48 hours in Port Aventura World ‘Resort’ - a tale of buffets and all things closed

Discussion in 'Your Trip Reports and Plans' started by EuroSatch, 8th Jul 2019.

  1. EuroSatch

    EuroSatch TowersStreet Member

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    DISCLAIMER: I apologise now for what may seem a rambling and at times jumbled and frustrated post, but it could probably be said it mirrors my take away impression of Port Aventura Resort.

    I’d wanted to visit this park ever since it first opened. I’d heard all about Dragon Khan, of course designed by Wardley and sporting the highest number of inversions, almost believing it could even surpass Nemesis in its scale. It was another 12 years before I even heard of its competition in the form of Europa Park, and other theme park resorts across Europe (except of course Disney). And then, in 2012, a challenger to Silverstar opened in the form of Shambhala. So finally, in 2019, I arranged to go. It had a lot to live up to.

    Of course, I had heard plenty about the resort, positives and negatives, so it was difficult to set my expectations. I was recommended the Callaghan Rooms in Hotel Gold River, as a more exclusive experience to other hotel stays, so naturally went for that. With the stay all secured in February, all I had to do was work how to get there. And that was a challenge in itself. I scoured the website for advice, and it was less than forthcoming. As we were travelling from Seville, it seemed the best (and only) option was a train to Camp Tarragona, and there was apparently a frequent bus to the resort…

    Well you wouldn’t know when arriving at the station; no signage anywhere, just a bus park out the front. A bus turned up (with no indication where it was headed) and in an awkward broken English/ Spanish/Catalan conversation, the driver said he was going to Port Aventura, €12.60 for 2 people, so we obliged, only to end up dumped at the Port Aventura hotel. I had faith that as a resort theme park, there would be easy and frequent connections between the hotels, as there is in most other resorts across Europe. This was the first, and by no means last, false assumption I made.

    The Port Aventura hotel desk refused a transfer, but ordered a taxi. €6-7 they said. €14 later, after the taxi driver going to the wrong entrance (because of course if you’re staying in the Callaghan rooms in the Gold River Hotel, you cannot go via the Gold River Hotel…) I was nearing my saturation of bemusement before it descended into frustration, and then anger. However, to end this thread being one of endless negativity, the hotel was stunning; the rooms amazingly spacious and comfortable. We were also given an Express Max ticket each, giving us one Express entry on each main attraction during the stay - we contemplated upgrading to unlimited, however as we were only here for the afternoon and 1 full day, we chose not to. Instead, as by this point Simon had terrible Achilles Tendinitis, I went to the park on my own for the afternoon to scout out the place.

    On entering the park, it was clear that I had no chance of using normal queues, as they were a minimum of 1.5 hours each, so I bought another Express pass for the afternoon for €34, from a very convenient self-service machine next to Stampida, thinking that would be sufficient for me to bang in the key rides. Unbeknownst to me that this would initiate a flurry of frustrations leading to the wakening of a very Furious Satcho - it became clear very early on that the park massively relies on selling Express passes, with little consideration to the effect this has on main queues, and resulting in Express queues themselves being in excess of 1 hour. The park was evidently hugely over capacity, as it was impossible to navigate the pathways, and little to no staff available to ask for any help. One phone call from AstroDan and several wrong turns in Polynesia later, I decided to give it up and head back to the hotel; it was already park close and we had to have dinner.. By this point I had done 3 rides of my 10 ride Express Pass, however as Guest Services was the other side of the park to the hotel, I would have to take up my issue with the hotel reception (surely they would be joined up in their approach to handling guest issues…?)

    Furious Satcho returned to Simon at the hotel, went for a beer (from the range extending from Estrella to Estrella), and looked around for where to eat. Our guide said there was an exclusive restaurant for guests of Callaghan rooms… however it appears that now that another hotel (Colorado Creek) has opened, the Callaghan restaurant has moved to here, and it’s a 5 minute walk between the two (that’s not too bad, you say, however this is also where our breakfast will be, and I’m now starting to wonder on the point of Callaghan being considered ‘superior’). Anyway, the buffet was quite extensive, reasonably priced, and we ate well. We went to bed thinking it would be a new day tomorrow…

    Breakfast, despite the 5 minute walk – through the new hotel and out the other side – was amazing. The best breakfast I’ve ever had anywhere I’ve been, theme park resort or not. The choice, like the evening buffet, was extensive, even though the legendary cava for breakfast was not there, and we dined like Queens.

