Tag Archives: theme parks

The ABCs of Cologne: Day 2 – Phantasialand

Hands up time. There was one big reason for Cologne ending up at the top of the list for this experiment in a post-COVID(ish) mini break. Their name is Phantasialand and I have been craving a visit to a theme park. Could I have gone local? Sure, but it is infinitely more fun this way. 

The trip there was pretty painless via a train and a shuttle bus. I am being very specific about this and will get back to that later. Much like our trip to Europa Park, we got there before the attractions got going, which allowed for a little bit of an explore before picking our first ride.

List Item: Visit 25 Amusement Parks
Progress: 18/25

The thing that is really striking about Phantasialand is just how all in they have gone for their theming. In terms of square footage, this isn’t too big a park and you can cross it in little over five minutes. However, there isn’t an inch in the themed areas where they haven’t tried to make it better. Whether that be a lamppost in a specific area looking like a robot frog or a bit of region specific vegetation. 

It’s also pretty cool how much some of their bigger rides form the scenery. When you are in the medieval themed mystery area, both of the area’s roller coasters are rattling around you as you look for a drink or a bathroom. This was especially cool in the steampunk Rookburgh area, where the rollercoaster just works as extra scenery. 

Rather than talk about the visit in chronological order, let’s continue with the themes. If you are looking for a part with an excellent selection of thrill rides, then Phantasialand is the park for you. Even the river rapids ride, usually a gentler ride, has some extreme drops and leaves you totally sodden. It’s a good thing that it was 27 and sunny today, else I would have gotten the trench foot. 

There are so many coasters here that it would take ages to talk about them all, so let’s talk highlights. As a one of a kind experience, F.L.Y. ranks as one of the most extraordinary rides I’ve been on. This is as close as I will come to feeling like I am actually flying. Its little wonder that they included ankle supports, else you’d probably hurt something and it would ruined the experience. 

Then there is Taron, this is the signature coaster of Phantasialand for a reason. It is an amazingly done thrill ride to the point where I was so adrenaline fueled that, much like when I rode the T Express, I fell into a giggling fit. Albeit a worse one this time; took me a very long time to stop laughing. 

Whilst not a coaster, Chiapas is worth a special mention for how to do a well themed and original log flume. We even bought the photo from the kiosk afterward, that’s how much fun we had. 

I could go on about the rides as we pretty much rode all the ones we wanted to. This was another trip like Europa Park or Hong-Kong Disneyland, whilst not empty we rarely had to queue more than 5-10 minutes to get on a ride. In fact so many of them, including Black Mamba (one of their major coasters) we just walked straight on. 

As spoilt as this sounds – this was too much of a good thing. I don’t think my insides had any idea what was going on. Usually you have these 20-60 minutes between rides to get the inner ear back in order, here we were able to do 4-5 rides an hour. Which was amazing, but also took its toll as both of us got to about 4pm and our synapses had all but fired out. 

When we did take breaks, they were good ones. There is a foccacia stall where Mexico and Berlin worlds meet, the food of which was great. Looked good, smelt goods and got all over my face as I tucked in. We even had time to take in one of the shows – Nobis. Ignoring the sudden appearance of a Gangsta’s Paradise cover, it was the kind of a circus skills show that fits well into a theme park day. 

The only downside to the park was the lack of more chilled out rides that weren’t just for young children. Even those they had didn’t meet the standard of the thrill rides. The ghost train needs to be scrapped, its clearly ancient and doesn’t completely function anymore. The shooter game had a really cute theme around rats in a bakery, but the 3D glasses gimmick with the pastry bag guns you had to repeatedly pull and release just didn’t work for me. 

Still though, Phantasialand is truly a world class theme park. The theming and thrill ride count are amazing. If you are there with young children, there is also slot for them to have fun with. Would definitely recommend it to someone who likes amusement parks. 

Rather than head straight for the station, we went for a turn about the gardens of Brühl Castle. Well, think its more a palace, but I don’t name these things. After all the high-octane of the amusement park, this was a nice change of pace and relaxed us to deal with the travel problems getting back. 

You see, we ended up waiting for nearly two hours for a train that is meant to be half-hourly. There was issues thank to a mix of engineering works and a forest fire, so passenger trains were being stealth cancelled or drastically delayed for the sake of the freight trains. This would have been more manageable if the station had bothered to mention any thing – instead it was radio silence as the platform got fuller and fuller. 

Luckily there’s another way to get back to Cologne on public transport, it just takes longer and requires a hike across town. Which we did, and thank God because it turns out we arrived before any train from Brühl. It was actually kind of nice taking the light railway through Cologne’s suburbs, but we arrived tired. 

