by Jill Morris
For the past three summers of work as an associate professor of English at Frostburg State University, I have spent a month in Changsha, the capital of the Hunan province in the People’s Republic of China. When my department chair first asked me if I would be interested in this trip, I checked RCDB (the Roller Coaster DataBase) and found out that there were parks in the area, so I partially agreed based upon the fact that Changsha had multiple parks to visit, and I was assured that travel within the country was relatively easy. What follows is not just information about each park I’ve been to, but also general travel tips for China and ideas about how to get the most out of visiting amusement parks there.
Fantawild Adventure and Dreamland
Shifeng, Zhuzhou, Hunan, China
Fantawild is located outside of Changsha, reachable by taxi or Didi (China’s Uber service). Fantawild is one of the large park operators in China and is currently expanding. This location now has three parks, with their Oriental Heritage park opening shortly after I left this past summer. Fantawild is a theme park complex with incredible theming. One of the things I noticed in Chinese parks is just how largeeverything is. Perspective is used much less often to make buildings look larger than in parks in the US.
Because the Hunan province gets very hot during the summer, the two parks I visited had many indoor attractions, including multiple 4D attractions and dark rides on par with Universal’s rides. When I visited, a ticket that got us admission to both parks was about $30 USD. It was a very hot day, so the parks were fairly empty despite it being a holiday weekend (the Dragon Boat Festival). Locals will tell you that you have to spend several days to experience everything at Fantawild. However, we were able to ride the coasters and several other rides in half an afternoon with little trouble. If I go back I will want to spend more time there because I missed some of the dark rides and we did not see any shows, but it was over 100 degrees F, so I did not experience lines or waits and was able to see all the rides within the time frame we had.
This Fantawild location has a lot of coasters that are by familiar manufacturers. My favorite is Jungle Trailblazer, a Gravity Group woodie that is incredibly twisty. Built in 2016, this is not the tallest or flashiest ride at the park, but it is incredibly smooth and is the only woodie I have had the pleasure to ride in China. Since most Chinese parks are relatively new, they don’t have many older rides like woodies from decades past. However, they are building smaller woodies that provide great laterals and airtime to fill this gap in many of their parks.
The other coaster in Dreamland is a Vekoma boomerang with the hilarious name Stress Express. This is a newer boomerang, also built with the park in 2016, and offers a fairly smooth ride, especially for the model.
In the Adventure part of the park, there is a Golden Horse mine train called Vesuvio Volcano and a Golden Horse suspended looping coaster (SLC) called Flare Meteor. The mine train has nice theming and is a lot more fun than the SLC. However, if you are going to ride a knock-off SLC in China I highly recommend Golden Horse over Beijing Jiuhua Amusement Rides Manufacturing. Golden Horse has larger seats and is overall a better match to the original SLC than the Beijing Jiuhua model.
I can’t overstate how beautiful these parks are. Every area feels incredibly well done, and I look forward to visiting the Oriental Heritage park this next summer. The new park not only promises a new Vekoma coaster, but also rides that share a lot of information about the history of the local area. Changsha is the birthplace of Chairman Mao (be sure to visit Orange Island near downtown to see a statue as well as some beautiful gardens) and also the location of the Hunan Provincial Museum where you can view Lady Dai, a world-famous mummy. Fantawild’s newest park in Changsha celebrates this heritage and hopes to educate foreigners and locals alike about this history.
Operations notes: Fantawild only allowed one train’s worth of people (or two rafts on their shoot-the-chutes ride) in the station at a time. Cubbies are in use to protect your belongings. On days with one train operations, this means that valuables such as phones can be left in the station in a backpack with few worries (the Chinese students I traveled with acted like I was a little crazy for worrying at all).
Outdoor queues at Fantawild have seating and lots of mist machines. The seating is especially nice, though unlikely to appear in the US.
Fantawild sometimes closes early (6 pm the day I visited), so be sure to double check an operating calendar before visiting. Sometimes rides will close off their queues early before closing, but if they get cleared out before closing they will reopen them and let some more people in.
Up next: Happy Valley Beijing
The parks are open again! We are so fortunate to have holiday celebrations at all the major parks in the Mid-Atlantic.
Here are some tips to make your visit more delightful!
If you have tips of your own to share – please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Holiday in the Park at Six Flags America runs through January 1st.
Included with a 2019 or 2020 season pass, or a membership
What’s new this year? Firebird is operating, so there are FIVE roller coasters to ride! The park is featuring three new shows – “Saving Christmas” – a holiday stunt show, “Dancin’ Through the Holidays” in the Crazy Horse Saloon, and “Behold, the Messiah” in the Grand Theatre.
