Coming to Seoul as a visitor you may not consider going to an Amusement park because you think you will be busy seeing historic and cultural artifacts and architecture - and you may be right - but I am here indefinitely, and I love me some roller-coasters! I am not interested in the outdated ideas of being "cultured". I am interested in the present culture of Korea, and they love their amusement parks. So do I, which makes this part of my acculturation very easy.
I had read about the amusement parks in my travel book and was looking forward to going to them. I didn't expect to hit all three of the major parks already in just over a month of being here. I was expecting to have trouble dragging other teachers to these sorts of places because people get very serious about seeing cultures when they travel. I have learned to leave my idea of what culture is at the airport and see when I get to a new place what is important to see. You never can understand people if you keep assuming their culture is only in their very old buildings and statues.
I will tell you about the first amusement park I went to in Korea, because it happened by accident. I was trying to see a park and do some hiking, but apparently I misread the travel book.
Seoul Grand Park is a subway stop in southern Seoul. I remember reading about a zoo being attached to the park. I even saw ajumma (older women) in their hiking getups and their walking poles on the subway on the way there. I was expecting some forest and trees and all that fresh nature air to fill my nostrils. I was in for a little surprise. When I showed up there was a huge parking lot and ladies selling food on the walk-up to the entrance. I figured I might not see food for awhile so I snagged some water and some doughnuts (three for 90 cents). I walked over the crest of the hill to see huge entrance gates, a tram, and gondolas going up the hill. I figured that was for the zoo and I could go the other direction. I read the ticket info and found no information about a park - just a zoo, tram, gondola, and Seoul Land. I was duped. In my hustle from one counter to the other looking for new information I ran into two Canadian girls, also teachers, who looked to be having trouble finding the right tickets. We had a common confused bond, so I asked if they were buying tickets. Yes. I think we have to get the package. Let's do it. 'I' was now a 'we'.
We entered the zoo and looked around, had trouble finding the crocodiles (never did find them, even though they have signs everywhere for them), and ate. The zoo was alright, it had some interesting stuff, mostly the Koreans feeding the animals through the cage, but the animals were cool, too. We saw everything and decided to hit up Seoul Land, the smallest of the amusement parks in the area. They had a foreigner discount coupon, so we used that. It was only about ten bucks per person.
Seoul Land is like Disneyland, but smaller, older looking but not older, and has a small Epcot Center golf ball in the middle of it. Very kitschy and funny. But they had real rides, too! We went on both of the big roller-coasters, one had a double loop and a tunnel that sprayed you with ramen-flavored mist and the other was larger and longer and had a bigger drop. Both were pretty fun, but we waited for 45 minutes or more each time. It was a Sunday.
They had the staple foods, too; hot dogs, churros, burgers and fries, and ice cream. They also had Korean choices too, like assorted meats on a stick and bibimbap. They had one of those rides that you sit facing front and the whole thing rotates over while the place you are sitting spins as well. Usually the piece you are sitting on is driven by a motor, but this one was gravity-fed instead. It looked like it was jolting everyone around. We watched from about 40 feet away and heard something hit the tree and land on the ground next to us. Someone's sandal had flown off the ride and landed 40 feet away, next to us.
Overall, this place was worth ten bucks, but had we paid the full 28 bucks I would have been disappointed. If you go on a weekday and the crowds aren't there, you can ride everything in about an hour. If you want something convenient to get to from anywhere in Seoul that is worth it all the time, you head to Lotte World.
Lotte World is magnificent! It is half inside and half outside on a man-made island called Magic Island, where they have the Disney-esque castle located in the picture at the top. It is inside Jamsil Station right in the heart of the city and has food stalls everywhere, but it also has more rides than Seoul Land in less space. I was skeptical at first when I walked in because it looked so small. I figured they couldn't possible fit good rides here, but they do.
Inside the best ride is the French Revolution roller-coaster. It has a loop that goes around a walkway you can stand on and watch from. It is a little jerky around corners but overall a good ride. And it's inside, so it doesn't matter what the weather is like. Outside is where the rest of the good rides are at. They have one of those rides you shoot up in the air and free-fall back down in, plus another one that rotates on the way up and then holds at the top - then falls - which is taller than the other one. They have a huge rotating swing that flings you out over the water and gets you a nice little free-fall rush at the apex. It gets going so fast they put shields over your face so your eyes don't water (or maybe so birds don't hit you at the top). Either way its really quiet and creepy, like your the only one on the ride. The best ride, however, is the Atlantis roller-coaster. It looked small while we were standing in line, but it is way longer than expected. You sit like you are on a Seadoo or 4-wheeler and it uses magnets to fling you up hill at the start. It is smooth and fast and has a few good drops that get you the first time.
