IN PICTURES: Shanghai Disneyland

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Remember the yellow duck in Hong Kong harbour? This is Donald Duck version!

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Grand father and grand daughter chiling. There is so much green space around.

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Anyone for a river cruise? Waiting for passengers.

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Great outdoor space before entering the park.

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Shanghai Disneyland’s mascots: Shellie May and Stella Lou

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Just a bit of cosplay. This is not Tokyo!

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Main square in the morning with meet & greet everywhere. Great buzz.

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Baby dolls

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He is trying!

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Disney goes local.

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The land of happiness.

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Grand ma, little girl and baby doll.

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I want this selfie too.

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Where am I? Theming perfection.

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One of the many beautiful rest areas.

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Waiting for the parade.

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Toy boy.

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You are such a beauty.

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Good night!

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REVIEW: Trans Studio Cibubur

Trans Studio Cibubur is Indonesia’s newest theme park and probably one of Asia’s best indoor parks. A very interesting case study for which direction should indoor entertainment take in Asia. Here is a review of the park – which is still in soft opening – where I try to explain why it is making a difference.

Similar to its sister parks in Bandung, Makassar and Bali (opening soon), Trans Studio Cibubur is located at the top of Trans Mall Cibubur and part of a massive mixed-use development including residential and hotels, still under construction.

Here, the footprint of the mall being smaller than Bandung, the park occupies the top two floors (9m height for the lower one and 17m for the top one) with its entrance located in the main F&B area of the mall. This makes for an interesting “apocalyptic” experience as visitors have to climb up 9 meters to the top level using escalators flanked by old containers: a good transition from the mall to the park.

I didn’t plan much so I had to buy my ticket on the spot and the experience was pleasant, staff is well trained and informed me some of the rides where still being tested so they wouldn’t be available (the Vekoma launch coaster, which is very similar to Bandung and iFly, which is not included in the main entrance ticket anyway).

I was amused to see massive advertising for tiket.com on the ticketing counter. Times have changed since attractions were fighting with online retailers. Here in Indonesia, the likes of tiket.com and traveloka are so aggressive it is worth working with them rather than against them. I guess here tiket.com made a big move to try and grab most of the sales.

Once on the main floor of the park, a big open space featuring retail, F&B outlets and a few small rides (e.g. wave rider from Zierer) under a “blue sky” are surrounded with themed gates to all the main attractions. Walkways and queuing areas are generous; the park is expecting attendance of 1.5m+ p.a. I am told.

Under the “blue sky” the theming is a mix of space/futuristic, beach/Bali (bamboo pavilion) and odd stuff such as King Kong or the Orient Express train. A lot of the surfaces are just printed graphics. Overall it does the job but not sure how it will age and clearly not the most amazing theming. But that’s not what you want to come here for. It’s for the rides, and believe me they are worth the visit!

Starting with Pacific Rim, my favorite: a brilliant idea, well executed. Definitely world class and possibly a game changer, this ride combines an Oceaneering dark ride and a walk through with live actors. The perfect family attraction with super smooth ride systems and a great sense of adventure and group bounding. I won’t spoil the surprise but expect a whole new experience playing with your senses and keeping you on the pulse. From the escalator going down among gravel to the use of Jakarta skyline in the background animation, Pacific Rim is very well executed.

Next in line is Jurassic Island: a very clever mix of indoor flume ride and 3D immersive tunnel. Flume rides – and water rides in general – are making a big entrance in indoor attractions; it is a great idea to mix it up and this 3D immersive tunnel by Simworx combined with wind and rain effects is perfectly matched, giving the ride a totally new dimension.

Zombie Wars is another example of giving a twist to a more conventional attraction. Here, the traditional laser tag is turned into a zombie shooting walk through. Another great idea and so much cheaper and immersive than a shooting dark ride by Triotech for example; all it needed was an adaptation of the software from Battle Company, a bit of haunted house theming, some animatronics and a handful of live actors. I really like how this attraction combines the competition element of a shooting ride together with the screaming of a haunted house; very suitable for the Asian teens, who love a good haunted house and a group experience.

