Europa Park Trip Report - April 2015 - Part 1

Europa Park Trip Report - April 2015 - Part 1

Europa Park is Europe's second most visited theme park resort, after Disneyland Park. It drew in 4.9 million visitors in 2013, beating Walt Disney Studios park by half a million visitors. Considering the park is not open year-round, this is an impressive figure. Europa-Park is larger than both Disneyland Paris theme parks put together. I wanted to see what all the fuss was about so this week I went to check out the competition in Rust, Germany with six friends from work for Europa Park's 40th anniversary celebrations.

Getting There:
There are many ways to get from Disneyland Paris to Europa Park including a flight from Paris to Strasbourg, a train from Marne la Vallee to Strasbourg (then a bus from Strasbourg to Europa Park) or a straight five hour drive. We chose the driving option primarily because it allowed us a lot of flexibility in terms of timing, and it was also the lowest cost option. Tolls will cost you about 30-40 euros each way from Disneyland Paris to Europa Park.

Europa Park Pricing and Opening Hours:
Before we even stepped foot in the resort, we knew that there was a very different kind of pricing strategy going on at Europa Park. A one-day ticket is €42.50 and a two-day ticket is €80. We couldn't find any mention of a three-day or longer ticket. An annual pass is affordable at  €175 for adults, and €150 for children. Unlike Disneyland Paris, however, this will not pay for itself in one stay - this is how an annual pass pricing policy should work.

As mentioned earlier, the park is not open year-round. The Summer season runs from the end of March to the beginning of November. The park then closes for a couple of weeks and then reopens for its Winter Season from the end of November to mid-January. The park is this closed for about three months until the Summer Season begins again. As such, Europa Park is open for around 8 months per year which is long than most theme parks but not quite as long as the likes of Disney and Universal.

Standard Summer opening hours are 9:00am to 6:00pm, and in the Winter the hours are 11:00am to 7:00pm. This gives you 8 hours of park time per day. However, the park extended its hours according to how busy it is so even though the park may sit it officially closes at 6:00pm you may find that is is open until 8:00pm or 9:00pm. Unfortunately, this is no way of knowing the time the park will be closing in advance, the decision is made on the day and signs are put up at the attractions with the closing time. This was one of the things we disliked most about the park.

For the two days we visited, a Tuesday and Wednesday in April the park closed at 6:00pm. Considering that Disneyland Park in Paris was open from 10:00am to 10:00pm every day throughout our visit (plus Extra Magic Hours for hotel guests) it would have been nicer to see slightly extended opening hours. Speaking from a money perspective, however, I can completely understand the decision - Europa-Park was empty and they have no need to wait for night to fall like Disneyland Paris does to present its nighttime show.

Europa Park has five onsite hotels, though only one (the camping resort) was available during our visit. Having looked at accommodation prices, they are very well priced and much cheaper than Disney. The hotels are full on resorts with great theming and leisure and dining activities. We, however, opted to stay in a lovely 8-person apartment at Pension Marianna (booked through located less than a 5-minute drive away. The staff were extremely friendly and definitely gave us the best customer service we experienced in all of Germany. The place is affordably priced too, and everything was in great condition. We couldn't have been happier.

Arriving at the Park and German customer service:
Parking is priced at a very affordable €5 per vehicle per day. Unlike at Disneyland Paris, you do not pay on the way in. Instead, you get a ticket, park and then you go to a machine and validate your ticket before you leave. It works very similarly to most parking lots in city centres in this way. This prevents huge queues both entering and leaving the park, as at some point throughout the day you will need to pay for your parking. Instead, this moves the queues from the parking entrance and exit to the parking ticket booths.

With the help of the new travelators (this was listed as if it were a new attraction in all publicity) we were soon at the park entrance. We walked to the turnstiles and were in the park within seconds. Here we our first taste of German customer service as we said "Bonjour" and "Hallo" on the way in, only get no response from the employees as they efficiently scanned our ticket. I thought the French were direct but nothing could prepare me for how blunt some of the Germans can be. It is not them meaning to be rude, however, it is just the way their culture is. More than anything, however, as seven Disney employees we were clearly comparing the entire trip to a Disney theme park. The fact that Courtesy is our number two priority (after Safety) at Disney was probably what shocked us most. The Germans are efficient but being courteous is not one of their priorities.