Neither of us could stomach being all social in a restaurant, so bought filled pretzels and some hot sandwiches from the station and topped them up with some Lays and Mezzo Mix from a nearby supermarket. Tomorrow should prove to be quieter as we are actually remaining in Cologne. But first a lot of sleep. 


Honk Honk Hong Kong: Day 8 – Disneyland Hong Kong

It is the day before the people of Hong Kong are due to vote in the district council elections. In the lead up to this holiday, where we tried to extrapolate the increase in protests and police violence, we figured that this would not be the best day to be spent in the city itself. This is why we opted to spend this particular day in Disneyland, as it is both outside the city and not too far from the airport.

Like all theme park lovers, we wanted to ensure that we were there for opening so, since we had packed the night before, the alarm was going at 8 and we were out the door within the hour. Similar to Seoul’s main rail station, there is a service in Hong Kong where you can pre-check in your bags for your flight and then swan off to do other things as long as you buy the airport express ticket. In Hong Kong, however, the number of airlines is far more expansive, which is how were able to jettison our check-in luggage and not bring it all the way to Disney. Our hand luggage could always be sorted by one of the lockers in Disneyland itself.

In order to get to Disneyland using public transport, one of the easiest ways is to use the MTR system. If you look on the map, there is a special Disneyland Resort line coloured in bubblegum pink which connects to the same yellow line that you use to visit the Big Buddha. The trains themselves have Mickey Mouse head shaped windows and handles. There are also some themed statuettes inside the coaches, which makes the whole thing feel exceedingly special.

Of course, we arrived a bit before the park opened, but that just gave us time to eat the breakfast we purchased from some MTR bakeries. It’s a good thing we have some great Chinese bakeries in London, else I really would miss these. Mine was the pork floss and cheese bun, which filled me so much that my husband got the whole pineapple bun to himself.

List Item: Visit 25 Amusement Parks
Progress: 17/25

Then it arrived, the park was open, we were walking in and (somewhat predictably) I was crying. There was so much tension going into this holiday because of all the goings on and the violence that the choice was risk it or say goodbye to the money. At that moment, standing at the gates of Disneyland, I knew we’d made the right choice as it’s been a great holiday and now I was going to be closing out Disneyland for the final day.

This is the fourth Disney location that I have been to (after Orlando, Paris and Tokyo) and, as primary Disney parks go, I believe that this is the smallest in size and, possibly, in terms of the volume of rides. However, this in no way impeded our day here at Hong Kong Disneyland which was comparatively empty for a Disney park and so we pretty much walked onto every ride that we wanted to get on.

The idea of going to a Disneyland without queues, or minimal queues, feels like the dream of an eight-year-old, but that’s what we lived today. Thanks to this, we pretty much rode everything in the park that we wanted in under four hours, including some rides that we’d never have gotten around to otherwise.

We started in Fantasyland and immediately made for the Winnie the Pooh ride because of the bad memories of the massive queues back in Tokyo. This isn’t the same sort of semi-independent honey pot ride as in Tokyo, instead it’s one of the more traditional dark rides that takes you through some of the events of the 1970s Winnie the Pooh film.

After this was a ride upon the Flying Dumbos, mainly because of an article I read the night before talking about 50 minute queues for this ride, so thought it a good idea to get this in just in case there was a late influx of patrons. It was nice to be able to share this ride that I loved as a young kid with my husband, before today the queue length was never quite worth the pay off.

Next it was time for a classic – It’s A Small World. This opens a bit after the rest of the park, which is how we ended up being in the front row of the first boat going through the ride. It’s pretty similar to the other iterations of the ride from around the world, but I think this is the first time where I have seen Disney characters mixed in with the regular dolls.

With Fantasyland done for now, we turned our attention to the practically deserted Toy Story Land. This is becoming a fairly common land around different parks, but this is the first time I’ve actually seen it done. I love these movies and I love how bringing them to life as a world gives a more colourful and cheery take on Honey I Shrunk the Kids. We rode two of the three rides here (Slinky Dog Spin and Toy Soldier Parachute Drop) with us avoiding the third as its a take on the banana boat ride and those make me feel nauseated.

Skipping through an area, lead us to the Grizzly Gulch which is based on old prospecting times and also contains my favourite ride of the park – Big Grizzly Mountain. This is the closest that the park has to a runaway train and is one of the rare Disney rides that managed to surprise me on the first ride. We ended up riding this four times over the course of the day, the best ride being the final one that we did after the sun had set and a lot of the track was in darkness.

There’s a mini area between Grizzly Gulch and Toy Story Land which houses the Mystic Manor. Since, culturally, the concept of a Haunted Mansion doesn’t quite translate for the local Hong Kong/mainland Chinese audience, this ride was dreamt up instead. The concept is a tour of an eccentric explorer’s collection of curios that have come to life after his monkey friend has unleashed the magic housed in a music box.

