As ever, delighted to return to Europa Park for my fifth visit and for the first time since 2017. I’m not going to cover the same ground as almost any right-minded EP visitor might well do, just happy to confirm the park and resort is still a wonderful experience, enough to convince even an accompanying theme park agnostic of its greatness. As such, I’m going to focus on what’s changed in the past four years across the board, for better, and maybe even for worse... Rulantica Last time I was at EP, I glimpsed Rulantica as little more than a pile of dirt in the distance. Even before then, since my first trip to the park, the fabled ‘waterpark’ was high on Mack's very public agenda. As such, I was very intrigued to see the dream realised, although aware it had been somewhat scaled-down and then impacted by one of the strangest periods in human history. The arrival hall at Rulantica is very ornate and impressive, and the whole check-in and changing rooms experience is superior, more akin to a posh spa than a family waterpark. I particularly enjoyed the high-end ‘rainforest style’ showers provided by one of the park’s sponsors. Turning into the main hall, you’re hit by the typical echoing acoustics of an indoor waterpark blending with a swelling orchestral score, soundtracking a vista of the attractions on offer. At this point, I need to lay down my biggest criticism; at just five euros or so cheaper than Europa Park itself, Rulantica is radically overpriced. Even understanding the operating costs, the capacity limits and presumably the ‘curation’ of a certain type of guest with this figure, it’s at least ten euros more than it should be. The evening ticket is more palatable, although the cheaper still three-hour ‘night’ ticket wouldn’t have been enough for a debut visit. It was especially expensive given that Svalgoruk, the expansive and very fun-looking new set of outdoor slides, pistols and buckets, was closed for short-term emergency maintenance. Saying that, it was ****ing it down all day, so no great loss, although I feel the park would have been a different experience had we been able to lounge outside in the sun. Not to mention, most importantly, I understand the salmon roll unit from Iceland in the main park has been imported! One of my favourite things about Europa Park is their tireless and timeless ability to gussy up average or showcase hardware with amazing theming and character to make each ride a memorable experience; Arthur, Alpenexpress, Atlantica and more recently, Snorri Touren are all strong examples. Frustratingly, some of Rulantica’s rides lack that magic. In fact, of all the attractions at Rulantica, only ‘Vinter Rytt’ (the vertical wall slide) and the two trapdoor drop slides were anything to write home about. The first as that moment of zero-gravity is so much fun, and the latter as they’re absolutely bananas. In fact, more than one would have been more than enough, given that they’re obviously far too intimidating for most of the park aside from groups of French teenagers egging each other into the tube, alongside willing to sink a few cocktails first, like myself. As someone relatively unmoved by anything other than extreme haunted houses, these definitely gave me the increasingly rare sort of rush that feels worth the admission. Nonetheless, they feel like a poor fit and far too intense for Rulantica’s audience. The rest of the slides, the outdoor rapids and the wave pool are all perfectly fine. Knowing what Europa can do with the dark ride format, ‘Snorri’s Saga’ felt somewhat bland and a missed opportunity. The food, while fresh, is equally overpriced - although forgivable and of strong quality by theme park standards - whereas the cocktails were heavy and satisfying. The ‘Skol Lagoon’ bar is rather addictive, resting against the faux forest. The ‘Ice Kingdom’ section is the only part of the whole resort in which it feels like they simply ran out of money. Having to queue in boring, dark hallways with a rough MDF feel having entered what is supposed to be a magical ‘Ice Kingdom’ reminds me of German funfair ghost trains, all bark and little bite. Overall, I found Rulantica to be entertaining enough but lacking in the charm that the original theme park has in spades. One thing that’s become clearer and more accelerated since 2017 is the distinction between what I’d call ‘classic’ and ‘modern’ Europa Park. Sometimes, the park succeeds in building a bridge between these two eras perfectly, as will follow in my next report. By ‘classic’, I mean the quirky, personable and even slightly ramshackle EP that is indebted to its decades as a cracked Disneyland mirror. Then there’s ‘modern’ EP, which feels slicker, obsessed with VR, more fantasy oriented and characterised by Mack Media and their entertainment efforts. To me, Rulantica exists in the blander end of this vision, which is a shame, given not only its sheer size, but what it represents as a development. The CGI merpeople, sea monsters and even omnipresent Snorri feel less than magical to my sensibilities, cynical as they may be. Perhaps EP’s strengths are difficult to translate to a water park. I'm not sure I'll bother next time round. Across the water, Hotel Kronasar feels like Europa Park at its most sublime and ridiculous. Fascinating, carefully curated Danish maritime artefacts and beautiful paintings sit alongside the body of a giant, plastic sea creature and faux dinosaurs. My partner, an art critic, found the whole aesthetic absolutely fascinating and bizarre, which made the trip much funnier. We ate at Bubba Svens, which was good but typically overpriced (it’s interesting and terrifying to consider that Europa Park is still cheaper than Disneyland Paris…) It’s certainly not my favourite restaurant, but Captain’s Table at Bell Rock and many others were fully booked. The hotels were operating at Corona capacity, but still seemed to be struggling to seat enough people in the facilities available. They were also strongly advertising a discounted-rate offer for one more night’s stay, relevant to anyone checking out, which would suggest that they might be operating at a loss currently. Anyway, it’s an impressive facility, and I’m sure they’ll find themselves back at that impressive 98% occupancy rate sometime soon enough. As we had a dog with us, we were not staying on-site on this occasion, having found a lovely couple one town over who had not only a fantastic B&B, but offered pet care. We nonetheless took the shuttle over to Bell Rock for a few drinks. The isolation of Kronaskar and Rulantica also feels like a disadvantage, knowing the pleasure of being able to pop back to your room without much of a fuss on hot summer days and cold winter nights. I think I will remain a Bell Rock/Colosseo devotee, especially as long as the cocktails in Spirit of St. Louis remains so delicious. Unfortunately, the top floor bar at Colosseo was still shuttered, so we popped over to El Andulaz for one last drink in the Circus Bar, which was weird and delightful as usual. Unfortunately, here we encountered our first customer service snag of the two days. We visited reception to order a cab back to our off-site accommodation, which was subject to a thirty minute wait. A little annoying, but what else can you do in the middle of nowhere on a Wednesday night. The receptionist soothed our boredom with a free drink voucher. Unfortunately, as we were sipping our bonus bubbly, the driver turned up early and then drove off again when we didn’t turn up. The staff had switched and nobody came to the bar to let us know, as promised! I could have sworn at one of the hundreds of photos of Roland Mack meeting a C-list popstar or previously influential world leader, but deep down, I knew that despite what he might like you to think, not everything is in his control. Park stuff to follow!