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Terminal Velocity II: Happy Valley

G-force! Turbo excitement! Incredible rotating gyro experience! It's more queasy thrills at Shanghai's biggest theme park, Happy Valley.
2012-06-15 12:27:00
After the slightly depressing experience we had last month at Jinjiang Amusement Park, we thought Happy Valley would be more of the same - clunky rides, mephitic odors, bewildered staff and an overall air of crushing mediocrity.

How wrong we were. Happy Valley is good! It’s clean and spacious, staffed by smiley people who seem to be having fun, and the rides are huge and impressive. Who knew?

Happy Valley opened in 2009 on an 863,000 square meter site in Songjiang, about an hour from Shanghai by Metro. The place feels new and vast, with different zones – Shangri-la, which is like a Mongolian sort of deal with yurts and horses; Shanghai Bund, which is a scaled down version of Shanghai; Ants Kingdom (kids’ rides); Typhoon Bay Zone (water rides); Happy Hour (random rides); Goldmine Town (cowboy themed); and Sunshine Harbor (Main Street USA / gift shops). The big draws are four roller coasters and some big-splash rides. The wooden roller coaster is the biggest we’ve ever seen. Let’s get into that…

Wooden Coaster-Fireball

Nick says: This is the showpiece of the park, a huge classic wooden roller coaster that’s built like some sort of Zaha Hadid structure. It spans a colossal area of the park, running over the top of other rides and walkways and it looks amazing, even to a coaster-phobe like me. Unfortunately, it was closed when we went. They should have a moose out front who warns you about these things. This was a huge blow as it really did look very cool. They say it's scheduled to re-open in July, but call ahead to make sure.

Justin says: Judging from the description on the map we really missed out:

"The first wooden roller coaster in China, the oldest roller coaster in the world, honored as 'First Ancestor of Roller Coaster.' The wood originates from U.S. importing southern pine, bringing visitors more than 10 times experience of zero gravity in space, 1200 meters roaring trip, challenges of life!"

Challenges indeed...


Nick says: This was a smaller coaster in the Shangri-la Zone. It didn’t go upside down and looked innocuous enough, but was, in fact, a vicious little bitch. I should have put my guard up when they made everyone do neck exercises before we got on. It was very fast. Lots of wrenching up and down bits. Afterwards I felt brave. Let’s fun!

Justin says: No loops, but the bends and twists produce enough G-force to stretch and contort your face. The operators even make you do a calisthenics routine before boarding. Come to think of it, that picture above doesn't do the ride justice. Here's a more accurate rendering...

The Mine Train

Nick says: This is a version of the Big Thunder Mountain ride at Disneyland. It’s pretty good, but not super-scary. Doesn’t loop, just hurtles you around an ersatz sandstone canyon sort of deal. Over pretty fast. Queues are short. Justin flipped off at the camera on this one and they refused to sell us the picture. Justin’s such a jerk.

Justin says: They really don't like it when you flip the bird at that camera that takes souvenir photos as you climb the first hill. Oh sure, they'll display the picture in the souvenir shop for all to see, but it's not for sale. Basically, they're saying, "That guy. Right there. Yeah. Him. That's the asshole who spoiled it for everybody."

Diving Coaster

Justin says: This is the crown jewel of Happy Valley. Dig that sheer 90-degree drop off. That's about 60 meters up. Unfortunately, I can't tell you much more about it than that because it was also under maintenance on our visit. They close this one day a week to tinker with it and make sure it's safe. We just turned up on an unlucky day. If you want to make sure it's going to be open when you go, call ahead and see what day they're doing maintenance. I suppose they have to be safe or things like this will happen.

Nick says: This is the biggest and most intimidating roller coaster I’ve ever seen. I was relieved and disappointed in equal measure when I saw it was closed. It genuinely looked like a horrific experience, like a 3-year-old had scribbled on a piece of paper and they’d designed the ride based on that scribble. You know about the Euthanasia Coaster? This is probably worse than the Euthanasia Coaster.

The Teacups

Justin says: You can take a respite from the heat inside the fully climate-controlled Happy Valley Center for Ants. Then you can spin yourself sick on this theme park standard. Note: this one's best enjoyed after two cups of Dippin' Dots, one hami melon-flavored slushy, one personal pan pizza topped with corn and pineapple from Pizza Hut, and a bowl of sweet and sour rice noodles from the Ants Castle snack bar.

Nick says: OK, no brainer. It’s the teacup ride. If you go on it with an infantile yank douche who insists on spinning it at unpleasant speeds, you will feel sick and tired of life. I know. I was that man.

Turbo Drop

Justin says: I don't know what part of this ride is better, the fall or the anticipation. They dangle you from the top of this steel tower for what feels like a small eternity. Then you hear a pneumatic gasp and you’re sent into a free fall. Pretty awesome. The neighboring tower does the inverse; it slingshots you to the top. That one was closed when we went, though.

Incidentally, one of us got a little too excited on this one...

Nick says: In the queue this seemed a bit pointless. You go up, you come down. Why bother? In fact, it was quiet fun: a few minutes of nervous anticipation, a few seconds of screaming and then some relieved panting when you know it’s all over and you can move on. In short, a bit like sex. Justin also peed himself, which was good.

Shoot the Chute

Nick says: This claims to be the world’s highest-drop log flume, and who are we to disagree. What do you want, research? It looked huge and made a splash that went about 20 meters in the air. That’s only the start of the splash in that photo. Everyone was getting soaked, the people on the ride, the people watching the ride. No one even gave a damn. However, the queue for this was huge because it takes ages for each boat to go round. We were all funned out by this time so we skipped it.

Justin says: An 80-minute wait for this one. AND they charge you extra for plastic ponchos. It's all part of the rain coat industrial complex. We took a pass.

So that was Happy Valley. Even thought the two biggest coasters were closed, it still managed to be fun. The whole park is nicely designed and just walking around it on a sunny day was a pleasant experience -- there were gardenias, it smelled nice. It’s not far from town (about 50 minutes on the Metro, then a five-minute shuttle bus) and, unlike the bizarre pricing at Jinjiang Action Park, here all the rides are free, once you pay the 200rmb entrance fee.

Another point in Happy Valley's favor: food. To the best of our memory, about all you could get at Jinjiang Action Park was dodgy yangrou chuan, chou doufu, and grilled squid tentacles on a stick. But Happy Valley has junk food in spades. There's a Pizza Hut, several KFCs, a fro-yo stand, an Ice Season gelato shop, a stand selling hami melon slushies. More importantly, you'll find this:

Dippin' Dots! ... Or at least some shanzhai approximation of it. Flash frozen in nitrogen, Dippin' Dots has been "The Ice Cream of the Future" for 25 years. No one else seems to have caught up yet.

The queues, however, are no joke. We went mid-week and we had to queue for almost everything. Some of the lines, such as for the Mega-lite, were about 20-30 minutes. Maybe they’d come down when the two big coasters were open to share the load, but at weekends in the summer this place is going to be rammed. Go during the week, or go prepared to wait an hour or more for the big rides.


Details: Happy valley is about an hour from downtown Shanghai. Take the Metro to Sheshan, cross the highway and get on the Happy Bus. It’s the one blasting Europop. The park is five minutes away. For a map and the address if you want to catch a cab, go here.