My description sounds a bit odd, but the Disney Imagineers built an engrossing world here. Also, this ride uses the trackless cart technology from Tokyo’s Winnie the Pooh ride, which means the four carts from the same group experience the same ride rather differently. This is how we ended up riding this three times over the course of the day, just so we could see it from all perspectives.

Now, it wouldn’t be Christmas in Disney without some sort of a Christmas show. There’s a few throughout the day, but we caught an early afternoon one which featured swing and rock and roll covers of Christmas classics. Of course this featured the main Disney characters, Donald Duck stealing the spotlight as always, as well as characters that are more specific to the Asian parks. The sun was so hot that it felt like we were cooking, which is an odd sensation as you watch Chip and Dale dancing to ‘Rockin Around the Christmas Tree’.

The penultimate land we visited was Adventureland. This is one of those lands that doesn’t change too much depending on the park you’re visiting, but with some names changed here and there. For example, the Swiss Family Robinson treehouse has been branded into a Tarzan treehouse because that makes sense for an audience mainly composed of Gen Xs and younger.

You also have the Jungle Cruise, which is cute enough but really depends on how engaging your cast member guide is and how much the kids in the group go with it. The guide we got was excellent, she was armed with a long list of one-liners that just flew off the cuff like nobody’s business. The ride itself is fine, but it’s sometimes nice to just get a chance to sit down and do something a bit more chill.

Time for lunch, and I heard that the best place to go was The Explorer’s Club near the Mystic Manor. Well, we were not steered wrong with it’s beautifully varied decor (each room is decked out with a few replicas of different culture’s artefacts) and food from four different Asian cuisines. In the end I went for the nasi goreng which, as the picture shows was ginormous, looked stunning and tasted really good. This did not feel like the sort of food you would get in a theme park.

This leads us to the final land: Tomorrowland. This land is traditionally the one that myself and the hub finish the day on, but we still had five hours left in the park so ended up here a bit ahead of schedule. This is the only land in the park where you can see the encroaching of Disney’s recent franchise takeovers with Marvel getting two rides and Star Wars having one.

The Star Wars ride is Space Mountain – now branded as Hyperspace Mountain. I’m not exactly a Star Wars fan, but the theming makes sense and actually lends a story to the Space Mountain ride. This ride will always hold a special place in my heart as I had to have my leg length checked in Tokyo Disneyland as they were unsure whether I’d be able to adequately fold up. It is also traditionally the final ride of the day that my husband and I do at a Disney park. Which is what we did, on our fourth ride of the day where we also rode in the front of the train.

The other rides we did in Tomorrowland were the Iron Man Experience, which was an okay take on a simulation ride, and the Ant-Man and the Wasp Nano Battle. The latter ride is a re-skinning of the wider Buzz Lightyear blaster ride to something a bit less cartoony, but this one comes with videos of Paul Rudd which is an improvement to any ride out there. Ended up riding this twice because I love blaster rides and, in the end we had half a day to fill up with repeat rides.

Like I said, the park was emptyish which meant we ended up with a lot of time to re-ride everything we liked. Amongst these repeats, we also had time to take in both of the Disney parades.

The first was the Flights of Fantasy parade which was meant to have an ‘up in the air’ theme, but that only really applied to the minority of floats after the initial Mickey and Winnie the Pooh ones. Still a lot of fun though and it was cool to see Lilo and Stitch represented here.

Our Disney day finished on the second and better of the parades: Disney Paint the Night. Watching a parade like this with all the costuming and the different mechanisms at play really make me wish that someone would do a documentary taking you from the initial conception to the eventual running of one of these parades.

The fact that you have, one after the other, these beautiful candelabra-based ballroom outfits followed by a massive light-up Slinky Dog with moving eyes and spinning glow discs for springs just shows the variation of thought on display here. It just helps to cap off what was just a perfect day at Disney and a wonderful set of memories to end this trip to Hong Kong on.

And with this final dinner of assorted roasted meats at the airport, that’s this holiday over with. Next comes the 13 hour flight and the further trip home which will need to be navigated at 5am British time. As I write this, with the passenger next to me dressed in a full Parker and trying to nap on their tray table, I am not relishing the rest of this upcoming journey. Just hope that tomorrow’s me can forgive me for staying up so late to write this.

Honk Honk Hong Kong: Day 6 – Ocean Park

Despite its size, Hong Kong boasts two substantial theme parks. There’s Hong Kong Disneyland, which I’ll be visiting on my final day, and then there’s today’s destination; Hong Kong’s very own Ocean Park. Thanks to the South Island line stopping directly outside, there was only 18 minutes between my hotel room and some theme park fun and frolics – with a stop for breakfast of course.

