple receipts and they will print the tickets for you at the train station.

Chinese nationals say that once you have picked up your tickets at a station, your passport will be “in the system” and you can pick them up at a satellite location. This has never worked for me, despite having been on the trains multiple times. Don’t wait until the last minute assuming one of these other locations will work.

If you are picking up tickets on the day of your train, arrive at the station 2-3 hours early. Lines can be long to pick up tickets. Treat it like a plane until you have tickets in hand. Once you do, you can get there later. Trains will arrive and leave precisely on time though, so be careful to be near your gate at your scheduled time and check the board often.

Air travel is not as well scheduled. Many of the professors in the group I have traveled with have struggled with canceled and late flights, which are not a terrible problem when traveling to/from the country, but could be if you only had a day or two in a city to sightsee and visit parks. If you have to take a plane, try to do so in the early morning (so a delay could push you back to a later flight that same day). Although you can bring many checked bags on international flights, you can only bring one on flights within China (plus two personal items and a pillow). You will be charged if you have to travel with more luggage within the country, so plan ahead and find the desk to pay for an extra bag before checking in for your flight. It is not as expensive as checking an extra or overweight bag in the US. (Extra baggage on a train can be stored in the luggage racks near the bathrooms or over your seat.) When checking into your plane, look for a board that tells you which check-in counter to use for your flight and be sure to go to the one that your flight has been assigned. Also be aware that some subway stops do not have elevators or escalators, so do not travel with more than you can carry if at all possible. Some airports are also not connected to the subway system, and you will need to either take a maglev train to another part of the city or take a taxi. Also, if your flight lands late the public transit may be closed and you will have to take a taxi to the hotel you are staying at. Have everything pre-written in Chinese and saved in your phone. (People also tend to ask me how stressful it is to get through customs, but since the people who work there don’t seem to speak English I have not found this to be a problem at all. I give them my passport and entry card that I get on the plane, smile at the camera, and everything is fine.)

While this advice might make travel in China sound stressful, in reality, following this advice would mean that you are really unlikely to run into any major problems and it should be completely smooth. I travel at the end of each of my semesters in the country, and learning some of the tricks of the system has enabled me to be completely comfortable doing so without a Chinese guide.

Many people in China will be excited to attempt to speak English, so expect that random people will try to help you or will just want to practice with you (at the same time, don’t rely upon others knowing English if you can help it). This means that people will come up to you and want to talk and take photos with you. If you are comfortable doing so, let them. It will make their day.

Many of the problems that people report in traveling to China to visit amusement parks can partially be attributed not just to culture shock, but to not understanding what is cultural and what is a peculiarity of a specific park (also the time difference/jet lag can be extreme; from EST it is 12 hours). Complaints about bathrooms, odd knock-off coasters, strange food (I was not allowed to buy a pork bun at Happy Valley and I still don’t know why) and stranger operating procedures are real, but spending a few days in the country proper and seeing how things are before beginning to go to parks can help with the jet lag and beginning to get a feel for what China is like in general. Doing so will make for a better day at any park that you happen to visit.

Coasters of China – Part 4: Shanghai Disneyland

by Jill Morris

Shanghai Disneyland
Pudong, Shanghai, China

Credit: Jill Morris

Shanghai Disneyland is one of my favorite parks in the world. (Knoebels will always be my favorite.) I have visited twice now, in 2017 and in 2019, and so have gotten to see the park’s development over time. When I first visited, the Toy Story section had not yet been built, and the park is currently adding a section themed to Zootopia. It is clear that they are actively trying to improve parts of the park. Shanghai Disneyland is accessible via the Shanghai subway system. (However, be aware that it shuts down around 11 pm, and if you stay far enough away from the park you may have to leave early.) There is also a hotel on site, but I personally stayed closer to the Bund.

The first time I visited the park, we got a locker and immediately headed to ride TRON. In theory I knew that most of the people in the park would be doing this, but it was the ride I wanted to get on the most. Based upon what rides got very long lines (and when) during that first visit, my plan for my second visit was to start with the carousel (it had a two hour wait the entire time I was there the first trip, so I missed it), Pirates of the Caribbean, and then over to TRON. Unfortunately, due to the length of the security line (more about this later), the carousel already had a long wait by the time we got in the park, even though we had gotten there very early. Therefore, we started with Pirates this time.

