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August 22, 2009

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Stops and starts, but Happy Valley ticket holders can smile at last

DENIS Chen, a junior student at Shanghai International Studies University in suburban Songjiang District, bought an annual ticket for the Happy Valley theme park in July, when "it still looked like a construction site."

He waited and waited. After a few delays due to unfinished attractions and bad weather, it finally opened last weekend.

Chen was determined to go on the opening day "because we have been waiting for a place like this for so long."

True. For Chen and many others who bought annual tickets, Happy Valley has been long awaited.

Since its organizers first announced ticket prices and opening dates in April, the theme park has sold more than 60,000 annual tickets.

On the first day, about 22,000 visitors went to the park, although some attractions were still under construction. A diving roller coaster, a star item of the park, had a problem on the first day and stopped on the track for three minutes.

During the past few days, several other attractions also had minor problems which led to them being stopped for a few hours.

"It is quite an amusing place just like I expected, and I'm willing to wait in long lines for the thrilling facilities because that's part of theme parks. But I hope some accompanying services in the park will be improved," says 20-year-old Chen.

Before it opened, the only choices in the city were the Jinjiang Amusement Park in Xuhui District and the Dino Beach Water Park in Minhang District.

Jinjiang Park, which opened in 1984, is less expensive and smaller due to its location. Dino Beach, which opened in 1997, only operates during the summertime as it has a water theme.

Other amusement parks, which mostly opened in the 1990s, were closed down before 2000 even though they had all attracted thousands of visitors when they first started.

When Happy Valley finally opened, thousands of visitors rushed in even though some facilities were still not finished.

Chen says the park is quite clean and the rides exciting, yet there are small problems here and there.

"It's really hot in line because there's no shelter for the queue and the lines on the first day were really long. For those popular facilities, I probably waited more than an hour and it was really hot," Chen says.

He also had complaints about the food and beverage services. Only two fast food restaurants are available there, not enough to meet the demand from the crowds of visitors.

"I was very hungry and thirsty, but it took a long time to get lunch. And a bottle of mineral water costs 5 yuan (73 US cents) in the park. It's usually less than two yuan, even in other parks," he says.

Happy Valley, which has three other parks in Beijing, Shenzhen and Chengdu, has established a reputation as a Chinese theme park similar to America's Disneyland. The one in Shanghai is said to be the largest, and includes seven themed areas all built around existing hills and waters in suburban Shanghai.

With its five roller coasters -- one wooden, one a water ride -- and thrill rides such as its drop tower, the park should prove attractive for adrenaline junkies, yet it isn't quite a Cedar Point, the American amusement park that boasts 17 such fast-paced rides.

Instead, it's closer to Six Flags or the myriad theme parks in Orlando, Florida, which have themed sections with matching attractions. Happy Valley's themed areas range from a gold mine resembling a scene from a Wild West movie to a traditional amusement park section full of roller-coasters and classic rides.

The Shanghai theme park has 12 major attractions, with dozens of smaller ones such as merry-go-rounds.

There's also Jue Ding Xiong Feng, a new type of roller-coaster claimed to be "the most thrilling in the world." It starts with a long climb to its peak of 60 meters and falls at almost at 90 degrees. Later, the carts take visitors to a second straight fall, only a little lower than the first.

The water ride is another attraction. This takes visitors through a variety of different scenes including canyons, flowers and caves before falling from the peak of 26 meters, causing waves over 5 meters high. Those who don't want to get wet can also experience the power of the waves from the sidelines, behind a large glass wall.

A great deal of attention has been paid to the park's design, giving it a strong sense of atmosphere that kids and adults alike should find eye-catching.

For example, in the harbor area, the buildings are painted a variety of muted, seaside colors, and the windows all hang at jaunty angles, giving everything an almost cartoonish feel.

More visitors expected

If you're less keen on rides, Happy Valley also has a theater with a seating capacity of 4,500, showcasing dancing, singing and Chinese circus feats, and an extensive gaming and activities center. While many other theme parks have these kinds of attractions, very few have them at this size and scale.

It's probably a necessity for Happy Valley, however, considering how many visitors it plans to attract -- 10,000 daily, according to the park, and 5 to 7 million visitors per year.

While this falls short of Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom's annual 17 million visitors and Tokyo Disneyland's 14.2 million, this far surpasses, say, the New Jersey and Illinois Six Flags, which average 2.6 million each.

So if you're planning on going to Happy Valley in the near future, be prepared for crowds and long queues.

In a nutshell, if you're only interested in the biggest, fastest coasters, this might not be what you're looking for. However, the large number of general attractions and shows makes this ideal for a family or group outing, and the park still sports some thrilling rides. There's something for everyone, which is key.

And if you've been to your share of theme parks and then some, don't worry -- Happy Valley's distinct, vibrant atmosphere follows in the same successful vein, so it's surely worth a look.

To many people in Shanghai, the Jinjiang Amusement Park is convenient, inexpensive and nostalgic. The Dino Beach Water Park is expensive but the only choice to have fun with water in summer. Happy Valley is a highly anticipated park that "should have been there many years ago."

Own Neverland

"It's actually surprising that we haven't had a place like this in Shanghai until now. A lot of big cities like Los Angeles, Tokyo or Paris have their own Neverlands, where all those stressed from work and study can escape into fantasy, even if only for a few hours," says 29-year-old Lisa Huang, a Shanghainese who was relocated from New York to Shanghai by her company two years ago.

"I was shocked to know we still just had the Jinjiang Amusement Park when I first came back. I love Jinjiang because it was the Neverland when I was little," she says. "It was like our paradise and we showed off to friends and cousins if our parents took us there for a weekend. But it hasn't changed much, even with some new facilities, since it only takes up so much space."

Huang's husband proposed to her in Jinjiang Amusement Park on a summer evening last year, after the park extended its operating hours to 10pm during the summer. The couple visit frequently in the summer, partly for nostalgic reasons but also for the beautiful lights and live performances in the evening.

Huang adds that she loves the park for its convenience and beautiful night scenes. Most of the time, she doesn't have to wait in lines for hours to take a ride and it only takes a few hours to enjoy all the facilities.

It is also rather cheap, with a choice of a 50-yuan ticket covering two attractions and an 80-yuan ticket for six compared with Happy Valley's 200 yuan for a day ticket, or 160 yuan during the initial opening period.

"I can go there whenever I want to, without taking an entire day off or worrying about spending most of the day in lines. But that also means it's easier and faster to wake up from the fantasies. Sometimes, I still hope to get lost in a grand space with more facilities," says Huang.

When it first opened in 1984, Jinjiang Amusement Park became extremely popular as it had the first roller coaster in Shanghai. For the past 25 years, it has continued to add new facilities such as a water ride, tower ride and two-layered merry-go-rounds.

After Happy Valley announced its opening date, Jinjiang imported a new motorcycle roller coaster, which attracted thousands of visitors. It is currently the most popular facility in the park and often the only one that visitors have to queue up for.

However, due to its small size, most facilities are smaller than usual.

In recent years, it has become an attractive place for many newly married couples to take their wedding pictures.


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