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PortAventura & Europa-Park (8-17 Aug 2009)
AstroDan
post Aug 18 2009, 6:54 PM
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I spent 8-12 Aug @ EP and 13-16 Aug @ PortAventura. Here's the review of the latter!

PortAventura: Review

PortAventura follows Disneyland Paris, Europa-Park, Parc Asterix, Holiday Park, Phantasialand and Futuroscope in the list of European theme park’s that I have visited. I must confess that, other than Disney, I had never had such high expectations for any park on my first visit. Phantasialand and Europa-Park I had known nothing about when I first visited, whilst Parc Asterix I never had that much expectation from anyway and Futuroscope should never be regarded as a “theme park” in the traditional sense anyway. PortAventura is generally the only European theme park other than Disneyland Paris that is known about in the UK – they advertise here, appear to have blockbuster rides, have a reasonably sized water park, John Wardley was involved with some of it, it’s in sunny Spain and pre-booked multi-day tickets are relatively good value. So – off we went.

Access and Main Entrance/Medditeranea

Our first day at the park was to be a full one. We took the train to PortAventura station which was quick and cheap. Initial impressions weren’t great – as the PortAventura logo/mascot statue as you leave the station had several imposing elements of graffiti on. We then walked past the closed Hotel El Paso which, for whatever reason, is closed all summer. We made our way towards the entrance plaza, which is cute and fresh. I was very impressed with the quality of the area theming as we made our way into the Meditteranean area of the park. It’s a unique take on a “Main Street USA/Towers Street”. Rather than being the usual straight street with shops/restaurants on either side (or not as is the case of Alton Towers), this was a fantastic meander round a beautiful lake with good looking eateries and an assortment of shops. A really good first impression which leads round to a fantastic view and the imposing Hurakan Condor (Intamin freefall tower) in the background.

The big new coaster: Furius Baco

We joined the queue and I was very shocked by the sheer amount of cattlepen which was available. The queueline was reasonably well themed – although this was more Disney style – place a very intense cattle pen in the smallest possible space and put a themed roof over it. However, the music was pleasant and we waited around 30 minutes to get on the ride. I noticed that the throughput was around 1 train every 3 minutes (Rita gets almost 1 per minute!) which brought me back down to earth after the awesome throughputs of Europa-Park days earlier. We boarded via the front row and I took the seat on the far left of the train. We were dispatched and, disappointingly, the large wooden doors were not opening/closing so we could see the train in front being launched. We went into the pre-show where the famous Monkey appeared to have vanished! The train launched with a fair punch – I would say this launch is about the same intensity as Rita but goes on a second longer. As we reached the end of the launch, what followed was the worst and most awful experience of a rollercoaster I have ever had. It was horrendously painful, headache inducing and very dull. The ride was like a faster Rita without the airtime hills and a random inversion. We reached the brake run and I felt awful. So did Saz, who was on the far right. Stu and Ray however, who had sat in the middle – were raving about it! We did Furius Baco several times over the stay and, only once, when I sat in the middle front of the train, did I enjoy it 100%. On the back it was even worse. This is, quite simply, one of the most poorly designed and badly operated rollercoasters I have ever had the chance to ride.

Stampida & the Far West

The throughputs on Stampida are severely hindered by the PortAventura express pass – and the queueline is covered (literally, every nook and cranny) in graffiti – some of which is years old. This is disgusting and really creates a bad impression. Sadly, whilst the layout of the coaster is exciting it is extremely rough. The trains are awful and you spend a lot of the ride worrying that your bag is going to be ejected from the train. It is the only coaster that I remove my watch before riding. Although the queue was much less at night, I would not be willing to wait more than 30 minutes for this in future and it doesn’t come recommended. I prefer Grand National, Rollercoaster, Big Dipper (aside from the back row), Tonnerre de Zeus and Troy to it. John Wardley’s woodie has been ruined with new trains and loads of graffiti. The theming is minimal.