The first time I rode Shanghai’s Pirates of the Caribbean it blew me away and was completely jaw dropping. This year I am not sure if it needs rehab or if knowing what to expect made me less impressed, but it wasn’t quite as cool. Nevertheless, this is still my favorite dark ride and I’m glad we got on it early in the day. It only had a half hour to 45-minute wait by the time we entered the park, and would be two or more hours later in the day.

Credit: Jill Morris

TRON Lightcycle Power Run is one of my favorite coasters (and yes, I am very happy that it is coming to the US, though I fear the long lines). It has such a great reveal early in the queue that even if you use Premier Access you need to stand in front of the blank wall and wait for the brief presentation before continuing through the door to the main queue. It won’t take long and is worth it. Once through the reveal, you will progress through some rooms that allow you to watch the launch and provide some context for the ride, but the reality is that this doesn’t need much context. If you have ever wanted to ride a light cycle from TRON this is your chance, and the “story” doesn’t really matter much beyond that. Getting to ride TRON more than once cemented it for me as an incredibly solid ride. It is somewhat short, but that makes it re-ridable. Also, it is beautifully lit at night. There is a built-in container for small items in the cycle itself. There is also a lot of space around the ride to watch the launch for people who decide to not ride.

Continuing to the back of the park from TRON, you will now find the Toy Story section. Rex’s Racer is located here, which is an Intamin Surf Rider. I’m not a big fan of these types of rides, but the student who was with me loves them, so I rode. I’m glad I did — the theming is pretty cute and fantastic, but it’s also a decently powerful and fun ride. We also rode Woody’s Roundup in this section because it was part of a Premier Access pack.

Credit: Jill Morris

We didn’t get to the final coaster till far later in the day (since that is when our free Fast Pass time was). The Seven Dwarfs Mine Train is more or less like its American cousin. Both times I have ridden this I have had a fast pass, and would not probably wait for it either. It is incredibly smooth due to the swinging of the ride cars, and has a pocket for mouse ears, glasses, and phones (though larger items might need to be stowed in a locker).

Between the coasters we rode as many other rides as possible. The Winnie the Pooh ride is regrettably not as well themed as the other dark rides in the park. It will probably appeal greatly to children, but not be jaw-droppingly awesome (such as Pirates is) to adults. The same can be said for the Peter Pan ride. Pooh’s Hunny Pot Spin, the Shanghai version of the teacups, has very very tight teacups that are difficult to spin. I am not sure if this is on purpose or if it is because the local guests simply don’t spin them. There is a castle walk-through that shows you some scenes from Snow White that children especially found magical. In reality, it is pretty cool just to be able to walk up inside the castle. There is also a boat ride around the castle (Ariel’s Grotto) and an Alice in Wonderland maze. These are great opportunities for photos as you can take cameras on them.

The Soaring ride at Shanghai Disneyland has a plot that is set up during the queue. This is actually pretty neat even if you cannot understand a lot of it. This has a long line, so it is another good ride to either visit early (it is very close to Pirates) or late if you are staying close by.

Credit: Jill Morris

Lastly, the Fantasia Carousel is beautiful and is a wonderful idea for a themed Disney carousel. It is based upon the pastoral scene in Fantasia, and there are some related souvenirs available in the park.

Shanghai Disneyland is one of the only Chinese parks that I have eaten at. (Since I did not spend a full day at many of the others, we ate before or after.) The eatery near TRON has a pork sandwich that is simply fantastic, and I recommend that you try it if at all possible (it is currently themed to Marvel, but had a different theme in 2017). One warning though — this year most of the restaurants closed down at 6, hours before the park did. We were planning on getting more food, and were unable to do so. Look up hours for restaurants when you arrive at the park and make sure that the places you want to eat will be open when you plan on eating. Like other Disney parks, souvenir popcorn buckets and drink cups are available for sale.

