Step from the well-trodden fun park path and you’ll find there’s more to thrill-seeking high jinks than getting your photo taken with a permagrin mouse standing in front of a plastic castle. Swerve the crowds and cut the costs with a trip to one of APH.com‘s top five alternative fun-packed theme parks in Europe and beyond. Enjoy the ride…
Europa Park, Rust Germany
Europa-Park, Europa-Park-Strasse 2, 77977 Rust, Germany
What is it: Europa Park’s the largest theme park in Germany and the second most popular in Europe – following only Disneyland Paris and its jaw-dropping marketing budget. It has 11 rollercoasters and can accommodate 50,000 visitors a day. The park boasts several themed on-site hotels, but camping facilities are located nearby for those who want to escape back to reality.
Features: Europa Park is based around country-themed sections, covering destinations such as Austria, Italy, England, France, Greece, Holland, Iceland, Portugal, Russia, Scandinavia, Spain and Switzerland. Rides and attractions in the England section include gems such as Silverstone Race Track, Crazy Taxi, London Bus – A magic carpet ride, Queen’s Diamonds and The Globe Theatre… you get the picture! There are also special sections such as the fairy tale-inspired Enchanted Forest along with an area dedicated to kids’ film fave Arthur And The Invisibles. Those staying on the site can choose from hotels themed around the Roman Colosseum, a Portuguese Monastery, Spanish villa and a lighthouse. There’s also a circus-themed guesthouse, camping park and Tipi village. Mums and dads will appreciate the on-site golf course and health spas.
Who’s it for: There’s something for all ages from toddlers to teens and ‘even’ grown-ups. From gentle rides to white-knuckle lunacy it has it all.
Rides: Find a list of all rides and attraction here.
Ride restrictions: These are shown on the entrance to all rides. The park’s online ‘ride checker’ has been removed from the website.
How much: Children under 4 get in free, kids 4-11 cost €37 (£29 approx) or free on birthdays up until 12 years old, with adults charged €42.50 (£32 approx). Concessions available.
Opening times: Summer from 05/04/2014 – 02/11/2014, 9.00am to 6.00pm
How to get there: Fly into Karlsruhe/Baden-Baden, Stuttgart or EuroAirport in Basel, where there are frequent airport shuttles to Europa Park
Waiting times and info: Use your smartphone to hook-up with the park’s Wi-Fi to find out waiting times and other information. Find out how to join the Wi-Fi here
Verdict: If you’re looking for a real-life fun park that’s got something for everyone in a safe and family-friendly environment, then Europa Park is just for you. Enjoy such attractions as the famous Silver Star hypercoaster – the steepest rollercoaster in Europe. You can also take time to visit some of the nearby cities of Strasbourg on the French border (45 mins drive) and Stuttgart just 2 hours away.
Find out more here: http://www.europapark.de
Europalaan 1, 5171 KW Kaatsheuvel, Netherlands
What is it: It’s the largest theme park in the Netherlands and one of the oldest such attractions in the world – pre-dating Disneyland by around two years. It opened in 1952 and evolved from small nature park with a playground into a full-sized fun park that’s designed to stimulate both imagination and adrenaline for kids and adults with its cultural, romantic and nostalgic themes based on ancient myths and legends, fairy tales, fables and folklore. It offers a more magical and less commercial feel than many such attractions, which just serves to heighten the charm. Efteling is also renowned for its high-quality ride designs and absence of cheap construction materials such as concrete and plastic. Its landscaped grounds and abundance of greenery all add to the park’s allure and make it all the more appealing for the entire family.
Features: Efteling is open year-round and comprises 36 rides, which include five roller coasters and four water rides. The Efteling resort as a whole is made up of various divisions; the theme park, the four-star Efteling Hotel, a theatre,18-hole golf course and a holiday park with bungalows. The theme park consists of four ‘realms’; Reizenrijk (Travel Realm), Marerijk (Fairy Realm), Ruigrijk (Rough Realm), and Anderrijk (Other Realm). These might sound like a case of ‘lost in translation’, but the realms really do make sense when you visit – with the Ruigrijk (Rough Realm) containing most of the fast and furious rides that thrill-seeking teens and should-know-better adults will be eager to explore, while the Fairy Realm offers a far more magical and sedate ambience. Most of the visitors are Dutch, so expect a laid-back enjoyable fantasy-like experience among the landscaped gardens, woods and lakes. There are more than a dozen restaurants to keep your brood happy, too.
Who’s it for: The whole family – from toddlers to granny and grandpa. Disabled visitors are especially welcome, too, and will be given special assistance and access to the rides. Just make sure you have a recent letter/certificate from a recognised medical professional. There’s also a handy baby switch feature that allows parents with babies to both use the rides, but without having to queue twice.
Ride checker: Get a full run-down of all the attractions and age, height and health requirements right here…
How much: Kids under four are free, while adults and all other children are €32.00 (£26.00 approx) per day when bought online.
