[Note from Robert: Matt visited Europa-Park and filed this trip report before the fire earlier this week that damaged and closed the Alpenexpress Enzian roller coaster, the Tyrolean Log Flume, and the Magical World of Diamonds walk through. All other attractions at Europa-Park have reopened.]
Located near the French/German border and nestled near the beautiful Black Forest stands Europa-Park. Opened in 1975, millions of travelers already have discovered this theme park, and its growing popularity currently ranks it as the most visited park in Germany and 2nd most visited in all of Europe.
While Europa-Park currently lacks the name recognition enjoyed by Disney or Universal in the USA, its ever-increasing roster of world-class attractions quickly is closing the gap. This is a real challenger to the House that Mouse built, and while it has several attractions that “borrowed” heavily from Disney, the massive size of Europa-Park means they have enough space also to play with some new ideas. [Owned by the Mack family, this is the home park for Mack Rides.] The bottom line is that Europa-Park offers much of the same experience with some great European twists for a fraction of the price. (One-day admission is around US$65.)
Theme park aficionados will appreciate that several attractions have a single rider queue, and the easy-to-use Europa-Park app allows you to check wait times and even partake in its “virtual line” for certain attractions. While all these perks helped alleviate crowds without issue, the “virtual line” sometimes would fill up extremely quickly but then re-open later without notifying the guest. And while the single ride queues were greatly appreciated, occasionally a worker would forget about it and launch trains with empty seats. We encountered this on “Arthur” and watched at least 10-15 cars launch with one or two empty seats. However, this was an isolated issue as when we returned the next day, that worker was extremely efficient. In the end, I found both systems to be helpful on a crowded day and was thankful they were available.
The first thing guests will notice about Europa-Park is the massive number of rides, shows and attractions - more than 100 in all, including 12 roller coasters, 13 dark rides, and a multitude of flat and kiddie attractions. Even more impressive is the level of theming that goes into each area, as each ride blends within its realm. Sixteen distinct European countries are represented here, and each land has its own rides, shows, and restaurants themed to showcase those nations' distinct architecture. While some countries have relatively small footprints, such as Luxembourg or Liechtenstein, it is a joy just wandering around and marveling at the sights. This is considerably more expansive than Epcot's World Showcase and instead of finding a single ride and restaurant, you might find five or more in each land.
Like Phantasialand, Europa-Park does a great job of integrating many attractions in a single area to create a coherent theme. For example, in the Austria land, they had an indoor walking trail through a gem mine, but the log ride and Alpine coaster also shared the area, blending seamlessly together not only to efficiently utilize space but also to add a sense of belonging. [Note that the Yomi Magical World of Diamonds gem mine, Tyrolean Log Flume, and Alpenexpress coaster are now closed, following the June 19, 2023 fire.]
The land themed to Italy, for example, was a piazza that resembled Venice, with little bridges crossing over a small pool of water. Within, guests find a large restaurant serving pizza and other Italian dishes, a gelato shop, three show stages, and three rides. The large theater featured a Vegas-style illusion show, while an outdoor stage offered a singing group playing pop tunes, and the “Electronic Bird Theater” featured audio animatronic birds wearing venetian masks and singing opera - a clear nod to the Enchanted Tiki Room but with a European twist.
As for the rides, “Piccolo Mondo”-which is a Mr. Toad type of dark ride that moved through iconic scenes from Italy in a Gondola ride vehicle, while on “Vola da Vinci,” guests get to soar above the square, atop Da Vinci’s proposed helicopter model. Most impressively was the “Ghost Castle.” Without question this was inspired by the original Haunted Mansion and had an almost identical stretching room sequence followed by a platform where guests board doom buggies. But the experience was quite distinct. First off, the ride was considerably more intense and gorier, complete with torture chambers and beheadings. It was much closer to a Halloween Horror Nights ride than the not so scary version at Disneyland. As a historian I also really appreciated the theme which was an eclectic mix of 18th century Italian renaissance and 19th century Victorian England. The creepy take on the Madonna and child painting was a bonus. All of this in only one of the many lands that you get to explore!
One of the more interesting aspects of Europa-Park was the unique and quirky attractions that could be found all over. This slow boat ride around a lake that recreated the opulence of 19th century Austria as well as the truly bizarre and awesome “Arthur.”
It can be found in the “Kingdom of the Minimoys.” Both the ride and land are themed to the French film and book series of the same name. (Yeah, I never heard of it either.) The ride vehicle resembled a floorless roller-coaster and included both dark ride scenes and outdoor segments. The ride was absolutely fantastic - a smooth track with plenty of thrills, some very interesting animatronics and a completely unexpected but amazing sequence that featured lyrics from Snoop Dogg (yes, seriously).
The impressive theming of each European land also extended to the park's many dark rides. A solid Men in Black-inspired dark ride shooter could be found in “Greece,” where you explored the underwater ruins of Atlantis (but once gain my gun malfunctioned as my wife beat my score).
