Size matters not in delivering theme, thrills at Phantasialand

June 2, 2023, 9:24 PM · This summer I was lucky enough to be selected for a two-month teaching stint in Remagen, Germany. While some poor misguided souls would be content to just gawk at the stunning Rhine River vistas and eat their body weight in schnitzel, I opted to do all that AND visit some theme parks.  First up is Phantasialand, the second-most-visited theme park in Germany.  Located in Bruhl, just outside of Cologne, this small, compact, and impressively themed park can easily stand toe to toe with its much larger brethren and should make anyone’s European-tourist list. 

One of the more enjoyable surprises of visiting European theme parks as been both their relative affordability and their crowd levels.  Perhaps I just have been lucky on the last few trips, but the crush of patrons never seems to hit any parks in Europe like they do in the USA.  Considering its small footprint and denseness, Phantasialand should feel claustrophobic. Instead, with its distinctly themed lands, many shops and restaurants, the crowds seem to disperse nicely.  Pricing depends on the day you visit and ranges between $60-70 for a visit in May and June.  The food in the park was a step up from traditional theme park fare and once again lacked the exorbitant price gauging you often find at Six Flags. High quality German beer can be found at numerous restaurants and kiosks throughout for $5-8. 

Phantasialand’s greatest strength is also its main weakness - size.  It is only about half the size of the original Disneyland, and due to building and noise ordinances, most of the park is built below street level. Because of such constraints, Phantasialand must be very creative with their ride placement and theming, and in that they succeed beautifully.  From an architectural viewpoint, it is breathtakingly intricate.  With 3-4 rides all share space together seamlessly, diving around the others yet still managing to stay within the correct theme.  For example, while I rode a mine train coaster, one of the banked turns had us go right behind a similarly western-themed drop tower and then swing directly above a log flume in a mountain, only to enter a tunnel that was also used by the water ride that contained animatronics.

I cannot even pretend to understand the immense amount of planning all of that took. While every inch of available space is used to its utmost, it is still a small park and just does not have the number of rides and shows other parks can offer.  In addition, since many attractions are built down, there are a ton of stairs to navigate throughout the day.  My trusty pedometer claims I walked up 25 flights of stairs in the 7 hours I spent in the park.  This was not a bad thing as it was a necessity to work off all the good beer I was drinking for “research.”


Phatasialand is broken up into several distinct themed lands that run the gamut from a dark and brooding medieval village, “Klugheim,” to the steampunk themed “Rookburgh.”  Like all good theme park aficionados, we arrived before rope drop and were ready to go when the park opened at 9am.  I came to learn, however, that while the park itself opened the rides would not start running until 10am.  No matter, as this gave us plenty of time to arrive at the park’s newest land and check it out.

Titled “Rookburgh,” this section of the park has a meticulously crafted steampunk aesthetic and included a restaurant, bar and Hotel Charles Lindbergh, which has a cool aeronaut 1920s theme that nicely works in the larger steampunk vibe.  These hotel rooms are just feet away from the zooming coaster trains. Incredibly, this is one of three themed hotels in the park. Each one allows guests to enter through a private entrance.

But all of this is secondary to the E-ticket attraction in the land, F.L.Y.  This is Vekoma's next-generation flying coaster. The loading process was very smooth and after getting a wrist bracelet that open mandatory lockers, you empty your pockets and board seats in a sitting position similar to the Forbidden Journey ride, but then the track flips and you’re suddenly facing straight down in a “Superman”-type position.

To sum up the experience of this ride in a word: “Intense.”  Because we arrived early, I was able to snag a coveted front row seat and the exhilaration of flying around the steampunk town and narrowly whizzing by structures was an experience not for the faint of heart.  Fair warning to all - from the outside, the coaster does not look like it is moving all that fast, and I vastly underrated the intensity and even tried to talk my long-suffering wife, who is more of a “Flying Hippogriff” kind of gal, into riding it.  She wisely refused my request and knew the choice was correct when she saw my pale face at the exit.  Nonetheless it was a great ride, with a compelling theme, and I would ride it again.


The main street area was simply titled Berlin and had all the obligatory sweet shops, restaurants and stores we all expect but also sprinkled in a couple of interesting attractions.  The “Crazy Hotel Tartuff” or the much more intimidating in German “Das verrückte Hotel Tartüff” is an old-school funhouse complete with tilting room, room of mirrors and a slide.  Nearby was the “Maus au Chocolat” which must be one of the cutest dark ride shooters around.  Patrons enter a fancy chocolate factory and learn that mice have overrun everything. Each ride vehicle arms you with a pastry bag and you are tasked with shooting the mice with frosting through a series of staged screens. The ride had an excellent blend of practical and visual effects, and it was fun watching the hundreds of mice mock you as they devoured all the pastries.  Both my wife and I actually preferred this ride to its more famous cousin, Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin.

