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 six alternative fun-packed theme parks in Europe and beyond. Enjoy the ride…
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 13 roller coasters from the original Alpen Express Mine Train to the latest addition, a child-friendly coaster called the Ba-a-a Express. The park can accommodate up to 60,000 thrill-seekers daily and boasts several themed on-site hotels. 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.
New rides for 2016, 2017 and 2018: Visitors in 2016 had the added attraction of heading to a new ‘Ireland-themed’ area. Opened in July, new rides include Kon Tiki-style attraction called Dancing Dinghy, the child-friendly Ba-a-a Express roller coaster along with the obligatory ‘Irish’ pub for national delicacies and plenty of Guinness, we suspect.
Treats for 2017 will include a new development on land adjacent to the existing park. ‘Project V‘, the new attraction will be Europe’s largest ‘Flying Theatre’ and make up the largest single investment the park has made. The two theatres will have seat seats in each and seven gondolas spread over three floor in each. The new attraction will have a ‘flight’ time of 4.5 minutes, with effects such as wind and water throughout the show. With a capacity of 1,400 thrill-hunter an hour, the queues ‘should’ be kept to a minimum. Admission will be for those 4 and over. See ‘Project V’ in action here…
Looking forward to 2018, fun-seekers can expect a major water park and hotel to be opened near to the current site. The new area is expected to cost in the region of £120 million.
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, attraction and shows 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 £34.50 in summer and £32.50 during winter, with those over 11 paying £40 in summer £34.50 during winter months.(All prices subject to currency conversion rates.) Concessions available.
Opening times: Europa Park operates the following seasonal opening hours… Summer: 19th Mar 2016 – Sun 6th Nov 2016: 9.00am to at least 6.00pm Winter: Sat 26th Nov 2016 – Sun 8th Jan 2017: 11am to at least 7pm Download the full opening hours here
How to get there: Fly into Karlsruhe/Baden-Baden, Stuttgart or EuroAirport in Basel, where there are frequent airport shuttles to Europa Park
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
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 six 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.
Latest rides to entice the white-knuckled thrill-seekers include the Baron 1898 roller coaster, which features a 37.5m plunge into the ‘mineshaft’ at speeds in excess of 55mph.
To enter the mine, Baron 1898 plunges you down a 37.5 m free fall into the mineshaft at a speed of 90 km/h. Dare to embark on this wild ride? Be warned: even the bravest will have their hair standing on end!
Watch a 360-degree video of the ride – including the terrifying descent into the mineshaft below…
New for 2016, was the arrival of Pinocchio in Efteling’s Fairytale Forest. Join the cheeky wooden chap as you follow his dream to become a ‘real’ boy as you travel through three interactive sections based on the original Italian story. The quest ends in a quaint Italian harbour, where a fish of monstrous proportions lies waiting beneath the waters. The Pinocchio fairytale is situated between Little Red Riding Hood and The Red Shoes.
Looking ahead to summer 2017, visitors can expect to enter Symbolica: The Palace of Fantasy. Rediscover your imagination as you embark on an adventure through magical hidden chambers of the Palace. Step into your carriage and choose from one of three routes with a new journey of fantasy and dreams awaiting in each.
Who’s it for: The whole family – from toddlers (pushchairs are available to rent) 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… Efteling attractions.
How much: Kids under four are free, while adults and all other children are £30.00 approx per day when bought online.
Opening times: The Efteling theme park operate during the following hours: Winter hours
Monday – Sunday: 10.00am – 6.00pm Summer hours
Monday – Sunday 10.00am – 8.00pm
Saturday 10.00am – 12.00am
Times are provisional for 2017, 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.
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 ceaseless commercialisation of 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/
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 as they speed past piles of plastic poop littering the floor and topped off by the ‘farting dog’ performs his infamous party trick.
Verdict: If you want to escape the corporate sterility of parks such as Disneyland, then BonBon Land’s quirky design and penchant for parping canines might just provide the fun-park tonic you’re obviously looking for. Why not make your base in the beautiful city of Copenhagen, which is less than an hour away from BonBon Land?
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 The Champion – an interactive 3D show that follows the life of a Ferrari engineer – to Scuderia Challenge putting your racing skills to the test with a state-of-the-art simulator. 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 getting up close and personal with Ferrari’s car making history with the spectacular collection of its classic and contemporary models. 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.
