Just Kidding Around
Taking the family to Europe? Here are some fun stops for children big and small.
Legoland is Scandinavia's top kids' sight. This huge park is a happy combination of rides, restaurants, trees, smiles, and 33 million Lego bricks creatively arranged into such wonders as Mt. Rushmore, the Parthenon, King Ludwig's castle, and the Statue of Liberty. It's a Lego world, as everything is cleverly related to this very popular toy. Surprisingly, the restaurants don't serve Legolamb. There's a Lego playroom for hands-on fun — and a campground across the street if your kids refuse to move on.
Copenhagen's Tivoli Gardens
Copenhagen's Tivoli Gardens, the world's most famous amusement park, is a Hans Christian Andersen wonderland of ice cream stands, rides, games, marching bands, acrobats, puppet shows, and funny mirrors. It's almost 175 years old, packed into 20 acres, and lit by 110,000 lanterns. Tivoli is wonderfully Danish. It doesn't try to be Disney.
Disneyland Paris remains a hit with kids on either side of the Atlantic. It's a modern remake of the one in California, with most of the same rides and smiles. The main difference is Mickey Mouse speaks French (and you can buy wine with your lunch). My kids went ducky.
England's Blackpool made such a hit with my kids that they declared it better than Disneyland. This coastal resort is a fun, tacky mix of Coney Island, Las Vegas, and Woolworth's. Spend the day "muckin' about" the beach promenade of fortune-tellers, fish-and-chips joints, amusement piers, and Englanders wearing hats with built-in ponytails. Blackpool's Pleasure Beach, littered with more than 80 rides, features one of the the world's highest and fastest roller coasters ("Pepsi Max Big One," 235 feet, 85 mph). The newest sensation is the Ice Blast, which rockets you straight up before letting you bungy down. Also memorable is a frightening race called "Steeple Chase" — imagine carousel horses stampeding down a roller-coaster track.
Sledding Without Snow
For more traditional European fun, hop on a luge, one of the great Alpine experiences. Ski slopes scattered throughout Europe are outfitted with concrete bobsled courses. Local speed demons spend entire summer days riding chairlifts up steep slopes to "luge" down on oversized skateboards. You sit with a brake stick between your legs. Push to go fast. Pull to stop.
There's a luge at Chamonix in France, two between Salzburg and Hallstatt (one near Fuschlsee, one near Wolfgangsee), one in Bavaria north of Neuschwanstein, one near Oberammergau, and the longest luge course in the Tirol, the Biberwier course near Lermoos, on the road from Reutte toward Innsbruck. Luge courses are normally open daily in the summer unless it's wet. The concrete course banks on the corners, and even a first-timer can go very fast. Most people are careful their first run and really rip on their second. To avoid a slow-healing souvenir, remind your kids (and yourself) to keep both hands on the stick. You'll rumble, windblown and smile-creased, into the finish line with one thought on your mind — "Do it again!"