Whilst Stampida is seen as the “big deal” in this area, there are some other rides which are good. Although all of them can get queue’s (the majority of which are large cattle pens) that get much longer than they really warrant, if you time it right – then you don’t have to wait. Gran Canyon rapids is a well themed Intamin River Rapids ride with a healthy dose of wetness. It is very fast in places and the boat spins a lot. Silver River Flume, whilst largely themeless during the ride, is a brilliant triple drop log flume which gets progressively wetter during the ride. The last drop is huge and really exciting. There is a lot of graffiti and chewing gum around the queue and station for the ride though which detracts from the experience. Tomahawk has to go down as the biggest surprise in the park. Better than Stampida, this is a junior woodie that has some exciting moments. Drops, corners, speed – it’s amazing for what it is. It’s probably the second best coaster in the park. The diabolical Volpaiute – a Huss ride which takes about 5 minutes to load is not worth a wait at all. The cars spin so slowly and its duller than dishwater. The same can be said for Crazy Barrels – a Huss Breakdance which again is operated very slowly and is nowhere near as good as the old Alton Towers version. The area theming is once again very impressive across the Far West and it’s very Disney-esque and fully immersive so top marks for that!

Mexico & Hurakan Condor

Hurakan Condor is a very imposing, near 300-foot drop tower with some wonderful external theming on a beautiful façade. As you join the queue, there’s several HUGE cattle pens which would probably lead to a 2 hour + queue on a busy day. Thankfully, the longest we waited was 40 minutes – although we did see the queue peak over 1 hour at some stages. Sadly, PortAventura do not allow you to select “sit down” or “stand up floorless” – so you just have to get lucky. Overall, this ride, whilst solid, exciting and fairly well themed, is nothing majorly special. Drayton Manor (shockingly) lead the field here. Hurakan Condor does not tilt. Also, Detonator is probably more thrilling/intense. However, it’s decent and we did it several times. The on-ride photo is fantastic and the views at the top are sensational. Templo del Fuego was closed most of the time, and I didn’t manage to ride. Sazzle, DanB and Ray went in though as they got very lucky. They said it was decent but needn’t have worried too much that I missed out. Overall though, I was disappointed to have missed out but the fact is that PortAventura only open it for a few small hours per day and we only spent the first day on park all day as the heat was too much the rest of the time. El Diablo is a below average Arrow Mine Train, which is effectively a cheaper-looking Vekoma Mine Train. The ride has a couple of decent moments, but the brakes are too much, the lift hills to frequent and the theming in places too sparse. We waited 40 minutes to ride at one stage and I wouldn’t really say it’s worth any more. Big Thunder Mountain and Colorado Adventure are much better examples of large-scale Mine Train rides. Serpiente Emplumada is a cracker of a ride. Basically, Drayton Manor’s Sombrero on steroids with a lot of theming and a very small queue. It’s really good fun and packs a suprising punch! Yukatan is similar – this looks like childs play, but it’s a high speed carousel – imagine Rocky Express at Thorpe Park doing double the speed. Very enjoyable if a little painful with three in the car! Overall – the Mexican area is exquisitely themed, but lacks many decent attractions. The Maya Temple show looked good but we didn’t have time to check this one out.

China & Dragon Khan

As you move away from El Diablo, you head towards China – and the imposing mass of steel that is Dragon Khan – John Wardley’s B&M Sit Down beauty. It’s a cracking looking ride that oozes character. The trains roar round the track with a fair frequency and throughputs are good. The ride has a huge cattle pen under a Chinese roof, but thankfully we timed it right and didn’t wait much more than 30 minutes for this at any time. It’s a great coaster – a little rough at the back (particularly following the MCBR) but overall I wouldn’t hold that against it. Definitely the best coaster at the park. The ride hurtles around the track with pace and never really relents – it has all the hallmarks of a John Wardley coaster – aside from the theming which is very minimal throughout. Perhaps DK wasn’t as intense as I may have been hoping for, but it’s brilliant nonetheless. Fumanchu, a wave swinger, is largely forgettable – the ride has no character and sits there spinning feebly with an “I hate my life” kind of ride operator. The “second half” of China is home to a Tea Cup ride (not the Mack version) which is quite hard to spin, Cobra Imperial (a Rocky Express style ride, but quite slow) and several smaller childrens attractions. We saw the Bubblebou show which, whilst it only contained one person on stage, was cool. Lots of big bubbles and gentle effects. The Chinese area, whilst it’s home to the best ride in the park, was probably my least favourite. The theming isn’t that great really and the area feels to open.

Polynesia

This area lacks a major coaster, but has bags of character, simply stunning theming and good shows. Kon Tiki Wave is a forgettable pirate ship, but the theming is nice. Sea Oddysey attracted 2 hour queue’s during our trip, but we managed to ride late at night and the ride was walk on. It certainly didn’t warrant any queue! However, the theming was lovely – and the caves you walk through make Blue Fire’s queue (Europa-Park) look like child’s play. Tutuki Splash was also a big queue – but we used the Express Pass for this and waited only 20 minutes. There was a lot of chewing gum stuck inside the caves on the ride which was disgusting. However, the ride was fun – basically a smaller Tidal Wave with better theming and a double drop. Tami Tami, the parks kiddie coaster is a bit poor – you only get one go round the track and it’s extremely short. It looks nice, but there are better kiddie coasters out there. We saw some of a drumming show which looked awesome at night!