What’s to know? The front part of the park is fully decked out for the holidays. The Gotham City area of the park is not operational for Holiday in the Park.
The food? New food items are sprinkled throughout the park, so check out all your favorite eateries.
More information: https://www.sixflags.com/america/special-events/holiday-in-the-park
Winterfest at Kings Dominion
Included with a 2019 or 2020 season pass
Two roller coasters are operating this year – Dominator and Twisted Timbers, both weather permitting.
Outdoor ice skating is available for an additional fee. It is cheaper when purchased online before arriving and does sell out commonly.
Carriage rides are available for an additional fee.
What will the kids enjoy? Holiday shows with lots of energy, and cookie decorating in Mrs. Claus’ Kitchen (available for an extra fee).
What’s new to eat? Holiday food items are available at all restaurants, so check out the website for many options: https://www.kingsdominion.com/play/winterfest/attractions
More information: https://www.kingsdominion.com/play/winterfest
Christmas Town at Busch Gardens
A Christmas Town ticket is required. Discount tickets are available to passholders/members.
Enjoy rides on THREE roller coasters – Grover’s Alpine Express, Verbolten, and Invadr – plus many more rides.
What’s new? Traditions Tree Maze features 500 trees near Festhaus.
Who doesn’t dream of playing like a kid again? Fun Land of Fredericksburg offered 28 ACE members that feeling of euphoria and endless fun with no worries on Sunday, October 13th, while hosting Play Like A Kid, a follow-up event to Fall Thrillfest. Fun Land of Fredericksburg was recently recognized in 2nd place as the World’s Best FEC (family entertainment center) by Amusement Today’s Golden Ticket Awards, so we knew a great day was ahead. But what to our wondering eyes, was a dark and quiet coaster when we arrived. The bad news was confirmed, the coaster had experienced a maintenance issue and was awaiting the arrival of a part from Italy, but the great news was that there is so much to do that we always run out of time.
With our all-we-can-ride-and-play wristband (at an amazing price by the way), we enjoyed the indoor attractions. including a clip-and-climb structure, bumper cars, mini bowling, and tons of video games. Attendees were seen battling on Mario Kart & Guitar Hero, playing air hockey, and riding a snowmobile together. When the clock struck noon, all the outdoor attractions opened! The queue was immediately full of anxious ACE members waiting to experience the new multi-level go-kart track, Thunder Speedway. Intermittent rain didn’t dampen our day because rides opened again once the rain stopped. Batting cages, a round-up, scrambler, and go-karts for younger children filled our short time until lunch was served.
All-you-can-eat pizza, wings, and fries satisfied this hungry group with lunch. Regional Rep Elizabeth Ringas welcomed all and awarded a few door prizes donated by Fun Land before General Manager (and co-host of our podcast, Ride With ACE) Clint Novak shared insight and future plans from behind the scenes at Fun Land.
To continue our behind-the-scenes look, Clint took us on a lights-on tour of the newest addition, Mortician’s Nightmare, a new maze in their Fright Land. Fright Land is a new expansion that tripled the haunted offerings. New this year is a large tented outdoor maze that takes guests into the depths of a Morticians Nightmare as well as a custom-designed escape room. The escape room is a great example of the creativity required of a small FEC to maximize revenue in a limited space because they adapted two party rooms into this dark and challenging game.
The evening concluded with another round of door prizes and a randomly drawn participant from the mini-golf tournament. Thank you to all who joined us and for the extreme hospitality that Fun Land of Fredericksburg offered ACE. If you are passing through Fredericksburg, Virginia, stop in and enjoy the ACE discount to catch a ride on Twist-n-Shout.
– Elizabeth Ringas
by Elizabeth Ringas
A perfect fall day welcomed 135 ACE members and their guests from 12 states to the 14th annual Fall Thrillfest at Kings Dominion on Saturday, October 12th. A brief delay at the parking tolls sent volunteers into speedy mode to get everyone ready for a prompt start to ERT. All received their custom-designed event button in addition to their registration packet. Winners of the registration giveaway received their limited edition Twisted Timbers ticket plaque.
ERT kicked off with rides on Twisted Timbers and Racer 75. As ERT concluded, all headed off to enjoy short waits for the 11 other coasters in the park because the beautiful weather would certainly attract evening crowds.
Shortly after park opening, attendees gathered for the Mid-Atlantic’s annual game tournament, which brings out a little healthy competition, laughter, and fun as we battle at the water gun shoot-out! Players fired water at a target to earn a spot in the finals. Stephanie Brady squirted her dog to the top first for the win. Kids battled in their own round, and Afnan Allahbaksh took home the prize.
