We're planning a trip to Europe and may try to fit in a day at a theme park. We're visiting Barcelona and the Bernese Oberland region of Switzerland by way of Zurich. That said, I haven't completely ruled out a side trip to visit another park. Anyway, looking at...
1. Port Aventura/Ferrari Land
-This would be by far the easiest to get to and plan for. Just have to get to the Sants station and an easy 90 minute train ride, followed by a 10 minute walk to the park. Very inexpensive.
-A few good coasters, but not a ton.
-No commitment planning; meaning we can choose any day we want, and fly by the seat of our pants since we’re staying right in Barcelona.
-Can you do both parks in a day if you have one of the line skipping options?
2. Europa Park
-Appears to be a more expansive park with more attractions. This park interests me more than Port Aventura.
-On the downside, getting there from Zurich (3 hour bus ride) or Basel, should we decide to fly in to that airport (2 hour bus ride) is a little more tricky. Another option would be a car hire but that will run around $350 each way.
-We’d have to pick our day ahead of time. Either when we arrive in Switzerland or before we depart home. If the weather happens to be bad, we’re SOL.
-No skip the line option, although a handful of rides have a virtual queue.
Now the pie in the sky options…
Phantasialand or Energylandia. Would require additional flights (time and money), and again, fingers crossed for good weather.
Anything else I should consider? Any opinions on the parks tips for getting to/from?
Knoebels is pretty close - might want to make a stop there.
On the serious side - I find myself getting sad when I read people's amusement park plans as I realize that I am getting too old for big trips like that.
I hesitate to bring up a YouTube channel because it always ends up turning the conversation to the creator's value, BUT Coaster Studios did a trip to Europe and have been posting their park vlogs. They haven't posted Port Aventura yet but I am pretty sure they did go. Might give you some direction?
Personally I think your choice is easy. Port Aventura looks great and they have Shambala.
I can't say I have done this part of Europe, but having seen more Rick Steves than is likely healthy, I had a few observations.
1) Unless Zurich is a destination, or you are travelling somewhere past there, I think Bern might be a better place to change trains for the Bernese Oberland (as google maps is directing me). Again, not an expert, but I am picturing a Zurich>BO train doubling back to Bern after the Barcelona>Zurich train passes through Bern. Bern may not as big as Zurich, but it is certainly top 5 in that region.
2) Looking at Europa Park, if you get rained out, you are just outside Strasbourg France. It has a number of museums you can choose from as rain cover. I didn't check your other options, but given most amusement parks are dependent on a population of a city, I would imagine most parks would have similar options. Just research a plan B, and if you wake up to rain, you just run Plan B.
3) Don't get too trapped into feeling you have to be near the Super Air hubs like Zurich or Munich. I'm sure you can get an air shuttle from a smaller city like Strasbourg to one of those cities, or even someplace like Amsterdam that might be offering better deals on the homeward bound flight. In American terms, it would be like saying Cedar Point is hard to get to because it is not near O'Hare or JFK. You miss all the airports like Toledo, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and even Knoebel's International that can get you there, or even Atlanta.
Rick Steves has some great info for travelers!
We're flying from BCN to Switzerland, and Bern only has a regional airport. I looked into taking the train but it is a loooooooooong trip. So Zurich, Geneva, or Basel will be the entry/exit spots (currently arriving in Geneva and leaving from Zurich).
Strasbourg is the closest airport to Europa Park, just under an hour away. While that is an option it will create a few more hurdles to get to our main destination of Wengen/Grindelwald in the Swiss Alps. The fewer times we need to switch hotels, the better.
Thing is... yeah, we could find something else to do if we get rained out at Europa Park. But the whole point of taking a detour from Switzerland is for that theme park. Perhaps flight prices will change and we can move things around a bit to add an extra day or two to our trip to give us more wiggle room.
Worst case we just stick with Port Aventura and call it a day. Not a bad consolation prize by any means! I'm still trying to wrap my head around the fact I'm even planning a trip of this magnitude!
