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[Offbeat]: The Hello Kitty Theme Park

Hello Kitty's first theme park outside of Japan opened four hours away from SH. We went, and it's kind of a mess…
2015-01-30 13:05:22
Outbound is SmartShanghai's travel features series dedicated to fascinating and wonderful places, nearby and far-flung, around China and sometimes not.

So the brand new Hello Kitty Theme Park, one of 60 theme parks currently under construction in China, just opened in Anji City, the dusty home to China's biggest source of bamboo. That's the city about an hour from Hangzhou, where Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was filmed. This is also the first Hello Kitty park to open outside of Japan, which has two parks.

Obviously we had to go.

I had high hopes. For every time I've been burned by a tourist attraction in China, I've been pleasantly surprised by another, like Shanghai's excellent Playa Maya Water Park. This one, however, is quite a mess. Inconsistent branding, mediocre rides, and some of the most wretched food I've encountered in seven years in China. Really wondering if any Hello Kitty representatives have checked this place out yet, or if they just took that licensing fee and said, "Do what you want, man."

Let's get on this ride...

We booked our tickets on the worst website ever made. English is minimal, and you can't even copy and paste the traffic directions into Google Translate. Not only that, booking a ticket requires a Chinese ID. Then we jumped on the high-speed train to Hangzhou, thinking that a big pink Hello Kitty bus would be there, waiting to take us to the park.

Instead we only found local buses to Anji that depart every two hours and take at least two hours. Luckily a friendly cabbie agreed to drive us there, wait around, and take us back for 600rmb. That's about 100 USD. Not bad. Cool guy. He kept trying to pass us some off-brand cigarettes.

Driving down the dusted highways between Hangzhou and Anji, you've gotta wonder how the fuck Hello Kitty decided to build a theme park here. According to the park brochure, Kitty decided to build a pure and beautiful homeland so all her fans could come visit. Kitty's grandma gave her a magic compass to help her find a suitable place for this magic kingdom. The compass led her here, where she exclaimed, “This is the place! Very suitable!” [sic] and decided to add a touch of her favorite color pink to Anji.

We finally arrived, only to learn that the park is in "soft-opening" mode, meaning none of the good rides are open yet. Soft-opening??? This is a 350 million USD theme park, not some tapas bar in Jing'an. Damn. This was like that time when Clark Griswold got to Walley World only to discover that the fucking place was under renovation...

Hawkers throng outside the front gate, peddling bootleg Hello Kitty merch. Then there is this random arcade where half the characters aren't even from the Hello Kitty/Sanrio universe.

Check out these super official uniforms and warm, welcoming faces.

Finally entered the park. Lots of castles and magic up in here.

It turns Hello Kitty's not just for kids – some adults love her too.

So, just a few rides were open. This spinning apple swing is probably the best. Yes, you can find this at any American carnival or just a random park in a fourth-tier Chinese city, but it's still fun.

Then there's this ride. Cute, but this one moves slower than the queue at the immigration department. If you wanna get high, choose the purple flowers. The rest of them stay pretty low to the ground. The Ferris wheel in the background? That's also closed right now.

The park isn't actually that big, though it might seem huge to a little one. You could probably walk across the whole place in ten minutes. There are lots of castles and attractions but again, most were closed.

Well, maybe there's some redemption in the food, right? This is a new theme-park in one of the world's largest economies, home to a rapidly growing middle class and a one-child policy that's created millions of spoiled children. Surely they must have planned multiple restaurants with different price points and clever branding and character tie-ins...

Kitty's apple pie restaurant sounded really good but it's a mirage at present. Not open.

This is the face of a little girl who just discovered that her favorite cartoon character has the same diet as migrant workers and train hoppers.

Worse than any train food you'll find in China, but five times as expensive. Our meal was 110rmb. Immediate regret, however, that was on the house. No attempt at making this special for kids or anything, just the same old shit.

This park does have one really cool feature though: the daily parade. I got completely spirited away in the magic of Hello Kitty and her extended clan, as the Hello Kitty theme song blasted from cheap speakers that echoed off-beat.

I should point out that another major component of this park is Hello Kitty Theatre, which we didn't have a chance to see. But that looked pretty surreal. Anyway, we checked out Kitty's house after the parade.

It seemed gauche to ask, but I would guess that Kitty is paying about 30,000rmb per square foot in this neighborhood. Plus all the manpower required to move those annoying bamboo trees out of the way. What a bother!

Here is a candid snapshot from Miss Kitty's boudoir.

Hello Kitty also keeps an army of day laborers on hand for maintenance, repairs, and landscaping duties. Hello Kitty is a job creator.

We caught Kitty coming out of the bathroom and tried to get a photo of her, with all of her serfs in the background but got SHUT DOWN by her publicist.

A lot of locals from the village seem to come here just to hang out. I kinda got the feeling they received lifetime passes after Kitty had their ancestral village razed to the ground. Hey. Progress.

And...that's pretty much it. Three hours later and we were ready to dip back to Shanghai.

Despite being a classic Japanese brand, the Hello Kitty park really lacks that famous Japanese attention to detail. Really wondering how they managed to spend 350 million USD on this project. But then again, the place might look a lot better after Chinese New Year when they fully open. Still, they're going to face some strong competition from Shanghai Disneyland when that opens later this year.


Getting There: If you DO want to go, you'll need to get to Anji, which doesn't have a train station. You can take a train to Hangzhou North Station (buses supposedly leave every 20 minutes) or Hangzhou East Station (buses leave roughly every two hours).

If you take a bus to Anji, you'll still need to get a cab. Honestly if you're going with a few people, you're much better off just paying around 600 to rent a cab for the day. It's a long trip – you might want to stay in the hotel. They have a pool.

Exit through the gift shop...