Last gasps of Summer 2021. The suburbs might be our best travel option.
Down in Songjiang, by the only hill in town, is Shanghai’s original duo of big theme parks. You’ve got Playa Maya water park and Happy Valley. Disney has the IP and characters —- these parks have the rides. Big roller coasters. Huge metal structures designed to hurl your body into the air, uppercut your soul, then gently lay you down and offer you a photo of the whole experience. And when you’re done, you can do it all again, because on my visit, there were no lines. I like that most of the cartoon characters don’t have names. I appreciate the randomness.
I love the rides.
Let’s go to Songjiang.
P.S. this is not a soft ad. SmartShanghai bought my tickets, sausages, and Pikachu slushie.
What’s The Vibe?
Happy Valley feels like the set of a horror film about teens who work at an amusement park. The main mascot is a clown. Imagine if a county fair found a permanent home, built several world-class roller coasters, and then had an EDM festival stage every night. If you enjoy off-brand cartoon characters, like Pikachus whose eyes look slightly off, you will love this place. My companion met Speedy Gonzales for the very first time here.
“Why does that mouse statue look so racist?”, she asked.
Again, you’re coming for the rides. Like the dive coaster built by Swiss design firm B&M that unfortunately was closed for monthly inspection on my visit. According to serious roller coaster people who lurk in YouTube comments, it’s the same coaster as the famous “SheiKra” at Busch Gardens in Tampa, Florida.
American firm The Gravity Group built the wooden Fireball coaster, which is imposing and visceral and only slightly slower than Tron at Disney. Even wilder, the swinging frisbee throws you about thirty meters in the air at nearly 90 degrees above water and a field of plastic dinosaurs and birds.
The tilt-a-whirl looks like someone played a gabber song for the designer and said, hey, turn this into a ride.
Many of the rides could be described as “aggressive.” You can even bungee jump at Happy Valley. I did not.
What else… Haunted houses, Looney Toons 5D theaters, “Old Shanghai” promenades, sky drops, sky platforms, little coasters for youngins, VR arcades, some kind of gun shooting thing, aquatic zones… We didn’t come close to doing everything. Some cost extra, but the ticket covers all the main rides.
The Best Rides / Attractions
The Wooden Coaster, The Diving Coaster, the Spinning Frisbee, and the sawmill log ride. All the big ones.
The Blue Roller Coaster. Couple of inversions. Good times. There’s a prayer wheel outside the entrance.
Mirror Maze Room. Random and fun small attraction. Costs 20rmb.
The Sky. Not a ride, just the sky. There’s no tall buildings nearby, and we spent half the day just laying on benches looking at clouds. Even saw a rainbow.
Tilt-A-Whirl. Real talk, I felt too intimated but it looks memorable.
Least Favorite Ride: The Go-Karts
The go-karts are bad. Not “bad” in a cute way. Just frustratingly bad. Storytime:
“Hi how fast are the go karts?”
“60 Kilometers an hour!”
“Great! One ticket please.”
[Goes through two-minute training safety “course”. Learns that go-karts catch on fire sometimes. If this happens, apparently the protocol is to wave your arms above your head and DO NOT leave the go kart.]
[Rides go kart around the track, clearly tops out at about 20kph, feels bored and a kind of sad. Feels relieved to reach the end.]
“You said these go 60kph. I peddle a Hello Bike faster than this.”
“Yes they do have a theoretical top speed of 60kph, but we lowered the speed. See, when we first opened, a lot of you foreigners wanted to drive very fast, and it caused a lot of accidents!”
How’s the Food?
Not the worst! You can get noodles, sausage, KFC, donkey burgers, and lots more. But the best item in the park is a strawberry slushie in a slightly-off looking Pikachu cup, for 30rmb. This also comes in a honeydew melon version, and you can also choose a Hello Kitty cup.
Should You Go?
A night ticket from 4pm-close costs 150rmb, or you can stay all day for 230rmb. This place is probably better for teens and adults, because the better rides have height restrictions and your kid’s favorite characters probably aren’t here (they’re definitely not in the parade).
Line 9 to Sheshan Station and a five minute cab. You could walk. I wouldn’t. A cab from downtown probably costs like 150-200rmb.
Where To Stay?
The park isn’t far from downtown, so you don’t need to stay. But you’ve got the sculpture park and Sheshan mountain in the area - why not stay a night or two and enjoy the scenery? The closest hotel is a boutique hotel in the sculpture park. That’s over 2,000rmb a night. I stayed at a semi-boutique hotel next to a Sam’s Club about 3km from the park. A solid room with breakfast cost 360rmb, plus 7rmb for a film
(Stephen Chow's “Sixty Million Dollar Man” – strong recommendation).
End of the Night
It’s dark now, almost time to leave. The EDM show just started. Moms and kids in plastic raincoats are shaking glow sticks and taking videos of the DJ, who is playing a very banging EDM tune with this sample looped:
“FUCK BITCHES. GET MONEY”.
Big lights are spinning and flashing red, green, and blue. Bearbrick statues stand huddled outside an abandoned Pizza Hut. A mash-up of “The Next Episode” and “24k Magic” comes on and we look up at the big open sky, debating if something is a plane or a star. Outside the gates, a gang of young street dogs leap around, yipping and hoping for a scrap of park sausage. We take a Didi to the metro station and ride 30km underground, back to a mall somewhere more predictable.
It was fun. No one got hurt. What more can you ask from an amusement park?
Happy Valley deserves to be in the conversation more.
- Some rides close surprisingly early. Check the times posted outside.
- You may or may not need your ID card or passport. You need the number. Bring it just in case.
- Mosquitos lurk. Bring spray.
- Foreigners can’t book tickets on Dianping, which requires an ID card. Save the frustration and just get a ticket at the gate.
- Lockers are 30rmb and feel secure.
- I didn’t see any beer.
- People outside the gate sell waterproof phone holders and raincoats. They don’t sell sunscreen.
- If you eat healthy, pack some snacks.
- There is a way to go from Happy Valley into Playa Maya. The daytime ticket is like 150rmb.
- A few rides play dangerously loud music. Maybe 120db? Bring earplugs.