Then there was the fun and goofy “Madame Freudenreich Curiosites.” This slow-moving attraction can best be described as dinosaurs living their best life. It featured various thunder lizards living harmoniously on the Madame’s farm, beekeeping, baking cakes, and throwing parties. Although the animatronics were not terribly revolutionary, they pumped in a variety of scents to enhance the experience such as cakes, honey, and even fertilizer in one scene.
One of the most popular rides in the entire park could be found in Holland at “Pirates in Batavia.” Originally opening in 1987, the whole attraction actually burned down in 2018 and many feared the ride would be rethemed. Fortunately, the ride was rebuilt and enhanced with updated sequences, animatronics, and cool special effects. The ride was clearly designed as a clone of Disney's original Pirates of the Caribbean and even has some direct call backs such as a plunge deeper into a grotto early on, prisoners attempting to get a key from an animal (in this case, the dog was replaced by a monkey), and a battle sequence between a pirate ship and the town fortress. But none of it felt inferior, as the theme was so unique. Here the pirates are in the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia today), and the areas explored include jungle temples, fishing villages, and sprawling marketplaces. Although comparisons between the two rides are unavoidable, the significant difference in theme makes them both worthy attractions.
Although much of the park focuses on theme and family attractions, the thrill rides are no slouches. In Iceland one can find the “Blue Fire” Megacoaster. This incredibly fast launch coaster also offers several intense inversions including a heartline roll. Nearby is the Viking themed “Wodan,” a 40-meter-tall wooden coaster that screams around its track and dives around “Blue Fire.”
For the best thrills my pick would be France’s “Silver Star,” a B&M hyper coaster that is twice as tall as “Wodan” and pulls 4 Gs. However, for both my wife and myself, the top prize for coaster has to go to the “CanCan Coaster.” Situated within a geodesic dome, it was neither the fastest nor tallest but was just a lot of fun to ride. Themed to the Moulin Rouge, it reminded me of a cross between the Rock 'n' Roller Coaster at Disney's Hollywood Studios and Revenge of the Mummy at Universal. It begins with a cool nod to absinthe and riding the “green fairy,” and then you slowly ascend around the Eiffel Tower. A fantastic soundtrack heightens the tension until you are racing around in the dark, going lower and lower until you return to the station. I even found myself listening to the soundtrack when I got home.
Food was another highlight, and each area had a kiosk or full restaurant that served delicacies from that country. Interested in a Nutella crepe? Check out France. In the mood for Tapas? Take the monorail to Spain. Thirsty for a Guinness? Walk to Ireland. Hangry for some fish and chips? Take the train to England. I have never seen such variety in a single park without a food festival going on. Even better, the offerings were of good quality and moderately priced.
Europa-Park also has three specialty restaurants that offered a unique experience. “Food Loop” had a little roller coaster track above the patron’s head that after ordering your meal would zoom around the room until it reached your table. “Castle Balthasar” served traditional German fare in an actual manor house constructed in the 15th century. (Unfortunately they were only doing outdoor seating on my trip). “Bamboe Baai” offered diners Indonesian food as they watch the ride vehicles for “Pirates in Batavia” go by. I opted for the latter and had a tasty noodle dish with chicken and a large beer for less than $20.
Coming soon in 2024 is the newest land “Croatia.” Europa-Park seems to be sparing no expense for their expansion and offered guests a chance to check out some concept art and designs. The signature attraction here will be a large roller coaster themed to Nikola Tesla and his electricity-producing coils. As if anyone needed another reason to check out this incredible park.
Perhaps the most amazing thing about Europa-Park is that it is just one part of an entire resort. Next door they have a world class and massive water park, Rulantica. In addition, guests have the option to stay in one of seven themed hotels - the Italian “Colosseo” and the New England “Bell Rock” seemed particularly cool. Ultimately, I spent two full days in Europa-Park from start to close and feel like I am just scratching the surface. This review hardly does the park justice; it really needs to be seen to be believed.
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Europa-Park is open from late March through early January and located in Rust, Germany, near the Rhine River and about two hours southwest of Stuttgart and northwest of Zurich, Switzerland. If you buy a Deutsche Bahn train ticket to "Rust Europa-Park," a ride on bus route 7231/7200 from Ringsheim/Europa-Park station to Europa-Park will be included. The Eurocity-Express Frankfurt-Milan train also stops twice a day at the Ringsheim/Europa-Park station.
Experiencing everything at Europa-Park will require more than one day to visit. Blue Fire Megacoaster is typically the longest wait of the day, so head there first when the park opens. Other longer-than-average waits include Matterhorn Blitz, Pegasus, and on warm days, the Atlantica SuperSplash and Poseidon water coasters.
Europa-Park hotel guests get between 30-60 minutes of early access to select attractions at the park, depending upon season. Single rider queues are available on Arthur, Blue Fire Megacoaster, CanCan Coaster, Voletarium, and Wodan.
Theme Park Insider's travel partner sells a Black Forest Card that includes a Europa-Park ticket as well as admission to dozens of other attractions in the region.
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