The “Berlin” area was also home to two of the parks signature shows. "Pirates 4D" featured Leslie Nielsen as Captain Lucky and Eric Idle as his first mate.  This show, which has appeared in dozens of theme parks and is over 20 years old now, was still bringing in guests.  I am also chagrined to say this was the first time I had ever seen it. It is a bizarre combination of the Three Stooges meets Home Alone with a Pirates of the Caribbean theme. The much more modern and adult themed "Nobis" was featured at the Wintergarten Theater, and it was an incredibly impressive acrobatic show with an interesting German bondage vibe.  Definitely not something one would find at Disney, but the performers were absolutely superb at their craft, and we both enjoyed the show.

The least interesting area was “Wuze Town” - the children’s themed land.  This area had a quaint little lake, which unfortunately was closed during our visit, and several kid-friendly flat rides.  The signature attractions here included Crazy Bats, an indoor coaster that had been updated to include VR goggles and featured an insane story line of cartoon bats riding a block of ice through an old mansion?  While I appreciated the uniqueness of the attraction, the VR element mixed with an older roller coaster increased the queasiness factor too high for my taste.  Also, of note here was Winja’s Fear and Force, a pair of dueling spinning coasters.  This was a really clever ride that looked like a wild mouse coaster but featured some solid drops and a cool elevator mechanic.    

The dark and Nordic themed medieval village “Klugheim” housed a food court with a nice indoor restaurant that served traditional German fare such as schnitzel and several stalls with different kind of beers.  Diving around this area was the signature roller coaster “Taron.”  This is one of the finest Intamin coasters I have ridden, and it had several launches throughout. The track dove, climbed and twisted around itself 116 times and reached a top speed of 70mph.  A fast, smooth and utterly awesome addition to my top five roller coasters in the world.  Rounding out this area was a rapids ride that utterly drenched its guests, and Mystery Castle, which was a surprisingly fun indoor drop tower.   


The last three areas in the park were all themed to portions of the globe. We first visited “Mexico.”  This area very much reminded me of Knott’s Berry Farm’s Fiesta Village.  This area had some incredible interplay between rides and they all seamlessly shared space together.  Colorado Adventure looked like a mild-mannered mine train coaster, akin to Big Thunder Mountain. It was even billed as a family ride.  Apparently, German families are way tougher than I could imagine as this ride was fast.  My wife normally likes such attractions, but this was far too intense for her, and she was white knuckling the whole time. I enjoyed it but will admit that it was significantly faster and more intense than it looked.  The signature ride here is “Chiapas.”  This features the steepest log flume drop in the world and had some really amazing looking Mayan temple sequences, but it was closed for most of our visit, and we didn’t have an opportunity to ride.  I really hope to return to Phantasialand, and this would be the priority.

Splash down

“Deep In Africa” had a 19th century colonial West Africa vibe and featured war drums playing in the distance, and mud dwellings. It featured several shops, the 2nd of the in-park hotels, Matamba, and a very smooth and tall B&M inverted coaster that featured some very low to the ground sequences and near misses as it swung through the valley.  While the theming was very detailed, it was walking a very thin line between cultural respect and outdated African stereotypes. 

What felt like the smallest of the lands was “China Town.” The final of the in-park hotels, Ling Boa, is located here.  All the buildings have the immediately recognizable Chinese roofs, and the area had several food kiosks.  Bizarrely enough most of them were either selling Japanese dishes or German style sausages.  Only two attractions were found here: a well-themed but unremarkable Madhouse ride, Feng Ju Palace, and Geister Rikscha.  The latter “Ghost Rickshaw” was simultaneously bizarre and awesome. This obvious Haunted Mansion clone had numerous tropes such as doom buggies, singing head projections and even a hitchhiking ghost sequence.  But the theme was extremely unique, Chinese Mythology.  There were demons torturing prisoners, a ghost cemetery, warriors fighting a dragon.  It really was quite the spectacle.  This ride is notable for being both the longest dark ride in Europe and the oldest attraction at Phantasialand.  While some of the animatronics had clearly seen better days, this was a highlight of the visit.    

Ultimately, Phantasialand was a sleeper hit.  Until a few months ago I had never even heard of it, but I think it easily ranks in my top five theme parks now.  The reasonable prices, high quality food offerings and convenient location make it a great choice.  But what really separates it from other smaller regional parks is its absolute commitment to immersive themes and an almost supernatural ability to use all available space to its utmost potential. The Rhine River region is calling....

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Replies (13)

June 3, 2023 at 2:01 AM

I was lucky enough to go to Phantasialand last Friday and it is now the number one park in the world on my list. I was able to get a discounted ticket because I went on a Friday, and although they do not advertise large luggage storage I was able to leave my luggage at guest services for the day for free.

I rode almost every attraction (except for the boat ride because it was closed and some flat rides) and the park is simply incredible. Taron and FLY are both phenomenal coasters which I would go to the park just to ride again (I also went front row on FLY but I did not think it to be intense, and I went on Taron 6 times #SingleRiderFTW). Colorado Adventure is a better Thunder Mountain in my opinion, and luckily Chiapas opened at the end of the day while I was there and I got to go on it at the end of the day.

The only attraction I did not like was Crazy Bats which left me feeling like I was going to throw up. I have learned VR coasters simply are not for me and I will not be going on one again!