Formula Kart is a very solid attraction too: a massive indoor electric go-kart circuit by Sodikart, which can handle up to 20 drivers at the same time. High ceiling, good theming, friendly staff: perfect for father & son!

The Science Centre is one of these odd attractions you find in Asian theme parks to target school groups with “educational” content. You will find the same in other Trans Studio parks and Jatim Parks. In reality it is more like a kids playground featuring a gravitron attraction, digital aquarium, water play zone and giant insects zone with slides.

On the list of so-so attractions is Alien Taxi: a not-so-smooth indoor spinning coaster with theming limited to bright planets in the dark, and the 4D Experience featuring Wonder Woman by SimEx: a poor 3D movie made of action-packed extracts from the movie together with basic effects (lightning, wind) and average seat moving synchronization.

Moving on to the shows, Trans Studio Cibubur offers two shows in the main square (as opposed to one in Bandung): a spectacular multimedia show and a stunt show. I was only able to watch the 30-minute multimedia show, which is a combination of video mapping, giant LED screens, acrobatics and glow in the dark. Following a simple storyline (think save the world, fall in love, etc), the show alternates in-trend styles from video game live stream (action/fights) to Cirque du Soleil (poetic/love). In my opinion, the amazing quality of visuals (by Sembilan Matahari) does not quite make up for the poor acrobatics skills, baggy costumes and loud action movie music. Can do better!

And lastly a few words on the retail and F&B. Well, not much really, it’s all coming from other business units of Trans Group (Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf and Baskin & Robbins franchises, merchandise sourced by TransMart). But this is not new, as we know it is very hard to do retail and F&B in indoor parks, especially when there is a whole mall below full of great brands and restaurants.

Let me leave you now with a few thoughts I had after my visit. The first one is on the use of IP’s in theme parks; something I find very relevant at a time when licensors are re-evaluating their relationships with our industry (cf. Disney/Fox vs Genting, DreamWorks vs Movie Animation Park Studios, etc). This park shows 2 examples of IP application: one good and one bad.

The good one first is how Legendary (Pacific Rim) worked closely with Trans to adapt the animation with Jakarta city skyline and to be creative working with off-the-shelf ride systems but packaged in a brand new way. The bad one is the 4D Experience where the park abuses a DC license through a SimEx attraction; the ride does nothing but belittle the IP.

The second thought is how the park is being a game changer in combining different ride systems/concepts for the first time in the same attraction to make the experience longer, more immersive and more suitable for groups; exactly what you need in Asian markets. Disney understood it a long time ago; Pirates of the Caribbean is a perfect example of such mix. But what Trans Studio Cibubur demonstrates is that it is now accessible to smaller parks with much lower budgets, if they dare to be creative. I believe we are about to see some great walk through attractions in the region. IP owners and designers, this is all up to you now!

REVIEW: Escape Theme Park, Penang

With adventure sports and active entertainment being strong – and probably lasting – trends in our industry as people are increasingly looking for more adventure and skills development in their leisure time, I have grown an interest for themed attractions that attempt to address these trends.

International companies are looking into their own models of “adventure” theme park – Merlin Entertainment with The Bear Grylls Adventure and Cirque du Soleil with their Cirque du Soleil Park and Creactive indoor concept – but one operator in Malaysia might have nailed it. Escape Theme Park in Penang has been in the making since 2012 and, with the recent announcement of the longest water slide in the world coming end of this year, might have established itself as the leading “adventure” theme park in the region.

Curious about the announcement I decided to go and see for myself. I drove up from Kuala Lumpur, stayed overnight in charming George Town and headed to the park on a Wednesday morning in July.

The booking experience is interesting. Basically the best price will always be on the park’s website as the earlier you book the cheaper it is, which is not possible to replicate on a third-party website. Then they “force” you to add minimum RM20 (US$5) to your e-wallet to spend in the park (refundable at the park if not used). Then you receive a password and that’s basically your e-ticket and e-wallet for the day, no QR, no wristband! I have to say I found this simple and rather low-tech approach quite refreshing and liberating. Maybe not so safe for a bigger and busier park but OK I guess for the population they are targeting.

