Theme Park Review: Happy Valley Chengdu, China

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During the May vacation in 2013, my ex-girlfriend and I decided to get out of Nanjing and see what Sichuan province had to offer. While the main reasons for our trip were to visit Jiuzhaigou National Park and play with some pandas, I was also just a tad excited about the opportunity to check out a Chinese theme park.

The Happy Valley chain of theme parks has parks in major Chinese cities such as Beijing, Shanghai, and Shenzhen – so I had high hopes that the Chengdu edition would be a fun day out for us.

I was, sadly, rather mistaken.

About Happy Valley

Starting with Shenzhen Happy Valley in 2002, the Happy Valley franchise of theme parks now boasts parks in Shanghai, Chengdu, Beijing, Wuhan, and Tianjin. The Chengdu edition that I visited was the third of these parks and, as it was built in only 2009, is quite new and modern in many regards.

Nomadic American posing at the beginning of our visit.
Nomadic American posing at the beginning of our visit.

China’s theme park obsession reflects its obsession with many aspects of western culture and, as such, Happy Valley comes across as a rather shallow imitation of the American theme parks it aspires to be. It’s all bright colours and loud music without any of the attention to detail or invention that makes US theme parks such a joy to attend.

In many respects, Happy Valley reminded me of Korea’s Everland, but where that park has had time to grow and become something a tad memorable, Happy Valley felt like a paint-by-numbers theme park.

Like the American theme parks it aspires to, Happy Valley has themed areas such as Dream of Mediterranean, Magic Castle, Happy Light Year, Sunny Harbour, Flying Island, and Great Szechwan. Of particular note is this last one, that does have a distinctly ancient Chinese feel that sets it apart from the gardens and bright colours of the rest of the park. Happy Light Year has a carnival atmosphere that is quite endearing as well.

Tickets are a very competitive 130RMB (a shade over $20 US). The park is not difficult to get to via cab, but parking is a nightmare to obtain, so don’t be surprised if your taxi drops you off at the end of the block and expects you to walk.

Getting a taxi home is a complete bitch. We had an hour wait before one would stop for us and we were able to get into it before a Chinese family shoved us aside.

Thrill Factor

Happy Valley Chengdu boasts just four roller coasters, and I was able to ride three of them. The fourth appeared to be closed while I was at the park.

Dragon in Clouds was the least exciting of the park's thrill rides.
Dragon in Clouds was the least exciting of the park’s thrill rides.

Weirdly, the park’s two best thrill rides (Dragon in Clouds and Fly Over Mediterranean) are literally right next to one another. Conveniently, this is right by the entrance, although lines were crazy long. It was amusing to watch the Chinese patrons periodically doing stretches in the queues, urged on by pre-recorded audio!

These roller coasters are:

  • Dragon in Clouds: A fairly unremarkable but enjoyable steel rollercoaster.
  • Dragon in Snowfield: A very cool looking, Sichuan themed mine train rollercoaster. Closed on the day of my visit.
  • Fly Over Mediterranean: The best roller coaster in the park – an Intamin Mega-Lite. Fast, plenty of sharp turns, and just all around fun.
  • Mad Rats: A wild mouse style coaster for kids.
The Dragon in Clouds soars overhead as basketball players do tricks.
The Dragon in Clouds soars overhead as basketball players do tricks.

In addition to these rather slim pickings, there are also traditional thrill rides such as a giant drop style ride and a gyro swing on a raised platform that gives a surprisingly terrifying view of the park. In truth, this last ride was my favourite in the park.

Thrill Factor: 5.5/10

Family Factor

Happy Valley markets itself as a family park, and it’s in this area that it manages to do a more than passable job. There are countless rides and attractions targeted at those with less of an appetite for thrills at the park. As their website is in Chinese, I can’t track down a list of names, so I’ll just highlight a few that stood out.

  • Standard carnival rides such as ferris wheels, tilt-a-whirls etc.
  • A rapids ride with obligatory wetness.
  • Big splash flume log ride. Guests can pay extra to shoot riders with water cannons!
  • A bizarre indoor shooting ride (North Pole Adventure) in which you fight Santa Claus.
  • An obvious Kung Fu Panda knock-off 4D ride.
  • A pair of haunted house style rides.
  • The centre island, Flying Island, has an only mildly depressing zoo from an animal mistreatment perspective. It also boasts a rotating tower ride that provides great views of the park.
happy valley chengdu flying island
The Flying Island on its (not quite) island.

There are also plenty of sideshow alley style games to play and other such nonsense. There’s also an attached water park (Caribbean Bay) that was closed when I visited, but looks to be modestly sized.

While wandering the park, we also spotted what amounted to a stunt basketball and skate show. It was a pleasant reprieve from walking around, and the crowd interaction element was fun as well.

Basketball stunts, boi!
Basketball stunts, boi!

Family Factor: 6.5/10

Kid Factor

I’m finding this one harder and harder to rate as a solo traveler. I’m not a kid, nor do I travel with kids, so I rarely pay much attention to the kids’ sections of these parks.

Magic Castle is Happy Valley’s answer to a kids section, and from glancing at their website it looks to have the required over-abundance of colour, knock-off cartoon characters, and tame rides to keep kids occupied.

Kid Factor: 6/10

Atmosphere

Asian theme parks tend to lack the soul that I’ve found in parks in the United States and Australia. This might be due to the lack of a real theme park culture in the country, or it might have a lot to do with the fact many of the parks are quite new and therefore haven’t had time to develop a real feel of their own.