ITOTs (Informal Takeover Times) offer attendees the opportunity to meet new friends and enjoy the energy of a ride packed with fellow members. Standing in line together can be a great place for ACE social time. Intimidator 305’s takeover brought many together filling multiple trains with members. Throughout the day, other ITOTs were held on Woodstock Express, Grizzly, and the Flying Eagles. Thank you to the volunteers who led these gatherings.
After a few minutes to catch another ride, all met for a backstage tour of Intimidator 305, Kings Dominion’s 300-foot Intamin coaster. The tour took attendees beside the lift hill, checking out the elevator cable system, and a journey deep into the structure to the first drop, where we took our group photo.
Prior to lunch, an ice cream social was held for tweens & teens, and their friends and family, to help make ACE special for the next generation. ACE Mid-Atlantic’s Coast On activities create a great opportunity to help younger members meet their peers and build lasting coaster friendships.
Lunch offered an all-you-can-eat buffet featuring new menu items added by Kings Dominion’s new executive chef, Denis Callinan. Lunch included Italian sausage with peppers and onions, fire-braised pulled chicken, tossed salad, macaroni and cheese, oven-roasted potatoes, cookies, chips, and soda. Once all had filled their plates, attendees were encouraged to find other members to complete a tic-tac-toe game filled with random facts, like who had the opportunity to ride Volcano, has a tattoo, has been tent camping, a member of the regional rep team, or has been in ACE for over 5 years. Three completed tic-tac-toes were drawn at random to win a pair of Fright Lane passes courtesy of Kings Dominion. Door prizes were given out randomly throughout lunch as well as some other get-to-know-you prizes, like who traveled the fartherest and who has attended the most ACE events this year. After a brief presentation of volunteers and reminders by regional rep, Elizabeth Ringas, Park President Tony Johnson answered questions from the audience. Check out the entire presentation at https://www.facebook.com/acemidatlantic/videos/497322357781310/.
After lunch, a few attendees took over a train on Woodstock Express, while others tried to catch a ride on Flight of Fear before its 4:00 early closing and before our exclusive Haunt activities began. Steve Fotta, Director of Haunt, took us on a behind-the-scenes look at Blood on the Bayou, Kings Dominion’s newest and most elaborate maze with two walk-throughs – one with the lights on and one with the lights off and all effects turned on. Hear from Steve Fotta himself in our recent interview at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iLEk9_UGRjU&t=1s.
Later in the evening, we took a third walk-through during our EHT (exclusive haunt time) with all the monsters in place. It was fascinating to see how the detailed effects create an immersive experience and really do enhance the overall Haunt experience. Our EHT continued with front-of-the-line access to Trick-or-Treat, a fairy-tale themed maze. Our EHT brought the official end to this year’s Fall Thrillfest. We hope you will join us October 10, 2020, for the 15th annual Fall Thrillfest! A huge thank-you to Kings Dominion for planning another fabulous event for us!
We had an opportunity to experience one of this year’s new coasters this past September. We decided to attend Rollercoasters Eh! – the annual event at Canada’s Wonderland, which was held by the ACE Canada region. We flew to Buffalo, New York, via Baltimore. Once we arrived in Buffalo, we got our rental car and drove across the border into Canada. We got settled into our hotel, then we ventured into Toronto. We visited the Hockey Hall of Fame and the CN Tower.
Saturday morning, we got up and got ourselves ready to go to Canada’s Wonderland for the event. 180 people from the USA and Canada were in attendance. Once we arrived, they had a small breakfast consisting of donuts and coffee from Tim Hortons (it’s the Canadian version of Dunkin Donuts). After that, we were divided into small groups for the tour, which took place at their newest attraction, Yukon Striker (a B&M dive coaster). They took us inside the tunnel and underneath the station. It was very interesting. The ERT session for the morning consisted of Behemoth and Backlot Stunt Coaster for an hour. Once 10:00 rolled around, the park opened to the general public, and we got the first rides of the day on Yukon Striker. After that, we went to the International Marketplace Restaurant, where they gave us another breakfast, buffet style. Then it was free time to explore the park.
Around 2:00, it was time for lunch, which was also held at the International Marketplace Restaurant. During lunch, each attendee got a Yukon Striker bag with a sports bottle inside. An hour later, it was time for a Q&A session with the management. One of the many things that they told us is that they’re getting WinterFest this year, but no, coasters won’t be operating. At 8:00, it was closing time, so we had ERT on Vortex (an Arrow suspended), Wonder Mountain’s Guardian, Leviathan, and to end the night, Yukon Striker. Overall, it was a great weekend.
– Shannon Somerville and Bob Ziems