Part 1 of 4
Within the past half-dozen years, Chengdu's amusement-park industry has exploded. A new park opens every other year, and crowds flock to see and experience the newest entertainment the city has to offer.
Current park offerings will not impress those seeking world-class thrill rides, but the development path of Chengdu's parks follows that of North America's and Europe's (albeit at a much more rapid rate): urban green spaces, carnivals and funfairs, theme parks, and then ever-advancing thrill rides. Every decade brings a marked difference in park design, technology, and development, so while none of Chengdu's parks and none of their attractions has yet to meet or break world records, that's set to change (see "The New School").
While it would appear that the amusement-park industry is flourishing in Chengdu and other cities in China, there are numerous examples of huge financial loss alongside the success stories. According to a 2011 Phoenix Net Finance report, only 15 percent of China's 1,000 theme parks have reported profits while 30 percent operate at a financial loss.
With more than 40 rides spread out over 470,000 square meters, Happy Valley is likely Chengdu's most comprehensive amusement park. It might pale in comparison to the Happy Valley parks in Shanghai, Beijing, and Shenzhen, but Chengdu's seven theme areas provide thrill seekers a fairly complete set of standard amusement-park rides, including roller coasters, water rides, and a Ferris wheel, as well as concerts, extreme-sport performances, and street-dance and magic shows. Embedded in the park is an oversized shopping and entertainment mall complete with the usual suspects (Starbucks and KFC) as well as a performance hall, a huge IMAX movie theater, and the Sky Venture (see below).
Adults RMB150, RMB70 after 6:30 p.m.; children 1.2 to 1.5 meters and seniors (65 to 70 years old) RMB90; primary and middle-school students RMB120; university students RMB130; seniors above 70 and severely disabled people free
Half-price ticket on birthday; 10 percent discount off full-price tickets for groups of 10 or more; free entrance for teachers with 10 paying students (RMB110 for additional teachers); yearly passes: RMB458 (adult), RMB858 (couple), RMB658 (one adult and child), RMB988 (two adults and child)
In a citywide landscape of rather run-of-the-mill rides and attractions, the vertical wind tunnel known as the Sky Venture stands out. Initially designed for military-practice purposes, a vertical wind tunnel blows a constant stream of air at 50 meters per second upward, simulating the feeling of skydiving. The Sky Venture is one of a very small number of vertical wind tunnels that have been set up for recreational or commercial purposes in China and is modeled after the country's very first tunnel, which was set up for military use in Mianyang.
Ridership is restricted to those free from heart conditions, high blood pressure, schizophrenia, and severe physical disabilities. Weight limits are also enforced. Regardless, explained one of the instructors at the attraction, most first-time riders find it very difficult to do anything more than just float during the two-minute run. But with coaching and practice, it's possible to execute complex maneuvers and tricks.
The Sky Venture sits in Happy Valley's Paradise Square but (like the nearby IMAX) is outside the gates of the actual park and requires a separate ticket. Each "flight" lasts only two minutes, so for the first time it makes sense to purchase a combined ticket for both Sky Venture and Happy Valley. And if you catch the Sky Venture bug, there are various discounted membership cards that could make Sky Venturing an affordable hobby.
Single RMB180; couple RMB298; trio RMB398; child RMB120; Happy Valley + Sky Venture combination RMB198; monthly pass (maximum 3 flights daily) RMB688; 30 flights RMB688; 60 flights RMB988; 90 flights RMB1288.
Directions for Happy Valley and Sky Venture
16 Xihua Dadao, Third Ring Road North, Jinniu District 北三环交大立交,金牛区西华大道16号 Bus lines 48, 93, 88, 95, 108, 119, 337, 339, 362, 365, and 526. Free bus from Jiuliti station (九里提公交站) Taxi fare from the city runs from RMB50 to 65 without traffic. When Metro Line 2 opens, transportation to Happy Valley should improve.
Dreamland offers visitors a mixed bag of rides, games, and other amusements. All of the expected amusements—Ferris wheel, carousel, children's rides, bumper cars, climbing wall—are there, albeit in a slightly more upscale rendition than those of the 1990s-style parks (see below), alongside some of the unexpected: miniature golf, a zip line, a cable car, an elevated magnetic train, and a carnival game whose object is to shatter light bulbs on overturned aluminum basins (they mostly tend to bounce right off). Most of the classic thrill rides are there: roller coaster, water ride with requisite sizeable splash, and fixed rides that invert, revolve, spin, drop, and move riders in most of the standard ways. The park designers seem to have had a half-hearted pirate theme in mind for one end of the park, but the rest doesn't seem to have a dominant concept, although many of the rides do have "crazy" in their name. One such ride, the "Crazy Disco" (疯狂迪斯科), spins and then pauses only to tilt and bounce riders to the beat of thumping techno music.
Entrance to the park is free, but rides and games cost RMB10 to 30 each and must be paid for with credit on the Dreamland card (RMB20 refundable deposit; there are numerous card-purchasing and charging stations around the park).
Metro Line 1 to the Century City (final) station and then transfer to bus 4A, 4B, 501, 801, 803, 805, 807, 809, 811, 813, 815, 817, 819, 821, 823, or 825A or take a taxi for around RMB30. The "official" name of the park is 梦幻岛 (mènghuàndǎo), but that name won't get you very far with taxi drivers. Instead try "Nanhu" (South Lake), the land-development area in Huayang that it's on.
Floraland opened to much excitement in 2007, but the opening of the much larger (and more conveniently located) Happy Valley just a couple years later stole some of Floraland's thunder. This year, Floraland plans to up its game, but for now, its 50-something rides and attractions seem to satisfy the occasional or novice theme-park consumer, who is more interested in passing a pleasant day in the suburbs of Wenjiang by strolling around in one of the different country-themed "lands" (United States, Germany, France, Spain, China, Japan, or Belgium) and grounds that with their castle and cartoon-mouse imagery pay a heavy tribute to the grandfather of all theme parks, Disneyland. Open 9 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. (7 p.m. on holidays).
Pay as you go or 24/36-ride cards RMB60/80; annual passes RMB268 single or RMB488 couples. Bus lines 319, 762, or 763 or approximately RMB100 taxi fare from the west side of the city.
Polar Ocean World
The 40,000-square-meter Chengdu Haichang Polar Ocean World is the only marine mammal park and oceanarium in west China and boasts the largest marine-animal performance hall in Asia. Highlights at the park include polar bears, sea lions, walruses, penguins, seals, sea turtles, sharks, orcas, an underwater world, and a "beach" pool. Performances include the seal show in the Happy Theater and a half-hour dolphin and whale show. The park, which opened in 2010, is still expanding and will eventually hold a hotel and walking street, and a station along Metro Line 1 will be opened up in the vicinity.
RMB130; seniors over the age of 60 (with ID), children up to 1.5 meters, and those with disabilities: RMB65; children under 1.2 meters: free when accompanied by adult (1 child per paying adult). Open daily, 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Bus line 501 from the Century City Metro Line 1 station.
One of few (and certainly the newest) ice-skating rinks in Chengdu, the Champion Rink sits on an upper level of the huge Uno Mall. Mall-goers can view skaters from above via a cutout in the story above. There are assorted pricing schemes, but expect to pay between RMB 30 and 50 for 90 minutes of skating depending on the time of day. Skate rentals and lessons are available.
Metro Line 1 to the Luomashi station. Open 10 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.