Now, with these two buns I think I have now crossed off everything major from my “what to eat in Hong Kong” list. First there’s the pork bun, a classic and always a pleasure when the meat-to-bun ratio is in your favour. Then there is the Pineapple bun, a local specialty with a hard cracked sugar topping that tastes nothing of pineapple, but just looks the part. Perfect way to start the day really.

List Item: Visit 25 Amusement Parks
Progress: 16/25

Like with Everland, Ocean Park is part zoo and part theme park (which, given the size of Hong Kong, makes sense). It is also split into two sections because of topography, which means you have the Waterfront and the Summit areas, which are connected by a scenic cable car and an underground funicular. These different factors make Ocean Park a pretty unique visit and a varied one at that. Also, they were playing Christmas songs all day, which felt very weird given the differently themed areas.

Since it’s the closest to the entrance, our first visit was to the Grand Aquarium. It’s one of many aquaria in the theme park, but this is the one without any certain theme other than “here’s some fish”. Lots of different sea life here including spider crabs, a tower of milk fish, octopus and all matter of tropical fish. You also had a whole room with different types of seahorse and the overarching educational message that these should not be used for medicine when other things work better and are sustainable.

Next was a building referred to as the Hong Kong Jockey Club Sichuan Treasures. This large building contains two types of animal. Firstly there’s the oldest panda currently in captivity who, at time of writing, was 33. It was nice to see a panda just wandering around and being bear-like, especially an old gent like himself. Next to him were the Golden snub-nosed monkeys – including a baby who was born this year. I first saw some of these in Everland and, like now, find them so strange to look at. However, I did fall for Little Peanut (the baby) who was swinging everywhere and annoying their parents.

In the next park area, titled Amazing Asian Animals, you get even more animals to enjoy – including the two current breeding pandas at the zoo who were both asleep leaning on boxes. There are also exhibits featuring red pandas, Chinese alligators, otters and a strangely interesting room continuing many different breeds of goldfish. I’m ignorant in the way of the goldfish, but I had no idea there were so many variations.

Since the Emerald Trail was closed, we made a visit to the Adventures in Australia exhibit – containing wallabies, kookaburras and a rather obese koala before getting in the only queue that we were going to experience today – the one for the cable car.

When you come to Ocean Park, the one attraction that you absolutely have to do is the cable car. Not just because it’s one of the two ways to visit the other park (because the funicular is more efficient), but because the views you get en route are spectacular. Like, the type of beautiful where I was compelled to tell the seascape to “shut up” because it was being so beautiful. We ended up doing this trip twice, because when you are at Ocean Park when everything has next-to-no lines you ride the cable car twice.

The Summit level of Ocean Park is where you find the vast majority of the rides, a bunch of them were shut for upgrades (the perils of off-season) but we got in a bunch of the available ones. First was the rapids ride in the rainforest area, as those tend to be my favourite kind of rides. We strolled straight onto a tube and both got summarily soaked since, as my husband put it, “this ride cheated” when it comes to getting you wet as there are jets spraying directly at the riders. Still a lot of fun though.

We finished off the rainforest zone by looking at the animals in the Expedition Trail area – including electric eels, frogs and the most satisfied looking iguana that I have ever laid my eyes on. They also had a few arapaima, which are the largest freshwater fish in the world and look like something out of Jurassic Park.

Since we’d both dried off a bit, it was time to scratch the roller coaster itch by riding the two that were not currently under maintenance (sadly the other two were closed). First was the gentler of the two, the Arctic Blast. We managed to stroll on and get underway almost straight away. It’s one of those coasters that is a good in between to make sure you don’t accidentally bring your kid on a particularly rough one (the uncontrollable crying of the girl in Everland still makes me laugh).

Then there was the Hair Raiser, whose Luna Park inspired facade gives off a ‘can’t sleep, clowns will eat me’ kind of a vibe. As with the other coaster, we got on straight away and the experience was so extremely joyful and full of g-force that it left us both with smiles and headaches. Time to take a rest from the rides and head for the highlight of the day.

List Item: See a walrusStatus: Completed

I love walruses. You very rarely see them in captivity and the closest I’d ever seen one was in a Seaworld show when I was 10. So, to say that my reaction to seeing two of these beautiful animals swimming an arms reach away was a bit extreme is… well I cried. I managed to keep myself together to not go completely ridiculous, but I was very obviously overwhelmed and so stood there staring and snapping pictures for an inordinate amount of time. Towards the end of the day, there was a walrus feeding demonstration so we returned and I videoed the whole thing.