FiestAventura

FiestAventura is the parks signature summer show, which runs on Friday and Saturday evenings only at 23:45. It was AMAZING. Never have I seen such a fusion of light, water, colour, fire, fireworks, actors, floats and music. An incredible spectacle which was well worth staying in the park for! Deserving of a full applause and puts many other parks to shame.

Food and Drink

Overall, very average. Although the food we had in places was nice, I would not say it was as good as Europa-Park or Alton Towers. It was also quite pricey (around €10 (£8.50) for a burger, chips and drink from a fast food outlet). Drinks were better priced (€2.95 / £2.50 for 750ml or water 500ml for €1.50 / £1.25) and available everywhere. Some of the bread in use for some of the sandwiches was very stale!

Caribe Aquatic Park

Awesome fun here! Although it’s a little jaded, and on the expensive side (€24 / £21 at full price) – it’s so much fun and you can easily spend 6 to 8 hours here. El Torrente is the most fun I have had on a water ride ever – 5 grown adults hurtling down a water slide at speed and at 90 degree angles is surely not safe! El Tifon was a double chute which sent you at rapid pace in a very narrow flume – very exciting! Good wave pool and lazy river although a lack of a bubble pool. Really enjoyable day although queues for lunch were a joke – 35 minutes for chicken and chips! An all-you-can-drink canister is available for €9 / £7.80) which lasts all day. Sounds a lot, but works out cheaper than buying lots of single drinks.

Overall

This park has great theming in the areas. It’s fully immersive and very impressive. There’s a cracking water park. There’s also a few great rides – such as the Log Flume, Dragon Khan and Tomahawk. It has several class shows – and FiestAventura is just amazing. But that’s sadly, for me, where it ends. The queue’s can be very long during the day, the throughputs on many rides is atrocious and there are simply not enough rides – and certainly not enough decent ones. Whereas Phantasialand has 6 or 7 rides you’d want to do again and again, and Europa-Park just has more rides than you could ever do in a day – PortAventura lacks on both counts. There’s also a fair amount of litter and graffiti which spoils a lot of the park. It’s a one day park really and, although I really enjoyed my time – I will not be heading back for several years. It’s just not good enough, sadly. The fact is, the park only has one decent coaster that is enjoyable (DK) - Tomahawk sure is good but it's not worth going all that way for! They also badly need a monorail round the park. There are no paths corssing the middle so it takes ages!

I tried to be as objective as possible in my review of PA, but when a park has such a world-recognised reputation – particularly here in the UK – I feel it’s a long way behind Disneyland Resort Paris, Phantasialand and Europa-Park in terms of enjoyment factor. I certainly rate Alton Towers higher than this – but there’s no hiding that all parks could take a leaf or two out of PortAventura’s area theming. That’s something they really have got right. Sadly, PA didn't scream "come back soon"... so I won't be.

My thoughts on the rest of the holiday, including Europa-Park coming soon!

This post has been edited by AstroDan: Aug 18 2009, 6:55 PM


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AstroDan
post Aug 19 2009, 5:57 PM
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Europa-Park Review

The first part of the trip was spent at Europa-Park where we had 4 nights booked. I know, particularly here on ATA, that EP isn't exactly everyone's cup of tea - but we had a fantastic time and as usual, I just can't wait to go back - bring on Terenzi!

Tipidorf & Accommodation

Tipidorf cost us each around £90 for 4 nights accommodation. Unfortunately, due to the popularity of the site, we had to stay in a large Tipi on the first night using the infamous awful pillows! However we had loads of space and even the “rip your back off” showers didn’t seem quite as painful as they once were. There’s a new eatery called “Little Joe’s Grill Station” which serves jacket potatoes, pork steaks, corn etc. and drinks. It’s by the lake and really nice – especially as it gets dark with the lake lighting, American flags, log cabins, tipi’s and Silver Star in the background. We had a great stay to be honest – even though some mini genetic-surgeons woke us up rudely at 6am one morning which led to me and some random German woman in a nighty go on a manhunt! “These walls are paper thin” as they say!