Great review!

June 3, 2023 at 4:15 AM

Fun fact about Colorado Aventure: for many years it had the subtitle "The Michael Jackson Thrill Ride" for no reason other than that he made an appearance at the opening of the ride.

June 3, 2023 at 10:47 AM

Fascinating report.

June 3, 2023 at 10:49 AM

My wife and I visited Phantasialand for two days in December for their Wintertraum event and absolutely loved it. FLY and Taron both entered my top 15 coasters (out of 329) and we were blown away by the level of detail. Also really enjoyed Colorado Adventure and Maus au Chocolat, which I preferred to its Disney cousin Toy Story Mania.

I hope you get to visit Europa Park as well, for my money it's even better (albeit very different).

June 3, 2023 at 5:55 PM

Phantasialand was the last park I visited on a three week Europe trip last fall, and I was glad to end there as it was absolutely amazing! I thought of it as a park full of Diagon Alleys, where each section is quite small but immaculately themed and as immersive as practical. The park also features my two favorite coasters in Germany along with a very strong overall attraction lineup, and it seemed to be just the right size where you can do everything in one day but could also spend two just taking the whole place in. While there were several parks I visited in Europe that I'd like to return to, Phantasialand was probably the only one I'd go out of the way to revisit.

Excellent review, Matt, and I look forward to hearing about the other parks you visited.

June 4, 2023 at 1:14 AM

What really blew me away about Phantasialand was how each ride seamlessly blended with the others in such a compact space. Absolutely impressive. I didn’t know about the Michael Jackson connection that is wild. I did see an MJ themed thriller ghost train at a carnival in Paris once so his likeness gets around.

I hope to hit Europa park soon. And I am curious, because it is a rather large park do I need to budget two days or can you do justice in one if we get there at rope drop?

June 4, 2023 at 3:27 AM

Matt, you absolutely should plan two days at Europa Park if you are able to do so, and even three days would not be excessive for the place. They've got at least triple the attraction count of Phantasialand, including thirteen roller coasters and twelve dark rides, plus numerous non-ride attractions and areas to explore. The park was also the second busiest of those I visited on my trip (with the only one busier being Hansa-Park, which we visited on a Saturday), so despite going open to close we were only able to hit about three-fourths of the park's noteworthy attractions on our first day.

June 4, 2023 at 9:59 AM

Do you guys have any problems with communicating? I know most Europeans speak English really well, but I wonder about the likes of Hansa and Heide, for instance.

If I go, I'll visit Legendia and Energylandia as well, so just curious if Poland has been on anyone's list?

June 4, 2023 at 10:12 AM

I have found that in most decent sized cities English is widely spoken and understood. It can be a bit trickier in smaller towns but pointing and being polite seems to go far. Google translate is also very helpful for translating menus. Bottom line don’t let the language barrier stop a trip. I was freaking out about my lack of French and German but it has not been an issue. I suspect Poland to be similar, especially in bigger areas. Also of note every employee at a European theme park I have interacted with spoke English very well.

June 4, 2023 at 12:59 PM

Would absolutely echo needing two days at Europa. I went on a Monday and Tuesday in December where the park was very quiet and I still needed both days to really see it all. A big part of the place’s magic is allowing yourself to just wander around going ride to ride and taking it all in. There’s really nothing else like it out there.

June 5, 2023 at 4:48 PM

Thank you for the detailed report! We just visited Efteling for the first time in May and Phantasialand (along with Europa-Park) are next on our list.

Did you stay at any of the hotels? We have been considering our options.

June 5, 2023 at 8:38 PM

Makorider, something I found in Germany was that the further east you went, the less likely you were to find people were multilingual. I can't think of any point in Stuttgart, Rust, Frankfurt, or Cologne where we encountered someone who didn't at least understand English (even if they couldn't speak it well). When we trekked up to Heide Park and Hansa Park there was definitely a bit less English accessibility, but at no point did we run into a situation where communication wasn't possible. Fortunately, a lot of German words are close enough to their English counterparts that they can be understood when the context is known, and if all else fails a translation app will get the job done.

Regardless, I still think it's valuable to learn at least some basics of the language, both because it makes simple things easier and it shows that you actually care about the place you're visiting. I spent about a month before the trip on Duolingo to get a feel for German, as well as committing about twenty useful phrases and a hundred or so vocabulary words to memory, and that was sufficient to get through pretty much any standard interaction in German. Fortunately, Europeans tend to do a lot less small talk with strangers than Americans, so you're unlikely to suddenly be asked something out of context. Most are going to hear you speaking English with others in your group and will switch to that language should they want to engage you in conversation, but if they don't, a simple "Es tut mir leid, ich spreche kein Deutsch. Sprechen Sie Englisch?" ("I'm sorry, I don't speak German. Do you speak English?") is all you need.

As for Poland, that's on the radar for my next Europe trip, but I expect it to be a few years before I get the opportunity to go back.

June 6, 2023 at 10:52 AM

Great info, thanks guys.

A lot to consider with a possible trip to Europe. I can't just throw my crap into the back of the car and drive .. LOL.

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