Theme Parks & Attractions: Big Kids

Theme Parks & Attractions: Big Kids

Indulge your inner child on a theme park break that’s just for grown-ups, writes Katie McGonagle

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One of the secret perks of being a parent is reliving your own childhood fun through your kids – playing games all day, hurtling down water slides or dragging them on your favourite rides, all under the pretence of good parenting.

But why wait until you’ve got kids? Theme parks are an obvious fit for families, but they are just as suited to adults with a sense of fun. The most recent figures reveal that 57% of British visitors to Orlando travelled without kids, taking advantage of lower prices and shorter queues outside school holidays.

Gold Medal’s USA product manager Mark White says: “While it is usually associated with a family holiday, Orlando is not just for kids. There is so much on offer for couples, groups of friends and even older families. Universal Studios Florida is based on some of the best-known and loved TV shows and movies such as Harry Potter, which are just as popular with adults, plus CityWalk comes alive each evening with a host of bars, restaurants and entertainment.”

It’s not just the theme park capital – plenty of attractions cater to an older audience, giving you the chance to tap into a new pool of potential bookings.

Blast from the Past

Dig out those hoverboards and duck any flying DeLoreans – October 21, 2015 is the date Marty McFly visits in Back to the Future Part II. With Universal Studios Hollywood introducing a Nighttime Studio Tour this summer, featuring sets from the movie trilogy, now is the time to target nostalgic fans of the 1989 classic.

Celebrating the park’s 50th anniversary, the night tour will open up several iconic film sets, from To Kill a Mockingbird to Pirates of the Caribbean, and reveal secrets behind the movie magic.

Teamed with a high-speed chase through Los Angeles on new ride Fast & Furious Supercharged, due to open in summer, this is a surefire hit. Attraction World is offering two days for the price of one (£59), with optional upgrades including a Front of Line Pass (£101) or VIP Tour (£204).

Feel the Rush

While kids might not be brave enough or tall enough to try the scariest rides, adult adrenaline junkies have no such excuses. They’ll certainly test their mettle on the 335-foot-high Falcon’s Fury at Busch Gardens Tampa, simulating the 60mph face-down dive of a falcon swooping towards its prey, and another new ride Ihu’s Breakaway Falls at Aquatica, which drops riders near-vertical at 24 feet per second.

Walt Disney World has its share of spills too, according to Virgin Holidays Disney account manager Nathan Tinsley. He says: “There are big thrills to try including The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror and Rock ’n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith at Hollywood Studios, Expedition Everest at Animal Kingdom and Mission Space at Epcot, to name a few.”

Diary Dates

Child-free clients aren’t tethered to school holidays, so they can time a visit to coincide with events such as Halloween, when theme parks go all out to scare visitors in new and creative ways.

Travel 2 product and purchasing manager Jonathan Couch says: “Come face-to-face with your greatest fears at Halloween Horror Nights, when the streets of Universal Studios Florida come alive with a horde of horrifying mutants, monsters and maniacs. Explore terrifying haunted houses, scare zones and outrageous live shows.” These run on selected dates between September 25 and October 31.

Things are no less scary this side of the pond: Thorpe Park’s Fright Nights in October and November are only for over-13s, with rides running until 10pm and mazes based on The Blair Witch Project, My Bloody Valentine and Saw. Packages are set to go on sale through SuperBreak shortly.

Twin to Win

Gold Medal’s Mark White says: “We are seeing a growing number of adults twinning the theme parks of Orlando with a break at one of the beaches in Florida, which are as close as 40 minutes away. This offers the best of both worlds, with excitement and thrills followed by rest and relaxation.”

City breaks also benefit from a theme park add-on to break up serious sightseeing. Attraction World offers tickets to PortAventura with transfers to and from Barcelona (£67 including entry). With Cirque du Soleil Amaluna providing entertainment this summer (from £39) and FerrariLand opening in spring 2016, it’s well worth a trip.

Travelcube can, likewise, offer Paris pick-ups for guests keen to revisit memories of the famous French comics at Park Asterix (from £57), while Dutch theme park Efteling, which is ramping up its UK presence, is only an hour from Amsterdam.

After Dark

Universal Orlando City Walk

With Downtown Disney transforming into Disney Springs – more than doubling the number of restaurants, bars, shops and entertainment venues to 150 by 2016 – and Universal boasting 12-hectare entertainment complex CityWalk, there’s no shortage of places to go after dark.

Funway Holidays marketing executive Rebecca Evans says: “One of my favourite restaurants is Cowfish, CityWalk’s first and only sushi burger bar. After dinner, head to Rising Star, complete with live band and karaoke classics.

“At Walt Disney World, check out the BoardWalk. Here you can find the best fish supper at the Flying Fish Café, then after dinner, go to Jellyrolls piano bar for last orders.”

Stay Cool

Themed rooms and character bedspreads are the coolest thing ever to an eight-year-old, but be sure to send child-free couples or groups of friends to a hotel that suits their lifestyle.

Spa-goers should try the Loews Portofino Bay Hotel for its award-winning 14-room Mandara Spa, while those who prefer partying to pampering can try the newly refurbished Hard Rock Hotel at Universal Orlando Resort, near the bars and clubs of CityWalk.

Trade-only bed bank suggests Disney’s Port Orleans Resort for the same reason, as it is near Downtown Disney, while its Creole vibe and jazz club give it a more mature feel. For groups of friends, though, Disney’s Yacht Club Resort is a budget-friendly option, with rooms sleeping up to five.

Sample Product

A week at Universal’s Loews Portofino Bay Hotel starts at £1,129 with Funway Holidays, including Virgin Atlantic flights from Gatwick on November 26. Park entry is extra.

Travel 2 offers five nights at the Millennium Biltmore Hotel Los Angeles, with a Universal Hollywood VIP Experience and transfers, from £1,349 between August 17 and October 19.

Gold Medal offers a week each at the Ramada Plaza Resort & Suites, Orlando, and TradeWinds’ Guy Harvey Outpost in St Petersburg, from £1,269 between August 23 and October 28, including flights and car hire.


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