Lifestyle & Culture

Saving the summer! Dispatches’ list of theme parks and water parks reopening in Europe … and their new rules

(Editor’s note: Our list of theme parks and water parks reopening with COVID-19 rules will be updated as more information becomes available.)

Expat kids often get dragged along to new countries without getting a vote in the decision. (Ours did.) But moving to Europe means moving closer to some of the best theme parks and water parks in the world.

Best of all, in this pandemic year, Europe – unlike the United States – is back from its various lockdowns and ready for some fun in the sun. So we decided to review which water parks and theme parks are open for what remains of the summer. Most of the parks are trying to make lemonade out of lemons, stressing the changes they’ve made for safety and by playing to our desire to return to normal times. Check out the vid below.

Disneyland Paris

This most popular of all European theme parks didn’t open until 15 July, and even then on a limited basis in order to keep attendance and crowd densities at safe levels for social distancing.

And that’s true at parks all across Europe.

From the Disney website:

This reopening will be accompanied by reinforced health and safety measures for all visitors and our employees. The capacity of our theme parks will be limited in accordance with the standards recommended by the competent public authorities, and a new reservation system, available at the beginning of July and subject to availability, will make it possible to regulate the attendance within the Theme Parks.

Disneyland Paris consists of two theme parks: Disneyland Park and Walt Disney Studios. You can visit both parks in one day, but you might want to book a room at an on-site hotel for convenience, though non-Disney hotels in the region are far less expensive. Trust us … we took our kids in the 2000s and were shocked at how expensive that place is.

Tickets: The Disneyland Paris website is down as we post this. So, we’ll update this with 2020 ticket prices and discounts as it gets closer to the opening date.

Dispatches tip: If you’re used to, say, Legoland in Germany, the food prices at Disneyland Paris are at least double. Take a picnic. Disneyland Paris is cool with that. Also, if your kids are into dress-up, there are multiple stores where they can buy pirate and/or princess garb. There are often sales, and the quality is high enough they can play dress-up for years … stress-tested by our kids!

Tivoli Gardens, Copenhagen

Denmark shut down early with officials planning their pandemic work and working their plan. As a result, Denmark was the first country in Europe to emerge from the pandemic into the “New Normal.”

Tivoli Gardens, the oldest theme park in Europe, is open (though not if you’re Swedish), but daily attendance has been cut to 8,000 from 34,000 people to prevent overcrowding.

This is a pretty sedate theme park, with no extreme rides. (Though the Golden Tower will get thrill-seekers’ attention.) But this 176-year-old destination has instituted some 21st-century tech, including apps for virtual queuing. You’re notified on your smartphone when it’s your turn on a ride.

Where to stay: This is Copenhagen, so don’t expect Netherlands hotel prices (which are much lower.) That said, Tivoli has – surprise! – its own hotel. You can get an all-inclusive package for 695 Krone (about 94 euros) per person that includes:

  • An overnight stay in a Tivoli standard family room with a sofabed for the kids
  • Breakfast buffet including freshly baked bread, eggs, and fruit
  • Admission to Tivoli
  • Multi-ride ticket
  • Admission to the Tivoli Aquarium
  • Ride photo or Balloon
  • Meal in participating Tivoli restaurants

Tickets: Tivoli Gardens, as do most amusement/theme parks, wants to make you a 2-day deal, and theirs will run you 200 krone, or about 30 euros. A rare bargain in this, the most expensive country in Europe. This is partly to optimize revenue, but partly because Tivoli has way more than you can see in a day. You can get tickets here.

Dispatches tip: Kids under 8 years old get in free! Oh, and Tivoli has concerts, typically with music for the entire family.

PortAdventura World/Ferrari Land, Spain

PortAdventura World/Ferrari Land in Xalets de Salon, Spain, an hour from Barcelona. is scheduled to reopen 8 July. PortAventura has a huge variety of rides, especially water rides, for all ages including seven mega-rollercoasters.

Ferrari Land, as you might expect, has pulse-quickening rides and games inspired by the Italian exotic cars with the prancing horse logo.

This historic summer, they’re offering a 10-percent across-the-board discount to get you back if you book before 31 July. Be sure to read the park’s new coronavirus measures before you book, because they include rules for buying tickets … and face masks are mandatory.