No Chinese parks have the selection of souvenirs that American ones do. Some barely have souvenirs at all. Shirts are especially difficult to find. However, Disney has the most of any park I’ve been to, including several shops that are popular in other Disney parks. You will find a shop that specializes in mouse ears (including some specifically for Shanghai), and Pirates and TRON both exit to small stores. Most of China’s amusement park merchandise is toys, however. There is less merchandise for adults than you would find in your average Cedar Fair or Six Flags park, and Disney is really no different in that way. You can find some shirts, mugs, and jewelry, and even a few Christmas ornaments if you look hard enough. The shopping is better here than at other parks, but it would be best to buy souvenirs for people who stayed home outside the park (or at least do not depend upon parks for all your shopping while traveling).

Credit: Jill Morris

Fast passes at Shanghai Disneyland are managed by their app. If you are not staying at the hotel, you will have to be  physically in the park to scan your ticket and start signing up for fast passes (including the free ones that are available to everyone — you can sign up every couple of hours or so). Tickets are tied to your passport (you don’t print them off an email or anything) so there is no way to get access to the fast pass system early. Upon entering at 9, I was able to get a fast pass for the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train at 7 pm — but TRON had already been given out for the day. At 11 I was able to get a fast pass for Winnie the Pooh.

During my first visit, the fast pass system was paper based. At certain times of the day everyone would line up and wait for a fast pass to an attraction at a fast pass location. The fast pass line was one of the longest we waited in all day (other than the security line). The app is much easier to use, providing that you can access the wifi okay. The wifi requires a code texted to your phone, though, so you must have a Chinese phone number to get access. The same code does work for multiple phones.

Additional fast passes (called “Premier Access” on the app but “Fast passes” on the website) can be purchased via the app. Since Shanghai Disneyland tickets are only about $70-80 USD, on this trip I have to admit that I purchased fast passes for my party (and it was still cheaper than an average Disney ticket in the US). There are some disadvantages to Premier Access. You may miss one of the best reveals in the TRON queue, for example, if someone else opens a door before you are ready to. However, very few people buy these passes (there was never a line in the Premier Access queue, so I never really felt like we were forcing other people to wait much longer, which I don’t like in US parks. It may grow in popularity, but for now the price may be worth it. The “packs” are discounted, so it is best to pay for a pack of passes to several rides than paying for the rides individually. Most of the packs will involve some smaller rides that you may not be as interested in, but when you get to a flat ride and it has an hour wait you might be happy that you have the Premier Access anyway.

Credit: Jill Morris

A new benefit that can be purchased is Early Park Entrance. Normally reserved for hotel guests, Disney has opened this up to all guests (for a price) likely because of complaints about the security wait.

Although in general I love this park and plan on returning, the security and ticketing line is simply the worst part of the experience. When I visited in 2017 it was a free-for-all and you could basically push your way closer to the front of the line. In 2019, it is very controlled, with a lot of queues (you stand in line in one queue to get into another and then into a third). It is clear that Shanghai Disney wants to improve this guest experience and is listening to guests about how terrible this particular part of the park is, but the solutions thus far have not been successful. This year it was pouring down rain when I got to the park. Everyone in China carries umbrellas (including myself) so this wasn’t that much of a problem. However, since most Chinese people are about a half a foot or more shorter than me, this posed a major issue. As we crowded through the security queue, I was constantly having rain poured onto me from other people’s umbrellas. Unfortunately, it was being poured onto my DSLR as well (the weather sealing held out, but one of the dials on top still needs repair as a result). Waiting in line for 1-2 hours to get into the park is not how anybody wants to start their day, and creates a lot of stress in just about everyone coming to the park.

Though I attempted to get to the park sooner this time to try to bypass the line, coming before the park opened did not work (and the park opened at 8 am). We will did not get in until 9 or after, were completely soaked, and didn’t want to wait in any more lines, period. This weighed heavily into my decision to purchase fast passes.