And this leads me to talk about pricing. Escape is not cheap! For a Malaysian theme park it is on the high side. I paid RM125 (US$30+) for my ticket one day in advance; it’s RM147 (US$35+) at the door. They don’t have discount price for one zone only. Definitely not something the average Malaysian can afford. As a result the guests when I visited where mostly wealthy locals, some tourists (Indians, Arabs, Australians) and a few expats. This is a strategy I respect: quality over quantity, and probably one that is necessary for an “adventure” theme park given the safety constraints and type of experience delivered.

I will start with the general impression. From the many billboards on the North-South highway driving from Kuala Lumpur to the directional signage from George Town and the arrival (parking, ticketing), everything is designed to make you feel you are entering a world-class theme park. Once in the park I was immediately struck by the cleanliness and the very effective theming style: heritage with an eco twist. Everything looks well thought and well maintained.

The park is divided in two zones: Adventureplay and Waterplay. The ticketing and entrance are on the Waterplay side and a bridge across the main road takes you to the Adventureplay, which was the first section to open back in 2012. The park does a reasonable job at managing a mix of dry and wet. Parks mixing wet and dry are the new trend (cf. Cirque du Soleil Park project in Mexico) but for having been involved in the design of one of them, it is not easy to manage the flow of visitors between wet and dry. Here, it seemed natural to start with Adventureplay, where you need appropriate attire and shoes and where you sweat a lot, and then cool off at Waterplay in the later part of the day once you have changed and left your bags in the large designated area. I am not sure if it would have been easy to go back and forth between the two zones and I am not sure how this will be done once the longest water slide in the world opens as its start is at the top of Adventureplay and its finish in Waterplay.

Adventureplay is anchored by a massive ropes course area with different levels and many different routes; perfect for families with older kids and groups of friends who can choose different options and compare when they meet again after the experience, which can last from 15min for the easy one to over 1h for level 3. Besides the ropes course, Adventureplay offers lots of small capacity and high intensity attractions: ziplines, trampolines, drop tower, coco climb, wall climbing, airbag, jungle swing, trapeze, kite flyer, sling shot, tubby racer, etc.

This section is mature with great trees and small buildings in old Penang style covered with green roofs, which disappear in the landscape from above on the ropes course. The staff knows what they’re doing; they are helpful and efficient. I didn’t have to wait anywhere. The music was good, mostly from the 80’s and 90’s (REM, Bryan Adams, etc), my generation… and probably that of the owner!

Overall the team did a good job at turning what could have been another ropes course (or treetop course) into a true “adventure” theme park and that is probably due to a few simple things:

  • a strong environment: theming, landscaping, music
  • a good layout and signage designed to make you go from one attraction to the other in an attempt to “complete” the park, with some hidden surprises for those who can find them
  • a variety of attractions that makes you feel there’s something for everyone even if in reality you only experience a few of them

Now, that feeling of being in a true “adventure” theme park gets even stronger when stepping into Waterplay, which is like discovering a whole new zone in a theme park.

Here the anchor is probably the high dive and Banana Flip pool surrounded by seats for people to watch riders or performers (there’s a professional high dive show twice a day). This is in line with Cirque du Soleil Park’s intention to provide as much for people to do than to watch. I tried the Banana Flip three times; it is a mix of drop and water jump. Very cool, and people watched!

Other attractions include a family twister, mat racer, kids water play area, mega drop, lazy river, small wave pool and inflatable course. None of them is amazing; the lazy river is quite plain with no speed and the slides are all from second or third tier manufacturers. But overall it works well and provides for a pleasant cooling session after Adventureplay.

The F&B area in the centre of Waterplay is nicely done, the menu offers a good variety at reasonable price (RM20 or US$5 per person on average).

Waterplay was a lot quieter than Adventureplay, which was good for me (no queue) but which felt a bit odd. I believe it was still a bit early (people come to Waterplay in the afternoon) and maybe the visitors to Escape are more into the kind of attractions found at Adventureplay. The park’s pricing strategy (no discount price for one zone only) is such that the traditional waterpark market (local families, etc) can’t afford.

