4 Of The Best… Theme Parks
Taller. Better. Faster. Stronger. For decades, the world’s theme parks have been trying to out-imagine each other. But we’ve braved terrifying towers, ridden dragons and escaped the labyrinth to tell you which parks top our hotlist…
1) Walt Disney World Resort – Orlando, Florida
Disney World is the daddy of them all – its 4 super-sized lands are twice the size of Manhattan. Magic Kingdom, with its fairytale castle, is the one that started it all. Ride-wise, it’s less about hair-raising excitement and more about giant mice and flying fairies. Next in line is EPCOT. One half is Future World, home to innovative rides like Test Track, which turns you into a crash test dummy. The other half is World Showcase, a collection of mini-countries that lets you experience a Moroccan souk one minute and the canals of Venice the next. Hollywood Studios, meanwhile, is the park for big kids. It’s home to white-knuckle thriller, Rock’n’Roller Coaster – an indoor loop-the-looper with a high-speed launch. Last but not least is the newest kid on the block, Animal Kingdom. It’s a suped-up safari park where rides and animals sit side by side.
2) Universal Orlando – Orlando, Florida
This one’s actually 2 parks in one. The biggest spine-tingling rides are in Islands of Adventure, so if you want the shortest queues head here early. As its name suggests, this park is broken up into 5 islands – each one with its own theme. Marvel Super Hero Island is home to the Incredible Hulk, a looping, dipping, diving coaster with a jet-powered launch, and kids will go crazy for the whimsy of Dr Seuss’ wonky world. The second park, Universal Studios, is still a working film and TV lot. So you can split your time between rides, behind-the-scenes demos and, if you’re really lucky, being part of a live studio audience. And backstage, you can take part in your own movie on Hollywood Rip, Ride, Rockit – a 17-storey rollercoaster.
3) PortAventura – Costa Dorada, Spain
You don’t have to cross the pond to ride a record-breaker. Spain’s PortAventura is home to the world’s loopiest rollercoaster. With 8 fiendish twists, it’s not one for the faint-hearted. And neither is Furious Baco. Dispensing with the usual slow-climb introduction, this 2-G roller catapults you off the starting block and hurtles you round the track with your feet dangling in the air. And it doesn’t end there. True to its Universal roots, the park is spread over 5 themed areas. In the Far West, the Stampida clickety-clacks round a twin-tracked wooden frame. Mexico is all about the gut-wrenching 100-metre free-fall that is the Hurakan Condor, and Polynesia’s explosive Tutuki Splash will certainly cool you down on hot days. But it’s not all about big thrills here. The clever theming even extends to the live shows – cowboys somersault off the saloon roof in the Far West and mariachi bands take to the floor in Mexico.
4) Gardaland – Lake Garda, Italy
Imagine Disney with an Italian accent and that’s Gardaland to a tee. Italy’s biggest theme park is based around the country’s favourite cartoon character – a goofy green dragon called Prezzemolo. There’s one thing that puts this place head and shoulders above its rivals. Its location. There’s no other place on earth where you can board a Thunderbird-style UFO and fly – albeit very slowly – high enough to see the snow-tipped Alps. As far as rides go, there’s plenty to get in a twist over. Magic Mountain is a classic loop-the-loop coaster, while Sequoia shuns speed in favour of slow-motion thrills. Double-decker water chutes, pirate boats and jungle excursions complete the adventurous line-up. It doesn’t end there, though – there are dolphin shows, soap bubble labs and Medieval extravaganzas to squeeze into your schedule, too.