BRUEHL, Germany -- Nestled in the small town of Bruehl, just south of Cologne, one will find escape, thrills, entertainment, and best of all, relaxation.

Just a five hour ride, or if one is travelling with little-ones and has a DVD player in the car, it's just three movies away from Grafenwoehr. The ride is primarily Autobahn so it does seem shorter, and pop-in a favorite Schlager or children's CD and a game of good old-fashioned family car karaoke makes time seem to fly by even faster.

With plenty of Esso gas stations and fast-food restaurants along the way, even those with the largest gas-guzzling cars can make their way there with ease.

To get the full experience, it's essential to stay in one of the two award-winning themed hotels--Hotel LING BAO, the Asian themed hotel, or Hotel MATAMBA, the African themed hotel. Both provide a wonderful buffet breakfast, as well as buffet and ala carte dinners. Both serve authentic food from their region, including sushi, shrimp, duck, kangaroo, zebra, and ostrich.

The atmosphere is so authentic down to the smallest details that one will truly believe they have traveled to another land. The oil lamps and relaxing music add to the effect.

Both hotels and the entire park are child friendly. Kids under 11 get a free non-alcoholic cocktail just for checking-in. Then in the room, there is a pillow and a T-shirt waiting for them on the bed. Both of these are for the child to take home with them. There are also costumed dragons and lions walking around to greet and even play foosball with the kids. There's even a free child-service in the evenings for when parents want to have a romantic dinner alone.

There are package deals which include park admission and are a bargain compared to any large theme park in the States, and the ambiance is as authentic as any of the Disney Parks. The packages include a buffet breakfast, unlimited use of the sauna and pool, and one quick-pass per person per day so the whole family can quickly bypass the long lines on the more popular rides.

The Ling Bao has its own private entrance into the park so there are absolutely no lines and no waiting. Each themed area in the park also has its own entrance so one can go directly to the preferred area without having to walk through crowds of people.

The park is broken into five themed areas: Fantasy, Deep in Africa, Berlin, Mexico, Mystery and China Town. Each area has one adult-only ride, but they do have a child-swap so parents don't have to go back through the line again. On some of the rides the attendants are very accommodating and will watch the children while the parents ride together. The rest of the rides even the youngest of children can ride with a parent accompanying.

And there is no need to worry about bad weather because 80 percent of the rides are under cover or inside a building so the elements will not be a factor.

One inside ride is not for the faint of heart. It's the Mystery Castle. At more than 213 feet, it is one of Europe's tallest vertical tower drops. Not only does it rush you to the top at a whopping 65 miles per hour, it actually pulls you down rather than just free-falling. The positive then negative G-force is not for young children, or for someone with a weak stomach.

On hot sunny days, Phantasialand has Chipas DIE Wasserbahn (THE water-ride), boasting the world's steepest drop on a log ride. It's a six minute ride, going up five levels, with three drops, one of which drops you backwards, and spectacular themed landscape which is guaranteed to cool you down. Or for those looking to get really wet, there is River Quest, a water-tube ride guaranteed to leave you soaked.

And for those who don't like rides, there are lots of shows. And we're not taking low-budget, that's my child on stage talent-show productions either. These are high-budget, high-class, Las Vegas style shows which one would pay hundreds of dollars to see, but they are all free--included in the cost of admission.

One favorite is "Sieben (Seven), the Book of Mysteries." Magician Christian Farla, who twice won Magician of the Year, creates a mysterious show which leaves one wanting more. Just when you think you have figured out how he does an illusion, he does something else to prove you wrong. With a balance of old tricks with a modern twist, as well as a set of illusions that will take your breath away, no one, young or old, will leave there disappointed. And to top it off, the performers line up by the exit to shake hands and take photos with after the performance.

Another popular performance is "Relight My Fire," a breathtaking mix of classic rock and ice skating acrobats. And yes, true to its name, they truly do light fire on the ice suring the show.

For the children, and the kids inside of some adults, there is "Jump!," a stunning display of breakdancers, BMX bikers, trampoline liners, and stilt jumpers. They do a lot more than just jump and this exciting show will definitely keep you on the edge of your seat.

Being that the park is child friendly, there are dozens of rides just for kids, including bumper cars which have a MAXIMUM height limit of five feet tall. That's right, the kids rides are made for kids, not parents.

Another nice feature of the park is the price of food and drink. One might expect to pay 10 Euros for a drink and five Euros for a scoop of ice cream at an amusement park. After all, "Where else are you going to go?," as the saying goes. Not at Phantasialand. A soda costs 2.50 euros and a scoop of ice cream is 1 euro, competitive with downtown prices.

Be sure to plan your trip early as even on American holidays they get booked out very quickly. Independence Day weekend is totally booked out in both hotels, but of course, one can also stay in a guest house in town and just drive to the park every day. But it just isn't the same as staying on the premises and being whisked away to a far away land, all without leaving your hotel.

All in all, Phantasialand can't be beat, from the prices of its package deals to the rides and shows, Phantasialand really does have it all! And if free parking and free buffet breakfasts are not enough, they also take the VAT form.

Page last updated Tue July 1st, 2014 at 06:30