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

Coasters of China – Part 1: Fantawild Adventure and Dreamland

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

Credit: Jill Morris

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.

Credit: Jill Morris

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.

Credit: Jill Morris

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.

Credit: Jill Morris

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

Mid-Atlantic Parks Are Open for the Holidays

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 eringas@aceonline.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.

Special Extras:

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 ExpressVerbolten, and Invadr – plus many more rides.

What’s new? Traditions Tree Maze features 500 trees near Festhaus.

More info: https://buschgardens.com/williamsburg/events/christmas-town/

– Elizabeth Ringas

The Day Without a Coaster

Attendees pose for a group photo in front of Fun Land of Fredericksburg’s new go-kart track, Thunder Speedway. (Credit: Elizabeth Ringas)

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.

Playing air hockey at Fun Land of Fredericksburg (Credit: Elizabeth Ringas)

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.

Ready to race (Credit: Elizabeth Ringas)

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

2019 Fall Thrillfest

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.

Focused competitors participate in the water shoot-out game. (Credit: Elizabeth Ringas)

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.

Photographers snap photos of Intimidator 305 during the backstage tour. (Credit: Jill Ryan)

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.

A quick group photo before the informal takeover of Intimidator 305 (Credit: Elizabeth Ringas)

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/.

Park President Tony Johnson answers questions from attendees. (Credit: Jill Ryan)

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!

 

A group photo during the Intimidator 305 tour (Credit: Jill Ryan)