Choose a theme park that's right for your client, reports Katie McGonagle
Scream queen or splash addict? Wimp or wildlife fan?
Whether your clients like to head straight for the scariest rollercoaster, queue up for a picture with their favourite cartoon character, or can’t wait to splash about in the lazy river, there is a theme park out there that’s a perfect match.
Find out where to send them with our pick of parks to suit every kind of client, plus news on the latest attraction openings around the world.
There’s no thrill like a theme park for die-hard adrenaline junkies – where else can they feel the wind in their hair and the lurch in their stomach as they hurtle along at super-fast speeds?
Guaranteed to put a smile on any thrillseeker’s face is Alton Towers’ newest ride, The Smiler, opening in May and featuring extreme turns and plunging drops of up to 30 metres. Thorpe Park has a new twist on last year’s launch with The Swarm – Backwards, which has switched two rows of seats to face the other direction. Riders can choose to brave its terrifying 39-metre drop headfirst or in reverse – or try each way to see which is scarier.
As far as heart-in-your-mouth moments go, they don’t get better than the revamped Jumeirah Sceirah, unveiled late last year at Dubai’s Wild Wadi water park. Thrillseekers climb a 32-metre tower to stand on a trap door, oblivious to what awaits them, before the trap gives way to send them hurtling down a 120-metre slide at speeds up to 50mph.
It’s a worthy rival to the utterly terrifying Leap of Faith at Atlantis the Palm’s on-site water park, Aquaventure. It requires a hefty dose of daring to brave its nine-storey drop into a shark tank – albeit enclosed within a clear plastic tube. The park is expanding this year, with a 40-metre water slide tower and new rides using cutting-edge technology.
The need for speed is never greater than at neighbouring emirate Abu Dhabi’s Ferrari World, where even the shape of the vast structure is streamlined to perfection. Rollercoaster Formula Rossa boasts acceleration from 0-60mph in two terrifying seconds, with racing simulators and fast-paced rides perfect for petrol-heads.
PortAventura in Catalonia, Spain, last year added the highest rollercoaster in Europe, Himalayan-themed Shambala, which takes riders 76 metres high before dropping them through a dark tunnel. Siam Park in Tenerife (pictured below) is also looking forward to the first full season of its two latest rides, which include Kinnaree, a 200-metre mega-slide.
Family fun doesn’t get better than splashing around in the sunshine, and there are plenty of options for water babies big and small.
Sticking with Spain, PortAventura has renovated and extended Costa Caribe Aquatic Park with a new children’s area featuring two pools, a pirate ship filled with Sesame Street characters, and Splash Pad with water jets and other interactive play.
Theme park mainstay Orlando boasts more than its fair share of water parks. Go from sitting back in inflatable floating chairs at Discovery Cove’s Freshwater Oasis to testing out 15 slides and a 60ft sandcastle packed with adventures at Wet ‘n Wild Orlando’s Blastaway Beach.
Despite only opening last year, Legoland Florida has already expanded with twice as much Lego on display, bringing the total number of bricks used to four million. See them at Legoland Water Park in the new entrance to Build-a-Raft River, and in models of Moby Dick, a shark and scuba diver, and a 15ft mermaid. There’s also a Duplo Splash Safari with toddler-sized slides and a shallow wading pool.
The Orlando Freedom Ticket Plus is including Legoland Florida at no extra cost for a limited time, alongside Wet ‘n Wild, SeaWorld, Busch Gardens, Universal Studios, Disney’s Hollywood Studios and more, with prices from £499 per adult and £462 per child with Do Something Different.
Duplo Valley Splash & Play will open at Legoland Windsor this May. It has toddler-friendly rides, wet play areas and water features such as Drench Towers – specially designed for maximum soaking.
WILD ABOUT WILDLIFE
SeaWorld Orlando is expanding its creature features ever further: last year it added TurtleTrek to showcase the plight of sea turtles, but penguins come to the fore this year in the new Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin. There’s no overlooking the iconic killer whales either. Do Something Different offers a Dine with Shamu add-on from £21 per adult and £14 per child (on top of park tickets).
Over in SeaWorld San Diego, there’s a new addition to the killer whale group after a calf was born in February. Dolphins take centre stage at Atlantis the Palm’s Dolphin Bay. Younger visitors can kiss and hug the mammals in Dolphin Encounter (from £143 with Attraction World), while stronger swimmers can try the deep water swim or royal swim for more interaction.
Aquaventure’s Shark Lagoon has also launched Shark Safari, a chance for non divers to see the majestic creatures underwater thanks to a helmet allowing them to breathe normally while watching blacktip reef sharks, marble rays and other exotic fish species (from about £47).
Loro Parque in Tenerife is another must-visit for anyone keen to see chimpanzees. One male, three females and three youngsters came to the park in February, and are being integrated with the rest of the animals. Look out, too, for anteaters, meerkats, marmosets, parrots and dolphins.
Take an African-style adventure at Chessington World of Adventures with Zufari: Ride into Africa, which opened this week. The safari expedition takes visitors up-close to giraffe, white rhino, zebra, flamingos and more.
Mickey and Minnie Mouse might be the best-known larger-than-life figures on hand in the parks, but with movie, cartoon and TV tie-ins, there are now a whole cast of characters to look out for including everyone from Harry Potter at Universal Orlando, to Peppa Pig at the UK’s Paultons Family Theme Park, and Angry Birds at Särkänniemi Adventure Park in Finland.
Walt Disney World Resort in Florida has doubled the size of Fantasyland to allow space for Enchanted Tales with Belle, Under the Sea: Journey of the Little Mermaid, and two Dumbo, the Flying Elephant carousels, plus Disney princesses Cinderella, Tiana and Rapunzel at Princess Fairytale Hall. Captain Jack Sparrow will also be making an appearance at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, where state-of-the-art technology brings the films to life, culminating in an epic battle of the ships. Disneyland Paris has extended its 20th anniversary celebrations with a longer run of its night-time Disney Dreams lights show and specially-created parade.
Madagascar fever seems to be sweeping the globe, with a host of licensed shows opening. Busch Gardens Tampa Bay will see Madagascar Live! Operation: Vacation, a 20-minute musical making its debut in May. In a European twist on the concept, Madagascar Live! It’s Circus Time is opening this year at Italy’s Gardaland from March 28 – visitors can even request circus-themed rooms in Gardaland Hotel – and at Heide Park Resort in northern Germany.
For clients whose kids remain under the height requirement for the most daring rides, there is still plenty of fun to be had. Aquatica’s array of watery wonders includes a splash area for little ones, with tipping buckets, squirting guns and mini slides.
Sister park Busch Gardens Tampa Bay has the Sesame Street Safari of Fun featuring favourites such as Elmo (right) and Big Bird, plus a new junior coaster, carousel and splash flume ride. It even includes a Baby Swap area at each major ride, so thrillseeking parents can take turns on the rollercoaster without having to queue twice.
The second of Siam Park’s new attractions is Sawasdee, a dedicated area for younger visitors with four slides, mini water flume and miniature replica of the park’s most popular ride, The Dragon, so they can see what their older siblings are raving about.
The models at any Legoland park will be a hit with younger visitors, but Legoland Malaysia will give them a sense of Asian architecture with replicas of the Petronas Towers and the Taj Mahal.
On the domestic front, Drayton Manor near Tamworth in Staffordshire has just reopened its doors for its 2013 season with a new Thomas & Friends ride in its most popular area, Thomas Land.
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