The Park Entrance and Layout:
Like most theme parks, the park begins with a sort of "Main Street" which in this case is a mix of different cultures in one place. I was immediately blown away by the theming: I can't think of anything that really stunned me but it was probably that I wasn't expect it to be as well themed as it was. (History buffs - you can see a part of the Berlin wall on this street). This entry area very quickly blends into the theme of Italy and the entrance to the Italian area of the park is where you are held until official park opening time. This is a similar to Disneyland Paris which allows you entry into their Main Street 30 minutes before official park opening time. The actual rest of Europa Park opens in a strangely abrupt manner - this is no announcement, and the rope holding you back is simply removed at 9:00am sharp, after which you can explore the entire park. In order to give you an idea of the quality of theming, here is a look at the Italy area:

As you may have guessed, Europa Park's "lands" or areas are based around Europe. This park is a Mack family product which was heavily inspired by Disney's EPCOT park in Florida. Although, Europa Park is technically older than EPCOT, it was a hearing about and a visit to EPCOT by the Mack Family that inspired them to create 'an EPCOT for Europe'. You will see that many of the themes, architectural styles, and even attractions throughout this park are inspired by Disney attractions.

I think this is a good time to take a look at the map, which in itself in't overly complicated - the problem is the park layout does not lend itself to easy discovery and with a central icon for the park getting you bearings can be difficult. Even the huge observation tower can very easily be lost in view behind certain buildings. The result is a park map that looks like this rather than Disney's hub-and-spoke design:

The Attractions - France:
One of the star attractions of the park is Silver Star and this is where we headed first (73 metres in height and a speed of 127km/h). Unfortunately, we took a rather long way round - I've made a little graphic to show you to quickest way to get silver Star in the morning:

The Purple arrow in the park's equivalent of Main Street, you walk up this area and then are in the main German area of the park. Here you will need to follow the red arrow to the archway and the Italian area - this is where guests are held until the park opens. Once the park is open, you will need to go straight ahead and follow the blue line, you will go through a narrow passageway and enter the French area of the park and go through some small Parisian-style streets. Soon you will be faced by the giant geodesic sphere (the golf-ball shaped thing in the image - and clealry a clone of spaceship earth). Here you turn right and will see the main entrance to Silver Star.

The wait time was posted as 3 minutes when we got to the ride entrance and before I knew it we were on the ride. The ride has one of the more modern restraints where you simply have a lapser style restraint that holds you in, with no over the shoulder harness. The most impressive thing about this ride is definitely the lift hill which in interminable, and gives you a stunning view of the park and the surrounding area. The first drop is great too and you really get a rush, though the rest of the ride is pretty same-y.

Having done the ride in a few different positions, the front (not the actual front, but second row) gives you a lot of air time on the higher portions of the track and was actually very thrilling. I didn't have a chance to ride the front row (there's a separate line for that) but I imagine the first drop to be terrifying with nothing holding you in.

I was looking forward to the Universe of Energy thinking that it might be a clone of Ellen's Energy Adventure ride at EPCOT. It was an omnivore ride about dinosaurs, so they have taken that part of the ride from EPCOT and then completely ignored the over 80%. I was thoroughly disappointed and baffled at this attraction. The exit pathway also has giant holes in the ground which considering the place is not well lit is prone to causing accidents. Why you would deliberately do this in a theme park is anyone's idea.

Eurosat is the park's Space Mountain and was the longest wait of the trip at about 25 minutes. The most unique thing about the ride is that the lift hill is a long rotating tube that carries the ride vehicles upwards for a couple of minutes whilst you hear techno music play. The ride is then a series of fairly unexciting spirals downwards. With no loops or inversions and with it being a rough ride, we only did this once and vowed not to return.

Magic Cinema was showing a 4D film about Euromaus (the park's mascot) to mark the park's 40th anniversary. There was a lot of 4D here including seat movements (which became a bit repetitive), springs of water, and jets of air. The 3D aspect of this was very well done, and the animation and music chosen were well done. Almost all the film was in German with about 5%-10% being in French though we did seem to get a gist of the storyline.

Finally, Euro Tower rises to 75 meters (about the height of Silver Star) and gives you a panoramic view of the park. This was a pleasant ride bar the recycled air and the fact we waited for ages for more people to load onto the ride before the operators actually dispatched it. Suddenly you get a scale of how large the park really is.

The view from Euro Tower.
Part 2 looks at more of the park's attractions, as well as general thoughts on the way the park is run.

NEW: Want the inside scoop? Download my book about my 16 months spent living and working at Disneyland Paris now on Amazon.

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