PortAventura is a park that has long flown under-the-radar. It was built in 1995 in Salou, Spain, as a joint venture by Tussauds, Busch and Universal; and just from those names it’s easy to see why it matches up to some of the very best parks in the world. Universal took sole ownership for a while, and eventually sold it off in 2004, but the park has retained, if not improved, its quality since then.
With the addition of the record breaking hypercoaster, Shambhala, PortAventura has alerted the world once again to its status as one of the very best theme parks in Europe, if not the world. Here are a few of the key rides that should get you salivating.
5. Dragon Khan
This beast of a coaster is one of the park's original rides, and has always been (until the 2012 debut of Shambhala) its flagship attraction. The ride is a Bolliger & Mabillard multi-looper, and once held the world record for the most inversions in a coaster circuit, with eight. Stretching across the China themed area of the park, located at the very rear, it acts as a majestic red backdrop. The lift hill stretches 148 feet into the sky and the first drop is 161 feet long, hitting speeds of 65 miles per hour. Some B&M coasters in recent years have been criticised for being forceless, but Dragon Khan has no such problems; it’s one of the most brutally intense roller coasters I’ve ever experienced, but manages that without a hint of roughness.
Stampida was added just two years after PortAventura opened, in 1997, and is located in the Western area, with the theme being basd around a buffalo stampede. The ride is a duelling CCI wooden roller coaster; the company which really started off the modern love for wooden coasters. Despite only being 84 feet tall, the trainreally rockets around the track, and the ride has often been accused of being viciously rough. There is no doubt that it is pretty violent, but in my opinion, it doesn’t get to the point of being painful. (although it did once throw me around so much that it ejected my phone from my pocket!). A big surprise is the amount of "airtime", particularly on the first drop; you spend a large portion of the ride floating above your seat. Stampida is often put down in the roller coaster community, and that, combined with it being fairly concealed, means it’s probably the most underrated ride in the park.
3. Hurakan Condor
Between 1997 and 2004 it seemed like little effort (or money) was being invested into PortAventura, but once Universal sold it, its new owners, Caixabank, decided to bring about a new era. The first new ride to be installed was Hurakan Condor, in 2005. The ride is an Intamin Giant Drop, and when it opened it was the tallest drop ride in Europe, reaching an incredible 330 feet. Like everything at PortAventura, the theming is top notch; in this case the attraction has a Mexican theme, with the station being housed in what seems to be an Aztec temple.
One thing that many notice about Hurakan Condor is the wonky ‘hat’ that sits on the very top of the tower. Instead of being some kind of engineering error, this is actually part of the theme; if you look down it is actually the roof of the temple station building, which has presumably been blown upward by the Condor. In a park full of extreme thrill rides, this is by far the most terrifying. Being stranded 300 feet in the air is unpleasant even for the bravest of souls, especially when you notice how small even the massive Dragon Khan looks from up there. Because the gondola has 5 independent sides, it also moves the queue along very rapidly, so there’s no excuse to miss this phenomenal thrill ride.
2. Furius Baco
In 2007 PortAventura announced that it would be opening its first new roller coaster in ten years; and in some style too, it would be the fastest roller coaster in Europe. Furius Baco is one of the many extremely popular Intamin Accelerator coasters, which use compressed fluid to launch the trains at incredibly high speeds, in this case to 84 miles per hour in just 3.5 seconds. As well as the launch, the ride also differs from the norm by using trains know as ‘wing-riders’, where the seats straddle the track, with two each side, leaving the riders exposed to the elements. B&M has made this design popular in the past two years, but Intamin was the first to implement it.
Furius Baco's theming is bizarre to say the least; the station is nestled amongst a beautiful vineyard, and the idea is that the owner of the vineyard, a crazy inventor, has designed a machine (the coaster train) to collect the grapes for him. Just as he is putting the finishing touches on it, his mischievous monkey assistant pulls a lever and sends the ride shooting off around the vineyard. This story is conveyed brilliantly with signs throughout the queue and then a pre-ride video just after the station.
Where Furius Baco falls down, however, in many people’s opinion, is in the quality of coaster itself. If Stampida is rough, then this thing is probably illegal. The train vibrates through the entire ride, and during sharp turns you are smashed into the over-the-shoulder restraints. One of the problems is that the ride is a big figure-of-eight, never going beyond about 40 feet above the ground, meaning that you keep all of that speed throughout the whole ride. Despite this, I still think the ride is fantastic, and the insane rush of the launch is more than enough to make up for the pain, especially if you can grab an inside seat, which seems to negate a lot of the vibration.
2012 sees PortAventura’s largest ever investment, in the form of the tallest roller coaster in Europe. Shambhala is a hypercoaster by both definition and model; it stands a magnificent 249 feet tall, 10 feet higher than the former European record holder, Silver Star at Europa Park. Hypercoasters are something of a rarity in Europe; there are currently only really two others, and a couple of smaller variants, so this is certainly an intelligent move from PortAventura.
Shambhala's first drop hurls riders 256 feet through an underground tunnel and maxes out at speeds of 83 miles per hour, making it just fractionally slower than Furius Baco, the park’s Intamin Accelerator, and currently Europe’s fastest coaster. The ride sweeps across the park behind Dragon Khan, stretching all the way from China around to Polynesia. Whilst the entire ride looks magnificent, the most interesting element is the turnaround, which has been dubbed an ampersand (&) and looks to provide some extreme forces. Early reports say that the ride also offers airtime aplenty, and that it could be the best at the park so far.
Closer than you think
For many holiday makers, especially here in Britain, Salou is a particularly cheap holiday destination and with regular flights to Reus airport (just ten minutes away from the park) the trip can be even easier than some domestic trips. As my favourite park, I’d strongly suggest a visit at some point this season; it’s more than worth it.