Time for the verdict. Well, I would give it 8/10. As mentioned above I believe this is one of the best attempts at an “adventure” theme park and probably the best in the region.

I say this because “adventure” is clearly at the heart of everything in the park and therefore even an attraction you could find in another park will get a different twist here, nourishing the overall experience. Adventure doesn’t mean scary things but it means pushing you to do something you wouldn’t normally do and putting you in control of your experience for an even more rewarding and memorable time.

I say this because I could have easily stayed the entire day trying different ropes courses, resting by the wave pool, perfecting my (dubious) high diving skills, etc. And that’s what theme parks do; they make you feel you have more than enough to keep you busy the whole day.

I say this because I felt I was in a happy bubble for the day; music was good, staff were friendly, things looked good, safe and clean. And that’s also why we go to theme parks.

REVIEW: Shanghai Haichang Ocean Park

Exactly three years after the opening of Shanghai Disneyland, I am back in Shanghai to visit the city’s latest mega theme park: Haichang Ocean Park, which opened in November 2018.

Located on the east side of the city – near the sea – and 20min walk (or 10min in a shuttle bus) from the Lingang Avenue subway station (line 16, 1h from the city centre). The walk is actually quite nice, through a landscaped park, which was full of pink flowers on that day of spring. But I don’t think many people walk to the park! I took the shuttle on the way back, too tired from a day at the park.

Seeing how many people were going to the park in the subway, I knew this clear and beautiful Sunday would be a busy day at the park, still benefiting from a big novelty factor. At 9am the park entrance was buzzing with people – mostly groups – getting ready for their “ocean park” experience.

The entrance area is quite standard with ticketing on the side and entrance gates in the middle in two tiers (bag search first then ticket control). I was almost alone at the ticketing counter and only one of the many counters was open. Clearly things have changed a lot in the time between design of the park and opening; Chinese consumers have shifted to mobile in a big way. This is a good thing to know for designers working on parks in China.

Now let me tell you about the layout. The park is divided in two zones separated by a river and linked by two bridges as well as a small cable car. This is one of the few similarities with Hong Kong Ocean Park.

Two signature rides weave through the two zones. Steel Dolphin is a long Intamin coaster flying across one of the bridges and dropping low just in front of the entrance gate, giving a nice high to visitors as they enter the park: visibly very popular among young adults, big queue. Lava Drifting is an extra long river rapid featuring conveyor belts and waterpark-style slides, which I had never seen before. Lots of point-of-views providing a fun and cooling water element to look at from various areas in the park.

Each zone is home to several themed areas (polar, volcano, sandcastle, snow kingdom, etc), each housing a cluster of attractions anchored by marine life.

For example the polar cluster features the arctic hall with polar bears and beluga whales as well as the Polar Adventure 4D theatre, which tells the story of a penguin and his friends traveling from the South Pole to Shanghai Haichang Park. The movie using proven visual tricks such as the big snow slide or the roller coaster ride is overall average and skewed towards young kids.

I thought I would try one of the other multimedia attractions to get a feel for the quality and execution level. I opted for Journey Under the Sea, a 4D motion dark ride with suspension and rotation. The queue was not very long but extremely slow (I realized later they had only 1 of 5 vehicles in operation). Although the animation quality was good, the theming and animatronics were very average. The only novelty factor is the underwater tunnel, which makes sense for an ocean park but unfortunately with poor transition to the rest of the experience. It felt like an afterthought.

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Haichang is probably better at building large walk-through marine life exhibitions. Although far from Disney quality of theming, these exhibitions are well laid-out and seem to meet the needs of a (largely group) Chinese audience with large circulation, lots of small tanks and interactive touch-screens popular with kids. Some of the features such as the underwater tunnel, the gigantic whale shark tank (inspired by S.E.A. in Sentosa) were very popular.