We finished up in this section by seeing the other polar animals on display – spotted seals, arctic foxes and three types of penguin. The Gentoo Penguins were especially interesting as it looked like they were in the process of nesting, so the male Gentoos were gaily running around gathering pebbles and bringing them back to their partner. So very very cute.

Two more rides (on the Rev Booster and the Whirly Bird) and then we went back to the lower level via cable car in order to get lunch. Since we had a two for one code, we grabbed a rather delicious sausage before settling down with some dumplings and dan dan noodles. Apparently, this vendor in the park is mentioned in the Michelin guide, which is really cool for an affordable food stand in a theme park.

We went back to the summit via the Jules Verne inspired Ocean Express tram and took in some more of the aquaria. First was the small one dedicated to Chinese sturgeon, then there was the better shark-themed one. So many things are better with rays and sharks, and this aquarium had quite a few of them. I ended up becoming especially fixated on the guitarfish and the sawfish. Sometimes it’s just amazing to see these oddities swim.

By this point it was nearly an hour to closing, so we watched the walruses being fed, had a second go on both roller coasters and bought some souvenirs before heading out. Our eight hours really flew by, but that wasn’t it for the day.

We’d always intended to go back up The Peak at night during our final full day, but geographically this just worked perfectly – so that’s just what we did. Only this time, we paid the extra 50HKD to go to the main viewing platform and made sure to get as much use out of it as our increasingly colder selfs could.

The uniqueness of Hong Kong’s geography and building density really makes for some incredible views from high vantage points. Also, at this point of view, everything is this futuristic metropolis – which is a stark contrast to the view I got from Sky 100 which showed some of the less attractive buildings in Kowloon. This particular platform also gave me the weird association between this night view and a photographer repeatedly ravaging a rubber chicken in order to get a smile from a child. I don’t know what to do with that.

Dinner ended up being a bit odd thanks to a curiosity of mine to try food from Filipino fast food chain Jollibee. I’ve seen them mentioned online before, and I heard the episode of Doughboys where it received low scores. Still though I was curious enough to get a combo meal of the Aloha burger and their spaghetti and was pleasantly surprised. Especially by the spaghetti which, at first, looked really suspect but ended up tasting really good. Even if we did have to eat it with spoons.

Tomorrow is the last technical full day (the day after, we fly out at just before midnight) and it’s going to be a bit of a weird round up day. There’s things we never got around to because of the protests and police brutalities requiring rescheduling, but tomorrow should make for an interesting one.

Two Weeks in South Korea: Day 12 – A Day of Contrast

I think that today might go down as one of the more weirdly contrasting activities day that I have done on a holiday. I’m certainly struggling to think of another off the top of my head. It’s one of those interesting days that can only happen when you have a massive to see list and you end up playing Time Tetris and seeing what combinations work. Also helps if you’re staying in a city where such varied activities are available.

Prior to today, the same evening we found out another the Korail strike actually, we received an email from the tour company that we booked with that the DMZ was just closed because of an outbreak of African Swine Flu. We were later told that, depending on the severity, this might stay closed for up to a year. However, they had an opening on another tour to the Military Demarkation Line (MDL), so we jumped on that.

List item: Visit 100 of the Lonely Planet’s Ultimate Travelist
Progress: 88/100Sight: North Korea’s DMZ
Location: South Korea
Position: #195

Right, so I know that this isn’t 100% what was meant when this was added to the Lonely Planet list, but I believe that I’ve completed it in terms of the spirit of its inclusion. So, what did we do?

After an hours trip out of Seoul, where our excellent tour guide gave an in depth recap of the situation between the two Koreas and of the developments in the last few years, we arrived at Imjingak. On the way, we managed to catch our first glimpse of North Korea from the window of the coach as we drove along the river. That alone was surreal, but to be at Imjingak and see the remains of the semi-destroyed Freedom Bridge (where prisoners of war were exchanged in the Korean War) firmly put more of a human element to the stories.

Also at Imjingak were a train and railway line, both destroyed during the Korean War and now sat there as a symbol of the severed connection between two nations that had been joined for a millennium. There was also an alter to allow Koreans separated from their family members or hometowns in the north to perform Confucian rites that they are unable to complete normally.

From here we went to Odu Mountain Unification Observatory, which allows you to see an actual North Korean village over the border. The observatory itself stands on a mountain that overlooks an are where rivers from both North and South Korea converge before heading out to sea – quite a metaphor in that. Using the binoculars there you can see the village in closer detail including a Kim Jong Il memorial and houses, some with incomplete roofs. However, it was clear enough that I saw something I didn’t quite bargain.