I can't speak for Port Aventura (have not gone just yet, tentatively maybe as soon as spring 23'), but Europa is incredible. No contest between it and Phantasialand as being two of my all-time favorite parks. We stayed on site and visited two days and it was hardly enough time to see/explore the place. Between those two you can't go wrong with either, but it seems like Europa may be less hassle considering how close it is. Phantasialand has some more epic rides while Europa is more of an entire-package type deal.
Is renting a car and driving yourself not an option? Driving in/around Germany is very easy (drivers are actually really good there, believe it or not... Roads are amazing, easy to navigate) and may be easier/faster then train or hiring a car to take you to/from. I assume you looked into that for pricing? (Especially since you would pickup/dropoff in the same country, you wouldn't get hit with surcharges). It's only a 2hr 15min drive from Zurich to Rust.
Should be an amazing trip!
Both parks are quite different and I will delve into both parks history and where they stand today:
Port Aventura was opened in 1995 with Busch Gardens and Tussaud (Alton Towers) at the helm, with the park owned by local investors. Then, Universal purchased the park and added a water park and two Universal style experiences. Since then, Universal sold the park and it is now back in local hands. Headliner rides are Shambhala, an almost Giga sized B&M hyper coaster with an amazing layout often considered among the best in the world. Dragon Khan is an 8 inversion B&M looping coaster. Red Force is a new style Intamin launched coaster that stands well over 300 feet tall with a layout similar to Dragster. On site hotels are nice and skip the line passes are necessary. Poor operation mean that Shambhala is often not running with all trains and if you want to ride without a 2-3 hours wait. Go for it. Access to Ferrari Land is easy and check out the flying theater there too.
Europa Park is the gold standard of park operations and diversity of attractions in a park. Love coasters? There are some of every kind. Love water rides? They have 5. Love dark rides? There are at least 5-6 and so on. Prices are reasonable and skip the line passes are not offered, but not needed. Take for example Wodan, the wooden coaster: it runs with three trains, the trains have no seatbelts and the operators so fast they can push through 1200 riders an hour. To compare, GCI usually have half that capacity. It is owned by Mack and used as a showroom for a lot of the rides they sell. When they can't build something, they go with the best supplier to build it and everything they do has amazing theming.
I'd go with Port Aventura based on your trip itinerary and convenience. One last thing to note: the B&M's at both parks are harder to ride if you're a larger rider than comparable rides in the US. For example, both Silver Star and Shambhala require an extra click on the bar versus Nitro, Fury 325, etc to ride. Silver Star did at least modify the two middle seats in row 5 to be like the US, but Shambhala didn't.
SteveWoA and Absimilliard...
That is exactly the kind of info I was hoping for, and then some! Thank you so much.
I did look at rental cars and they’re not cheap. We’re a family of 5 so something that will comfortably fit everyone and our luggage (mini suv or minvan type of vehicle) will run $250-$300/day. It’s my understanding that the traffic getting out or in of Zurich can be a pain. But maybe that’s overblown?
Sounds like I can scratch Phantasialand off the list and consider spending two days at Europa Park, should we go there. That would require some price drops in flights on either side of our current schedule to allow us to add a couple days. Otherwise, PortAdventura would be the easiest, and require the least amount of effort and time. Also good to hear confirmation on the express passes. I’ve read about their poor operations but then the cheap part of me can’t help but think… maybe we can manage? LOL. Regardless, this will more than likely be our one and only trip there in my lifetime so… better make the most of it!
What time of year are you going?
For what it's worth on operations, we had visited early June to Europa (and all the parks in Germany/Netherlands) and nothing was busy. No matter what park, things were practically walk-on or at most, I think we waited like 15-20 minutes at peak times during the day for major attractions.
Europa had stellar operations. No need for express or whatever they offer. But of course, I only have experience with that time of year (small sample size!). For reference, we had visited Phantasialand, Efteling, Toverland, Europa, Holiday Park and Tripsdrill on that trip and never encountered a busy park.
Sucks the rental cars are so much at the time you are going. I just checked like 4-5 days in Sweden and it was like $350 for the entire duration in May/June. So I thought maybe it would be somewhat comparable or cheaper for less time if only needed a day or two. Bummer.
