Roller Coaster Review: Soaring with Dragon at Hefei Wanda Theme Park (Hefei, China)

The term 'innovation' has often been related to Silicon Valley, where world's most renowned companies develop new technology. However, China has played the catching up game in recent years and could well become the new innovation hub of the world thanks to their daring attitude towards new technology. This could be related to the market as well: whereas innovation in the West is often restricted for legal reasons, innovation in China moves at a much quicker pace thanks to Chinese people's eagerness to try something new and unfamiliar, regardless of the effects.

Who would've thought that innovation in China extends well beyond corporates? Even all the way to the themed entertainment industry?

Soaring with Dragon sprawls across the back half of Hefei Wanda Theme Park along with its symbol.
Source: Park World Online

INTRODUCTION

Intamin's LSM / hydraulic launch technology has brought us all many roller coasters that bring the thrill factor to the next level like we've never imagined before. Thanks to this technology, Intamin has been able to bring us the world's fastest roller coaster and the world's tallest roller coaster. In addition to bringing roller coasters to a new speed and height, their roller coasters bring unprecedented thrill to riders - coaster enthusiasts and guests worldwide often praise Intamin's roller coasters for being forceful and intense.

Soaring with Dragon's massive layout consists of close to 3,500 feet of track.
Source: Intamin

In September 2016, Dalian Wanda Group opened its second theme park - Hefei Wanda Theme Park - out of the many that it said would open in the few upcoming years under its Cultural Tourism City initiative - a division that they actually sold in July 2017. Along with the park comes a new prototype of Intamin's LSM Launch Coaster, Soaring with Dragon. Considered the park's signature attraction, Soaring with Dragon utilises the LSM / hydraulic launch technology like Intamin had never done before: the coaster launches riders three times in both forward and backward motion in a manoeuvre the company called 'swing launch.'

Soaring with Dragon's first half includes the world's tallest non-inverted loop and an inside top hat.

Along with the innovative 'swing launch,' Soaring with Dragon's layout includes unique features such as the world's tallest non-inverted loop at 187 feet (57 meters) high and an inverted top hat. In total, the train takes approximately two and a half minutes to complete the course. That's actually a really lengthy coaster considering the size of the park.

Soaring with Dragon surely brought Wanda's many statement-making theme park projects to international attention. Being a roller coaster unlike any other in the world, many hoped for big things to come out of the parks. Regardless of how innovative this roller coaster was, everyone had the same question: is it in fact a good roller coaster?

Soaring with Dragon provides a rather marvellous backdrop as guests enter the park.

THE SOARING WITH DRAGON EXPERIENCE

Want to jump on Soaring with Dragon right away? Go ahead here.

The experience does not begin on the ride itself. In fact, the experience started way before guests enter the station: the queue. Thankfully, on the day of my visit, queue rarely exceeded 15 minutes, so I was able to ride this roller coaster for a total of 6 times, which was plentiful enough for me to review this roller coaster quite thoroughly.

15-minute wait for Soaring with Dragon? I'll take that.

Soaring with Dragon's extremely long queue is empty for most of the day.

I'm not quite sure how optimistic Dalian Wanda was about their theme park when they built the queue for Soaring with Dragon. It's far too long to hold the amount of guests that lined up to ride the roller coaster that day. Despite being very decently themed, allowing guests to understand a bit of the backstory behind the roller coaster, the experience was hampered by how empty the queue was. Visual cues weren't activated air-cons within the queue buildings were turned off, making it unusually warm for guests to stay inside an of them.

On the day of my visit, Soaring with Dragon operated only one out of its three trains, which was actually surprising given the amount of guests lining up and the rather low queue time. Once I reached the station, I discovered why: the staffs turned out to be very efficient, urging guests to load and unload the train as quickly as they can, store their belongings in provided shelves, and buckle their seatbelts and restraints on as soon as they're seated.

Soaring with Dragon uses Intamin's new restraint system, giving riders a comfortable yet vulnerable experience.

If you've read my review of Taron, which remains one of my favourite roller coasters, you'll understand right away why I love the restraints on Soaring with Dragon. Using the same exact system as that of Taron, Soaring with Dragon provides an exceptionally comfortable riding experience without compromising the vulnerability feel that many die-hard coaster fans worldwide are looking for.

The light goes green. The train rolls out of the station and makes a right turn directly to the launch track. As the train comes to a stop once it's fully on the launch track, unbeknownst to the riders, the right turn out of the station switched into a fully straight track, connecting the high vertical tower track behind the riders with the launch track to allow the so-called 'swing launch' that this coaster is well-known for.

The high vertical tower track (behind the tree) is connected with the launch track with a switching track.

Before long, riders are launched forward towards the non-inverted loop. This relatively tame launch sends the riders facing straight up the first quarter of the loop before falling backward. Once again, the riders accelerate once again - this time backward - before going up the 196 feet tall high vertical tower track and facing down completely, giving riders a few seconds of weightlessness. Gravity kicks in once again and the train comes hurtling down back to the launch track. The final (third) launch completes the 'swing launch' sequence by sending the guests to a top speed of 77.7 mph (125 kph), enough for the riders to finally top the non-inverted loop.