A rather odd set of drunk statues.
A rather odd set of drunk statues.

Despite having themed zones, only the Great Sichuan area made any real effort to stand out from the rest of the park with its pagodas, walls etc. There’s an over-arcing aviation theme near the park’s roller coasters, and Flying Island does have a rather nice garden area.

The Dragon in Snow roller coaster and Great Sezchwan decoration.
The Dragon in Snow roller coaster and Great Sezchwan decoration.

The atmosphere is hindered somewhat by sharing a park with the Chinese. While Sichuan residents tend to be less bored with tourists as locals in Beijing or Shanghai (and hence shoving is replaced with requests for photos), there’s still a general lack of familiarity with things like queuing protocol or general manners when it comes to getting around people.

All told, it’s a very clean and well laid out park, but it doesn’t feel particularly remarkable.

Atmosphere Rating: 5.5/10

Food

My visit to Happy Valley Chengdu was the first time I ever left a theme park starving. The selection of food at the park, with the exception of the ever-present McDonalds, was pretty grim. Lots of the restaurants purporting to sell Chinese foods were either closed or, more frustratingly, would basically tell you their entire menus were off limits save for one or two items.

Eating the only pleasant thing we could find: a snow cone.
Eating the only pleasant thing we could find: a snow cone.

We did find some passably good (although very spicy) street food and snow cones to tide us over, but were basically in a terrible mood from about lunch time until we left the park in search of something that wouldn’t make us shit firewater.

Food Rating: 4/10

Best Ride

The Flying Over Mediterranean coaster wins this by a country mile, with none of the park’s other rides really coming close. It’s far from the best roller coaster I’ve ever been on, and isn’t even the best I’ve ridden in China, but it was a blast.

Special mention also to the park’s Gyro Swing. By putting it on a raised platform, you get a stellar view of the park and the longer than usual ride time somewhat made up for the near two hour queue.

Overall

In something of a first for my theme park reviews, I’d actually go so far as to say that Happy Valley Chengdu is not worth the visit. Between the ever present crowds, the abysmal selection of food, the relatively low number of big ticket rides, and the fact it just felt like a pale imitation of a theme park – it was just an overall unpleasant experience.

I’m a guy who can enjoy most anything, but I left the park in a worse mood than I arrived at it.

Terrifying clown
Terrifying clown

If you’ve got a day to kill in Chengdu and have already done the obligatory stuff like seeing the pandas and visiting the reclining Buddha, it might be worth a day trip.

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7 comments

  1. Hey, great share……

    HAPPY VALLEY looks really an amazing place to have fun and relax. Amazing pics!! I wasn’t aware that china has so many amazing theme parks. I am surely going to visit these places during next vacation. Thanks for sharing this post.

    Keep sharing more…..
    Cheers!!

    • While China does have some fun theme parks (I especially liked Changzhou Dinosaur Park), I wouldn’t say Happy Valley Chengdu was a highlight for me. Not worth the trip.

      I’m excited to see what Shanghai Disney is like though!

  2. I know this is an old post but thought I would throw in my 2 cents anyways. There are two things that it seems you did not notice at the park and really are what make it worth the visit. I agree that the park itself is nothing very special, having as you mentioned a couple of gems scattered about. But what I really enjoy is the water park located but if memory serves is separate in that there is an additional fee to enter, I am not sure of the current condition, or cleanliness I must admit since I have not been in quite sometime, but it was very clean when I attended. The have a nice wave pool and a surf wave ride among nice collection of water rides. I will admit it is easy to see how ones experience could greatly very depending on the number of people in the park. That’s why i would recommend to anyone thinking of checking out any amusement park in any city in China, the best time to go would be just before or after the summer months if possible. Or even to stick to a weekday can help tremendously because it greatly reduces the number of people in attendance due to it being a work and or school day. Weekends would always have nightmarish long lines. The other thing doing there if you are into sport and adventure is to check out the Wind tunnel located out side the park but not a far walk from the entrance. It is the only wind tunnel in china, and is very reasonably priced, or at least it was when I tried it. Its 1,000 yuan for one hour of tunnel time if you are living in the area, I forget the per minute rate but its not bad and I found that if you make the effort to speak and be friendly with the staff you will most likely notice those minutes seem to become longer than the standard 60 seconds;. And to reiterate about the cost. Often when you go you will find skydiving enthusiasts that come from as far away as Europe. When I asked what they were doing in China they told me it was actually more economical to hop on a plane and stay in Chengdu for a few days than to pay for the use of a wind tunnel located locally.

    • Good to know! We had to visit during a national holiday (as that’s the only time we had time off), which definitely didn’t help my appreciation of the park. I found Changzhou’s Dinosaur Park was a bit better because we hit it on a rainy, less crowded day.

      I’ll have to check out those attractions next time I’m there. I don’t recall seeing anything about either when I was there, but I’ll keep my eyes peeled if I make it back over to Chengdu this year.

  3. It is pretty like any amusement park, but it is well arranged and the
    park is pretty big. The attractions are also quite many, making anyone
    to find a attraction which fits to his tastes or age.

    Within the park there are also many cafes and shops, and when it gets dark there were a
    little show on a stage. I really enjoyed my time there, I’m not a big
    fan of amusement park but this one was really enjoyable.

    Plus, next to the park there is a kind of shopping district with many big brands shops
    (Addidas, Decathlon…) and a place for training before skydiving (and
    so cheap!).pc games

  4. Nice pics!! it seems to be lots of fun and thanks for sharing a nice thoughts with us! with helpful information.

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