8 Thoughts I Had Whilst Visiting My First Happy Valley Park

If you're a coaster enthusiast looking to visit China, or are friends with people who have visited the parks over there, you'll likely have heard many a weird and wonderful tales about a little Chinese theme park chain called Happy Valley. I say little with a pinch of salt - the chain now boasts seven theme parks spread all across China, with one more planned to open soon, with some of the country's biggest and best coasters. Pretty much, if you're planning a visit to China to do some theme parks, you're pretty much guaranteed to end up in one of these parks at some point along the way.

And because I'd heard so much about this chain, I went into my first ever Happy Valley park with a slightly strange level of expectations. It also happened that Happy Valley Shenzhen, our first park of choice, is the oldest park in the chain, turning twenty this year. With all of this in mind, I wanted to get down on paper (not physically of course, who writes anything anymore, it's not the nineties...) all of the thoughts I had when visiting not only my personal first ever Happy Valley park, but also the one that kicked off what is probably China's most famous theme park chain within the enthusiast community.

School Kids
Oh good lord. Until this point, we'd experienced small pockets of school kids here and there, especially in places like Chuanlord Manor, but this was an entirely different ball game altogether. You quite literally could not see any other guests apart from school children, all in uniforms, all working their way around the park in formation like a swarm of locusts wanting to try their four English phrases out on you. Urgh...it was hot, I genuinely couldn't be bothered with it.

I have no idea if this is true, but I'd theorise that parks like Happy Valley and Chuanlord might be more universally affordable because we saw nothing like these crowds of trips in Ocean Kingdom or the Disney parks. Luckily they all head home around 3PM leaving loads of time for rerides, but until then they literally plague every corner of the park and fill the queuelines and will make you want to curse their name. Grrr.

Terrible Operations
This was one of the things I'd heard horror stories about, and honestly they weren't wrong. The operations in this park are so anal, so painfully, painfully slow, so over the top ridiculous that no amount of burying my head in my game of CandyCrush could even distract me from. I'm not the most patient of people at the best of times (as I write this I'm waiting for a vlog to process and it's making me want to put my fist through a wall...) but this really did put me to my limits. Let me explain.

There are a few reasons for the terrible ops. Firstly, it's a government requirement to have ridiculously over the top health and safety checks. This is the reason for the whole queue being required to join in with group exercises before boarding, why your restraints are checked again, and again, and again, before finally being dispatched and indeed why you're held like a flock of flapping poultry in the station post-ride until the slowest, faffiest person from the ride has collected their belongings. I could literally feel my nerve endings fraying during this whole process.

Secondly, and this is just a personal observation with literally zero fact behind it, but it seems to me that in general the Chinese people tend to ignore signage or instruction and each person has to physically be told to 'stand here', 'go here', 'don't do that'. I get it, a day out at a theme park is exciting, but in comparison to say, a UK member of the public, there just seemed to be a lot larger percentage of guests giving zero fucks and generally just messing about and being completely ignorant. If you have to constantly order a group around like they're newborns, then obviously this is going to slow things up.

Awesome Theming
This applies mostly to the newer areas of the park. I maintain that once all of the extensive redevelopment works around the resort are complete this place really will be something spectacular. The older parts of the park feel a little lost and forgotten, but damn if the newer parts don't look amazing. There's a weird thing with Chinese parks I've found where they go for really large, over the top pieces of theming without much intricacy or detail, and these pieces often leave me feeling cold.

To me, a truly great theme is one that works more subtly, with little Easter Eggs hidden her and there that all work together to tell a story. Typhoon Bay at Happy Valley Shenzhen does this perfectly. From the crashed boats on roofs, the random debris in places it shouldn't be, to an entire flat ride themed to a typhoon complete with debris themed ride vehicles. I was absolutely in love with this area - it was all so bright and wonderful and tropical and yet the theme had some bite and danger to it which made way for some exciting rides. This is how I'd love to see themes used across all Chinese parks rather than just plonking ridiculous giant facades in front of things and leaving them bare inside.

Weird Indoor Parts
And here comes the part where I completely contradict my above point. Happy Valley parks often have indoor sections, and whilst the ones we experienced at Shanghai and Beijing felt really fresh and modern, the same could definitely not be said of Shenzhen. The whole thing just felt like it was covered with a layer of grime and dust - like it had once been an old abandoned warehouse and somebody in management has forced the team to find a way to utilise the space. Shove in a weird dark ride themed to Christmas, why not?

In my vlog I likened the space to a low budget Wuze Town at Phantasialand, so if you've ever been there you know the strange vibe I'm speaking of. I think it felt even odder when compared to the awesome theming found elsewhere in the park - how can it be so contrasting from one side to the other?

Questionable Music
We didn't really notice this until be found ourselves in 'rural' China, but there's definitely a trend of 'find some happy sounding English music and pump it out'. Problem with that is, if there's nobody English speaking to vet what the hell you're playing, you're definitely going to end up with not only a strange mix of genres, but also some pretty off-brand content. During our visit we were treated to a dodgems that exclusively played Kelly Clarkson songs, a kiddie area belting out Jesus music singing about how awesome God is, gangsta rap complete with full frontal curse words and, probably the worst offender of them all, Cotton Eye Joe on repeat. Random as hell, but you can easily see how it's happened haha.

Work In Progress
Damn, Happy Valley Shenzhen is the definition of a park being under construction. Honestly I think they could've been more up front about just how covered in scaffolding the place would be, but then again it might have been there but all in Chinese so I missed it (although knowing them I highly doubt it). The park confused the hell out of us. I knew for a fact there was a massive bloody Bullet Coaster somewhere here at the park but we walked around for a good few hours and could not find the bugger.

Turns out you had to walk over a weird bridge, around the currently-closed water park, through a massive area of scaffolding and construction and then finally get to the other side of the park. I'll be honest, it was slightly jarring and I din't have a mini-panic that somehow the coasters had been removed. Not the case, but also not amazing to walk around a park that's half covered in tarpaulin and scaffolding.

Awful Merchandise
My god, there's tat and then there's TAT. Imagine the version worst, cheap and nasty theme park tat and then multiply that by ten and you'll get close to the shite that Happy Valley have to offer. I don't really know what I was expecting, but at least a mug or some pencils or...something? But no, instead we get some rancid, moth-eaten plushies, mountains of plastic crap, Disney rip off ears and events merch from three years ago. Weird as hell.

Disappointing Coasters
Look, I never expected the bloody Big Apple to be life changing, and I'll admit the SLC was probably one of the better ones I've ridden in my day, but this thought is mostly directed at Bullet Coaster. On paper, it's everything I look for in a coaster: speed, powerful launch, lots of awesome looking airtime moments, good interaction with landscaping and lap bar restraints. Every single thing about it says it should deliver.

In reality it does have all of those things, but it's clunky as fuck. Imagine a launch as powerful as Stealth's with the clunk of Colossus. That's what it's like. So every moment of euphoria is immediately met with a moment of pain. It's a very weird experience. So whilst I did like the ride it didn't meet my expectations even by half, which made me super sad indeed.

The ramblings of a mad person, maybe, but those are what ran through my head during my first experience of a Happy Valley park! Suffice to say that, despite there being some similarities across the brand, the other parks in the chain that we visited differed in almost every way possible. Apart from in name, you'd never know they all sat under the same umbrella. Another bonkers things about China.

Talk later xoxo,