Soaring with Dragon's non-inverted loop is the world's largest at 190 feet tall (57 meters).

I was looking very forward for the first unique element of the roller coaster, the world's largest non-inverted loop. I was expecting plenty of airtime at the top before being sent down once again with brute force. Soaring with Dragon's non-inverted loop turns out to be very tame. By the time guests reach the top, the train has lost most of its momentum and is able to crest on the rest of the loop so slowly before going back down. Disappointing, yes, but I hoped that the rest of the coaster could make up for this lack of force.

Soaring with Dragon's inside top hat sends riders to the only inversion of the roller coaster.

Before I knew it, it was time for the inside top hat. I was hoping for some serious force up there. Unfortunately, again, the train has lost plenty of its momentum by the time it reaches the top of this particular element. Rather than strong force, I did not really feel anything here other than some sort of 'weightlessness' up there. The train goes hurtling down once again to complete the rest of the course.

The bunny hop provides the much-needed (but relatively weak) airtime.

Next is the bunny hop at the bottom of the top hat. Pretty nice airtime here, though not as strong as I thought it would be. From this point on, Soaring with Dragon makes really speedy but smooth turns - again, without much force -, which includes a detour around the dragon statue centrepiece, before coming to a halt at the final brakes and going back into the station.

Guests are rolling back into the station after experiencing Soaring with Dragon. Note how well-themed the train is, as well as the two non-operating trains sitting in the storage room on the upper right.

VERDICT

Because it's the first coaster of its kind in the world, as well as the centrepiece of Hefei Wanda Theme Park, I was expecting so much from Soaring with Dragon. Its impressive stats in terms of height, speed, and length also easily steal everyone's attention at first sight. Its unique elements are also the main attraction points of this roller coaster. Despite its massive size and unique elements, Soaring with Dragon didn't really impress me as it's a relatively tame coaster.

Understandably, the launch isn't that strong given that this is the first time Intamin is trying out the 'swing launch' sequence. Nevertheless, I was quite disappointed by the rather forceless non-inverted loop. I thought I'd be thrown out of my seat. Turned out it was a walk in the park.

Soaring with Dragon at the top of the non-inverted loop. Despite its size, the element is surprisingly tame.
Source: Intamin

The inside top hat following the non-inverted loop could've also been made more intense by turning it into a normal top hat instead. Rather than providing riders with some 'weightlessness' only, this could've been an opportunity for Intamin to create an airtime ejector hill, which I'm quite sure a normal (outside) top hat would easily provide.

The rest of the layout is relatively flat, consisting typical turns.

The second half of the roller coaster is even tamer, which I'm quite surprised of. Following the bunny hop, which in my opinion doesn't deliver enough airtime, the coaster consists of only turns before hitting the brakes. I understand that there's a constraint of space here, but I was hoping for so much more from Soaring with Dragon because it looks really awesome in photos.

One thing that I found commendable about this roller coaster is its focus on speed. If Soaring with Dragon wants to emphasise its experience solely on speed, then I must say the coaster successfully fulfils its vision. The speed on this coaster following the inside top hat is pretty much stable, and we're talking about the vicinity of 55-60 mph average here, which is a pretty challenging feat to meet. Sit at the front and you'll feel the tears coming out of your eyes and blown by the wind to the back of your head.

The final turn around the massive, symbolic dragon statue.

Despite its massive size and impressive stats, Soaring with Dragon underwhelms with a tame and relatively forceless experience. I feel that it could've been much more intense and offered much more. Perhaps I'm biased. Perhaps I expected way too much. While certainly it's a must-ride at the park, supported by innovative launch technology that makes the experience one-of-a-kind, it's far from being one of the world's best in my opinion.

AFTERWORDS

As the centrepiece of the statement-making Hefei Wanda Theme Park, Soaring with Dragon truly delivers in terms of speedy ride. With its impressive stats in height, speed, and length, the roller coaster makes guests believe that they're truly soaring at the back of a dragon. Yet, for coaster enthusiasts, Soaring with Dragon could unfortunately be underwhelming due to its tameness and relatively forceless ride.

Intamin's much smaller Mega-Lite is surprisingly more intense than Soaring with Dragon.
Source: Intamin

Soaring with Dragon proves an important point about roller coaster: size could steal the attention, but it's the experience that will separate the good from the bad. While Soaring with Dragon isn't necessarily a bad coaster, it could've been much better; one of the world's best. For example, Intamin's much smaller model Mega-Lite, despite being dwarfed by the former, has often made it to people's 'World's Best' list thanks to its massive airtime and forceful turns, creating a compact layout that offers short but intense experience.

Intamin has done it again with this 'swing launch' coaster and I'm looking forward to what they'll come up with next. But for now, Soaring with Dragon is not really a chart-topping roller coaster for me. Hopefully, Intamin can utilise this technology once again without compromising the intensity of the experience in the near future.

Soaring with Dragon finishing up its course with a final turn around the dragon statue.

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