For most theme park fans out there the holy grail of theme park involves either a Disney Park or a Universal Studios Park; nothing else comes close. So when said theme park fans are presented with a park formally under ownership and branding of Universal Studios this creates an area of unknown, an unknown for this theme park fan that just had to be investigated!
PortAdventura (nee Universal’s Port Aventura/Universal Mediterranea) from the outset presents an impressive collection of rides; two B&M roller coasters (arguably the best roller coaster producer in the world), a uniquely themed wing coaster, a dueling wooden coaster, a highly themed drop coaster with tilting seats, 4 water rides and a whole host of different shows on offer. The park is also separated into different areas themed around areas of the world: Mediteranean, Polynesia, China, Mexico, The Far West & finally a Seasame Street themed area for kids.
For Jenny and I, the big draw card was Shambhala, a 2012 B&M Hyper coaster that holds the record for being the tallest (78meter drop) and fastest (134 km/h (83 mph)) roller coaster in Europe. This did not disappoint; Its literally the best roller coaster we’ve ever ridden! We rode it twice, once in the morning and again after dark both times we experienced an extremely smooth ride full of genuine thrill and face morphing speed. Best of all we had no idea that a video would be available for purchase after the ride which records your reactions throughout the whole ride, having not known about this prior to the ride our video came out hilariously candid! (I’m enjoying it a lot more than my face lets on)
Moving on from Shambhala we checked out the famous Dragon Khan; one of the two original rides from the park’s opening, another B&M ride that constantly gets rated highly among theme park fans. It was a pretty good ride, lots of creative flips and turns in there & considering its 20 years old, exceptional. However it is starting to show signs of some needed maintenance as a couple of turns came out a little rougher than they were meant to. Perhaps a lack of maintenance is a byproduct of Universal’s leaving?
Another highlight came in the form of Hurakan Condor, an Intamin drop ride famous for its high level of theme and ride variety; depending on which side you ride you could ride in regular seats, tilt seats or floorless standing. The ride itself drops you 86 meters and generates some decent speed (115km/h). Drop rides scare me the most but also tend to be some of my favorites (for this fact) when done well; Hurakan Condor definitely falls into this category!
Finally Templo Del Fuego (Temple of Fire) made for an excellent walkthrough attraction. Despite some initial delay over some technical difficulties we really enjoyed this attraction. The show revolves around following an Indiana Jones type character into a hidden temple and paying the consequences for touching that which should not be touched, filled with fire, pyrotechnics and surprises, this show is worth the wait!
Now while we really enjoyed our time at PortAventura, there were some definitely some areas for improvement;
Many of the rides were fairly rough rides including both Furius Baco a winged Intamin coaster themed on a haywire grape picking machine, which I was initially really excited to try, and Stampida a dueling wooden roller coaster; both key attractions that I felt disappointed by.
It’s the little things really such as when you ride Riding the Tutuki Splash ride, a splash ride that’s themed around being launched out of an active volcano, you can tell when you reach the top that the volcano at one point worked shooting out mist and steam to complete the illusion. Without the volcano working the ride is a little bit average & from I can see from POV YouTube videos this has been left not working for at least the last 5 years. Its not a big thing, but it would make a big difference.
Line Jumpers & Smokers:
I’m not sure why it was but the day we visited we encountered a disproportionately high proportion of line jumpers and in-line smokers (park guests are allowed to smoke anywhere in the park other than in line). Again small things but when it happens repetitively it can get a little on your nerves.
PortAventura has some real gems, a number of world class rides, decent theming a number of on-site hotels and future expansion plans with next year’s European debut of Ferrari World. The park is undeniably world class…but is it Disney/Universal class? Close, I think with a higher level of maintenance on its rides and on-ride effects it definitely could be. Is it worth visiting though? Absolutely and when you do, send me your Shambhala on ride video, I want to see your reactions!