Events/Shows

We went to the Portuguese Beach Party on Saturday night which started at 8pm. However, our tickets granted us admission to the park from 7pm which was ideal because ride close was 7.30pm! This meant a ride on Blue Fire before the party. The party was really busy, but there was lots on. A Pirates Stunt-Show on Santa Marian which involved a pirate going round on Atlantica firing off it, fire jugglers, dance troupes, a “live” performance from Europop star ‘Loona’ and music from DJ Pirate. Meanwhile, Euromaus and several mascots were doing funky dancing on the dancefloor! We had some drinks, food and spent some time on the Santa Marian aswell as had a couple of rides on Atlantica Super Splash. A really good evening!

Special events included a South African music group, Motorbike stunt show and others.

We saw 3 park shows plus the parade during our time on park. Magia was a combination of dance, music, acrobatics and magic. The magician was amazing and produced several large birds out of a handkerchief. Musical on Board, in the Globe Theatre was a mixture of genre but was really good fun! Some of the acrobatics were amazing, including a woman hanging on 30’ in the air by a clamp round her jaw and spinning at the same time. Duell der Bruder in the Spanish Arena was the same as when I last saw it, but remained impressive with lots of action and smoke and people on horses etc. The EP parade saw the return of “What a Feeling Europa-Park” which was great.

Rides

Won’t go into detail here, as I am sure many of you know about the rides at EP, but the throughputs excelled. On the last day, the park was very busy – I have never seen the park as packed and would have estimated around 35 to 40,000 people. Euro Mir and Eurosat were both queuing out of their entrances into temporary rope penning, but neither had a queue more than 40 minutes (although the display indicated longer) whilst Silver Star was similar but the queue was only 45 minutes. I stood and watched Euro Mir for several minutes and worked out that there was a dispatch ever 32 seconds, meaning 112 trains and 1,800 people per hour! Blue Fire was being launched so frequently that a couple of trains almost stopped on the MCBR. To be honest though, that’s not great as it disrupts the flow of the ride. It wasn’t until our 3rd day on park that we had completed the whole ride line up at the park. And I swear that the Columbus Sea Storm ride in Spain has been cranked up – was really throwing us about! And, for once – Pegasus was on two trains which is very unusual. RE: Blue Fire - added theming has been placed in the dark ride and queue which all looks great. Hopefully more in 2010 though!

Hotels and Show

Hotel Colosseo had an evening show on, which was a feature of actors, music, pyro, water effects and dance. It was probably the best show I have seen at the hotel in the past few years. The fountains in the central plaza (same as PBB’s) were operating manually and were hilarious to watch as they soaked various actors – and the unexpected crowd! The hotels were still beautiful as ever, and we ate at Antica Roma Restaurant which, whilst prcey at €25 (£22) was delicious and the musical group in the restaurant kept a lovely ambience.

Overall

Europa-Park never fails to amaze me. Each time I visit there’s something else going on – this time, I couldn’t believe how busy the park was but how low the queue times seemed to be (only Blue Fire got beyond an hour to my knowledge). The park was in great shape and ride close was extended generously on the busiest day (from 6 to 9pm) and to 7.30pm on the other days. A beautiful park that, whilst it could do with offering thrill seekers more, seems to be heading in the right direction.

I had a great time overall on the trip with some great people and good weather. Even my POINTLESS PONCHO PURCHASE didn’t get me down, when the rain basically stopped the moment I had parted with my €6…! Ah well, I guess it’ll do for that next ride on Battle Galleons.


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Trev
post Aug 19 2009, 8:27 PM
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Well that saved me a lot of effort! Thanks Dan. I was at PA the same weekend and I agree pretty much spot on.

I'll elaborate on a few points. Stampidia trains are absolute crap. Front row is ok and much less painful then even the second row.

The food was awful. If you're staying for a few days on site as I was then you really are stuck if you don't want to be eating just burgers and fries.

Grafitti was really bad. Especially on Stampidia, Furious Baco, and Tutuki Splash's gum tunnel. No effort has been made to clear it up ever.

I liked Furious Baco, only went on the front row, stupidly intense and I thought it was going to kill me but a huge buzz from it. The next day the trash still hadn't been emptied. But the Spanish still put their litter near the bins. I saw a few English people littering but the Spanish at least tried to bin their rubbish.

Temple of Fire had half the fire shut off and less actors in it. Sea Odyssey had it's theatre effects shut off so that was lacking this time round.

