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Europe is filled with amazing theme parks, from old-fashioned seaside funfairs through to sprawling mega-resorts. There’s something on offer for everyone, whether you’re a hardcore rollercoaster junkie or a fan of gentler, story-based attractions. Of course, it’s impossible to cover the breath of Europe’s range of theme parks in a single article, but we’d like to introduce you to some of the most popular.
10. LEGOLAND Windsor
Apart for that agonising moment when you step on the stuff, everybody loves LEGO. Even today, in a world of video games and tablet computers, LEGO is still a major brand name, and clearly that name draws in the masses. As a child visiting LEGOLAND Windsor in the UK, there was nothing cooler than being surrounded by sky high buildings made of LEGO, and with the range of activities and shows on offer there’s not even a need to go on any rides to have a great day out.
However, if LEGOLAND Windsor wishes to keep competing at this level, the park needs to start adding some major attractions. There’s no shortage of space in the park, and now it is owned by leading operator Merlin there’s no lack of funding either.
9. Alton Towers
There is no doubt that Alton Towers is the UK’s most complete theme park experience; it features a variety of thrill and family rollercoasters and a range of water rides, all buried in beautiful Staffordshire surroundings. Joined to the park are two hotels and a state-of-the-art indoor waterpark. This all combines to establish Alton Towers as the only real destination theme park resort in the UK today.
The park has a beautifully rich history (and pesky planning restrictions), but it still manages to keep up-to-date with new rides and attractions every few years. It has been blessed with some fantastic coaster designs from Bolliger & Mabillard and John Wardley, specifically the famous inverter, Nemesis, and is still striving to put in more top class rides over the next 10 years.
Merlin’s Italian theme park is perhaps surprisingly more popular than its better-known UK sister parks. Like Alton Towers, Gardaland is set in front of an idyllic backdrop, the beautiful Lake Garda. It, too, has a hotel and also a new SeaLife aquarium.
The park is very much family-oriented, but has recently installed some larger attractions, including the new Raptor rollercoaster in 2011. The world’s first B&M Wing Rider, it has been received fantastically by the enthusiast community. Gardaland shows an intricate level of theming which, to be honest, is lacking in its sister parks in the UK, and rightfully earns its place as Italy’s leading theme park.
Liseberg is a park situated in Gothenburg, Sweden. Perched on the top of a hill in the middle of the city, it has a true Scandinavian feel to it. The terrain makes for some great ride moments; the oldest of the rollercoasters is Lisebergbanan, a Zierer-Schwarzkopf mine train, which winds over hills and under other rides. In the last 10 years the park has had a real drive of investments, allowing it to complement its traditional style with an impressive roster. The tiny Intamin accelerator Kanonen, an S&S Screaming Swing and the new AtmosFear drop tower are just some of the selection. The best-known ride is probably Balder, the first Intamin prefabricated wooden rollercoaster, and it is often regarded as the best in the world.
PortAventura is a colossal resort, and personally my favorite theme park. Despite being located in a fairly industrial part of northern Spain, it manages to fling you into an entirely new world of beauty and magic.
The park itself is a real trek to get around; it’s very large indeed, and the focus is very much on scenery and landscaping rather than ride after ride. In fact, the park only really features 4 large thrill rides and just a few more family rides. But this is not a problem at all – you’ll enjoy every second on and around the attractions. Despite the legendary roughness of some coasters (Stampida’s not that bad, Baco is) every ride has a “re-rideabilty factor”, and even after a long stay you’ll want to try everything again. With the rumoured B&M hypercoaster for 2012, PortAventura could be on the rise.
5. Tivoli Gardens
Like Liseberg, Tivoli Gardens is set in an inner city, in this case in Copenhagen. It is the second oldest amusement park in the world, and the history is certainly a factor in attracting guests. It’s a tourist attraction for anyone in the city even if they have no desire to experience the rides. Rutsjebanen is one of the oldest roller coasters in the world, and even has a brake man on board the train. The only large coaster is Daemonen, one of the smallest B&Ms around, but it still packs a punch in its compact layout. The Gardens are also home to concert halls and the area has the feel of a stately home. Tivoli was in fact a major inspiration for the Disney parks; Walt Disney loved its relaxed charm.
