Kid-friendly outdoor activities in the heart of the CBD can be limited — in these regards, Chaoyang Park is indispensible. It really can’t be beat when it comes to the size and the selection of activities within, not to mention the venues (i.e. Solana, Lucky Street, the West Gate) lining its perimeter. It is, in short, the perfect “weekend default option” for parents looking for places to take their kids.
Pluses aside, I noticed a few off-putting things during our visit there this past weekend. For one, the marketing geniuses at Zhongnanhai cigarettes have decided to set up a promotional pavilion at the south gate, complete with blaring music and staff offering trinkets right near the entrance to the kiddie pool and rides. Not sure who they are targeting with this campaign (perhaps the hordes of young dating couples that frequent the park), but it’s a bit much to be pimping cancer sticks in a large, outdoor park, don’t you think? They might as well have giant, cartoon cigarette box handing out free samples to the kiddies. I’m just sayin’.
Another slightly annoying thing are the rides — or, rather, the somewhat steep prices the park is charging for some of them. Case in point is the giant double-decker carousel near the main tower. It’s a flashy piece of equipment, for sure, but the operators were asking RMB 20 a pop (regardless of whether you are man, woman, child or infant). We witnessed a sweet old couple walk dejectedly away with their grandchild after being quoted this price (“20 kuai each for you and the baby,” was the barker’s brisk reply).
20 kuai isn’t much in the bigger scheme of things, but it seems like these operators have never heard of the concept of “Kids X and under ride free.*” Every ride seemed to cost in the range of RMB 15 to 20 — even the bizarre attraction in which you pay 20 kuai to feed giant, mutant goldfish with a baby bottle, or the equally strange medieval torture device looking floating plastic tubes in which parents place their terrified toddlers — and it seemed that the parents/grandparents were all but resigned to their fate of forking over substantial wads of cash to indulge their little ones.
We splurged on a couple of rides only to discover that they were either distressingly short or entirely uninteresting to our daughter (who is admittedly a bit too small to fully enjoy most of the attractions) and gave up entirely when were told we couldn’t bring our stroller into the RMB 60 a pop Sony Explorascience.
The day ended with a blistering hot trek to the west gate with our half-conscious, semi-heatstroked baby bundled in our arms until we reached the cool confines of Muse for a simple lunch of Vietnamese noodles and coffee. Overall, it was a pleasant, albeit dehydrating, family outing, but I’m inclined to stick with the greener and less commercialized north side of the park next time.
*Which really is aimed at the accompanying adults who really aren’t there to enjoy the rides themselves.