Though I’m a themepark fan, I admit they can be much of a muchness: a few rollercoasters, some smaller rides for the kids, a handful of oversized cartoon characters and the obligatory fast-food outlets, and you’re usually pretty much there.
But France’s second-largest amusement park, Futuroscope in the Poitou-Charentes region of western France, offers something a bit different. Despite being aimed at all ages, it doesn’t have rollercoasters or traditional white-knuckle rides, yet it still has some thrilling, even scream-inducing rides.
Our favourites among these were Arthur & the Minimoy’s 4D Adventure, in which you sit in a ladybird carriage and are flung around a virtual world (in 3D glasses), with added effects such as the back of your neck being ‘brushed' when spiders appear, and being sprayed by water as you are almost swallowed by a frog. The carriage doesn’t move – the seats do – but at times the IMAX film (directed by The Big Blue’s Luc Besson) makes you feel you’re dipping and swooping as much as on any coaster.
We also loved Dance with the Robots, in which, in a nightclub setting with flashing lights and loud music mixed by DJ Martin Solveig, you’re strapped two by two into seats on the end of giant robot arms. The easy level just flings you about a bit and fairly small children are allowed to try it, but try medium or difficult and you’ll regularly find yourself upside down.
Our favourite ride, though, was the new Time Machine, in which the Lapins Crétins (Raving Rabbids in English) take you on a 4D toilet-humoured trip through time (everything from the Ice Age to the Moon landing), with added blasts of air, sprays of water and unexpected jolts. It’s difficult to describe just how funny and original it is, but everyone comes out laughing.
For younger children, there’s the two-hectare Children’s World with rides including boats armed with water cannons and mini zero-emission vehicles on a track. We also enjoyed the new Xperiences Arena with giant slides, a video dance competition (which I won!) and a sprint track that allows you to test your running speed over 10 metres.
In-between the rides, there are shows and several IMAX films to see. The magic show was modern with a lot of humour, and rivalled anything I’ve seen on Britain’s Got Talent. IMAX films ranged from one about bizarre deep-sea creatures to Born to be Wild – a stunning piece about two women rescuing gorillas and elephants. And each day ends with a magical show on the lake during which lights and images are projected onto ‘screens’ made of water.
Most of the attractions are in French only, but you can borrow an English audioguide free of charge at the entrance with a piece of ID (there is a charge for headphones unless you bring your own).
Though we visited on a sunny day in the middle of the summer holidays, the park was uncrowded and queues didn’t exceed more than about 30 minutes, even for the major rides – and dwindled to next to nothing by the evening. This, along with the friendly, helpful staff at many info points, excellent signage, interesting modern architecture and water features (some designed specifically to help cool off) made it a much less tiring experience than a day at a themepark in the height of summer can sometimes be. The food stands and restaurants are more varied than the average themepark – there’s even a fine-dining restaurant, while the new Table d’Arthur serves cocktails and even surprisingly tasty dried bugs.
We stayed at Futuroscope’s own hotel, which offers direct access to the park and surprisingly reasonable prices. Its bright, cheerful family rooms sleep up to five and are simple but thoughtfully designed, with a large double bed plus bunk-beds for the kids, a small bathroom and plenty of nooks and cubby holes for storage. Most excitingly for Livi, who is a huge Raving Rabbids fan, a giant version appears every day at breakfast for photos and cuddles.
Read more about Futuroscope and family holidays in the Poitou-Charentes.