This Dutch park is renowned for its intense level of theming and friendly staff. It has a Disney–like methodology, employing its own creative engineers to invent and design rides, and as a result is home to attractions which are far more than off-the-shelf rides. The landscaping and architecture are both stunning, but there are surprisingly few rides. The new for 2010 wooden racing coaster, Joris en de Draak, is certainly a step in the right direction in terms of this, and it is rumoured that we may be seeing more investments of this kind in the not-too-distant future.
3. Europa Park
So Europa Park deservedly holds the title of ‘Most popular European park without the Disney name in front of it.’ The park is owned and run by Mack, the ride manufacturer, and no expense is spared, anywhere. The whole ethos is very similar to that of Efteling, the park’s operators try their hardest to satisfy guests with the staff, the theming and the overall experience. Where Europa Park takes a step ahead of the rest is in the rides; it always insists that they cater to families, and therefore none of their rides will have over-the-shoulder restraints.
Silver Star, a B&M hypercoaster and Europe’s tallest rollercoaster, is the biggest attraction, and Blue Fire is a new launch coaster, built by Mack, which many believe is the best launched attraction in the world. Europa Park has a winning formula with its rides; they never fail to deliver comfort and thrills. Next year the park is to install a long awaited wooden roller coaster, Mythos, which could well make it complete.
2. Walt Disney Studios
The Disneyland Resort Paris’ second theme park often gets a bad name, perhaps unfairly. Many feel that the park was planned poorly and is home to a weak selection of attractions. But this couldn’t be further from the truth. Truth be told it doesn’t have quite the level of immersion as Disneyland Park, or the American counterparts, but its ride line-up certainly rivals Disney’sHollywood Studios in Florida. Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, Crush’s Coaster (a Maurer spinner), the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror and the new RC Racer (a halfpipe) provide thrills for all the family and the level of recent investment is impressive. It is believed that a Ratatouille themed dark ride will be opened in the coming years, and will strengthen the park further.
1. Disneyland Park
It’s a no brainer really, isn’t it? Europe’s most famous theme park comes in with a whopping 10.5 million guests in 2010, more than double the amount the adjoined Walt Disney Studios park received last year. Like the Studios, the main park has had its share of bad press, but it is still one of the world’s best. It shares rides with many of the other Disney installations across the globe, but in many cases this is just in name. The rides in Paris are noticeably larger and more thrill-oriented than in, say, California’s version.
Big Thunder Mountain is an epic journey round the canyons, topping at over 40mph and nearly 5000ft of track. Space Mountain’s race through space has 3 inversions and a launch, completely unlike the tamer versions elsewhere. Overall the park is very large and open, it is wonderfully landscaped and the parades everyday down Main Street USA are incredible, especially for children. Although it is in need of some new additions, the park is Europe’s favorite, and will remains so for years to come.
Summer is right around the corner, and with it comes vacations, beaches, and sunshine, so why not take a look at some of the best places to find all three? Hawaii will always be one of the greatest getaways in the world, and boasts some of the finest sights you can imagine. Check out ten of the best beaches that Hawaii has to offer, so beautiful that it may be hard to pull yourself away!
Lanikai Beach, Oahu
Considered by many locals to be the best swimming beach in Hawaii, Lanikai’s clear waters, clean, wide beach, and swaying coconut palms also make it a photographer’s dream. A mile-long stretch of powdered-sugar sand is perfect for sunbathing. Sparkling turquoise waters sheltered by a wide, protective offshore reef provide ideal swimming conditions. Other popular activities on Lanikai include kayaking, outrigger canoeing, sailing, surfing, and windsurfing. With the twin Mokulua Islands in the distance (one called the “Chinaman’s Hat” due to its profile), Lanikai Beach truly lives up to its translated name of “heavenly sea.”
Hanalei Bay Beach, Kauai
Lovely Hanalei Bay on Kauai’s North Shore may be the most beautiful beach setting in all of Hawaii. Hanalei is the largest bay on the island of Kauai and nearly a perfect semi-circle of white sand. Behind the beach is an utterly breathtaking backdrop of waterfalls and emerald mountain peaks wrapped in mist, soaring thousands of feet towards the heavens. The beach is two miles long, 125 feet wide, and bordered by the Hanalei River to the east and the Waipa River to the west. The ocean bottom slopes gently to overhead depths, and there are large coral reefs at both ends of the bay.
Every ocean recreation activity you can imagine is available, from boating and windsurfing to kayaking up the placid Hanalei River. The bay is very popular with serious surfers. There is a public boat ramp and a 300-foot long pier used for fishing and swimming. The many “no dogs” and “no jumping off the pier” signs are blissfully ignored.
