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Prepare to Be Amused

Even though I didn't understand Chinese, I still enjoyed the shows and rides. The best part was the price. From entry to food costs and even activities like face painting and carnival games, everything was a fraction of the cost of back home

By Leila Hashemi Updated Jan.1

Growing up, I remember we didn’t have a ton of money, but we were always doing something. One of my family’s favorite activities was going to theme parks. We had two nearby, and they were both owned by Paramount, so we would get a season pass and my parents would take me and my sister every other weekend or so.  

Ever since then, I have had a passion for the thrills of high-speed roller coasters, parades, shows and of course the park snacks. Who doesn’t love chowing down on a huge turkey leg or salted pretzel with cheese dip? I visited parks all around the US from big coaster parks to more immersive parks like Disney and Universal. I never get bored, even if I visited the same park over and over.  

This passion did not wane once I came to China. Back in 2016, the big names hadn’t arrived, but that didn’t stop me. Within the first six months, I made my way to Beijing’s Happy Valley, which I later found out is an amusement park chain all over the Chinese mainland. I felt the same excitement as I did at any US amusement park. Music was playing, kids were rushing their parents and the smell of food filled the air... but that was my first hint at the differences between the US and Chinese amusement parks – the food.  

Don’t get me wrong, I love Chinese snack food. But I guess I didn’t expect the main attraction in the food department to be squid on a stick. However, I didn’t turn my nose up. I mean, hey, it’s fried calamari after all. Even though I didn’t understand Chinese, I still enjoyed the shows and rides. The best part was the price. From entry to food costs and even activities like face painting and carnival games, everything was a fraction of the cost of back home. I left my first Chinese amusement park experience with a smile (and a painting of Peppa Pig) on my face. 
A few years later, the heavens smiled at me and the Shanghai Disney Resort opened. To say I am a super fan of Disney is an understatement. I had been to the parks in Florida and California countless times and my mission is to see them all. So when a brand new one opened up in Shanghai, I could not wait to get there – although I did. I knew it would be packed for the first year, so I bided my time and finally went right before the first year ended. Walking in, I was overwhelmed with how intricate the designs and costumes were. The shows and attractions were in Chinese, which was actually really interesting, but it didn’t affect the Disney magic for me. The entry price was much lower than in the US, but inside, the costs were on par with its US counterpart. Since my first visit, I have been a total or four times, including during Halloween and Christmas when the park is decked out in seasonal decorations and activities. My advice is to try to go on a Thursday and Friday. The crowds will be lower and you won’t feel rushed trying to see everything in one day.  

The next major park in China opened this past September – Universal Beijing Resort. It had many setbacks and pushed its opening date maybe a zillion times but finally, the park opened its doors to visitors. This time I wasn’t going to wait a year. My friend and I booked tickets for exactly a month after the park opened on a Thursday and Friday and booked a hotel in Tongzhou District so we could get in as early and quickly as possible. The prices for Universal are pretty high compared to some others, but it is well worth it. The park is huge and immaculate – each exhibit designed to keep you entertained even in a long queue. My personal favorite was the Jurassic World ride. I was legitimately scared as a huge T-Rex chased us down a corridor in the dark with lights flashing. I think we rode that one about 10 times. There were no major differences in price or scale from the Universal Resort in Orlando or California. Just different exhibits to meet what the local area has an interest in. The Kung Fu Panda Land of Awesomeness was actually a star as well. It was all indoors and you felt like you were really in the movie. The only critique or wish I have for these parks is to have headsets or some subtitle translations for foreign visitors, especially as Disney and Universal parks attract people from all over the world. Otherwise, my amusement and theme park experiences in China have been some of the best. Can’t wait to see what opens next.