I took two days each at Efteling, Phantasialand, and Europa. Each park was my favorite of the trip for different reasons. Efteling for overall beauty and detail- nothing else holds a candle. Phantasialand for thrill. And my pick for you would be Europa for all the reasons mentioned above, particularly operations. I couldn’t get enough of that place. The food was outstanding and there was no language barrier. My visits were in late September and crowds were low to non existent. I ache to go back and wish it was my home park.
(I wore a Cedar Point shirt and if I had a nickel for every European that stopped me to ask if I’d been there... It seemed to be the bucket list item for them, lol).
I have not been to Port Aventura. But it is on my bucketlist. Especially after they added Shambala. But I have been to Europapark and Efteling mentioned above (of course that was 20 yrs ago). If I were going back, I would revisit both as they are beautiful parks. You can't go wrong with Europa!
Jerry - Magnum Fanatic
Famous Dave's- 206 restaurants - 35 states - 2 countries
I CAN speak to PortAventura.
i've been 5 times over the years. You CAN do both parks (PA and Ferrari) in one day, with Universal Express. Ferrari land is TINY, equal to one land in any other park. Buy the front of the line if necessary based on the line for Red Force. Honestly the two simulators (one a flying theater and the other a race car frame) are well done, but horribly slow lines and if you only have one day you will kick yourself for wasting any time on them instead of the main park. The S&S towers are what they are, and again, better examples exist elsewhere in the US, especially when you have Hurakan Condor for a drop tower in the main park.
Furius Baco is PAINFUL. No other word for it, but it's a nice launch, low to the ground, fast, and a tantalizingly slow barrel roll at the end.
As you've described, the park is EASY to get to, the train from BCN Sants to the PA stop is simple. The later train that arrives close to opening can be crowded, take the earlier train if possible gives time to walk UP THE LONG HILL and get assimilated. The only downside is that the the RETURN to BCN is prior to park close for most of the season, so you might not get as late a stay as one might hope. Honestly look into an overnight package if possible as that can be your best bargain.
Shambhala is my favorite B&M (better airtime than Mako) and the Universal Express is a necessity if you only have one day in peak summer. I'm especially fond of the Sesame Street area which if you look closely is actually the Seuss hard product from Universal IOA, but rebranded (either intentional or last minute, I've never been able to ascertain).
Be advised that operations are, well, typical of Spain, and express is mandatory if you only have one day. Most shops/food and 2nd tier attractions are seasonal (5 times I've been, all post Labor Day and i've NEVER done the Backdraft-Templo del Fuego show as it's always closed). Angkor and Big Splash Water rides end with the end of Summer season, so again, plan ahead so you know what you're getting.
For FOL, there are multiple iterations of Gold, Max, super duper Max with Cheese, etc. but the short answer is, Ferrari land has its SEPARATE FOL ticket, good for one use on each ride only. The Main Park has base FOL unlimited FOL, and a front row version of both the base and unlimited.
Base (Max express): One Time per MOST of the big attractions including all of the major coasters in the Main Park (most notably not Hurakan, Tomahawk Jr wood and Vekoma Roller Skater) . Does NOT include access to front row on coasters, and most likely won't allow for seat selection. Includes priority access for shows too, a HUGE benefit for this park - 40 Euro
Express Premium: same as above, but allows unlimited re-rides on the items included in Base (all major coasters in the Main Park, does not include Hurakan Drop Tower, Tomahawk Jr wood and Vekoma Roller Skater). 75 EURO. Does not include front row on coasters
Gold add-on for both of the above to allow for front row (typically another 15 Euro, but I don't see current pricing,
Ferrari land - one time use for all attractions 25 Euro.
The shows are excellent, the Polynesian show in summer rivals the better luaus in Hawaii (sans food of course), and the main production show in the Mexico/Chinese co-branded theater ranks as one of the best production shows i've seen. The Halloween show would be at home at Universal for HHN. Bang Bang West (or whatever they call it now is the former Wild Wild West show from USO, with great gags and some risque humor not allowed in the US.
The night parade is excellent (again, not sure if possible with train schedule, so plan well).
Great food options, and my favorite thing in the park behind Shambhala is the talking Vulture in the Western Section.
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