It is clear Haichang wants to target a very wide audience of kids, youth, parents, grand parents and groups. The park is designed as a giant walk-through with some dedicated areas for specific age groups: the two abovementioned signature rides for youth and a kids’ rides area on the other side of the bridge.

Shows are designed to structure an average day at the park and provide value for visitors, taking easily up to 3h of the day. From mini shows and parades (dancers, mascots, jet skis, etc) to scheduled shows in the exhibition areas (feeding sessions, amazing beluga whale underwater show) and signature shows in their massive dedicated theatres: the killer whale show and the dolphin show.

The (controversial) killer whale show, produced by an international team, is about a young boy dreaming his killer whale plush becomes real. The show called « together » features good tricks, including the popular people splashing with the whale’s tale. For the dolphin show, Haichang made the choice of an indoor theatre allowing for higher production value including the popular rain curtain with light projections. Besides, the tricks are fairly standard and the clowns act before the show pretty average too.

Overall it seems to be all about making it big and loud to impress (bold outdoor theming, big shows) but with a lack of immersion (poor indoor theming, poor multimedia rides), which makes all the difference with the amazing Shanghai Disneyland.

Still, I should highlight some interesting novelties such as the extra long river rapid combining waterpark slides and flume ride, and the underwater tunnel inside the 4D motion dark ride.

The park embraces new technologies with face recognition gates and touch-screen food ordering displays like at McDonald’s. But interestingly visitors still prefer to use paper maps!

Lastly, this review of a Chinese theme park would not be complete without mentioning some minor copyright infringements. On your next visit, I invite you to look for look-alike of the following IP’s:

  • Little Mermaid
  • Olaf
  • Penguins of Madagascar
  • Star Wars

REVIEW: Sea World, Gold Coast, Australia

The Grande Dame of Gold Coast, Sea World was founded in 1923 and acquired by Village Roadshow in 1993, who made significant investments bringing international IP’s (Cartoon Network then Sesame Street and now Nickelodeon) and world-class rides.

The park known for its dolphin show is a hit with adults and kids of all ages. A lot less ocean-themed that Asian marine parks (Hong Kong Ocean Park, Ocean Kingdom), it is beautifully integrated in its natural setting, a land spit in the heart of Gold Coast, with great bodies of water surrounded by quality landscape and rockwork including the stunning Shark Bay (above and below) featuring great corals.

The long and narrow layout with attractions dispatched along the central alley works best for a family park, making for a very simple and intuitive visit. A typical day at the park starts with a visit of the various animal exhibits while everyone is still full of energy and curiosity, leading to the dolphin show at 11h15am and then it’s fun time either at Nickelodeon Land for the young ones, Castaway Bay for the older ones or Shark Bay and Seal Harbor.

The 2 newest areas, Castaway Bay and Nickelodeon Land, are perfectly themed and feature a great choice of rides hitting the spot. Australians and international tourists (mostly Asian) can have a bonding blast at the splashing boat ride, kids of all nationalities can freely enjoy the popular Paw Patrol show and the water jets of the Reef at Castaway Bay and young adults can chase the thrill at the Sky Climb (ropes course) and Sky Fortress (adventure course).

I personally fell in love with the Jet Rescue coaster (Intamin), which I thought was one of the most relevant and best use of a roller coaster; the ride was extremely smooth and it did feel like you were on a jet ski. How convenient! I could not try the new Storm coaster, which was under maintenance, but thought the theming (industrial container port) incorporating the old abandoned Viking’s Revenge flume ride was really cool.

But of course the star of the park is the dolphin show, which doesn’t disappoint: a new take on education show with a great use of music and pre-recorded voice, making it uplifting and less focused on animal performance.

REVIEW: Warner Bros Movie World, Gold Coast, Australia

Almost 10 years after my debut in the industry I finally made it to Gold Coast to check out Village Roadshow’s theme parks, which serve in many ways as benchmarks in Asia.

My first stop is Warner Bros Movie World, their most popular parks and home of numerous IP’s from DC Comics and Warner Bros. I am very interested to see how they treat IP’s that are not their own in the context of several IP setbacks in Asia (Dreamworks at Movie Animation Park Studios and 20th Century Fox at Resorts World Genting).