Opening times: The Efteling theme park operate during the following hours:
April 5 – June 30, 2014
Monday – Sunday: 10.00am – 6.00pm
July 1 – August 31, 2014
Monday – Sunday 10.00am – 8.00pm
Saturday 10.00am – 12.00am
Head here for full year-round opening times at Efteling.
How to get there: If you’re picking up a hire car at Schiphol Amsterdam Airport, it will take you just over an hour to complete the 70-mile drive to the Efteling theme park.
Interactive: Take an interactive look around the park here.
Verdict: Efteling will enchant all who visit, from toddlers to teens, they’ll all be captivated by the fantasy-themed Dutch amusement park. Parents will also succumb to the charm of its landscaped gardens and lakes. A great alternative to Disneyland. Combining the theme park with a few days in nearby Amsterdam will make a break that both you and the kids will love.
Find out more: http://www.efteling.co.uk/
BonBon Land, Gartnervej 2, 4684 Holmegaard, Denmark
See here for Image credits plus Flikr user gnislew
What is it: BonBon Land is a Danish amusement park located around 60 miles from Copenhagen. It opened in 1992 and possesses an impressive inventory of 65 rides. The park covers 34-acres and attracts around 450,000 visitors each year. It’s famed for its wacky design and humour that’s deployed liberally across the park’s rides and architecture… look out for smirk-inducing delights such as the peeing ant, farting dog and vomiting rat. Yes, a theme park that’s thoroughly immature with a penchant for highly debatable toilet humour… the kids will love it.
Theme park survival guide
1) Check height restrictions
2) Download a map of the park
3) Agree a meeting point
4) Take a picnic to save cash
5) Look at fast-track options
6) Avoid roller coasters
straight after lunch
Features: When it opened in 1992, BonBon Land consisted of just a small sweet factory, cinema, tiny shop and four small boats. However its instant popularity has resulted in rapid growth resulting in the 65 rides that are currently on offer. With an ethos of creating experiences that can be enjoyed by the entire family, the park makes a great day out for all generations. There are four roller coasters – including the infamous ‘Farting Dog’, two water-based attractions and 11 rides designed just for kids. There’s plenty of adrenaline-fuelled fun for parents, too. The park is never overly packed, so there’s always a space to sit down and relax. The park’s owners don’t mind you taking your own picnic food, otherwise refreshment is predominantly limited to fast food outlets. You can also rent small carts to carry coolers, clothing and even tired, but happy kids
Who’s it for: It’s designed for all, but under-10s in particular are certain to be left in a state of uncontrollable potty-humour-induced delirium.
Ride checker: Get a full run-down of the park’s attractions with BonBon Land’s ride guide.
How much: Kids under 90cm tall get in free, while all other children and adults pay the equivalent of around £17 for tickets bought online. The same prices apply to senior citizens and disabled visitors.
Opening times: The park opens from 10.00am to varying times between 5.00pm and 8.00pm. Get specific times here.
Interactive: Find the interactive map of the BonBon Land here. Remember to open in a browser, such as Chrome, that offers an instant translation of the Danish-language site.
Verdict: If you want to escape the corporate sterility of parks such as Disneyland, then BonBon Land’s quirky design and penchant for potty humour might just provide the fun park tonic you’re looking for. Why not make your base in the beautiful city of Copenhagen, which is less than an hour away from BonBon Land.
Find out more: http://www.bonbonland.dk/da
Yas Island, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
What is it: As the name hints, this is a Ferrari themed amusement park that’s located on Yas Island in Abu Dhabi. Enclosed beneath its iconic roof, Ferrari World houses the world’s largest indoor amusement park. Opened in 2010, it’s home to the Formula Rossa – the globe’s fastest roller coaster.
Features: The park – as you’d expect – is heavily influenced by Italian culture and Ferrari’s proud heritage of high-performance sports cars and motor sport. The park’s hi-octane intentions are clearly stated with the Formula Rossa – a record-breaking roller coaster that’s capable of blasting adrenaline-pumped passengers around a twisty circuit at speeds of up to 149mph. However, it’s not all about white-knuckled terror, you could always try the Tyre Twist – Ferrari World’s take on the traditional ‘tea cup ride’… Returning to the F1 theme, there’s everything from Driving With Champions – an interactive 3D show that follows the life of a Ferrari engineer – to G-Force, which mimics acceleration forces experienced by Formula 1 pilots with a spaceshot tower launching passengers over 62 metres into the air. Kids will also get the chance to drive a child-sized F430 GT Spider or F1 racer on a network of mini streets and racing circuit. The mechanically minded might well enjoy a trip on the V12 – a fascinating water flume ride through the heart of a giant Ferrari 599 engine. With all this on offer, you’ll soon need a trip to the pits where you and your family can refuel at one of the many Italian-themed restaurants. Choose to stay in one of Ferrari World’s Yas Island-located partner hotels and you’ll get dedicated admission points to help beat the queues.
