13 top theme parks and the coolest 'coasters in each this summer
Rock n' rollercoasters!
From toddlers to grown-ups, Mark Evans looks at what’s new - or just downright scary - in parks near and far.
Walt Disney World, Orlando, USA
As big as San Francisco, WDW is worth one pilgrimage in your lifetime. Where else can you meet Mickey Mouse in the morning, go on a real safari in the afternoon and ride your own speedboat in the evening?
What’s new: If you like Soarin’, where your seat lifts high up as you watch sky-high video footage of California, you’ll love Soarin’ Around The World, with attractions such as the Great Wall of China now featuring.
What’s fast: Plenty of coasters, but Mission: Space, above, is something different. You have a space module (subject to gut-wrenching centrifugal forces) and hit 2.5G — two and a half times our normal gravity before (hopefully) landing on Mars.
What’s for kids: A no-brainer. Spinning tea cups, Dumbo the elephant planes and the lovely Peter Pan ride over old London. A week isn’t enough.
Universal Studios, Orlando, USA
Disney’s near neighbour is nowhere as big, but it packs in a hell of a lot of more grown-up, and terrifying, rides. And it’s home to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, with a recreated Hogsmeade village and Hogwarts castle.
What’s new: Skull Island: Reign of Kong. The hush hush ride opens this summer, so expect CGI Kongs and giant spiders on a scary ride.
What’s fast: Pretty much everything. But my personal favourite is the Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit. You’ve got personal headsets to choose your own song — I recommend I Will Survive — as you go around the looping 1,200-metre track at 105km/h.
What’s for kids: It’s got Minions everywhere, plus Transformers, a Simpsons ride and a nicely themed and really colourful Dr Seuss area.
Phantasialand, Cologne, Germany
Possibly the best theme park you’ve never heard of. Beautifully themed (the Chinese area is just like the real thing), while there’s also a cute, 1920s Berlin zone.
What’s new: The tightly guarded Taron coaster, which is tipped to have a record-breaking number of twists and turns.
What’s fast: Not fast, but definitely cruel, is the Mexican-style Talocan, above. Your seated group is lifted up in the air, inverted at height before flames are aimed in your general direction. Nuts.
What’s for kids: Chairoplanes, flying frogs, little boats and carousels. Plenty to keep going.
Busch Gardens, Tampa, USA
Part safari, part theme park, a great attraction for families visiting Florida’s picturesque Gulf Coast.
What’s new: Cobra’s Curse. Your coaster climbs 20 metres before coming face to face with a giant snake — before you’re flung around a track for three and a half minutes.
What’s fast: Sheikra. Definitely designed by someone with a nasty streak, you climb 60 metres up to the edge of a track. And then stop. And then drop — at 112km/h. This one creeped me out!
Drayton Manor, Tamworth, England
A handy one-stop shop, featuring theme park rides, a huge kiddies’ area as well as coasters.
What’s new: The Haunting ghost house ride has gotten a huge revamp, with multimedia effects, so it’s even scarier for all ages.
What’s fast: Shockwave — unusual in that it’s a stand-up coaster, so 80km/h feels a lot faster.
What’s for kids: Plenty. There’s a gentle Ben 10 coaster, and a dedicated Thomas Land, filled with Thomas the Tank Engine rides.
Portaventura, Salou, Spain
The biggest resort in southern Europe, a Disney-scale mega site with an array of themed areas, from Mexican to Chinese and Mediterranean.
What’s new: Next year is when the big news happens — the opening of Europe’s Ferrari Land at the resort.
What’s fast: Too many to mention — but Furius Baco, where you’re catapulted from zero to 135km/h in just three seconds, is something else.
What’s for kids: Not left out, they’ve got Wild West trains, boats, swirling tea cups and playgrounds.
Europa Park, Black Forest, Germany
One of the continent’s most popular parks, it’s got a country-by-country theme, with an England land, Spanish area, Iceland area and so on, all filled with high-octane coasters plus fjord-rafting boats and jousting shows for all the family.
What’s new: Virtual reality is big news, with two rides featuring headsets.
What’s fast: The BlueFire Megacoaster has some power — from zero to 100km/h in 2.5 seconds, and four full loops where you’ll hit 3.8G.
