Will China Be Crowned as the New King of Theme Parks?

Will China be Crowned as the New King of Theme Parks?

In preparing for my very first visit to China, I made sure to schedule time for the important sites – The Great Wall, Tiananmen Square, the Bund and Shanghai Disney.  At 36 years old on a student budget, I wasn’t sure if this was the best use of my time and money, but let’s face it – when it comes to Disney, age and expenses don’t matter.

Less than a year old, the Shanghai Disney Kingdom is equipped with a theme park, hotel resort and Disneytown shopping area, all sharing a whopping 963 acres. The entire theme park was impressive; Disney spared no expense of their $5.5 billion budget.  The park revolves around the enormous Enchanted Storybook Castle, the largest castle of them all.  There are 6 different lands, with a combination of traditional and brand new rides. Sadly, ‘It’s a Small World’ was missing from the mix. Even though signs were in Mandarin and English, the theme park was definitely geared toward its Chinese clientele.

Unique Rides

To replace Space Mountain, the fan-favorite coaster, was Tron Lightcycle Power Run.  Each guest is scanned into the game as a member of the blue team and rides the coaster on a motorcycle.  Not the most comfortable ride, but definitely a solid coaster experience.

Voyage to the Crystal Grotto is a simple, relaxing ride for kids and families.  A cutesy boat floats you around while moving sculptures and dancing water fountains are synched to short musical pieces.

One of the best new attractions is not a ride.  Alice in Wonderland’s Maze, based off the live motion picture films, takes guests through an array of winding paths, complete with a visit to the Mad Hatter’s tea party. Very well executed!

But the crème-de-la-crème of the entire experience was the Pirates of the Caribbean ride, based off of the live-action films starring Johnny Depp.  You’ll even find a Mandarin-speaking version of him on this aquatic journey. This ride is worth the 8,000-mile trip to China.  Without giving too much away, this incredible 4-D ride experience takes passengers to the bottom of the ocean and into battle with Davy Jones.  I loved it so much, I rode it 3 times in a row.

More to Explore

Upon further research of theme parks in China, I wondered whether I wasted my time at Disney when I could have been exploring something new (and seemingly quirky!)

First, there is the Hello Kitty theme park in Anji City, about 3 hours away from Shanghai.  The park features a decorated Ferris wheel, plush pink furniture and parades featuring Hello Kitty and her pals. Reviews were not very promising, but who doesn’t love that adorable iconic cat?

Next, there is the Bruce Lee Paradise Park, located in Guangdong. Another seemingly unpopularly-reviewed theme park, tourists can find peaceful scenery and the largest Bruce Lee statue in the world.

Window of the World is a theme park located in Shenzhen, China and has replicas of 130 significant landmarks from all over the world.  Sights include: the Eiffel Tower, Mount Rushmore, Sydney Opera House and many more. There is even an extra-creepy ride that takes you through the cremation process. Thanks, but no thanks.

World Joyland in Jiangsu is set-up in several sections, much like Disneyland.  This theme park is based off World of Warcraft and StarCraft. The park creators never contacted Blizzard Entertainment, the original game developer; meaning that all images used in the park border on copyright infringement.

Finally, the most offensive of them all is the Empire of the Little People located in Kunming.  The park features little people on display in song and dance routines. The park has come under criticism from rights groups, but apparently there is record of employees saying they enjoy working there. Here is a view inside the dwarf kingdom.

The Tomorrowland of Theme Parks in China

China is the new hot spot for theme park expansion, with an astounding 59 new parks to open by 2020.  A $3.3 billion Universal Studios park is slated to open in Beijing in 2019 and a Six Flags park in Tianjin in 2018.  Theme parks have been increasing in popularity as a way for growing numbers of middle-class families in China to spend their free time. Also, in 2013, the Chinese government lifted a ban on approvals for new theme parks, which created many opportunities for investors.  Even though the theme parks are located in China, this growth spurt has also helped increase jobs in the U.S.  It will be interesting to see if the slated number of new parks will be able to thrive and survive once built.

By Jennifer Grau