People. The weather was good enough that we could see actual North Koreans walking down the roads going about their lives. The whole thing really did have the threat of feeling like an exercise in anthropology, but seeing those North Koreans walking the roads of the farmland made all of this ridiculously real. Not that it didn’t since I’ve been in South Korea for nearly a fortnight, but suddenly North Korea was less an abstraction and more flesh, blood and earth. Gave me a lot to think about on the ride home.

Our final stop on the tour was at the Korea War Museum and, by extension, the War Memorial of Korea. I think that if our tour guide hadn’t been so thorough in her explanations, and that we hadn’t already learned about the previous wars in Korea thanks to visits to Gyeongju and the National Museum of Korea, we might have found this museum a lot more interesting to walk through. But, hey, it’s another example of a free South Korean museum and so we made sure to give it a proper walkthrough.

Also here, as I said earlier, are war memorials to those who lost their lives as part of the Korean War. These memorials are very affecting, especially all the tablets listing the names of the fallen from all over the world. Also, in front of the museum there is a plaza where they fly all the flags of the nations who supported South Korea in their fight after the North invaded in the 1950s. Such a diverse group including nations from all the continents. It’s very humbling and really heightens the contrast between the first and second half of the day.

First though, lunch. We hadn’t eaten anything (or really drunk anything) and it was two in the afternoon. Where the hub got a rather nice looking bulgogi rice bowl, I fancied noodles and went for something that was just translated as “Traditional Korean Noodles”. I’m sure that isn’t what was written in Hangeul, but it was delicious so I’m not complaining.

List Item: Visit 25 Amusement Parks
Progress: 15/25

And here we are at pretty much the opposite of a North Korean in a field: Lotte World. This is the largest indoor theme park in the world, but more on that in a bit. As it’s close to Halloween, the exterior section of Lotte World (called Magic Island) turns into a zombie invasion after sunset. So, since zombies freak me out, we wanted to cross this off before it got dark.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to notice that the similarities with the Magic Island having a castle in the centre much like Disney’s Magic Kingdom, but that’s the kind of blatancy that I live for. As this is the outside park, this area includes one of their major roller coasters (where I was over the maximum allowed height, much to my disappointment) and a few vertical drop rides. All this adds up to us only really wanting to try out one ride – the underground rotating roller coaster called Comet Express. We were spinning and being flung around like nobody’s business. It was so much fun.

We had a wander around the rest of the Magic Island admiring the decorations and drinking a blood bag full of some sort of strawberry-flavoured liquid before heading inside and getting to know the five floors of the indoors-park. The best way that I can describe it is like the sort of theme park I end up making in management simulation games, as in things seem piled together and somehow it works really well as a park concept.

Our plan of attack was simple, we had limited time here so we were going to start at the top and try and hit all the rides we were interested in. Beginning on the 4th floor, we got in a pretty long queue for the Pharoah’s Fury. It was here where it hit me just how much care had been put into the theming for these attractions. I mean, the queuing area for this dark rides was filled with replicas of Egyptian treasures and the walls with their own take on Egyptian carvings. It was really cool.

Next we boarded the Aeronaut’s Balloon Ride because I wanted to get some good photos from the top of the park and because the balloons looked so cute just going around the edge of the park that I just wanted to be in one, fear of heights be damned.

Being up this high really brought home just how huge this park actually was and how many things I actually wanted to try before it closed. Luckily. After these thirst three initial rides, we didn’t have to queue for anything else for much more than 5-10 minutes. Granted that’s because we decided to give the inside roller coaster a miss, but we weren’t really feeling it anyway.

We ended up riding the river rapids Jungle Adventure and the Fly Venture (which was their version of the Voletarium from Europa Park, but with a lovely fantastical setting) rides before making our way to the centre for the parade.

Following the lead of other parks, this after sunset parade was an illumination parade with lanterns controlled by drones, floats, puppets, dancers and some surprising inside fireworks coming from the castle in the centre. Although on a smaller scale than other parades, because of the restrictions of being inside and having the parade take place on a floor above visitors, this was so well done and made us look forward to what they would do as a closing performance.

We did two more rides – a shooting game called Dragons Wild Shooting and a simulator called Wild Jungle that has you driving through the jungle and having all matter of things happen to you – before grabbing a hot dog from one of the many food vendors. Trying to stay Korean somehow, I went with the dak gulbi dog, which had spicy chicken as a topping. It was really good and gave me the energy for the rest if the evening.

Time was marching on, so we bought a gift for our niece and I got a keychain for my collection as well as doing two repeat rides of our favourite indoor attractions – the extra ride on the rapids being extra cool as they gave us our own tube so we were able to go through the ride again with just the two of us.