The Early Park Entrance program would allow us to get into the park before opening, supposedly for about 158 RMB (about $22.50). When I return to the park, I will be purchasing my tickets early enough to also purchase this access. I’m not waiting in the line again, and I don’t recommend that you do either. Yes, you will have to arrive before the park opens and that might be very early after a longish commute by subway unless you stay nearby, but it really will be worth the extra money.

Lastly, it would be remiss to not discuss the topic that comes up any time that people mention Shanghai Disney — park cleanliness. Every time I have gone people have warned me about how guests pee on the sidewalk and in the lines and that there is trash everywhere. I’d like to dispel (or at least explain) some of these myths.

First, it is true that many Chinese people will potty-train their children in completely different ways than Westerners do. Especially in the “country,” children are sometimes not diapered and instead wear pants with a hole or slit in the back that allows them to go wherever and whenever they need to. This is considered to be more healthy for developing children’s bowels and bladders than forcing them to hold it at a young age, or sitting in their own poop or pee for an extended period of time.

In order for very young children to use a squat toilet, they have to be held over it (the parent bends at the waist and supports the child by the arms and thighs). I have definitely seen this same pose in public, usually over a trash can. I recommend that you leave the withering looks to other Chinese people (not everyone approves of this, especially in cities). Our own potty-training methods are just as strange to them, especially extended use of diapers.

Some Chinese parents will also carry a potty with them so that their child may go into a smaller toilet whenever they need to. Yes, I have witnessed this in line, but I have also seen it out in other parts of public. In line, this prevents the parent from leaving the line and cutting back in, so while it is different than what we see in the US, I am not terribly worried by it.

Lastly, it is often confusing in Disneyland whether one should bus their own table or not after eating. At my favorite restaurant (near TRON) there are workers that will clean up after you. Elsewhere in the park, there are not. There are no signs in any language telling you what to do with your trash, so it does sometimes build up on tables before being cleared. However, there are Chinese fast food restaurants where it is perfectly appropriate to leave your garbage on the table (versus the US where this is almost never okay), including some that are US owned. That means that there is a perfectly valid reason why people, including foreigners, have no idea what situation a given restaurant is in. This could be fixed with signs, but between my two visits no improvements have been made.

However, that doesn’t mean it is a dirty park! The paths, gardens, rides, queues, and bathrooms are wonderfully clean. Disneyland has some of the nicest bathrooms that I have had the pleasure of using in China (both squat and Western toilets are available). Most of the articles talking about the cleanliness of the park are basing their judgement upon very early reviews including its soft opening, which is simply not fair — especially several years later. I will also say that after a month and a half in China I am perfectly fine sitting next to some trash and having a beer. If cleanliness of table surfaces is important to you, eat in one of the restaurant areas with servers (and reservations) or do so where there are bussers.

Up next: China travel tips

Coasters of China – Part 3: Window of the World

by Jill Morris

Window of the World
Kaifu, Changsha, Hunan, China

Credit: Jill Morris

Window of the World is described by locals as the “old” park; in fact, the faculty member who drove me there told me it was probably “50 years old.” However, the park opened in 1997 so while it is certainly older than a lot of parks in China, it is still pretty new by American standards.  Window of the World is themed to famous world landmarks. They generally are not integrated into the rides themselves, but instead are separate photo opportunities scattered around the park. Window of the World is located directly off of a major freeway that travels through Changsha, so if you are in the city you may very well see the park from the road. The other parks in the Changsha area are either outside the city or not visible from the road (featuring small rides).

We visited during the week and the park was virtually deserted. In general that is a good thing, but as some Chinese parks do, Window of the World has operators wait until trains are at least partially full until dispatching. Therefore, a coaster might look like a walk on but you still might be waiting a really long time for the actual dispatch. We waited longer for the coasters than for the flats, which seemed more popular with the locals (this might change when their new coaster opens sometime next year). This also makes it pretty impossible to marathon any of the rides in the park because you need to wait for other guests to show up.

Credit: Jill Morris

The first coaster I rode here was a Zamperla Motocoaster called Speed Shuttle. This is actually quite a bit of fun, and was the coaster that I enjoyed most at this park. It is not terribly tall or fast, but anything going much taller or faster wouldn’t be very comfortable in these restraints anyway.

