Port Aventura Spain: One of Europe’s Best Theme Parks

Written by Rick Wright. Posted in Features, Other Destinations, Weekend Update

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PortAventura

Published on September 07, 2013 at 2:00 am with 8 Comments

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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About Rick Wright

Rick has been a long term MiceChat author and co-founder of the Weekend Update. You will often find Rick in the position of "Greeter" at official events due to his warm and welcoming spirit. If you've got photos, news or trip reports to share, Rick would love to hear from you: [email protected]

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  • Eric Davis

    Great article! This park has been top of my list of parks to visit in Europe because of it’s ties with Universal. Thanks for this!

  • LoveStallion

    No mention of Shambhala? Even your Dragon Khan pictures are old ones without Shambhala over it. Shambhala is a beast of a ride.

    I used to live in Tarragona, a few minutes up the road from PortAventura. Definitely a great town to see if you happen to be in the area – lots of Roman ruins, Catalan culture abounds, etc. PortAventure was built closer to Salou and Cambrils, which are just generic summer beach resort communities.

    This really is a great park. I was very impressed with it, and as the article says, not just from E-ticket coasters and the like, but from the overall experience. I’m also a big fan of how everything is written in Catalan instead of Spanish (mind you, that was because of a stipulation in the agreement with the Catalonian government to build the place in the first place).

    Also, note that the official name is “PortAventura,” without the space, due to lingering copyright issues from the Universal era.

    Thanks for the article!

  • http://micechat.com Dusty Sage

    MiceChat will be taking a Disney Cruise from Barcelona to Italy and back in June. I see that Port Adventura is just about an hour away from our port of embarkation. Looks like I should carve out a day for this beautiful park.

  • bkroz

    Temple del Fuego looks like the soul sister of Universal’s Poseidon’s Fury! Same time period, same style, same multi-room “temple” expedition culminating in a special effects show.

    • Eric Davis

      I was thinking that exact same thing! lol

  • MickeyFickey

    I went to PortAventura this past June when I was over in Europe. It’s a great park…but to manage expectations, it falls terribly short of Disney and Universal. This is more of a Busch Gardens/Seaworld type park (which is understandable, seeing as how it was built by Busch and the Tussauds Group). The rides are very Six Flags/Cedar Fair in their nature, with the exception of the Sea Odyssey and Templo del Fuego attractions which are B-tier, “Universal-on-a-budget” attractions. Enjoyable, but far from the best Universal Creative can do can do.

    As for the coasters, Furius Baco is a BLAST (literally!), though it’s pretty short…about the same length as Hershey’s Storm Runner. Cute pre-show and fun layout though! Dragon Khan is one of the better B&M loopers I’ve ridden, though on the day we rode, it was a bit of a head-banger (and I know how to ride a coaster…I’ve been on 500 of them around the world). Shambhala was the real treat: fast, smooth, filled with air-time, and with a unique, high-intensity turnaround. Its only fault? It ends too quickly! The rest of the coasters are mediocre and forgettable…even Stampida. :(

    The theming is quite good–again, not Disney/Universal good, but still excellent. The park exudes a unique atmosphere and aura, especially in the Polynesia section. The shows were EXCELLENT: some of the best I’ve seen, and even better than Disney in some cases. The thing that surprised me most of all was the food! Those of us who are well-travelled in the theme park world know that park food is usually pretty bad, minus a few exceptions (Dollywood, Silver Dollar City and Knoebels, anyone?). This wasn’t the case at PA. We ate at the La Cantina restaurant in Mexico, right across from Hurakan Condor and next to Templo del Fuego…the food was excellent in quality, plentiful in its portions, and “reasonable” (for theme park food and considering the higher cost of the Euro vs. the US dollar) in price. Can’t recommend it enough!

    We went on a “quiet” Sunday in the park in early June, and the lines were pretty hefty. I sprung for the spendy PortAventura Express front-of-line pass and it was worth every penny. My 14-year-old niece and I rode hard and probably got about 30 rides out of the pass, saving us somewhere around 20 hours of wait time each. My brother used his quite a bit as well. I can’t recommend getting Express enough…we did 10 rides on Shambhala and 5 rides on Furius Baco in a row, and they had 45-60 min waits each! The other thing I liked was that they’d let you stay on the coasters at the end of the day if there was no one in line. Refreshing!

    To sum up, PortAventura is definitely a park worth visiting. I wish I’d had one more day to truly absorb the entire park. As it was, even with Express, we were RACING to get through the park and see as much as we did. For all we did and saw, we missed an equal amount of things. We’d rented a flat in Barcelona for the weekend, so we didn’t stay on-site, but the hotels looked absolutely lovely. The water park was probably the weakest aspect of the park, we found it to be no better than your typical Six Flags water parks that’s included with your daily admission to Six Flags, however, this one cost an extra 30 euros or so to experience it. We weren’t very impressed. They seriously need to expand and add to the water park to make it worth the extra admission…especially in financially-strained Spain.

    If you’re in the area, take a day and go see it. The view of the Mediterranean Sea from Shambhala’s lift hill is beautiful, the vegetation in Polynesia provides a great dose of escapism, and walking hand-in-hand through Mediterranea at sunset with your “honey” after the park has closed for the day is something you won’t soon forget. A must-see!

    One last thing to consider: European clothing sizes are SMALLER than American sizes. Make sure you try on any clothes you buy over there. I had to buy 2XL-3XL shirts to compare to an American XL shirt size that I wear. And yet, there was one shirt I bought that was the same size as American apparel. Try before you buy or you may end up with a bunch of clothes for your kids!

    Nice article!

    • Rick Wright

      Thanks for the great comments. That’s a great tip on the wearing apparel!