What’s for kids: Plenty of themed areas — and look out for the new Ireland area. Fittingly, it’s rain-resistant, with plenty of indoor fun for smaller children.
Disneyland Paris, France
Europe’s giant, it’s got everything you want in its two parks, and easily managed over a weekend too.
What’s new: The Jedi Academy is open a few months, where kids up to 12 can learn the ways of The Force. (Watch out for stormtroopers).
What’s fast: For pure acceleration, the Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster is hard to beat. A three-second countdown and then zero to 85km/h in 2.8 seconds. The first, head-creasing inversion hits a crazy 4.5G.
What’s for kids: Meeting Mickey or Minnie for breakfast, seeing the Toy Story soldiers in a parade or riding the vintage train. This year sees the Frozen summer, with Elsa and Anna in the Magic Kingdom.
Ferrari World, Abu Dhabi
The UAE is primed for new theme parks in the coming years, but Abu Dhabi already has the world’s largest indoor theme park (big enough to see from your plane when landing in Abu Dhabi). There are enough Ferraris here to keep even the Top Gear boys happy.
What’s new: The biplane-themed Flying Aces, boasting the world’s tallest loop — a scary 63 metres high.
What’s fast: Boys and girls, the fastest coaster in the world — Formula Rossa. Adding to the intensity and expectation, you’ll be given safety goggles to wear as your racing car goes from standing still to 240km/h in 4.9 seconds. Faster than an Formula 1 car in fact.
Seaworld, Orlando, USA
One of Orlando’s biggest attractions, it’s best known as the place for close-up encounters with sting rays or penguins, but its coasters are some of the best around.
What’s new: Mako, left, is launching this year and will be Orlando’s fastest and longest ride, travelling nearly a kilometre and a half at up to 120km/h.
What’s fast: My all-time favourite, Manta. You’re strapped in, your car faces forward and you have the feeling of flying at 90km/h, getting splashed with water as you approach a pool and pull some serious Gs — the first, at 3.7G — is a face squisher and a half.
What’s for kids: Paddle boats on the lake, the Antarctica expedition (mild version), a trip up the 400-foot sky tower or, for the daring, a walk down the sharks tunnel.
Six Flags Magic Mountain, California, USA
With a world-beating 19 coasters, this bills itself as the thrill capital of the world. If there’s one go-to theme park on Earth to be terrified, this is it.
What’s new: If normal coasters aren’t terrifying enough, the latest — The New Revolution — makes you wear a virtual reality headset, so you’re immersed in air-to-air combat while riding a 90-foot loop. Nuts.
What’s fast: Goliath is a monster. A 77-metre drop at 136km/h, dipping through tunnels and hitting 4.5G — worse than a space shuttle launch. Don’t have lunch first.
What’s for kids: Even the children have their own coasters here, including the steam engine-themed Magic Flyer and Looney Tunes-styled rides such as Yosemite Sam’s Flight School, with little merry-go-round planes.
Tivoli Gardens, Denmark
Based in the heart of the Danish capital, it’s arguably the world’s prettiest theme park — so nice, in fact, that it’s said to have inspired Walt Disney to recreate it in America.
What’s new: Fatamorgana. The three-in-one ride features bumper cars at the bottom for kids, and above a gentle gondola ride up the tower and not-so-gentle floorless ride (on the same tower) where you’re flung around at a height, hitting 2.5G.
What’s fast: Giant arms swing riders (sitting in tiny planes) around at 100km/h (those kids in the picture are upside down), hitting 5G. Not called Vertigo for nothing.
What’s for kids: Flying Trunk fairytale journey, carousel, mini rides and a world-beating park.
Duinrell Park, Holland
Handily situated beside a big campsite, Duinrell’s also an easy day trip from Amsterdam. It’s all about family fun with a good mix of thrill rides and kiddie amusements.
What’s new: Wild Wings, where 12 mini planes are attached to a giant arm. Twenty-two metres up, you control your own plane and can complete up to 40 rolls in a minute, hitting 2.7G.
What’s fast: The Falcon’s where it’s at — a top speed of 70km/h, three loops and a steeper-than-vertical 97 degree drop.
What’s for kids: Plenty. Bumper boats, carousels, indoor and outdoor playgrounds, it’s well set up for all ages.