The park has a knockoff Gerstlauer Sky Roller, and though I went on it several times I do not believe it is possible to completely roll the seats over. Despite this, it’s a fun little ride that you shouldn’t miss, not least of all because the Chinese riders seem to try to keep their seats as steady as possible while foreign riders attempt to get the seats to tip as much as possible. The contrast is quite funny. (You will see this on teacup rides as well—Chinese guests tend to not spin them while foreign guests will.)

The spinning coaster was closed the day that I visited. I don’t honestly know if it would open later in the day or not (the map did not make this clear, nor were there signs; the cars were covered though, so we assumed that it would at least be awhile before it opened). Therefore, we went to ride the second coaster that was opened, the SLC knockoff called “Suspended Coaster.”

Credit: Jill Morris

This one is manufactured by Beijing Jiuhua Amusement Rides manufacturing. I much prefer Golden Horse rides to these. Although the Beijing model had incredibly padded restraints, there will be major issues for most Americans who attempt to ride this particular coaster. When we tried to board we were immediately stopped by a ride operator who would not allow us to choose the front seat despite being the only people in line. She then pointed to me, said “fat” (along with a gesture and puffed up cheeks), looked to the student I was visiting with, said “tall,” and made us ride in the very back. He is a little over six feet tall and I wear a women’s size 12, for reference.

The ride operators were incredibly surprised that I could ride at all, apparently. The restraint locked just fine, but it seems to be procedure here that for most Chinese people the restraint locks in its smallest setting. They were all very surprised that it would lock further up or that the computer would clear it. The same was true for my student, who was apparently too tall for the restraints.

The seats (other than the back) all had booster seats installed so that the restraints would fit even tighter on average (very small) Chinese guests.

Despite fitting, this was incredibly uncomfortable. The padded restraints do help with the head shaking that is normally a problem on an SLC, but the bones in my hips were wider than the hard plastic seats (a problem that weight loss would not fix), so I was actually perched up on their edges. We had to wait a long time for the train to dispatch, and these plastic sides dug into my hip, butt, and leg bones throughout the ride. This is the only Chinese roller coaster that I have been on that I would never ride again. I had similar issues with the size of the seats on flats that were manufactured by the Beijing Jiuhua company as well (I always fit but it was not comfortable), so I would not recommend these rides for anyone my size or larger. Of course, you can always try if you want the credits, but I am not sure that some of these rides are worth the effort or potential embarrassment.

Credit: Jill Morris

The park is in the process of building an S&S coaster. It was supposed to open this year, but was still sitting in a field with camouflage over it when I visited. Fortunately, since that time it has started being constructed and may open next year. It will be a very good addition for this park and should bring back a lot of business to it.

The theming here is not as good as at the newer parks, however, the park makes up for it with beautiful tree cover throughout. During the summer it is incredibly hot in Changsha, so having shade to walk under is fantastic. Although Chinese amusement parks don’t have many souvenirs in general, this one mostly sold some small toys (including some great My Little Pony knockoffs called “Little Horse”). The park does have some statues that are meant to be Disney-esque, as well as a castle.

The rides here all have cubbies for cameras and bags, and people use them (including with expensive items). Since only one train’s worth of guests will be allowed in the station, this is generally safe.

There are some excellent restaurants outside of the park (within walking distance), and it is easy to get a taxi out front as well. Have your destination written in Chinese and you should not have any trouble getting to or from Window of the World even though it is not yet on the subway system.

Up next: Shanghai Disneyland

Coasters of China – Part 2: Happy Valley Beijing

by Jill Morris

Happy Valley Beijing
Chaoyang, Beijing, China

Credit: Jill Morris

Happy Valley Beijing is available on the Beijing subway system. This makes it very easy to get to (it has its own stop, which has some fantastic art related to the park). The B&M flyer here might be a clone of Superman, but it goes around and through a mountain and feels completely different. Like Fantawild, Happy Valley is very well themed, but is more based in thrills and has a lot more coasters. Happy Valley is slightly more expensive than Fantawild (though this might be because it is in a bigger city), but offers a late-afternoon discount. Be aware, however, that many rides will close at 4 p.m., so do not think that it is possible to ride all the coasters on the afternoon ticket. It is cheaper because some rides will be shut down.

