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
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PICTURES: [Closed] New Kuta Green Park, Bali

New Kuta Green Park is located in the Pecatu Indah enclave south of Bali. This 5ha waterpark was built alongside very large hotels in an attempt to create a major integrated resort. The waterpark was popular with domestic tourists for a while but is now closed. I enjoyed walking around and taking a few shots of the beautiful overgrown nature slowly taking over. I hope you enjoy!

Construction Update: Movie Animation Park Studios, Malaysia

Having heard that this theme park under construction in Ipoh, Malaysia is not opening in December as planned but probably in April 2017, I thought I would stop by on my way to Penang over the end-of-the-year break to report on the status of construction and share a few pictures.

The entrance building and car park were finished early 2016 and it seems most of the rides have been delivered by now. The theming in Animation Square is almost done and you can actually see it from the highway itself. I wonder if that will be covered later as I don’t think visitors of the park want to see the highway from the square! It looks like the structure for the stunt show is also done. The main areas requiring more work are probably the Dreamworks Zone and the Blast Off Zone.

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View from the main entrance building of the bridge, Animation Square and Megamind Megadrop at the back

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View from the main entrance of Fantasy Forest at the front and Stunt Legends structure at the back

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Panoramic view from the entrance building

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View of the starship restaurant being built in the Blast Off Zone

REVIEW: Ramayana Water Park, Pattaya, Thailand

On the 5th of May 2016 the last of a series of new water parks in Thailand opened in Pattaya. I was lucky to be able to visit only a week later and here are some of my impressions.

Ramayana Water Park is located in Silverlake, south of Pattaya. Despite being quite far from the main hotel areas (Jomtien, Pattaya Beach), there is ample signage on the main road and most people seem to know about it. It helps that the project has been under construction for 5 years!

Opening promotion ticket prices (Adult – THB990, Child – THB790) are 20-40% cheaper than Cartoon Network Amazone, Pattaya’s other major water park also located in Pattaya South (10min drive from Ramayana).

Ramayana is shouting loud and clear it is Thailand’s biggest water park. I guess it makes for an easy positioning; and big always works in marketing! Using the theme – Ramayana – would have been a bit more difficult; and you will understand why below.

I went on a weekday (Friday) and the park was not too busy; there was a good mix of Thai families and tourists (Russian, European) mostly in couples. This made for an overall good family fun atmosphere.

The first thing that struck me about the park was indeed that it felt big thanks to the sense of space (enhanced by the setting in a flatland surrounded by hills) together with the sense of generosity (lots of seats and umbrellas everywhere, large shaded areas, spacious locker and shower room, etc). Then came the attention to details: uniforms, landscaping and soundscape.

But the most memorable was probably the service, starting with guest service staff assisting while in the queue to explain how the park works, and then continuing on throughout the park with staff that was helpful, spoke good English and presented very well. I was very well looked after and someone even helped me sort-out transportation back to Bangkok. I definitely left with a smile and so did most of the visitors who were being greeted goodbye by friendly staff!

In terms of rides and facilities, Ramayana offers the latest in trends and technology. The park is cashless and using a barcode wristband (incl. locker systems). The numerous slides are all from Whitewater including Thailand’s first water coaster (going up and down a few times) and the same kids play area as the new Lost Lagoon at Sunway Lagoon. It’s really fun!

The park provides a variety of different ambiences for different age groups and moods: kids, toddlers, activity pool, relax pool, wave pool. The only disappointment is actually the wave pool, which felt a bit small and with no strong backdrop/theming.

Speaking of theming, this is where I was disappointed, or rather mislead. My understanding was that when this project started many years ago it was going to be heavily themed following the myths & legends of Ramayana. But maybe with time and possibly changes in the management it seems the theming was forgotten; there is no flow-through on the slides or in the visual identity (logo, signage, etc).

In summary ‘Thailand’s biggest water park’ is probably the best tagline for this well executed, spacious and generous park offering the latest and best in facilities. This makes a great park for families with younger kids and therefore a good complement to Cartoon Network Amazone, which is targeting teenagers and young adults (DJ’s, live shows, etc). Visitors to Pattaya now have two great options for a fun day-out in the new water capital of SE Asia; a great positioning for the growing family tourism market into the region!