Okay, so you’ve already purchased your Paris Disneyland tickets online and are mentally preparing yourself for an overdose of le Mouse de Mickey. Chances are your kids begged you to take them, enchanted by attractions like Big Thunder Mountain, the Buzz Lightyear Laser Blast and what’s arguably the best castle of any of the Disney properties: Le Chateau de la Belle au Bois Dormant.
But chances, too, are that your kids haven’t heard of all the other cool theme parks in France. There are some great ones. And some of them have creative features that will delight parents every bit as much as their children.
Here’s a rundown of Spot Cool Stuff’s three favorites:
Puy du Fou
History is acted out in ways memorizing and swashbuckling at Puy du Fou in western France. The huge theme park is divided into seven “shows” — five taking place during the day and two at night — in which characters act, joust, balloon, fence, dance, unleash birds of prey, set each other on fire and, oh yeah, fight off a ship of invading Vikings! Though all the shows are entertaining, Spot Cool Stuff is especially fond of two:
• Le Signe du Triomphe. Imagine a scene from Ben Hur come to life. The whole thing takes place in an enormous Roman-style colosseum. There are chariot races and gladiator fights; somewhere in there lions make an appearance.
• The Cinescenie. It’s the world’s largest regularly scheduled outdoor theatrical performance. In the shadow of a ruined castle, over 1,200 actors — supported by 300 horses, 400 fireworks, 24,000 different costumes and a never ending barrage of lighting effects — perform an interpretive reenactment of said castle’s history. Unless you’ve attended the opening ceremonies at a recent Olympics you’ve never seen anything like it. Check out the video, below.
When not attending a show there are various recreated historical villages to explore, gardens, parks and animal exhibits to wander around, and special kid-centric activities to partake in. Really, the whole thing is fabulously done. It’s worth at least two days, if not three. Or four. Or five . . .
After Disneyland Paris, no theme park in France draws more visitors than does Futuroscope. It opened in 1987, in the town of Poitiers, with the goal of providing guests the opportunity to experience “futuristic multimedia attractions.”
To the park’s directors, this mission apparently necessitates offering a bevy of 3D IMAX movies. Futuroscope has lots of them. There are also “4D” movie experiences like the new Journey Into The Musical World of The Beatles that seats spectators on a vibrating platform as they, for example, smell strawberries during Strawberry Fields Forever and feel water mist during Yellow Submarine. Also popular is the Dances With Robots attraction (photo below), which swings its
victims participants around on the end of a robotic arm.
Parents looking to get their kids out from behind a computer or television would do well to avoid Futuroscope — being there involves a ton of screen time. But if you are reading here while searching for a cool whole-family travel activity while in west central France on rainy day, for you the Futuroscope is now.
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The main building at the volcano-themed Vulcania is a cone-shaped grey structure. It looks a bit like a volcano. And, like a volcano, most of the activity at this theme park in the Auvergne region of central France takes place underground. That’s where you’ll find rides and multimedia experiences like the Magma Explorer, a sort of roller-coaster tour of the inner workings of a volcano. Misson Toba is a movie (shown on a massive 180° screen) depicting what you’d see flying above Indonesia in a hot air balloon — if you and your balloon were making the flight 74,000 years ago as a supervolcano was erupting. Dragon Ride straps you into a seat that will vibrate, poke you in the back, and spin at 2Gs as you feast on a multimedia explosion about imaginary creatures who live beneath the earth’s surface.
As if the dragons weren’t a giveaway, Vulcania mixes real science with large doses of fantasy-adventure. That might subtract from the educational benefit, but adds a whole lot of fun. Kids 11 to 15 years old seem to especially love it. Plan on four to six hours for a visit.
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