    At this point, I decided to voice my disappointment about the Express Pass I purchased the day before. I went to our exclusive hotel reception and explained. The lady at the desk was sympathetic, however she could not do anything because I had not bought the ticket from her. She spoke to her supervisor, who spoke to their supervisor (all conducted by phone, as it is evident Supervisors do not appear externally – more on that later) “vale vale, perfecto”. Phone put down, faces me, and said “sorry, no. We do nothing”. Because I had not had the foresight to buy from the hotel, they would not accept any responsibility for assisting me. The supervisor, we were assured, would be in at 10am, and she took my phone number for him to call me, setting the expectation that “he will not help you either”. Right. Fine. We’ll await his call, and go into the park.

    Focus was on Shambhala, Dragon Khan, Furious Baco, and Stampida. We had little interest in the smaller flat rides, and would ride the water rides later in the day. Operations were appalling, queues unnavigable, and Express queues had already built up after we got on our first ride. We chose to join the main queues for Shambhala and Dragon Khan, saving our Express passes for later, and were able to get a few rides in China before moving on to Baco. I rate all three rides highly. Shambhala has the ‘slightest’ of edge on Silverstar (the turnaround is a delight!) however the final third loses the joy whereas Silverstar manages to recover this on the return. In summary, it delivers exactly what you want from a B&M Hyper, and is on par with Silvia. Dragon Khan is joyous throughout. Smoother than I expected, yet still packs a punch. You wouldn’t know you are going through an inversion were it not for the obvious observation you make that you’re upside down. Baco lives to its name. It’s Furious, but again I was surprised by how I didn’t find it as rough as I was led to believe, and the theme is rather endearing. Incidentally, despite using our Express Pass, we were able to be on front row (the station operations were, as you would expect, a shambles). Stampida, by far not the worst woodie I’ve been on (Coaster Express the week before takes that title) though it’s evident how much GCI have improved since.

    We ate in a café in the Mediterranean area, and whilst the selection was limited, I was not disappointed by the food. This was followed by a short trip to Ferrari Land… Why bother? Very few attractions of interest. Red Force, despite its size, was a stand out disappointment. The launch was rough, and I felt the height difference to that of say Stealth made little difference. I did the shot and drop tower, which was forceless, and we departed to Guest Services to revisit my issue with the previous days Express queues.

    And this is where I experienced THE worst customer service I have ever had. I explained what happened, with the response “so what is the problem?”. I explained again that I had given them €34 with no possibility of using the ticket to see the value return “ah, ok”. The lady went out the back, and returned a minute later “no, we do nothing for you”. “Why?”. “Because you bought from a machine, you used the ticket, and yesterday cash iss closed”

    ???

    We hadn’t even said anything about what we wanted. We would’ve been happy for the ticket to be revalidated for that day, or an upgrade to the other passes we had; anything would have been fine. A refund was an option, but not the sole thing we were looking for. The exchange was heated from our side, and met with sheer lack of accountability from their side. They said I should speak to the hotel, the said I should’ve come the day before, they even said I should have returned to the machine, because they cannot help. In other circumstances I would be bemused by this, but sadly Furious Satcho has been woken again. We asked to speak to her supervisor “there is no supervisor”. “Who did you speak to when you went out the back?” “There is no supervisor”. The exchange ended by the lady simply attempting to stare us out, before moving to the next window and seeing to the people behind us. No apology, no attempt to resolve my dissatisfaction, just simply blanking is out.

    By this point the guest services queue had built up considerably, however we remained persistent and moved back behind the people she was serving; however when finished with them she went away, and a man decided to speak to us (he had been there the whole time and could have spoken to us during the 15 minutes it took her to serve the people behind us). With no different response from him other than “you did not buy from us, you bought from a machine. You should’ve come yesterday, cash iss closed now”. He conceded in giving us an email address for park management, and what passed for an apology that he cannot help.

    It is very clear that the frontline staff in both the park and resort are not given any opportunity to use their initiative, any agency in resolving a guest issue, and everything outside the sale of Express passes must go through their Supervisor who hides behind a curtain.

    Anyway, as hotel guests we are aware we have access to the spa in Hotel Port Aventura. If a spa cannot relax me, I’m beyond knowing what can. We return to the hotel and pay for spa access, €10 each, and head back into the park via the wet rides, which were the remaining ones on our passes (we had little interest in Angkor, and I had ridden El Diablo the previous day, to my regret). Tutuki Splash was fun, if you ignore the gum tunnel. The rapids and the flume both pretty average.

    At 6pm, after finally managing 1 ride on the major attractions, and no opportunity for the rest (which, as someone who doesn’t care for flats, was no great loss, although would’ve liked one turn on Huracan Condor) we headed to Port Aventura Hotel to use our spa ticket. Guess what…

    ISS CLOSED!