Latest rides: Here’s what’s new for 2016 at Ferrari World, Abu Dhabi. Mission is just one of three new coasters at Ferrari World Abu Dhabi in 2016, this one will feature a host of exciting elements including launches, 3-D screens, a drop track, tilt track and a rumoured two stomach-churning inversions. Ferrari World hasn’t confirmed the launch date, but keep an eye out for October 31…
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.
How much: Children under three gain free admittance, kids of less than 1.3m tall have to pay £67.50, while everyone above 1.3m will be charged £80.00.
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.
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.
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.
Ferrari World is coming: The park’s bosses have signed a deal with the Italian company to bring a new themed area to the park – as part of the franchise currently seen in Abu Dhabi. The new high-octane area is expected to open in April 2017, and bring new rides and 250-room hotel. The theme park will be separate from the existing theme park, but will have a similar theme of regions – expect recreations of Venice‘s Piazza San Marco and Rome’s Colosseum.
Impression of the new Ferrari Land opening at PortAventura in 2017: Image credit Portaventura
The top-line attraction will take the crown of Europe’s fastest accelerator coaster from the 80mph Stealth ride at our very own Thorpe Park – along with the highest by surpassing the Shambhala: Expedición al Himalaya. The new ‘Acelerador Veritcal’, as it’s been named (see the image), will peak at 368 feet and blast passengers from 0-112mph in just 5 seconds. Other rides include the ‘Torres De Robot’; a space shot-type tower combined with a Turbo Drop attraction to send thrill seekers plummeting towards terra firma. Kids will love the race car ride, Circuito, with its 750m track of epic duels winding its way across the land. High-tec Ferrari simulators will also be on hand for both adults and kids.
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 £40, with children and OAPs at £35 and disable visitors £25
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
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…
What is it: Built across four themed areas; Bucht der Piraten, (the Bay of Pirates), Land der Vergessenen, (Land of the Forgotten), Transsilvanien, (Transylvanian), and Wild Wild West, which speaks for itself.
With 40 rides to choose from, fun-seekers can shoot down the Colossos, Europe’s highest and fastest wooden rollercoaster; find themselves put in a twist by the world’s highest Gyro-Drop-Tower, ‘Scream’; or shout ‘a-ha’ a lot while enjoying pirates-inspired adventures on the Lake Stage. Visitors can follow the escapades of Alex the Lion, Gloria the Hippo and King Julien in the ‘Madagascar Live!’ show, where the stars of DreamWorks’ hit film ‘Madagascar 3 – Europe’s Most Wanted’ bring their circus to Northern Germany’s biggest family theme park
Features: With nine roller coasters and three water rides, there’s plenty to keep you going for a visit spanning one or two days. Kick-off the white-knuckled action on one of Heide Park’s oldest thrillers; the Bay of Pirates’ Big Loop roller coaster – with its two vertical loops and double corkscrew. The Captain’s Cruise will bring something a little more sedate with a boat ride through the Amsterdam-themed ‘Dutch Quarter’. Or why not head to the Land of the Forgotten for another of Heide Park’s high points? Meet Colossos – the “world’s tallest wooden roller coaster”, standing at 196 feet tall. Alternatively, kids of all ages – and not to mention queasy parents – will love the soothing but fun miniature train ride covering a 1.1 kilometre circuit and offering views of Heide Park’s two lakes. Head to the Wild West Area for Indy-Blitz, a small roller coaster that’s perfectly appointed for younger thrill seekers. Those of a nervous disposition should consider looking away when it comes to the ‘Transsilvanien’ area, with its Flight of the Demons ride. Featuring a 2,532ft circuit, with five inversions including an Immelmann loop, a zero-g roll and a pretzel loop, the brave will hit speeds of up to 62mph, while climbing to a peak of 131ft. See the ‘Ride checker’ below for a full roster of attractions on offer – and entry requirements for each. Along with the rides, five shows are available on a daily basis. These include puppet shows, circus-type tomfoolery and live productions based on the Madagascar movie.
Who’s it for: Families, kids and thrill seekers are all welcome. As mentioned above, it’s part of the Merlin Entertainments Group, which owns the like of Alton Towers and Thorpe Park, so expect a ‘plenty for everyone’ experience in this popular German theme park.
How to get there: Hanover and Hamburg are both around 2 hours’ travel from Heide Park. If driving, you’ll be charged €6 for parking on top of the online entrance fee.
Verdict: If you’re travelling around Germany and fancy a little light relief, then a trip to the Saxony region can be combined with a visit to Heide Park. With its link to Alton Towers and Thorpe Park, it’s sure to keep travellers of all ages occupied.
Wifi is available on the site, just look out for #HeideParkResort.