Today, i suggest we fly to Spain, at a one hour drive from Barcelona in a place that i consider as one of the best theme park in Europe, and certainly the best one in Spain : Port Aventura. Well, until two years ago it was “Universal Port Aventura” . But the new management of Universal in the U.S decided to withdraw from the park, so, now, it’s again “only” Port Aventura.
Open in the 1990’s, Port Aventura is, most of all, extremely well themed, and, if you’re an Adventureland or Frontierland lover, you’ll love this park from the first minute you’ll walk in. Let me be clear right now: although you’ll find some really good e-ticket attractions, and perfectly themed lands and roller-coasters, as well as good shows, Port Aventura does not have some of the sophistication of disney or universal theme parks. But you will find here this “space-time” effect - when you have the feeling to be in another world than where you really are - perfectly “working” , just as well as in disneyland. The park have five lands: Mediterranea, Polynesia, China, Mexico, and Far West, their “frontierland”.
So let’s begin by the beginning, the Mediterranean land. After all, the park is only at 10 minutes drive from the mediterranean sea, and here is wonderfully recreated a litlle mediterranean harbor as they were built last century. Until recently no attractions here - except the night show on the lake - but you’ll find souvenirs shops, restaurants, etc..
.The theming is really well done, with reconstitution of old boats of the early 20th century and its wharf.
But this year, the first attraction of this land open - "Furious Baco" an incredible roller coaster ride system as you can see on the pictures below. Right now , it seems that there is some technical problem and the coaster is closed until the end of the year.
Then, as the majority of the visitors, you’ll probably begin by the “Polynesia” land, which will transport you in a fraction of a second in an adventureland like world.
Let me tell you that the theming here is just as good as you can find in Disneyland, and the vegetation theming is perfect with lush vegetation, water falls and there is some good reasons to that, as the park was for a big part designed by americans theme park designers, i.e , the people from busch gardens who obviously knows what the word “garden” means, and it’ll be the same all along the different lands, with always the same perfection and good choice in the vegetation theming.
There is a really good “e-ticket” here, which has been built by Universal “imagineers” when the company took the control of the park some years ago, and this one is called “sea odyssey”.
Basically, you’re supposed to enter in a submarine which will dive in the pacific ocean seas at the research of another one which is in jeopardy, all this leads by a intelligent dolphin equiped with high technology which allows to translate the dolphin sounds in intelligible language.there is a really good pre-show decor - universal quality - and it’s there where you’ll find one of the rare “audio-animatronic” of the park.
It’ s a big “simulator ride with a specially created movie projected on a giant screen supposed to be one of the huge “window” of the submarine.
And what should happen is happening, with an encounter of a terrifying sea monster, and the chase to escape from him.
The movie itself and the simulator is really good, but what amazed me was the quality of the decor theming - a real disney quality. and the pre-show with the life size image of the dolphin appearing in a giant glass tube “supposedly” full of water is just perfect.
There is lot of others smaller attractions in polynesia, like small roller coasters, one of the train station where you can embark in the train which goes around the park, and a big splash ride themed around a small polynesian volcano, with not a lot of things to see , but where you’ll sure get wet if you need to refresh yourself. But there is two good shows ( the “shows” of port aventura are all good ) with a “bird” show, and a really good polynesian luau show, with natives polynesian arriving in pirogues on a small lagoon.
The next stop is the china land, and let me tell you that the china pavillion of epcot is a joke in comparison...you have to go around a kind of replica of the famous “great wall of china” with the majestic “graphic” cirlcles of the “dragon khan” roller coaster in the background.
On a certain point of view the “dragon khan” is one of the icon of the park, its beautiful red loops are part of the skyline visible some time from other lands.
On the first level, you’ll find chinese themed play ground for kids, and a good “dark light” magic show in the “gran teatre imperial” ...
...then on the “second level” here is the vast square with other show a “chinese circus” show, beautiful shops and restaurants ( talking about shops, the merchandise is great at port aventura, with genuine decorative items coming from each country) and the entrance to the dragon khan.
There is something remarkable with this coaster: although it has many loops, it don’t “knocks”, it’s very smooth alltime, and there is a very good reason for that, as it has been built by the Intamin company, known as more expensive than others but, too, because they’re able to build real smooth coasters, even with “inversions”.
Right at the exit of china, here is the mexico land! thanks to the vegetation theming, you’re immediately transported in a mexican world. Big mayan pyramid huge temples lost in the jungle with , inside, a good “aztec show”...
great themed building for restaurants...
...and, in the attractions , some “mine train” with “el diablo” , smaller one , well re-themed with a mexican look. The brand new one open in 2005 and is called “hurakan condor” - a giant free fall from 300 feet high (!)
But here is my favorite attraction in the land: “templo del fuego” (temple of fire). We’re gonna stop on this one as it is a real good “E” ticket. This is the second attraction which was built by Universal to “improve” the park, and here is all the talent of universal creators when they’re using pyrotechnic effects.
First, you enter in a great queue decor with a total “indiana jones” feeling. And this is what it’s all about: a archeologic adventure inside a lost - and a dangerous temple . But no vehicle here, it’s a show , and the closest example i can find is the “backdraft” show at universal studios hollywood except that it’s much much better than “backdraft” !
Here is how it goes ( warning , spoilers, here! ): When you enter in the temple, there is a pre show room, with two actors disquised as “indy’s” adventurers who are trying to open the secret door. To achieve this, they have to turn three “stone circles” to form a combination whichwill open the door. The scene is a “night scene” just like if you were in an rom open on the sky inside the temple. Each time they are turning the circle, strange things are happening: strange sounds, light of thunders , etc...until when they succeed where the light suddenly goes down, and, over your head , in what was supposed to be the sky appears now a giant “mexican death mask”. But the secret door opens, and everybody moves in the giantsecret room of the temple. All around , statues of mexican gods...There, we find back the archeologist, of course determined to find - and steal - the treasure and particularly a “golden” statue ( does this reminds you something?) Of course, he founds it, the treasure appears on the left and right side, and.........trouble begins!
The inside temple is now “cracking” all around, The archeologist has fall down inside the “mouth” of the statue in a big explosion of fire, the stone stairs collapsed, fire begin to appears from everywhere,the water is getting on fire, and.....everything is now on fire, folks!!! just RUN!!!
...well, stay some few more seconds as the climax scene is just great! As you realy begin to fear for your life with all this fire around you, here, coming out of the ground of the small lake, are rising up suddenly dozen of skelettons , the dead bodies of the previous archeologists which dared to enter the temple, all attached on wood pylons and all this with a last huge ball of fire project in your direction,and water explosions effects ! the “skeleton” effect is not only surprising, but deliciously scaring in the big “indiana jones tradition” !
Personnally, it’s the best “fire” show, with the best theming i’ve seen until know, and no doubt that we must thanks the wizards of universal who, one again, shows us how good they are in the pyrotechnic effects. Believe me, once you get out of the “temple del fuego”, the only thing you have in mind is to run to do it again!
Good news i have found a really good youtube video of the whole show, including the pre-show, and here it is!
There is more in port aventura, so come back for the second part of this article, where you will discover another kind of “frontierland”, as well as the other park of port aventura, the water themed “costa caribe”!
All photos : copyright Alain Littaye except Hurakan Kondor and Furious Baco photos : copyright Alexandre Rosa
Youtube video: thanks to frangsterNL