European Theme Park Trip: The Highs and Lows

Avalon in Toverland was one of our European theme park trip hits.

It’s been a few weeks since we arrived back home, but I’m so full of blog inspiration from our much anticipated European Road Trip that I thought to was about time I started getting my thoughts down on paper.

For those of you who haven’t read our announcement post – or the post we did about the most anticipated rides of our European trip – we’ve recently come back from a four-night trip covering Toverland, Efteling and Phantasialand.

Overall we had such a fantastic time, and we have so much content to share. As with all our holidays, we thought it was only right to start with of overall trip highs and lows. There are so many more things to add to the highs, but these are the things that really stood out.

European Theme Park Trip: The Highs

P&O Ferry from Hull to Bruges

The bedroom on a P&O ferry Hull to Brugge
The view of hull from a P&O ferry to Bruges

Although Carl had assured me I’d love it, I wasn’t really sure what to make of travelling to Belgium on an overnight ferry. I was worried it would be dated and a bit boring on-board, and that the beds would be hella uncomfortable.

Well, it turns out I didn’t need to worry as we had a very pleasant journey both there and back. Sure, the ships look like they need a bit of life injecting into them, but the entertainment is decent, the prices of drinks are reasonable and we had a really fantastic meal in the Brassiere restaurant on board.

We’ll be doing a full review of our P&O Ferry experience soon but suffice to say I wouldn’t hesitate to travel by sea again. It was fab to have the comfort of our own car at the other side too.

Avalon at Toverland

The view of Avalon at Toverland
Fenix the b&m wing coaster in Avalon at Toverland

Avalon is one of Toverland’s two newest themed areas which both opened in 2018 as part of a 35m euro expansion of the park. The other is its new Islands of Adventure inspired entrance area called Port Laguna.

Described as ‘Merlin’s mythical world’ on the Toverland website, Avalon is breathtakingly beautiful. With the sweeping height and smoothness of Fenix – its new B&M wing coaster – dominating the skyline, it really is a masterclass in how to do understated, yet stunning, themed areas.

The park was very quiet during our visit which I think added to the tranquil vibe of Avalon. With all the beautiful greenery, rock work and the river running through it felt insanely peaceful walking around. One of the things we loved about Toverland was that there is something hidden around every corner and Avalon is no exception. From the unique walkways and animatronics in the queues, to the fantastic themed dark sections on the rides, it is full of wonderfully magical surprises.

Sure, you can tell the inspiration was taken from other famous wizarding worlds – the set-up for Fenix is pretty Harry Potter-esque while The Flaming Feather restaurant is straight out of the pages of Lord of the Rings – but it works a charm in this park. In fact, I can now say this is one of the best themed areas I’ve ever had the pleasure of visiting, including some of the ones I love at Walt Disney World.

Taron at Phantasialand

Taron at Phantasialand
Taron at Phantasialand

This won’t be the first or last time we talk about Taron on this blog. This incredible multi-launch Intamin coaster is absolutely the highlight of the entire trip for both of us.

Where do we start with talking about Taron? Well, from the moment you enter Klugheim – the land that houses it – you’re absolutely immersed in the mythical culture of the area. An incredible musical score booms around Klugheim and you get awesome views of Taron from almost every vantage point in this corner of the park.

As the coaster twists, turns, snakes and climbs all around you, and the screeching sound of the launches fill your ears, you can’t help but feel the anticipation to ride this coaster in your bones.

We had heard that Taron rides better later in the day so held off from riding until the afternoon. And, wow. What a ride this is. The launches (especially the second one) are nippy as fuck, the near misses are incredible, the way it interacts with the scenery is beautiful and the air time is fantastic. The lap bar restraints really make this ride what it is and made every coaster we rode with over the shoulder restraints feel incredibly restricted afterwards.

Safe to say we LOVED this ride. And with extra ride time included as part of our hotel stay, we got to go on it again and again. Our preferred ride is on the front row but it really is phenomenal wherever you sit – an absolute star of a ride.

Hotel Ling Bao at Phantasialand

Hotel Ling Bao Phantasialand
The rooms inside Hotel Ling Bao at Phantasialand

For reasons I’ll get into later, we had a pretty difficult start to our trip. Although we were pushing through it to have the best time we possibly could, we arrived at Phantasialand feeling tired and a little bit cranky.

I can’t tell you the relief I felt pulling into the car park of Hotel Ling Bao to find one of the most beautiful looking hotels I’d ever seen. This place really is visually stunning from the outside.

From the moment we stepped into this Chinese themed hotel we felt like we were in the lap of luxury. With stunning decor and grounds, and a very comfortable bed, this is one of the best theme park hotels we’ve had the pleasure of visiting.

