There are few things in this life that I detest with a passion — but theme parks are up there with the worst of them. My friends can vouch for it. I would rather stick pins in my eyes than queue for hours to climb on board some contraption that promises to churn my stomach upside down and scare the living daylights out of me — and all in the name of amusement.
I’ve endured them simply because it seemed unfair to deprive the kids of the best bit of their holiday. Let me tell you I have never left a theme park laughing. Crying maybe, laughing — never.
Well that all changed when I visited PortAventura on Spain’s Costa Dorada. With its beach club, spa, infinity pools and golf courses, this theme park suddenly started to actually appear attractive. But it would be wrong to visit PortAventura and not sample some of the best adrenaline pumping rides in Europe. I decided to conquer my fears, head on and set off in the direction of the mighty ‘Dragon Khan’.
Tip 1 — Plan your route
The most popular rides will always attract the longest queues so my first tip is to arrive early and get as far away as possible from the rides near the entrance of the park. PortAventura is sub-divided into five worlds: Mediterranean, Polynesia, Mexico, China and the Wild West.
Each world has its own unique architecture, entertainment, attractions and food — making it easy to eat your way round the world. Rides in PortAventura are rated in order of thrill factor. Gentle being an indication of a carousel or baby ride with high purely intended for the heavy-duty thrill seeker.
Tip 2 – Always read the ratings
Two of my friends took advantage of a small queue at the Furious Baca and jumped aboard without checking out exactly what they could expect.
Europe’s fastest accelerating coaster goes from 0-83mph in 3.5 secs. Such was the intensity that one friend lost her earring while the other lost the will to live when she set foot on terra firma again.
Tip 3 – Breakfast should be consumed a minimum of two hours prior to riding the Dragon
The huge Dragon Khan rollercoaster is rated as one of the best rides in Europe, through eight loops the Dragon unleashes its fury at 110 km/per hour so a big fry-up beforehand is not advisable.
Tip 4 – Don’t even think about this one if you have a fear of heights
The Hurakan Condor towers 100m high. The screams of its willing victims are clearly audible around the park. For me the feeling of being winched 330 foot up a tower was even more horrific than the actual fall.
Tip 5 – Make sure you see at least TWO shows
Gianfranco Bollini is in charge of shows at PortAventura. Bollini has created amazing shows for Europa Park and Garda Land and this year he has some spectacular entertainment planned to celebrate PortAventura’s 15th birthday.
Tip 6 – Don’t miss the fireworks
During the months of July and August, every evening the lake is the site of FiestAventura, a fabulous show featuring fireworks and floats representing each of PortAventura's worlds.
Tip 7 – You don’t have to eat junk food
For some people a visit to a theme park just isn’t right without junk food and if that’s what you’re after, then Portaventura has plenty of fast food outlets. But it also has a wealth of good eateries. The tapas at Vinosfera down by the lake is particularly good but for a real treat the Lumine Restaurant is amazing.
Tip 8 – What can I do if I don’t like theme park rides?
You can easily spend a day in the huge water park. Your biggest dilemma will be whether to sip cocktails beside the infinity pool or feast at the Lumine restaurant which overlooks the Mediterranean.
Golfers can choose from three golf courses. Greg Norman was involved in the design and development of the North and Middle courses.
Tip 9 – It’s worth paying that little bit extra to stay in the resort
The Gold River is attached to the main park and it’s literally five minutes from your room to the gate. The rooms are pretty and spacious while the breakfast buffet is enormous. Guests staying in the resort’s hotels can take full advantage of the fact that PortAventura is the only theme park in Europe to include the sea as one of its attractions.
Tip 10 – Get out and explore
What can I say about Salou? It has a lovely promenade, lots of bars and shops – but not a lot of heart. I would opt for the city of Tarragona — a 10 minute taxi ride from PortAventura. The old walled town with its stunning cathedral, Roman ruins and tiny streets is incredible. The night life in both the old and new sections will keep you entertained well into the wee small hours and not a kiss me quick hat in sight.