On the day we visited, it was thunderstorming when we arrived, but after a quick discussion with the gate agent (she really wanted me to understand that no rides would be open till the thunderstorm stopped), we went anyway. I was immediately struck by theming, again. Chinese companies invest a lot in these parks. They all feel very new and very well developed.

Credit: Jill Morris

The rain stopped, there was a rainbow, and some of the rides reopened (only briefly, though, as some would be closing soon). I was surprised to find out that some of the indoor rides would not be open later even though everything outside was closed, so the ride opening and closing times here are much more strict than at Fantawild. (I was especially sad that the Air Race, one of my favorite flat rides, was closed despite being inside during the storm.) At Happy Valley, there are opening and closing times for all major rides on their website, and you should assume they will be followed. To ride everything, you should at least plan on spending the morning and early afternoon at the park. You won’t be able to visit in the late afternoon and ride everything, though you will be able to wander around, take photos, and experience the park.

The centerpiece of Happy Valley is Crystal Wings, a Superman clone that circles a mountain-side city. The coaster feels completely different thanks to the theming, and there are many good things to be said about how the park has themed and maintained all of their rides.

The park also has Extreme Rusher, an S&S launched coaster, which is in a section of the park themed to cars and speed. This had closed by the time the storm was over, so I can’t speak personally to how it rides. To get this credit it is best to go in the morning or early afternoon.

Credit: Jill Morris

The Family Inverted Coaster is also a B&M, and it is one of only two family inverted coasters by them in the world (both in China). This is an excellent little ride, and I was initially more excited to ride it than Crystal Wings.

The park has two Vekomas. One is fairly standard SLC, but given that SLC-looking coasters are often knock-offs in China, I appreciate that they installed the real thing. It is also called Golden Wings in Snowfield, which is a beautiful name that reflects that it is painted white. The ride goes through some fairly thick trees, which also helps with the experience.

Their second Vekoma is a mine-train model called Jungle Racing (it is not a racing coaster, however). It also goes through the woods. I was almost crazily excited by this ride because you can ride in what is normally the “zero car” in mine train coasters actually shaped like a train. Regrettably, the pillars that hold up the roof on the train engine are metal and not padded and adult-sized humans will knock their elbows and head into them while riding. On Jungle Racing we were allowed to ride with our backpacks and other bags, which seemed strange, but we were not allowed to leave them on the platform. Other rides had cubbies or allowed bags to be left on the platform.

Credit: Jill Morris

Like Fantawild, Happy Valley seemed to only let one train’s worth of guests into the station at once (though, given the low crowds, no rides were running two trains). As such, safety of personal items was not really a concern. (I have gotten comfortable leaving my DSLR places in China that I definitely would not in the US, but only in parks that are fairly empty with high security.)

I visited the park in 2018, and so the B&M hyper was currently under construction when we were there. One of the big differences between Chinese and American parks is how easy it is to walk into construction sites by accident, so if there is construction going on at a park be careful. (We walked onto the site for Flight of the Himalayan Eagle Music Roller Coaster completely by accident while looking for a path around to the front of the park that no longer existed. We quickly backed up and went around the long way.) Be careful. China expects its citizens to take care of themselves in these circumstances. In any case, this ride is now complete, stands 157.5 feet tall, and has a splash effect.

Credit: Jill Morris

Happy Valley has a lot of flat rides that are well maintained and worth a ride, but be sure to not miss their Intamin Flying Island that is called Energy Collector. This platform is raised on an arm. You stand around on the platform without restraints, so when it changes direction or begins to go up and down it can actually be a little scary. It also provides fantastic views of the entire park. They are a rare enough ride that it shouldn’t be missed.

Happy Valley is accessible directly off of Line 7 from the Beijing subway and has its own stop, the Happy Valley Scenic Area station, which is right outside the front gate.

Up next: Window of the World

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