A full review of the hotel will be coming soon on the blog but I have to mention the incredible customer service we received here. We’d booked this hotel as a little anniversary celebration and mentioned the fact on our booking. On checking in we were gifted with a lovely incense box and a few extra quick queue passes to skip the lines (you get one each included with a regular hotel stay). We also arrived in our bedroom to find rose petals on the bed and the staff in the Bamboo restaurant congratulated us on our anniversary and put us out a special table setting to celebrate.

This was much better customer service than we received for our honeymoon in Disney and Universal and it made us feel so special. The onsite hotels at Phantasialand are expensive, but the service was so fantastic we wouldn’t hesitate to book it again.

Symbolica at Efteling

Symbolica at Efteling
Symbolica at Efteling

As one of Charlotte’s most anticipated rides of our entire trip, she was desperate to get on Symbolica, Efteling’s large-scale dark ride which opened in 2017.

With that in mind, it was our first port of call on arrival at the park. The experience started as soon as we set sights on the building – what an eye-catching structure – and continued through the short 15-minute wait in the pre-show and queue.

By the time we went through the enchanted staircase and were asked to choose our ‘tour’ – there are three different tours on Symbolica which each give a slightly different experience – the anticipation was at an all time high.

Charlotte is pleased to share that this ride didn’t disappoint. With an addictive soundtrack, incredible set pieces, stunning animatronics and an easy-to-follow story, it really does tick all the dark ride boxes for her. A phenomenal experience.

European Theme Park Trip: The Lows

Caravanning

We mentioned earlier that we had a few early set backs in our trip and one of them was the accommodation.

In an attempt to save money we’d booked what seemed to be a simple, but functional, caravan near the Holland/Germany border.

Anyway, it turns out that the caravan life isn’t really for us. When we arrived at 5pm the reception was shut, along with all the facilities, which didn’t give the best start.

To top it all off when we finally got in the caravan it wasn’t clean, we locked ourselves out and had to climb through the window, had to ward off a fair few flies, the bed was like a plank of wood and it stunk of smoke and stale food.

On the ferry I’d had some bad news that my family dog of 14 years had to be put to sleep. In hindsight, this probably affected my initial reaction to the caravan which I’ll happily admit was completely negative. I honestly hated every inch of it.

In the end we stuck it out for the night but made the decision to check out the next day and book hotels for the rest of our trip. It took what was supposed to be a budget trip and tripled the cost which just wasn’t good planning on our part.

We expected the caravan to be basic but comfortable and hadn’t done our research. At the end of the day you get what you pay for, and we should have opened our wallet strings a bit further from the off.

Variety of food

This is another thing that’s probably more to do with our bad planning but we didn’t eat particularly well this trip.

With the delights of the Disney Dining Plan of 2018 still fairly fresh in our mind, I was all ready to experience some more great theme park food.

But alas, it didn’t really work out that way.

Sure, Phantasialand has some really good options but everywhere else (including the city of Bruges) left us feeling a bit flat. I’m sure Efteling has good food options, we just unfortunately didn’t find them this time.

It was pretty much the same story outside the parks too. We spent two nights eating supermarket snacks in our room and with the exception of a delicious pizza, were unimpressed with the options in Bruges. Again, totally bad planning on our part and this is something I’d spend much more time researching if I was to do it again.

Shout out, however, to the jambalaya in the Africa area of Phantasialand which was delicious.

The big coasters at Efteling

We were aware when we added it to our itinerary that Efteling wasn’t a park to visit for thrills.

But we did think the coaster line-up looked interesting and were both super sure that Baron 1898 – Efteling’s VERY highly themed B&M dive coaster – was going to knock our socks off.

In the end we left feeling very meh about all but two of the coasters in this park.

Sure, the theming on Baron is gorgeous – and it is an imposing figure as you enter that area of the park – but the queue line is uninspired and the ride lacks any kind of force. The wooden racing coaster Joris en de Draak looked awesome but was shut during out say, and the less said about the lift hill on Python the better.

We both loved Vliegende Hollander but that was because of the dark ride section, not the coaster which was pretty average. In fact, the biggest hit for us both was the Vekoma indoor family coaster Vogel Rok which was very well themed, fast and fun.

We had mixed feelings about Efteling but it’s a park I’m starting to appreciate more in my memory. It’s not about big thrills, and a day probably isn’t enough to explore all the magical touches that make it one of the best theme parks in Europe. I suppose we’ll just have to go back and discover more.

Not enough time

I hinted at this in the point above but with only four nights on land in Europe, we had to pack a lot in to very little time.

We didn’t see any of the shows in any of the parks, have many re-rides, get to explore the fairytale forest in Efteling or visit many of the big cities near the parks.

Although this was a cheap trip, I do wish we’d left some space in the budget to spend a bit more time in each destination. This is our fault for pretty poor planning so I guess it’s a word of advice for you if you ever do a trip like this; don’t miss out on seeing some of the cities and countries these parks are located in.

So there you have it, the hits and misses of our European trip. Have you every been to these parks, what are your hits and misses?

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