It is a beautiful hot summer day in the first week back to school but right in the middle of the Chinese New Year holiday so lots of Asian visitors (Hong Kong, Mainland China), some Australians and quite a few New Caledonians and Arabs. I bought a 3-day multi-park pass, which cost me only AUD129.

My views in a few words

Definitely worth the visit, great value for money, a good offering for all ages (Looney Tunes for young kids, great coaster for young adults and shows & shaded main hub with lots of tables and seats for families) and for all visitor origins (popular IP’s).

The quality of the music playlist, F&B offering (good variety, fresh and reasonably priced) contributed to make the park grow on me as the day passed. I arrived a bit skeptical and overwhelmed by an overload of slightly “dated” theming and left simply happy with a big smile. What more could Village Roadshow ask for?

What I particularly liked

  • SUPERMAN Escape roller coaster – Definitely the most popular ride in the park (45min wait). Simple and on-point theming with great consistency between the waiting area (MRT train station) and the ride (MRT train track with waste water flowing, walls falling). Super smooth and great speed sensations.
  • Good choice of roller coasters for young adults with DC RIVALS HYPERCOASTER, GREEN LANTERN and ARKHAM ASYLUM, all very smooth and featuring well positioned viewing areas where friends can watch and take pictures.
  • Wild West Falls Adventure Ride – fun flume ride in a Disney-quality environment (quality Wild West theming and beautiful landscape).
  • The Looney Tunes kids area – very cute, well themed, arranged around a square with benches under the shade of a big tree (where old people were sleeping) and featuring cool kids attractions such as the covered Junior Driving School with a track designed as a mini Warner Bros Movie World theme park, the adorable Speedy Gonzales’ Tijuana Taxis and a popular water play area.
  • In-park pricing from the AUD59 family meal combo (2 adults, 2 kids) to the merchandise deal combos in a bag.

What I didn’t like so much

  • JUSTICE LEAGUE 3D – Another case supporting my theory that 3D shooting dark rides are totally overrated and probably imposed by ride manufacturers for the lack of better options: poor animation quality, shooting device not working half the time, storyline all over the place, in short boring and frustrating.
  • Merchandising is a bit messy with different quality levels and too many brands.

What I am not sure about

  • The park made an effort to address the strong Asian visitorship with Chinese New Year decorations, but they looked a bit simple. A good idea but failing in execution.
  • AQUAMAN – The Exhibition features amazing (and surely expensive) props from the movie but the lack of interactivity and dark setting is probably not ideal for a theme park like this.
  • This leads to my comment on the treatment of IPs. There is a lot of IP content and theming but the treatment is not quite consistent and it shows the park owners don’t own the IP’s (one of the main concerns for our industry). For example the treatment of DC IP’s is from a different generation and it would be very expensive to change it all each time a new movie is released. Another example is the SCOOBY-DOO Spooky Coaster Next Generation, which even after upgrade still looks outdated.

 

PICTURES: SUPERPARK MALAYSIA

SUPERPARK (SPRPRK) MALAYSIA just opened at Avenue K as part of the renovation of level 3 and 4 of the mall.

This brand of activity parks from Finland is already operating in Hong Kong and Singapore. Here are a few pictures from our recent inspection.

There are over 25 different stations involving some sort of active play. Although adults/parents seem to enjoy a few of them (RoboKeeper, bowling, SuperHoop), the majority is geared towards young kids (no teens) with ice skating, street soccer, trampoline, zipline and tube slide being the most popular stations.

The bright and hip interior and the apparent quality of the equipment (the owners are playing the made in Finland brand) make the park visibly attractive to a group of urban well-to-do “hipster” parents from Kuala Lumpur.

Here are a few pictures. Enjoy.

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Main Entrance

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Waiting Area

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Reception

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Lockers

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Gates

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Safety Rules

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SuperHoop

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SuperBall

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Sliding Mountain

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Tube Slide

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Street Soccer

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SuperClimb

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RoboKeeper