The finale show wasn’t at all what we expected, but it was pretty marvellous to see. Rather than a more traditional light show or fireworks (the latter being near impossible because, again, we’re indoors) the show was done by projecting images onto the surface of a section of the park. It’s hard to describe or photograph, but it was very transfixing.

So ends a pretty contrasting day, all possible because of what can be done in Seoul. Tomorrow we’re boots on the ground again as we do our own tour of the many royal palaces of Seoul. Hopefully we’ll be able to hit them all up in a day, else there is always our final full day as a bit of a spillover.

Two Weeks in South Korea: Day 10 – Everland!

Man am I pooped after today. This is technically the second day that we are in Seoul but, once again, we are venturing outside the city. This time it isn’t something of major historical importance but Everland – the biggest amusement park in South Korea and the 14th busiest in the world. If you take a Klook deal, or the like, it’s about an hour outside of Seoul and is worth trying to get as late a return as possible. We were there for 12 hours and whilst I am absolutely knackered, I have had an absolutely incredible day.

List Item: Visit 25 Amusement Parks
Progress: 14/25

Seeing that it is October as I am writing this, Everland has been all kitted out in Halloween decorations. This also means twice daily Halloween parades and food. However, it really kicks off after dark with some rides becoming spooky versions (more on that later) and Halloween shows including a zombie dance show and metal music (although, to be fair, the one we saw did a metal cover of Lady GaGa’s ‘Born This Way’ with a full death growl). I think seeing how a Korean theme park dealt with Halloween stuff has endeared this country to me all the more.

Anyway let’s talk about the day itself. Despite being a Monday, the park was a lot busier than expected with the waiting time for the big roller coaster hitting 150 minutes at one point. This meant that we actually explored a lot of the park before getting onto our first ride of the day – Thunder Falls. In some ways it’s a conventional log flume, which is good to do first in order to have time to dry out, but they actually had the first smaller drop done backwards and then did a fake out about repeating that for the final plunge. I’ve never had that on a log flume before and little unexpected things like that are really made this day exceptional.

It took a long I time before we got to the next ride, because the queues were ridiculous and because Everland also has a zoo and that was set to close five hours before park closing. On the way we shared a snack of peanut butter roasted squid (nice and chewy) and I lived out my odd dream of trying Dippin Dots for the first time.

The zoo area is deceptively large and boasts something that you wouldn’t expect from an amusement park zoo – the countries only pair of pandas. I know, four years ago I had never seen a panda and now I have seen my fifth set (the others being in Tokyo, Vienna, Singapore and Taipei). Both pandas were awake, happily chopping on bamboo and generally acting like they were the monarchs of all they surveyed. To be fair, they’re probably right.

The zoo section, or Zoo Topia as its called, also has an impressive collection of primates (including enough squirrel monkeys that you could fill a barrel) as well as penguins, seals, fennec foxes and tigers. There’s a bunch of animals that we didn’t get a chance to see as they’re part of a time-slotted ride, but we definitely had a good enough time with all the animals out for they general visitors.

I even made some new bird friends in a small section where you could get close to macaws and the really friendly zoo keeper allowed me to hold a bird on my finger. The bird had his eyes on bigger prizes apparently.

After the zoo we finally got our act together over rides and we started off at the second most popular coaster in the park – the Rolling X-Train. I’m not sure this had a theme other than playing instrumentals of 1950s rock and roll songs. Maybe being a roller coaster with two consecutive loops and some substantial corkscrew action means you don’t need to be as themed. Amazing ride.

Since the app told us it was due to close soon (which ended up being not true, that time ended up being for when the ride was going to to be re-skinned as the horror version) we made a beeline for the Amazon Express. This is one of those river rapids tube rides with two noticeable differences. For one the course is very choppy, so they actually Velcro a tarp over you to prevent you from getting totally drenched. Also, rather than being single ring, you are instead in one of six connected pods, like the pie pieces in a game of Trivial Pursuit. Definitely an excellent twist on the standard, plus the ride worker rapping the Korean safety instructions to the beat of the ambient music was a real treat.

By the time we left the ride it was nearly five and we hadn’t really eaten all day. Since my husband was really fancying the look of the premium burgers in the park’s Burger Cafe, that’s where we went. In the end, when in an amusement park sometimes you just want some stereotypical park food and this shrimp burger did a nice job of being both park food and something I wouldn’t find in the UK.

After our meal of the day, we quickly polished off two more rides (two indoor shooters of sorts, the latter one having a twist of being a shooter mixed with madhouse ride) before joining the queue for the big coaster of the park – the T Express. This coaster may be one of the best that I have ever been on and I am not usually the biggest fan of the giant wooden coasters. It goes super fast with a max of 104 km/hr and has an unpredictable amount of drops and turns. I was on such an adrenaline rush afterwards – unlike the little girl sitting behind me who would not stop crying once the cart drew to a standstill.