Who’s it for: Families, kids and thrill seekers are all welcome at Ferrari world. Don’t be put off by the testosterone-fuelled image usually associated with sports cars and motor racing, kids and parents will be equally enthralled.
Ride checker: Click here for a full list of attractions by category.
How much: Children under three gain free admittance, kids of less than 1.3m tall have to pay £31.68, while everyone above 1.3m will be charged £38.99.
Opening times: Ferrari World is open 7 days a week from 11.00 – 8.00pm.
How to get there: Choose from three international airports located within the United Arab Emirates. Ferrari World Abu Dhabi is just a 10-minute drive from Abu Dhabi International Airport, 90 minutes from Dubai International Airport, and a 120-minute drive from Sharjah International Airport.
Interactive: Ferrari World’s interactive map is in development, but in the meantime you can download a map of the park here.
Verdict: If you’re heading to the UAE then this is a great location to give the kids – and yourself – a chance to let your hair down. Despite the Ferrari theming, don’t worry about being surrounded by bald middle-aged men with bulging bank balances and equally bulging girlfriends, this is a fun park with the emphasis on fun.
Find out more: http://www.ferrariworldabudhabi.com/en-gb.aspx
Salou, Catalonia, Spain
What is it: PortAventura is a theme park located south of Barcelona on Spain’s Costa Dorada. Around four million visitors stream through its gates each year, making it Spain’s most popular fun park – and the 16th most visited in Europe. PortAventura is divided into five themed areas based on historic civilisations of Mediterrània, Far West, México, China and Polynesia. If that all sounds a bit highbrow and cultural, there’s also the Sesame Street area to redress the balance.
Features:Starting with Mediterrània, guests will find three rides along with shops and restaurants designed to reproduce the feel of a typical Catalonian costal town. Rides include a rollercoaster that hits speeds of 84mph, a narrow-gauge railway and boat ride that transfers visitors to the Chinese area. China is one of the larger theme lands and has a walkway based on the Great Wall. Rides include the violently writhing Dragon Khan roller coaster – which consistently polls as one of the world’s most popular coasters – and the Shambhala: Expedición al Himalaya, a ride that thrills and terrifies with a record-breaking 256ft plunge to earth. Heading to Polynesia offers something of a respite, with a selection of less adrenaline-charged rides on offer. Notable attractions here are the Tutuki Splash waterslide that’s built around an ‘erupting volcano’ and the Sea Odyssey 4D, which takes visitors on a submarine-themed cinema trip to the bottom of the ocean. Head to the Far West area and enter an old-time wild west town that boasts nine attractions. The highlight is the Stampida – a rickety-looking wooden roller coaster with multiple drops and two narrow tunnels. Heading to Mexico, there’s the Hurakan Condor, a tower where the passengers plummet to the ground from a height of 330ft. Another highlight is the El Diablo-Tren de la Mina, a mine train that hurtles though terrifyingly narrow tunnels at speeds of up to 40mph. Finally, younger visitors will appreciate the Sesame Street-themed area. Located between the China and Polynesia lands, it has 11 rides including a child-friendly roller coaster, drop-tower and monorail.
Who’s it for: All ages of kids and mums and dads, too.
Ride checker: Check each section for a list of all rides and restrictions. Find the rides here.
How much: Adults £36.58, with children and OAPs at £31.71 and disable visitors £18.70
Opening times: PortAventura is open 10.00am – 12.00am throughout most of the summer. Download a full calendar of opening times here.
How to get there: PortAventura is 1.15 hours away from Barcelona
Interactive: Download a map of the fun park here.
Verdict: With Spain rating as the top holiday for sun-starved Brits, it’s a dead-cert that heading for PortAventura will make a great day out for all the family. Base yourself anywhere on the coast and prepare to enjoy the fun in the sun…
Find out more:http://www.portaventura.co.uk/
Fun parks that forgot the fun
Here’s our collection of theme parks that have attempted to put the fun back into misery. Click through the list of destinations you might want to avoid.
- Blobby Land Sadly we soon forgot Mr Blobby leaving his theme park in ruins. Image credit
- Išgyvenimo Drama, Lithuania Fancy a trip back in time to Communist-era Lithuania? Enjoy bunker life and other Soviet high jinks…
- Love Land, South Korea A Disneyland alternative, this is not. The clue is in the name.
- City of Live Mermaids, Florida Watching women in bras and strap-on fish tails swimming around a big goldfish tank, anyone?
- Sky Cycle, Washuzan Highland – Japan Who wouldn’t want to pedal their way around a rickety decaying roller coaster hundreds of feet in the air? Errr… we wouldn’t!
- Toilet Culture theme park Head to Suwon in South Korea to the world’s first toilet theme park. There’s even a garden of squatting sculptures to wander around - as you lick your poo-themed ice cream…