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Summer is the most popular time of the year for visiting amusement parks in North America, but if you’re traveling a bit further afield than Florida, you’ll discover that many of the most exciting new developments are happening in other parts of the globe. Having worked in theme park operations for more than two decades, TPG Contributor Joel Ward shares some unique destinations.
1. Europa-Park — Rust, Germany
Imagine the coolest product showroom on the planet. Mack Rides has been building attractions for amusement parks since the 1920s, and in 1975 it opened Europa-Park as a showcase for potential buyers, as well as visitors. With the ongoing addition of the company’s latest rides (and even a couple from competitors), the park has grown into one of the largest and most popular in Europe.
Thrill ride fans won’t want to miss Blue Fire, its premier launch coaster, or Euro-Mir, a unique spinning coaster with cars that rotate as they navigate the track. If family-friendly attractions are more up your alley, there are dozens of attractions to keep the whole group entertained for days, as well.
How to get there: While the park is in Germany, it’s right on the French border, so Strasbourg, France is the nearest city. Fly into Strasbourg International Airport (SXB), then make a scenic journey by rail to Stuttgart. Both Strasbourg and Stuttgart have shuttle services available to get your family to the park.
Where to stay: Make it a fairy tale getaway by staying at Der Kleine Prinz in nearby spa town Baden-Baden. This hotel is a romantic town house with décor reminiscent of Le Petit Prince. Rooms start at $180 per night or 12,000 WorldHotels Peakpoints.
2. Tivoli Gardens — Copenhagen, Denmark
You can’t really consider yourself a Disney aficionado if you haven’t made the pilgrimage to this beautiful park in Copenhagen, which inspired Uncle Walt in his creation of Disneyland. The quiet, relaxed atmosphere was in stark contrast to the garish amusement parks and fairs that dotted the American landscape at the time.
Dating back to 1843, Tivoli Gardens lays claim to the title of second oldest theme park in the world. 150 years ago, it offered its guests gorgeous gardens, live music and precursors to the amusement attractions we all know. Today, in between exploring gardens once frequented by Hans Christian Andersen, you’ll find more exciting rides to get your adrenaline going.
The park has kept its focus on live entertainment over the years and features summer concerts with acts such as Elton John, Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga.
How to get there: Fly into Copenhagen, Denmark (CPH) Airport. The park is in the center of the city, only minutes from City Hall and Copenhagen Central Station.
Where to stay: The historic Radisson Blu Royal Hotel Copenhagen is a luxury hotel in the center of the city, with rooms overlooking the park. Check out the Wall of Fame in the lobby, a list of the many famous guests who have stayed in the hotel, and be sure to see The Points Guy’s review of the property. Rooms start at $220 per night or 50,000 Club Carlson Gold Points.
3. Ocean Park — Hong Kong
When a big-name competitor opened up shop in Hong Kong, most people wrote off this little park as a piece of history. Surprising nearly everyone, though, Ocean Park reinvented itself to become one of the world’s most popular destinations. Tremendous expansion projects have more than doubled the number of attractions, while an exciting array of seasonal events keeps the experience fresh for repeat visitors.
Only a short drive from the hectic atmosphere of Hong Kong, a visit here offers great entertainment, animal encounters and stellar views from its mountain peak.
How to get there: Fly into Hong Kong International Airport (HKG). A variety of public transportation and tour bus options are available to get you to the park, while taxi trips are quick and relatively inexpensive. For more information, see Destination of the Week: Hong Kong.
Where to stay: There are plenty of dining and entertainment options in the popular Tsim Sha Tsui district of Kowloon, where you’ll find the W Hong Kong, available starting at $299 a night or 20,000 Starwood points. Be sure to check out The Points Guy’s review of this property.
4. Chimelong Paradise — Guangzhou, China
If you’re planning a visit to China, there’s one amusement park that stands above the hundreds that are popping up across major cities.
Chimelong Paradise is a Chinese version of a North American theme park, and that’s not a bad thing. This isn’t some cheap knock-off; it pulls together stunt shows, family attractions, high-end thrill rides and lots of live entertainment. There’s even a unique and quirky “Lumberjack Show” celebrating “foreign culture.” With a dedication to service, cleanliness and quality that you won’t find in many parks in the region, Chimelong is entertaining and a little bizarre — like watching a foreign remake of one of your favorite movies.
How to get there: Fly into Guangzhou Baiyuan Airport (CAN), a one-hour flight from Hong Kong. Alternatively, from Hong Kong’s Hung Hom train station, it’s only a two-hour trip by rail. For more info, see Five Tips to Know Before Traveling to China.
Where to stay: See The Points Guy’s recent, glowing review of the W Guangzhou, which he wishes was the standard for this SPG brand. Another solid option is the Grand Hyatt Guangzhou, which offers world-class hotel dining and amenities, as well as stellar views of the Pearl River and cityscape on the upper floors. Rooms start at $180 or 12,000 Hyatt Gold Passport Points per night.
5. Ferrari World & Yas WaterWorld — Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
While Dubai has long been the hottest place in the world for new developments, the best place in the UAE to visit parks that are already operating is Abu Dhabi. Rather than taking inspiration from Hollywood or cartoons, Ferrari World brings the high-intensity world of automobile racing to life. If you love racing or just the sheer feel of extreme speed, this is the park for you. Formula Rossa holds the title for fastest roller coaster in the world, with a blistering top speed of 150 miles per hour (240 km/h) and acceleration from 0 to 60 in less than 2 seconds.
When you’ve made your way through the rides at Ferrari World, cool off in Yas WaterWorld, the neighboring water park.
How to get there: Fly into Abu Dhabi International Airport (AUH), where you’ll find a variety of shuttles to drive you the 10 miles to Yas Island. For more on exploring the city, be sure to check out the Etihad Mistake-Fare Guide to Abu Dhabi.
Where to stay: Stay right on Yas Island, the manmade island home of both parks, as well as the Yas Marina and a championship golf course. Crowne Plaza Abu Dhabi – Yas Island starts at $120 or 30,000 IHG Rewards Club points per night.
6. Tokyo DisneySea — Tokyo, Japan
What theme park list would be complete without a nod to Disney?
Built as a companion park to Tokyo Disneyland, DisneySea is arguably the most unique and beautiful of the company’s parks. Organized around nautically inspired “Ports of Call” instead of the traditional lands, the park pulls together waterfront areas from other cultures, other times and other worlds. Flawlessly designed and executed, DisneySea set the standard for immersing guests in a themed environment.
The centerpiece is Mysterious Island, which includes attractions based on the Jules Verne classics Journey to the Center of the Earth and 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea. While a few well-known Disney characters and rides have crept in over the years, destinations such as Mermaid Lagoon, Port Discovery and Lost River Delta offer experiences you won’t find anywhere else.
How to get there: See How to Use Airline Miles for Award Travel to Tokyo, then fly into one of Tokyo’s two international airports – Narita (NRT) or Haneda (HND). From Tokyo, tour buses are plentiful, but for the true Japanese experience, jump on the elevated train to Maihama Station. For more on the city, see Destination of the Week: Tokyo and The Points Guy’s 10 Reasons I Love Tokyo.
Where to stay: Check out TPG’s reviews of the Andaz Tokyo Toranomon Hills and Park Hyatt Tokyo, but also consider the Intercontinental Tokyo Bay, which offers beautiful views of the city, with relatively easy transit to either DisneySea or the city’s other attractions. Rooms at the InterContinental start at $242 or 35,000 IHG Rewards Club points.
To maximize your benefits when you visit these parks (and others), see these posts:
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