The rides kept breaking down, but there wouldn't be any speiling to let people know what was going on. When Sea Odyssey broke down in the batching room before the simulator we were not allowed to leave the room. We had to wait for the ride to become operational and finish the cycle. The lady wouldn't let us leave the room back through the queue. Very bewildering.

The parks saving grace is the sexual harassment Panda show! Where a panda gets lost and a Chinese girl that screams in Spanish helps him find MUMMA PANDA! When MUMMA PANDA eventually appears its a terrifying mountain engulfing Panda that towers above the rest of China. It's terrifying. Afterwards you can have your picture taken with MUMMA PANDA. I managed to get my picture with MUMMA PANDA this meant some children didn't. But never mind, they don't appreciate as much as I did.
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eyeamthu1
post Aug 20 2009, 6:05 PM
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Really good reports.

I can imagine that PortAventura is a nightmare on a busy day. When I visit theme parks, I always try to weigh up a ride's queue length with how much satisfaction I'm going to get from it. I'd say that BOTH PA and Europa have a lot of rides I'd be perfectly happy to wait 15-30min for, but anymore than that and I'd not be so happy. Each park has a couple of rides which are really worth a longer wait - and whilst Europa definitely does have a lot more rides in general, I think both parks are about equal on the 'major rides' front. Europa has BlueFire and Silver Star, PA has Dragon Khan and Hurakan Condor. And yes, I have said Hurakan Condor there.

This is where my opinion probably differs to yours, Dan. When I went to PA, Furius Baco hadn't been built - but I hear these reviews of it all the time... the quality of ride is very much dependent on where you sit. It was the same with X at Six Flags Magic Mountain. Shame, because if you get a good seat, X is world class. If you don't, you get bashed to kingdom come. Anyway, as I say, Baco hadn't been built when I last went to PA. But Hurakan Condor was open, and it was IMO fantastic. I notice that in your report, you said the cars didn't tilt. If that is indeed the case, that's very worrying - when I went they definitely did, on all sides, and that's what I think really makes the ride. In the same way that Apocalypse at Drayton does, that 15 degree tilt adds so much to the ride. Same applies on Condor, except the effect is amplified at 300ft up. I managed nine goes on it when I went (thank you Single rider queue), and it definitely was the best tower ride I've done (if you're not counting Disney's Tower of Terror!) and definitely in a 'world class thrill ride' category. If that tilt isn't working, I can see how it may not be as good. Did you try out all sides of it? Standing? Wonder if you tried Single Rider Queue on it? Such a disappointment if the tilt's gone... but it sounds like there are other bad changes to ride operations too. When I went to PA, Stampida had its old trains, and whilst the ride wasn't great, it was good decent fun - if the new trains have ruined it, that's another detrimental change in ride operation. Likewise, back in 2006, Templo Del Fuego was fully functioning. Seems they've let that all slip.

I also went to PA in September. This meant there was virtually no queuing - a major difference to you. This is where my 'queue length vs. ride satisfaction' argument comes in. I can imagine that PortAventura on a busy day is an absolute 'mare - since I'd only really be happy with queuing a while for rides such as Dragon Khan and Condor. However, when I went, it was dead, so I could try out all the 'pleasant' rides such as the Mine Train, Log Flume, Rapids, Tutuki Splash with no wait. These are all totally satisfying rides when you don't have to queue ages for them. And this is why I'd say that I would rate Europa and PA equally, since that provided you hit PA on a quieter day, you could have just as much fun there as Europa. Both have - for me - an equal number of world class rides, which I'm happy to marathon all day, and both have a number of 'pleasant' rides. Whilst Europa has more of them, that doesn't bother me, as I'm quite content with marathoning the bigger rides, and besides, PA better Europa on theming -- so I'd weigh the two parks up equally.

But my opinion is largely dependent on the big 'if'. You do need to hit PA on a quiet day. It seems that it's a case of bad operations really. Whilst you can do Europa on the busiest day possible and still not have to queue loads, that's not the case in PA. It sounds like they've really let slip with their general ride operations, and with the news of detrimental changes to Condor, Templo and Stampida, that's all really bad news - and thus I can see why you'd rate Europa so much more. We've seen it with Thorpe Park too - it really does highlight how the general running of a park can make or break your day. Parks need to get it right... it seems PortAventura didn't for you. When I went, it wasn't busy, so I guess they didn't have to - and thus my opinion of PA is a lot higher than yours!

Great reports though, and interesting discussion; I like hearing others' opinions of non-UK parks.


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