In addition to the highest and fastest ride, PortAventura has Shambhala Europe’s second-highest rollercoaster, which has the eighth-highest drop of any rollercoaster in the world – 256 feet from its highest point – and speeds of up to 70 mph. So, you astronauts and Formula One drivers in training … this is the park for you.

The park also has convention facilities and 25-percent of its revenue comes from hosting corporate outings and meetings. So you know this has been a very painful pandemic year, revenue-wise. And what do you know? There’s an option to add days for 6 euros.

Go for it ….

Tickets: Ticket prices are all over the place, ranging from 49 euros for junior/seniors to 56 euros for adults, and those are good for both parks.

Check out all the discounts and special deals here.

Where to stay. PortAventura has seven hotels including the 25 million euro Colorado Creek, the first zero-emissions hotel at the park.

Check out the website, which is a bit of a jumbled mess, for all the deals.

Dispatches’ crowd-sourced tip: To avoid the crowds early in the day, go directly to the Dragon King and Shambala rides – both top-rated by dedicated amusement park websites (and there are LOTS) in the China section at the back of the park rather pack into the entrance with the rest of the crowds. In fact, this kind of works everywhere … a lesson we learned at Euro Disney all those years ago. And read this post in the Irish Independent before you go.

Aquapark Istralandia, Nova Vas, Croatia

Aquapark Istralandia, which is only a couple of miles from the beach, apparently just reopened in July with – you guessed it – many, many coronavirus measures including 1.5 meter social distancing, protective barriers at food counters and hand disinfection stations all around the park. Toilets are disinfected every hour.

Otherwise, the overall experience is unchanged. This giant, 20-acre park that debuted in 2014 ranks at the top of TripAdvisor’s list of Best Water Parks – Europe, only one spot behind Siam Park in Tenerife, which is closed this summer.

Acquapark Istralandia has 12 different slides – both big and small – including Croatia’s highest free-fall slide, which sits at a height of 27 meters. The focus here is on family fun in the sun.

Features: Check out the video above to see the sheer variety of creative things you can do with water. The Free Fall also looks pretty terror-inducing, which is a good thing.

The website: For once, a water park has a great website. Lots of features including a downloadable map.

Entry prices: Full-day tickets start at the equivalent of 30 euros for High Season and you can get them here. But there are also half-day tickets and family packages. Decisions, decisions ….

Open: Now through mid-September

TripAdvisor ratingFour and a half stars out of five (2,060 reviews). Reviewers use the word “amazing” a lot.

Aqualandia/MundoMar in Benidorm, Costa Blanca, Spain

Aqualandia water park is right next door to MundoMar animal park, so if you’re feeling particularly energetic, you could do both in one day.

We checked all the on-line ratings and most state Aqualandia – Spain’s first waterpark – is relatively unaffected by the pandemic. In fact, Aqualandia proudly posts on its website that it’s recognized by the Institute for Spanish Tourist Quality as “a benchmark in safe tourism through the Safe Tourism Certified seal.”

That means there are protective guest measures in place for sanitation as well as park employees to monitor social distancing.

That’s quite a feat because Aqualandia claims to be one of the largest waterparks in Europe. It also has Verti-Go the highest slide in Europe in and the highest slide-capsule in the world with speeds up to 100 kilometers per hour.

Aqualandia has a total of 16 water attractions, the newest being Cyclón, a 36-meter high slide, with speeds up to 60 kilometers per hour.

Tickets: Though it’s not required as at German and Dutch parks, you can buy tickets here in advance. Day tickets start as low as 20 euros on slow days, but average 26 euros. There are three-person and four-person family tickets. A day ticket for two adults and one child is 89 euros and two adults, two kids get in for 112 euros.

Combo tickets for Aqualandia and MundoMar are 36 euros. Finally, there are one-price deals on tickets along with a stay at the Hotel Luxor on the grounds.

The website: Better than most, with lots of details.

Dispatches’ crowd-sourcing tip: We read all the TripAdvisor ratings, which average 4.3, and the one issue that keeps popping up is the requirement that kids be 1.25 meters tall to go on the wildest rides. Which a lot of parents stated cut down the fun for the smaller kids.

Also, Benidorm is on the Costa Blanca coast, the center of Spain’s tourism industry. So even in a pandemic, Aqualandia isn’t not going to be crowded.

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