Theme Parks With A Twist!

Fortunately for us, our daughter is not a big fan of theme parks! She hates waiting in long queues and she’s not much of a thrill seeker too. She would rather play with other kids from different nationalities, than go on a ride where she cannot interact with them. Hence for us, interactive museums are more fun. We love it, as we save up on the expensive entrance fees and we all know that we can never exit the park without buying some overpriced souvenirs from the gift shops.

However, I have been planning a lot of vacations to Europe with theme parks like the Disneyland in Paris, Warner Bros in Spain, Lego Land in UK, etc. I am a stickler for local flavour and culture, my philosophy is ‘why go to a particular country, if you are not going to savour it’s culture, know their people and try their food’! Hence, here are some local theme parks which are a must visit:

London: 

Thorpe’s Park: This park has many tummy churning roller coaster and other thrill rides. The latest being added to the list is a spooky train ride for older kids and teens. If travelling by train it can take upto 1.5 hrs to get to Staines from Central London.

Paulton’s Park: For the young Peppa Pig fans, this park has a Peppa Pig World and for dinosaur buffs, there is the Lost Kingdom area, part of the same park. Hence, this would work best if you have 2 kids with an age gap. Getting here can be tiresome though. It can take 1.5 hrs – 3 hrs depending on your mode of transport. I would not advise this park to teens though.

Chessington World of Adventure: This has a good blend of rides, zoo, aquarium and a forest adventure. Only 30 mins drive from London, this can be a good day out. If you child is a Gruffalo lover, they have a new ride based on the story.

Besides these, there are some very interesting historical museums in Scotland and Wales which are interactive and seem like a theme park.

France: The following 2 parks are sure to make you forget Disneyland, Paris.

Futuroscope: Welcome to the future. Very chic and modern with a lot of glass and steel, the rides here are not your ordinary roller coasters. Be wowed by virtual reality and 4D stimulation rides with a French touch as Le Petit Prince take you on an intergallactic journey. The food here is also futuristic with Heston Blumental style molecular gastronomic dishes. This park is very popular with the locals and neighbouring countries, hence during their vacation period expect crowds.

Puy du Fou: Absolutely at the other end of the spectrum compared to Futuroscope. Puy du Fou feels like a mega Hollywood set with mega gladiator fights, chariot races, vikings and medieval castles. They have made this park with a lot of passion and the shows are simply jaw dropping. Fortunately, translation headsets are available, hence you do not miss out on the commentary. The grand show in the evening lasts about 1 hr.40 mins (a bit too long for the little ones) but it is nothing short of an opening act of Olympics. The pyro-techniques and projections on the water have to be seen to be believed.

The above mentioned parks are situated in the Loire Valley region, about 2.5 hrs from Paris. This region is renowned for it’s many castles and a very interesting 1 week long itinerary can be designed here post your Paris stay.

Germany:

Europa Park: Visit The Netherlands, Italy, England, Scandinavia and of course Germany all in a day or two. This 95 hectares park has iconic landmarks of 13 countries across Europe. The best thing is that it has rides for all ages and is one of the most popular parks in the region which doesn’t cost a bomb. For the tiny tots, there is a water play area and they also have entertainment shows. If you are visiting Germany and your kids love theme parks, ensure you visit the Europa Park.

Phantasialand: This is based on more exotic locales like China, Mexico and so on. It has a more Indiana Jones vibe and has a good mix of rides and shows. However, this is further north and may not fit in the usual Black Forest, Rhine and Bavaria tours most Indian families plan. The drive from Frankfurt will take about 2 hours.

Vogtsbauernhof: This living museum is in the Black Forest region and is a wonderful delight. It has a good mix of interactive activities as well as shows to please all members of the family. This could be a very good edutainment stop set in a stunning backdrop.

Spain:

Tibidabo, Barcelona: This is one of the oldest functioning theme parks in the world. Set on the ridge of Mt. Tibidabo, getting to this park is half the fun. A funicular ride overlooking the city, brings you to some of the oldest rides in the world. Though in terms of thrills, this park doesn’t match up to others, but the nostalgic value and the spectacular views are worth a visit.

Poble Espanyol (The Spanish Village): If you want to see the different architectural wonders and craftsmen of different regions of Spain then do visit this place. They often have performance and you can witness the skills of the craftsmen and savour culinary delights of different region. This can be a wonderful day trip from Barcelona.

There are many more which I can add to the list, feel free to contact me on info@soltrips.com for more information. Happy holiday planning!