The major attraction, however, is a theme ride they clearly put a large amount of money into. It was like Disney, in that they themed out the entire entrance and line before the ride began. It was an Egyptian expedition of the olden days theme. It was a neat line to be in, no one was there though, so we sped through it. The ride was a bit like the Indiana Jones ride, bumpy truck going through the caverns of Egypt when out comes the evil spirits to attack. It would be great for kids, but it was actually pretty good for us too. It had a few surprises using smoke and laser lights that throws your vision off before a drop or turn that were pretty good.
We also got to see the parade that goes around the center area inside and it was great. And by great, I mean hilarious. They like to hire white people because that is who is supposed to be in parades at amusement parks, right? We watched them dance around in Egyptian attire and were smiling so much one of the guys even gave us the "I know, but it pays the bills" look.
The big complaint is the layout. It is all very condensed, but getting around can be like a maze sometimes. You end up in back alley stairwells and are wondering if this is the right way, but it is. When we found our way back to the beginning we rode a ride called Sinbad, which is just a rip-off of Pirates of the Caribbean. It was so crowded the girl working the entrance gate was working on homework. She didn't look up, she just waved us through. They are supposed to be checking if we have the wrist band for rides or just an entrance ticket. Anyway, we were trying to touch all the animatronics. My friend decided to climb over the seats to see the view from different angles. That is how exciting it was, but it was what I expected.
After all the excitement on Sinbad we watched a really lame laser show over the ice-rink, the only good part was the flames and fireworks at the end. Lotte World is worth going to again, however, I think I might even get season tickets.
Everland is the largest amusement park in Korea. It took us awhile to find the bus, but there are buses from Seoul south to Everland running all day. It takes about 40 or 50 minutes to get there. This park is way bigger than both the other parks, but was disappointing in how many big rides there are. This place is great for kids, but doesn't have any more rides for us adults than Lotte World.
They have a rose garden and an Aesops Village for the kids. They also have Safari Land where you drive through an area of 'wild' animals like Lions and Tigers and Bears - oh my how sad it was. All the animals were behind electric fences except a few of the tigers and bears. They all looked depressed and the bears did tricks, like spinning or waving, for some snacks to get thrown to them. They did have a ligar though. They also had a pretty huge collection of monkeys after the safari thing. They even had guinea pigs! In a zoo! Now let's get to the goods.
The rides. The biggest and most exciting was the T Express. It's the largest wooden coaster in Korea, but that is a bit like talking about the fattest person at an anorexia convention. It does have one hell of a drop on it though. Almost vertical about ten stories or so, but the scarier part was coming back nearly the entire distance after that and dropping again and feeling the negative G's. Once you finish all that, at high speed, you go underneath the structure and do some ups and downs where it appears you are going to hit your head on cross bars. Scary. The second time it was really fun though.
The other good ride is in the Americana area. The area is set up like a suburban street in 50's America, so they have burger joints and Rock N' Roll music playing. One funny thing is an ad for cigarettes. We would never have that out anymore where kids walk around, but they don't have a problem with smoking here. Anyway, the ride is the Rocksville Coaster. Two loops and two corkscrews in under two minutes. It's probably about a minute - ok, 15 seconds. It's fun but over so soon. Luckily we were there on a Tuesday and could just get right back on.
Next door is the Twist which spins at an angle with each seating area spinning with gravity. It really messes with your inner compass. It was fun though. Close to that is the Columbus experience, which is the Viking ship that you see everywhere, but bigger and with two ships next to each other. We didn't get to see both going because there were only about ten people on the ride, they would hold 40+ people each.
On our way to Bulgogi Spaghetti and a second go on the T Express, we were caught up in the Halloween parade. Segways, guys on big tricycles, and gay Korean guys dancing their hearts out while pretty Korean girls couldn't care less about it - it was all there. I accidentally kicked a child in a stroller and then she started fighting with another stroller, but I got the shot!
Update - the new animal kingdom ride with amphibian trucks is much better than the older animal safari ride. It's a must, plus they added a river ride, which is great on a hot day. I'm still sticking with my verdict, but it's closer now.
All in all the Everland experience was more like what I'm used to for amusement parks; lots of walking, and lots of kids stuff between the good rides. I want to go back because it is attached to Caribbean Bay waterpark, but I'm not sure if I would spend the time to get there again. It was pretty fun, but Lotte World is so much closer and a little cheaper.
Final verdict: 1. Lotte World
3. Seoul Land