    Yes, the spa is closed, and to compensate the gym was open for free! Thankfully we were able to get a refund for these (which our hotel had to process, after speaking to their supervisor, and their supervisor) later in the evening, so whilst Simon utilised the gym, I headed out to the pool outside. 5 mins later…

    ISS CLOSED!

    So, after I have finished shivering after my 5 minutes in a Luke warm pool, and Simon returned from the gym, we looked for food options in the hotel. Guess what…

    ISS CLOSED! ISS BUFFET!

    Yes, all the dining options in Port Aventura were closed, and only a seafood buffet was available. As someone who is allergic to seafood, we cut our losses and requested transport back to the hotel – which, for a change, was provided for free by the hotel because they probably couldn’t be bothered to think of an excuse to not to.

    By this point, I’ve lost track of everything else that was baffling of infuriating about the trip. Our second evening meal was in Grand Opera as we couldn’t face another meal. Besides the build quality of the restaurant – to complete the Basil Fawlty experience so far, cue a “just checking the walls” moment – there were again no complaints about the food. Another pleasant evening in the resort area, which does look stunning at night.

    The next morning was our final morning, and following yet another breakfast, we had time to pop into the park and use the spare ride on the Express ticket – worth mentioning that the fabled Fuego show is apparently SBNO as it has been removed from the Express options – on, of course, Shambhala. That is, if we ever get in…

    And here is where the idea of the Callaghan rooms having their own reception desk just turned into a farce. They were unable to store our bags, and directed us to the Gold River reception. In Gold River, the information desk “‘ISS CLOSED” directed us to the check-in desk where we waited half an hour. The lady we eventually saw said we had to go to the right of the entrance. We go to where she directed us, and see a sign saying “baggage”. We go through the door, where we are met by a staff member “ISS CLOSED, IS FRONT”… We go to the front, where there is no one to take our bags, so we return to the check-in desk (bypassing the queue this time) and she calls for someone to go to baggage collection…

    We did manage to get on Shambhala, but we couldn’t wait to see the back of the place, even though it meant waiting for an hour at the train station – to which, incidentally, we were able to get free transport to, or close enough by being dropped off outside El Paso hotel – where finally, after the strangest 48 hour experience in a theme park I’d ever had, we boarded our train to Barcelona.

    In summary, the park has some absolutely banging rides and stunning vistas. But in no way does the park deserve these. Operations are abysmal, staff are next to useless, and the sheer focus on pushing as many Express passes as possible have left a bitter taste in my mouth. Who can say whether I shall return, but it’s not looking good. As may or may not have been said to the Guest Services staff member, you certainly wouldn’t expect this at Europa Park!




    Sent from my iPad using Tapatalk
     
    Posted 8th Jul 2019
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  2. DiogoJ42

    DiogoJ42 TowersStreet Member

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    Sounds about right from my one and only visit there. They have two stonking B&Ms, some great views.... And everything else is either crap, or shut.
    Almost makes Merlin look good.
     
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    Posted 8th Jul 2019
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  3. GeorgeT

    GeorgeT TowersStreet Member

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    No way this resort will ever get one single penny of mine...
     
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    Posted 8th Jul 2019
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  4. Laura91

    Laura91 TowersStreet Member

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    I’m sorry to hear you had such an awful time.
    It was quite the opposite when we visited in April, although operations weren’t the greatest nothing was closed or above a half an hour wait. After reading all these horror stories I don’t think I’ll ever visit in summer.
     
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    Posted 8th Jul 2019
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  5. Stuntman707

    Stuntman707 TowersStreet Member

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    Wow, i've read some bad stuff about the place but that sounds like the worst! I think i'll stick to visiting Europa Park.
     
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    Posted 9th Jul 2019
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  6. Alsty

    Alsty TowersStreet Member

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    I can feel the frustration in your post!

    PortAventura is a strange park. It has some great rides but the operations are dreadful. It's absolutely not possible to do PA without Express passes, and even then it's only slightly better than the normal queues.

    I have never stayed at the Resort hotels (normally stay in Salou and walk in), but I've heard a few similar tales recently. Iss closed seems to be a common problem along with the poor customer relations.
     
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    Posted 9th Jul 2019
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  7. Error

    Error TowersStreet Member

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    Sorry about your dreadful time....but to be honest I would love to read more adventures of "FuriousSatcho", was a good read.
     
    Posted 9th Jul 2019
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  8. Benzin

    Benzin TowersStreet Member

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    Feel somewhat lucky my experiences of PA have been reasonably ok, last time the only real issue I had was their weird disabled policy (which is semi in line with most of the European parks) and horrendous busyness was dealt with by having a motorised scooter running over small children who got in the way...

