Originally built by Busch Entertainment Corp. and the Tussaud Group, the Spanish theme park, Port Aventura, was purchased by Universal in 1997 and renamed Universal Port Aventura. After Universal added a water park and two hotels, the resort was rebranded as Universal Mediterranea. In 2004, Universal sold their interest in the park and the name was returned to PortAventura (with the space omitted for trademark reasons). Port Aventura is the most attended theme park in Spain, and is considered one of Europe’s best theme parks.

Alain Littaye of the Disney and more blog takes us on a two part tour of the park. ~~Rick

Port Aventura is just a short one hour drive from Barcelona. I consider it one of the best theme parks in Europe.

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Opened in the 1990’s, Port Aventura is extremely well themed. If you’re an Adventureland or Frontierland fan, you’ll love this park from the first minute you walk in. Although you’ll find some really good E-ticket attractions and perfectly themed lands and roller coasters, plus some good shows, Port Aventura does not have the sophistication of a Disney or Universal theme park. But you will find a “space-time” effect – where you have the feeling that you are in another world rather than where you really are. The park has five lands: Mediterranea, Polynesia, China, Mexico, and Far West (a version of Disney’s Frontierland).

First up is Mediterranea. The park is only a 10 minute drive from the Mediterranean sea, and here they have recreated a little Mediterranean harbor village as it would have looked in the previous century. Until recently there were no attractions here except the nighttime show on the lake – but you’ll find souvenir shops, restaurants, etc..

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The theme is very well executed, with replicas of 20th century boats and wharf.

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The main attraction of this land – Furious Baco – is an incredible roller coaster ride system as you can see on the pictures below.

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Most visitors begin in “Polynesia” land, which will transport you in a fraction of a second to a kind of Adventureland.

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The theming here is just as good as you can find in Disneyland’s Adventureland. The vegetation is perfect with lush vegetation and waterfalls. There’s a good reason for that – the park was, in large part, designed by American theme park designers (mostly people from Busch Gardens who obviously know what the word “garden” means). This theme carries through all of the different lands – always the same perfection and good choice in the vegetation selection.

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There is a really good “E-ticket” here called Sea Odyssey which was built by Universal creative when the company took control of the park some years ago.

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Basically, you enter a submarine which dives in the Pacific Ocean in search of another sub that is in jeopardy. The journey is led by an intelligent dolphin equipped with advanced technology which allows it to translate dolphin sounds into intelligible language. There is really good pre-show decor – Universal quality – and this is where you’ll find one of the few “audio-animatronics” in the park.

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It’s actually a big simulator ride with a specially created movie projected on a giant screen which is supposed to be one of the huge “windows” of the submarine.

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What happens next is an encounter with a terrifying sea monster and your escape.

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The movie itself and the simulator is really good, but what amazed me was the quality of the decor – real Disney quality. The pre-show with the lifesize image of the dolphin appearing in a giant glass tube “supposedly” full of water is just perfect.

Here is the video of Sea Odyssey, including the pre-show.

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There are lot of others smaller attractions in Polynesia, like small roller coasters, a train station, and a big splash ride themed around a small Polynesian volcano. There are two good shows (all of the shows of Port Aventura are good) with a bird show and a really good Polynesian luau show, with native Polynesians arriving in canoes on a small lagoon.

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The next stop is China land, and let me tell you that the China Pavillion at Epcot is a joke in comparison. You go around a replica of the famous Great Wall of China with the majestic graphic circles of the Dragon Khan roller coaster in the background.

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The Dragon Khan roller coaster is one of the icons of the park with its beautiful red loops visible from other parts of the park.

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On the first level, you’ll find a Chinese-themed playground for kids and a good blacklight magic show in the Gran Teatre Imperial.

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…then on the second level, there 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.

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There is something remarkable about this coaster: although it has many loops, it doesn’t knock you around. It’s very smooth throughout, and there is a very good reason for that – it was built by the B&M company, which is famous for building real smooth coasters, even if they are more expensive.

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Right at the exit of China, You’ll find Mexico land! Big Mayan pyramid temples lost in the jungle – and inside, a good Aztec show.

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Great themed building for restaurants…

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…and for the attractions, a mine train (El Diablo), well re-themed with a Mexican look like “Hurakan Condor” – a giant free fall from 300 feet high!

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But my favorite attraction in the land is Templo del Fuego (Temple of Fire). This one is a real “E” ticket. This is the second attraction built by Universal to improve the park, and all of the talent of Universal Creative is demonstrated when they’re using pyrotechnic effects. First you enter a beautifully decorated queue in total “Indiana Jones” style. And this is what it’s all about: an archeologic adventure inside a dangerous lost temple . But there are no vehicles here – it’s a show. The closest example I can think of is the former “Backdraft” show at Universal Studios Hollywood, except that it’s much much better than “Backdraft” !

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When you enter the temple, there is a pre show room, with two actors dressed as Indy-style adventurers who are trying to open a secret door. To achieve this, they have to turn three stone circles to form a combination which will open the door. Each time they turn the circle, strange things happen: strange sounds, thunder, lightning, etc…until they succeed, whereupon the light suddenly dims, and over your head appears a huge Mexican death mask. Then the secret door opens, and everybody moves into the giant secret room in the temple. Statues of Mexican gods circle the room. Here we find the archeologist, determined to find – and steal – the treasure, and in particular a “golden” statue (does this remind you of something?) Of course, he finds it, the treasure appears around him, and trouble begins!

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The temple is now “cracking” all around us. The archeologist has fallen down into the mouth of the statue in a big explosion of fire, the stone stairs collapse, fire begins to appears everywhere, the water catches on fire, and…..everything is now on fire, folks! Just RUN!

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…well, stay a few more seconds as the climactic last scene is just great! As you really begin to fear for your life with all this fire around you, out of the small lake rises dozens of skeletons, the dead bodies of previous archeologists who dared to enter the temple. A last huge ball of fire is projected in your direction and water explodes around you. The skeleton effect is not only surprising, but deliciously scary in the Indiana Jones tradition.

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Personally, it’s the best fire show with the best theming I have seen. No doubt we must thank the wizards of Universal who, once again, show us how good they are with pyrotechnic effects. Believe me, once you get out of the Temple del Fuego, the only thing you have in mind is to run and do it again!

I found a really good Youtube video of the whole show, including the pre-show, and here it is!

There is so much more in Port Aventura, so I’ll be back with the second part of this article, in which you will discover another kind of Frontierland, as well as the other park of the Port Aventura resort, the water-themed Costa Caribe.

All photos : copyright Alain Littaye except Hurakan Kondor and Furious Baco photos : copyright Alexandre Rosa

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