Kaanapali – Black Rock Beach, Maui
For some reason, this beach has many different names (among them Keka‘a Beach, Canoe Beach, Dig Me Beach). Whatever you call it, Kaanapali Beach in West Maui is a watersport lover’s paradise. Virtually every type of ocean recreation is available. Snorkeling and scuba diving are outstanding. The Black Rock is a large lava rock that divides the beach. This is a busy, popular beach that fronts two resorts. What you give up in solitude you gain in big time fun—shopping, restaurants, boat tours, fishing, kayaking, sailing, sunbathing, people-watching, and more.
Hanauma Bay, Oahu
Pretty and popular, Hanauma Bay is a victim of its own success. Formed thousands of years ago by the flooding of a volcanic crater, this nearly circular bay is home to an amazingly diverse and abundant population of fish life. Hanauma Bay is one of the best and most popular snorkeling and swimming areas in the world. However, excessive swimming, snorkeling and scuba diving have threatened the bay’s marine residents. The area’s designation as a marine life conservation district in 1967 wasn’t enough protection, so in 1990 strict visitor limits were initiated. Hanauma Bay is another of Hawaii’s most beautiful bays, but to enjoy its treasures you’ll have to plan ahead and arrive early for a visit.
Ke’e Beach Park, Kauai
Incredible sunsets are synonymous with Ke‘e Beach Park. Located literally at the end of the road on Kauai’s North Shore between the dramatic Na Pali Coast and Limahuli Stream, the reef lagoon at Ke‘e Beach is a favorite snorkeling site. The water is clear and there are tons of colorful reef fish and turtles. Ke‘e Beach has a very tropical look with a backshore lushly vegetated by ironwood trees, coconut palms, ti, and guava.
Kapalua Bay Beach, Maui
Golden sand, swaying palms, calm waters. What more can you ask for? It’s just another day in paradise on this West Maui pocket beach. Situated between two lava points and bordered by a coconut tree grove, Kapalua is known for its tranquil surf, ideal for the less-than-adventurous swimmer and families with small children.
Hapuna Beach State Park, Big Island
A one-half mile long band of white sand that is over 200 feet wide in the summer months plus clean, clear water would describe anyone’s perfect imaginary beach. In winter, wild, thundering waves pound the shoreline. Fortunately, Hapuna Bay, on the Big Island’s west side, is for real and it is the most popular beach on the island. The ivory sands slope gently into a shallow sandbar that extends approximately 25 yards into the ocean. Swimming and boogie boarding conditions are excellent. Abundant fish and coral make for superb snorkeling and the wide beach is just right for frolicking and sunbathing.
Hulopoe Beach, Lanai
Formerly known as the “Pineapple Island,” where for decades the fruit was grown by the Dole Company, Lanai is now a remote and secluded vacation destination. Hulopoe Beach Park is an exquisite pocket beach at the head of Hulopoe Bay. The shoreline is quite steep, making it fine for swimming. Hulopoe has some of the best snorkeling in all of Hawaii due to the rich variety of colorful fish and stunningly clear water. The waters of Hulopoe Bay are part of the marine life conservation district, so fishing is limited to hook and line from the shore. For romance and intimacy, you won’t find a better beach than Hulopoe.
Poipu Beach, Kauai
The most popular beach on Kauai’s south shore, Poipu Beach is ideal for families. A small boulder breakwater creates a protected pool-like area where children and parents can play and snorkel. Outside the swimming area, the ocean bottom slopes gently to overhead depths. The south shore’s bays create year-round ideal wave conditions for body boarders and surfers. The beach is a pretty curve of white sand about 1,000 feet long and 50 feet wide, with plenty of room for sandcastle building or strolling. Sunbathers are occasionally joined by endangered monk seals that come up for a snooze on the shore.
Papohaku Beach, Molokai
How about miles of long, straight white sand beach, hundreds of feet wide, completely empty except for skittering crabs and soaring sea birds? Papohaku Beach is as close as you can get to the deserted tropical island of your dreams.
Located on the west end of Molokai, which itself is between Oahu and Maui, Papohaku Beach also offers swimming, snorkeling, bodysurfing, body boarding, and surfing.
This is the beach where you leave your troubles behind and get away from the world. On this remote beach on this remote island, the only footprints in the sand may be your own.