At this point night had most definitely fallen so we had a proper look at the Halloween decorations as they really came alive once the sun had set. Also, the ‘Blood City’ area played creepy music and had search lights (looking for escaped zombies) which added to the experience. It was so well done.

We ended up with just one more ride to finish off the day and that was a repeat of the Amazon Express tube ride, but this time as the horror counterpart. On this go around, projectors and screams were up showing zombies, hanging bodies and one even had a demonic little girl stabbing her toy rabbit. Lights were off in certain areas so you didn’t know where the bumps were coming and they’d reduced the number of boats in play, which made the water choppier and even more unpredictable. With the added commentary of uneasy Korean passengers, this was a brilliant experience.

This just left us with some time to kill before the end of the day shows, so we killed some by exploring the Halloween accessorised Four Seasons garden, the rose garden and Rose Castle, which was all lit up and had some musical fountains going every now and then. It also helped that this was where we needed to be in order to scope out viewing positions for the Moonlight Parade.

The Moonlight Parade at Everland is the best show I have ever seen at any amusement park ever. It’s obviously a take on the really popular Disney night parade, but as Everland doesn’t have the cast of characters to fall back on or the strict content rules, they’ve been able to have some real fun with it. Not going to lie, by halfway through I was so full of childlike joy that I was overwhelmed to the point of wanting to cry. It really was truly magical.

After some final souvenir shopping and escape route scoping, it was time to watch the final show of the day which contained singing, dancing, fire, dancing fountains and fireworks. Lots and lots of fireworks. The final five minutes where they went from the show depicting the loose narrative of a “Time Odyssey” to a metric shit-ton of fireworks was truly spectacular. I mean this was one hell of a lot of fireworks being released in a clear sky with a full moon whilst parts of the park were decked out in their Halloween best. You can’t ask more than that to end one of the best amusement park days you’ve ever had.

Well tomorrow I will actually be staying in Seoul all day and seeing something very cultural as big contrast to today’s fun fest. It’s going to be an all day affair in the National Museum of Korea, but first sleep and some well deserved knee resting.


As of writing this, I have been with my husband for well over nine and a half years. This has meant more trips to the Netherlands than I can count. First to see him and then to see the in-laws. I mention this because it has taken him this long to take me here:

Efteling, the largest and most popular theme park in the Netherlands is only about an hour away from his family! I have been hearing about this place from him for AGES. How it was one of the big influences on Disney Parks. How well they do the fairytale settings. How much I would enjoy it. So here we are finally.

As you can see from the pictures, it was a bit of a grey day when we visited. However, the clouds and the eventual rain cannot takeaway from what is a fantastically themed park. Everything in the park is done in the style of a fairy tale, folk tale or legend. The highest concentration of this can be found in the park’s famed Fairy-tale Forest.

Through animatronics, sculpture work and proper re-tellings, the Fairy-tale Forest brings a huge and varied number of fairy tales to life. Some of these pieces, like the character of Long Neck from the Six Servants tale, have become hugely famed across the Netherlands. You could easily spend at least an hour going through and seeing all the different stories being brought to life… but then there’s rides.

Whilst I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, an adrenaline junkie – I really enjoyed the roller-coasters in Efteling. The vertical plummet of Baron 1898 roller-coaster really sticks out at the major wow moment for me, but I also really had fun on the duelling Joris en de Draak roller-coaster and the water-coaster themed around the legend of the Flying Dutchman (how apt, right?).

It really was a fun day out. Aside from the coasters there was a great rapids ride called Piraña (the first such ride outside of the US when it was built in 1983) as well as a substantial number of dark rides. Our first and final rides of the day were on two of these rides and really helped to bookend the day.

The first was Carnival Festival, the Dutch take on Disney’s ‘It’s A Small World’ and had music that still gets caught in my husband’s head to this day. The final ride,  Droomvlucht (meaning Dream Flight in English), was one that he was really itching to show me. It’s a suspended dark ride through the fairy and troll worlds, which is really cute and quite creepy at times.

Between Efteling and Europa Park I have remembered fully just how much I love amusement parks. The fact that we did not have enough time in Singapore to check out Universal Studios just means that a return visit is not out of the question (as if it ever was). Taking this into account, I feel that this would the perfect opportunity to start yet another list on here. Nothing too serious, but something that could be fun to see fill out over the next few decades.

List Item: Visit 25 Amusement Parks
Progress: 13/25

Technically there should be an additional park on this list (Busch Gardens Tampa Bay), but as I don’t remember going it isn’t being counted.