Whenever I book a trip to a theme park, I tell myself (and my husband) that I we are going for the children, but it isn’t really true. I adore theme parks and had been looking forward to our trip to PortAventura for ages.
It’s been a couple of years since we’d been anywhere like this, and before we went the kids were full of bravado. “I’m DEFINITELY going on the rollercoasters this time!” Toby, 11, enthused. Livi was less sure, still slightly traumatised by her experience on Big Thunder Railroad at Disneyland (she was aged about six and didn’t like the loud bangs), and was planning to play it by ear.
The park has a pleasantly laid-back Spanish approach to opening hours, it doesn’t open till ten and many of the rides don’t open until at least an hour later, some not until midday. So there is plenty of time to wander around having a look at the rides. This seemed like a good idea at first, but the children seemed to become less and less keen on the idea of the rollercoasters, especially with the tracks of Shambhala – the highest rollercoaster in Europe – looming ominously in the distance.
So we started off with some bison-themed bumper cars and a couple of small, fairground-type rides to get the children warmed up after which I eventually managed to persuade a somewhat-reluctant Toby onto La Stampida, one of the less-threatening looking rollercoasters in that it is wooden and doesn’t require an over-the-shoulder harness. Livi decided she’d let Toby report back before committing.
Toby barely spoke while we queued and watched the carriages careering round the track nervously.
But once we got on, he was a different boy. He screamed and laughed the whole way round and when it stopped declared: “That was the best thing ever. Let’s do another one.”
Once we’d successfully got Livi acclimatised on Tomahawk, which is basically a children’s rollercoaster which adults can ride too, we headed for Furious Baco which I mistakenly thought looked like one of the tamer rollercoasters.
Not so. Your feet dangle in the air beneath you which is fun but the real surprise of this one is the speed at which you launch – you are off like a rocket and stay at this incredible speed for the entire (admittedly short) ride. I only found it later that it is actually the fastest rollercoaster in Europe.
Gravity and harnesses meant that I couldn’t see Livi’s face during the ride and I was fully expecting her to get off in floods of tears (I don’t have a good track record in judging the suitability of rides for her) but she was ecstactic. Absolutely loved it. So in the afternoon we did Tren de la Mina and Dragon Khan, which is enormous and has eight loops (EIGHT!!!!) and a descent of 110 km an hour. Livi was so hysterical after that one she literally didn’t stop laughing for ten minutes.
We visited Portaventura in October just before Hallowe’en. Hallowe’en is a big deal in Spain and the park’s Hallowe’en decor is brilliant – there are huge stacks of real pumpkins everywhere as well as skeletons driving eerie coaches and another giant skeleton who floats around on a raft. Scary Addams-family type characters and bloodied zombies roam the park and now and again might leap out at you with a knife or chase after you. It’s a great time of year to visit – the theming is atmospheric and fun without being cheesy and the queues for the rides are minimal. We walked straight on to many rides and the longest we queued for any ride was around twenty minutes. And if you need a break from the adrenalin rush of the rides, you can go and watch a Hallowe’en show instead.
The park is divided in six themed areas – five are named after geographical regions and the sixth is Sésamo Aventura where most of the rides for smaller children are. The restaurants in the areas are also themed accordingly so, unusually for a theme park, you can actually get some decent food from various world cuisines. We particularly liked the tapas and wine bar Vinosfera in Mediterrània.
We spent our first night in the Pierre et Vacances’ Residence Salou which is a short drive from the park and particularly good for people who are planning a longer stay in the area, perhaps to visit the many fabulous local beaches. We had a six-person apartment which was spacious, comfortable and well-designed with a large balcony and proper kitchen. The residence is set within prettily landscaped gardens with two huge pools and is in a quiet location a short walk from the beaches and bars of Salou.
Our second night was spent at Hotel Portaventura which is actually within the park and ideal for people whose main reason for coming to the area is the park itself. The four-star hotel is a large, tasteful complex set around water with restaurant, bars and children’s entertainment on site (Livi particularly enjoyed dancing with Woody and Winnie Woodpecker after dinner.) We had a family room with two double beds and a very large bathroom and some nice touches like a big box of things you might have forgotten in the bathroom – not just shampoo and shower gel but also toothbrushes and razors. (A minor point I know but I love things like that.) We were on a half-board package which offered a buffet dinner and breakfast – both had a large selection and were pretty good but the breakfast was particularly special. Chocolate, churros and rollercoasters – it doesn’t get much better than that.
A two-night stay at Hotel Portaventura on a B&B basis including park tickets costs from around £500 for two adults and two children.
A seven-night stay in Pierre et Vacances Residence Salou costs from £408 per apartment.
Disclosure – we stayed as guests of both PortAventura and Pierre et Vacances.