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Experiential Travel with kids

family vacations

The Indian travellers are quite evolved and thanks to the Internet are also very aware. Their expectations now match global needs in terms of service, deals and most importantly, experiences. They now want to experience the place rather than just visit them or tick them off their checklist. Their bucket list comprises of activities like canyoneering a la James Franco in the Grand Canyon, go wine tasting or truffle hunting in Italy or France. Stay at a local apartments or do a homestay rather than booking a hotel, attend world-renowned events like running with the bulls in Spain or take surfing lessons in Australia.

Most of these experiences are for adults and hence, the notion that families with young kids should stick to theme parks, holiday parks in the UK or the good old beach resorts with kids clubs. Places like Rome, Florence and Angkor Wat are not the first choices for Indian parents for family vacations. They normally choose cruises or destinations like Singapore, Hong Kong or cities, beach places or theme parks, aquariums and zoos while travelling abroad. This is because they feel kids are not ready to absorb the history and cultural aspects of a new country.

There are however tours available where even historic places like the Colosseum in Rome and art museums like Louvre in Paris can be fun & educational for the entire family. I specialize in Family Travel and conduct trips, which include treasure hunt at the Colosseum and Louvre so that kids learn about the places in a fun and interactive manner. Even places like Hong Kong which most families visit to take the kids to Disneyland, can be given an experiential twist with a dim sum making class, visiting old monasteries or temples or may be a Kung Fu lesson for the entire family!

When a survey was conducted with about 100 mothers of kids aged 7 – 12 years, most of them wanted some time off for them to have a quiet dinner with the spouse or just enjoy some drinks without the kids. Include activities and workshops like an art class in France, pizza making in Italy, gladiator combat skills workshop in Rome, so that the parent’s have some free time to shop or visit a museum of their choice. However, not many are aware of the off-the beaten-path options available for families to enjoy together.

When we took our 7-year-old daughter to Singapore last year, her most cherished memories are those at Chinatown and not at the Universal Studios or Jurong Bird Park. Was it because she had already visited Disneyland in Hong Kong and a very good zoo in Bangkok? Or was it because she was intrigued by the Chinese culture thanks to the Disney film Mulan? I think it was the latter. It does help if kids know a little bit about the place they are visiting, so that they can connect with it. I always advise watching a movie or reading a book on the country you are travelling to. The names won’t seem so foreign to the kids and they will be able to make an immediate connection.

Hence, if you are planning to visit the Parthenon in Athens and think the kids won’t enjoy the ruins… think again!

Feel free to write to me at: info@soltrips.com

Authentic Vietnam

I am an absolute sucker for authentic experiences. From accommodation, modes of transport, eating out places and touring sights. Hence I always tend to pick boutique hotels owned and managed by locals over branded chains, trust me if you choose a 4* option or above you won’t have any complaints with boutique hotels. They have a more homely feel to it and are characteristic of the local culture, plus we are contributing to the local economy which matters a lot especially in Asia.

When I was planning a tour to Vietnam, I was absolutely conscious of all the above mentioned factors and had decided to go a bit off the beaten track to visit some lesser known places too rather than just visiting Hanoi, Halong Bay & Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City). Of course, I ensured they had good accommodation and opted for places where I could see the real natives rather than the westernised lot we see in the cities. To my surprise these places didn’t require much travelling and could be done as an easy driving option from Hanoi or Saigon. Places where kids could interact with the local kids and play their version of hide n seek and catching games. Visit a local school, to see how other kids in different parts of the world study and compare their learning techniques and infrastructure. Needless to say try local cuisine.

The homestay option gives one an opportunity to visit local arts and crafts workshops and learn their skills (bring home some souvenirs too), but also rent a bike and go off road to the most remote lands passing by paddy fields. In the night, most of them have a little bonfire and there is a small dance performance where you can show off you moves too. Quite a fun evening for all.

Since farming is one of the main occupations of rural Vietnam, it is interesting to know more about their farming and fishing techniques by participating in the activity. The food is superb as it is farm to table and organic. You can also learn a few recipes from the chef by doing a small course. They are very accommodating to vegetarians too, so don’t worry if you don’t eat fish or meat.

first hand the struggles of life in wartime Vietnam when you go below ground in the notorious Cu Chi Tunnels. See how soldiers and civilians lived through the conflict and the ingenious methods used to conceal themselves. Quite interesting, the kids particularly love it as they can go peek-a-boo in the tunnels. A bit claustrophobic for some, but nonetheless a unique experience. Adults can fire a few rounds of a real AK rifle!

Another interesting experience would be taking an overnight train journey. The trains are very comfortable with air-conditioned coupes and the pantry sells not just food but beverages too (alcoholic & non alcoholic). It is not the Palace on Wheels or the Orient Express or even a Eurail, but definitely worth a journey. The locals are very warm and accommodating and it is easy to chat up with them.

If you need day wise details of the itinerary, write to me at info@soltrips.com

Binh Tien