    Compared to Tibidabo, who bent over backwards in terms of assisting with wheelchair (and allowed us to jump to the front of any lift queue) you can tell the park that deals with customer service properly...
     
    Posted 9th Jul 2019
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  9. Plastic Person

    Plastic Person TowersStreet Member

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    I haven't been for years now, having been a yearly regular for a period. I am in the area next week, and had loose plans to pop in for the day, but this has put me right off.
     
    Posted 9th Jul 2019
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  10. Danny

    Danny TPWW's no.1 Fan

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    I can vividly imagine each scenario your frustration was conveyed at in your post Satch. A good read nonetheless, but a shame about your experience.

    My two visits to the park and single visit to Ferrari Land have had enough effect to deter me from visiting until another major investment is put in. They really can't be faulted for their presentation, but every single other component about the place is utter drivel. I fail to comprehend how people can rave about PA whilst the minimal basics such as customer service and operations are so dire.
     
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    Posted 9th Jul 2019
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  11. Burbs

    Burbs TS Site Team Team Member

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    I have been put off recently from visiting by reviews such as yours, Satch. Seems like it'd be a funny place to go if you know what to expect, but the awkward and unclear travel options seem like an unnecessary stress.

    I will stick to iss open restaurants at other parks I think.
     
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    Posted 9th Jul 2019
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  12. AstroDan

    AstroDan TS Forum Team Team Member

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    PortAventura has been consistently shambolic in my past few visits.

    It's chaos.

    Thank you for sharing the review!

    I am probably one of only very few people, but I prefer to spend a day at Alton Towers. It might be a weaker overall package in theory (less shows/events/area theming) but at least you'd never have the dire guest service nor appalling ride operation.

    :)
     
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    Posted 9th Jul 2019
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  13. EuroSatch

    EuroSatch TowersStreet Member

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    I have also sent a long letter of complaint to the park detailing some of the issues we had. I don’t expect a response, and doubt they will make any changes because of it, but felt it was worth them hearing some negative feedback and see how they handle it
     
  14. Rob

    Rob TS Forum Team Team Member

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    Letter box ISSS CLOSED, ISSSS BUFFET.
     
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  15. venny

    venny TowersStreet Member

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    I have to concur with the sentiments here. PA has great infrastructure but is let down massively by its day to day operation. One of my stand out experiences from our last visit was, after informing the reception of Gold River that every toilet in the men’s was blocked, being told I should “find somewhere else”. Like maybe a bush??

    The one exception I would point out is Lucy’s Mansion, where the service is consistently exemplary and the restaurant is open. It’s worth the splurge just to avoid queueing an hour to check-in. The free Express Passes and Cava too.
     
  16. IDB

    IDB TowersStreet Member

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    I enjoyed my stay there last September. But fell out with them when they wouldn’t let us take our own photos with Woody Woodpecker!
     
  17. Error

    Error TowersStreet Member

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    WOODPECKER IS SHY ISSSS CLOSSSED.......ISSS BUUFFFEETT!
     
  18. Piggysquared

    Piggysquared TowersStreet Member

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    Agree, it's strange park. I visited for the first time in May this year, and while I didn't suffer too badly with queue times, ops could have still been much better. Mid-week, they were running Shambhala on two trains making it near walk-on, then on weekends with only one train all day. Queue management however is awful. Furius Baco has some of the worst queue jumping I've ever seen. Although we did see three queue jumpers get sent out of line on Dragon Khan. Small win there.

    Also, we stayed at the El Paso hotel. It was fine - but just fine. Mainly because of how close it is to the park entrance and the gift of all-inclusive which saved us a fortune overall. The pool shut at 6pm (far too early) and the A La Carte restaurant was only open for one night the whole week (and we had vouchers for two nights to eat there).
     
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  19. EuroSatch

    EuroSatch TowersStreet Member

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    I should add that the queue management is appalling. The morning we got to Dragon Khan we decided to main queue it as it was only 25 minutes (apparently. It wasn’t). They had allowed everyone to queue backwards to at each turnaround in the cattle pens people were jumping over the fence. We tried in vain to get people to queue normally, but abandoned that after 1 minute and had to join in.

    We did however meet an English family and told them to try Europa Park next time. Still waiting for the commission from Roland
     
  20. EuroSatch

    EuroSatch TowersStreet Member

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    Well, I have had a response to my complaint. Needless to say it is very much in keeping with the level of customer service experienced during my visit

    [​IMG]
     
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