Sunday, April 14, 2024

Europe: Continental success

European parks grow within and outside their borders

by Jordan Zauha

The pandemic disrupted normal business cycles, but four major players in Europe – Puy du Fou, Futuroscope, Efteling and Merlin Entertainments – opened new attractions, broke ground on international projects and even opened new theme parks.

Puy du Fou

It was only in 2020 that Puy du Fou represented a single theme park enterprise. As 2021 begins to wind down, it is an international theme park operator working toward its third park. The crown jewel of Puy du Fou’s recent additions is its second theme park in Europe – Puy du Fou España – which opened March 27, 2021, making Puy du Fou an international enterprise in theme parks along with its live spectaculars which already delights guests beyond the French border. Celebrating and recalling pivotal moments from the nation’s history, Puy du Fou España represents a massive €183 million (nearly $214 million) investment delivering its signature storytelling to a Spanish audience. Just 40 minutes from Madrid, the park makes its home in Toledo, targeting the nearly 3.5 million visitors that step within the city each year.

Despite the challenges brought by the pandemic and nationwide restrictions, Puy du Fou forged ahead on three projects that were in development, expanding its French venue with additional hotel rooms (Le Grand Siècle), a conference center (Le Théâtre Molierè) and an all-new nighttime spectacular (Les Noces de Feu), totaling €62 million ($72.5 million) across all three investments.

Even as the company begins to eye its third theme park in Shanghai with the Puy du Fou Asia project, preceded by its SAGA show concept premiering in the city, the themed entertainment creator and operator still promises to invest in the European market, specifically by supporting its Puy du Fou España park with another €242 million (approximately $283 million) over the years approaching 2028. It has also extended its contract until 2026 with Efteling Park (The Netherlands) on its live stunt show Raveleijn, a collaboration to enhance the staple show that began in 2013.


With its contemporary artistic aesthetic and architecture, Futuroscope has brought entertainment innovation to France since its opening in 1987. Begun as a display of specialty cinema pavilions, over the decades Futuroscope has expanded its offerings by adding amusement and theme park attractions to its property. This direction continues to motivate the changes Futuroscope made through 2020-2021 and into the future.

Before the pandemic began, Futuroscope was developing its family roller coaster – Objectif Mars (Destination Mars) – originally planned for a late March 2020 opening. After closing due to health restrictions and regulations, the park opened the coaster upon reopening its facilities on June 13, 2020, ensuring returning guests an all-new experience as part of its reopening.

Looking to the future, a shareholders’ agreement was unanimously approved for an investment plan over the ten-year span between 2020 and 2030, with a majority of this investment to be spent before 2025. The goal of the investment aims to bring more attractions and a wider variety of experiences that will allow Futuroscope to rise as a holiday spot including overnight accommodations for visitors.

Part of this capital will go toward a 76-room space-themed hotel to accompany the park, aiming for an early 2022 opening. A second, eco-friendly family lodge resort will open the year after. Continuing to diversify the park’s offerings, Futuroscope will round out the first half of the decade-long improvements with a themed indoor waterpark, Aquascope. With two new hotels, a waterpark, and the addition of three major attractions within its current park, Futuroscope continues to diversify beyond its original premise and aims to become a top resort destination in Europe, covering an area of 22 hectares (2.3 million square feet) and projecting an increase of attendance to 2.5 million visitors per year.

With these plans, Futuroscope has set aside €60 million (about $70 million) for the three major attractions it promises and another €104 million ($121.5 million) which encapsulates its two hotels and indoor waterpark. The property is positioned as an economic engine for the region through job creation, construction needs and other ancillary developments.


Efteling Park cultivated new inclusive and culturally relevant additions throughout the 2020 and 2021 seasons. The beloved Dutch theme park was entertaining folks back in 1952 before Disneyland’s creation and has a strong regional following.

Investing over €2.8 million ($3.2 million), Efteling adapted its former Adventure Maze and Monsieur Cannibale attractions into a themed area entirely dedicated to stories of Sindbad the Sailor from “Tales of the Thousand and One Nights.” Efteling chose to collaborate with Richard van Leeuwen from the University of Amsterdam. Van Leeuwen specializes in Islamic Studies and worked with Efteling to bring a positive, inclusive and educational approach to the storytelling of this area for guests to enjoy.

Appealing to an even wider variety of visitors, especially the young, the theme park replaced it’s Polka Marina Pirates Carousel with Nest! – an inclusive playscape designed for children with a variety of abilities and echoing the themes of other attractions within the park.

Concept art for the new Sindbad attractions at Efteling. Image courtesy of Efteling

Beyond rides and attractions, Efteling showcases its commitment to storytelling in its new eatery opening this winter, located adjacent to its new Max & Moritz family coaster. This coaster was nearly complete before lockdown restrictions throughout Europe occurred and opened in June 2020, just one month after the park reopened to the public. Bäckerei Krümel will offer both indoor seating for 125 guests and outside seating that spills into the square with 50 seats.

Ensuring even more experiences for visitors in the future, the Dutch Council of State fully approved a decade long framework for the park’s growth and development plan, collectively known as Wereld van de Efteling 2030 (World of Efteling 2030).

Merlin Entertainments

Second only to Walt Disney Attractions in terms of global attendance to its venues, UK-based operator Merlin Entertainments continues to be a major player, not only in its home region, but the world. The company not only continued to open new attractions during the pandemic, but also has promised new offerings, attractions, expansions and investments around its properties in Europe and the Middle East, Asia-Pacific and North America. Merlin’s variety of venue size and locations continues to drive tourism in more regional markets and creating jobs and work for those local communities it aims to entertain.

Already enjoyed by guests during this past summer holiday, LEGOLAND Windsor Resort opened the new LEGO MYTHICA: World of Mythical Creatures themed land, representing the largest single investment for the resort after its initial opening 25 years ago.

Peppa Pig, the hit children’s television character and show, takes center stage for many of the expansions and investments by Merlin. This includes a Peppa Pig World of Play indoor play center at the Westfield Mall of The Netherlands. The 1,500 square meter (over 16,000 square feet) play area epitomizes Merlin’s ability to craft family entertainment experiences across a broad range of venues, offerings and audience sizes, from small children’s play centers to large-scale resorts, which Peppa Pig will boast in China.

Merlin Entertainments’ famous Madame Tussauds attraction will find a new home in Budapest next year, bringing its lifelike museum of celebrities.

Currently Europe is home to three LEGOLAND Resorts (not including the newly opened LEGOLAND waterpark at Gardaland): LEGOLAND Billund in Denmark, LEGOLAND Windsor in the United Kingdom and LEGOLAND Deutschland, the newest European LEGOLAND park, which opened in Germany in 2002. Merlin has publicly announced interest in adding a fourth European LEGOLAND park to its portfolio, focusing particularly in the Benelux region. They noted the area of Gooselies, Belgium, as being of particular interest during site studies.

Outside Europe, Merlin continues to expand its established properties while also developing new parks and resorts at major cities around the world. As previously mentioned, Merlin just broke ground this summer on their first standalone Peppa Pig Resort in Meishan, China, which will include a Peppa Pig theme park and a hotel themed to the beloved children’s series. Merlin will also position their SEA LIFE aquarium right next to the park.

Peppa Pig will also be making big waves in the United States where a Peppa Pig theme park will open right next to the LEGOLAND Florida Resort, expanding the options for family fun on their Winter Haven, Florida, property in February 2022.

Four more LEGOLAND properties will call Asia home: Korea, scheduled to open in 2022; LEGOLAND Sichuan set for a 2023 opening; Shanghai, where a 2019 agreement greenlit the nearly $550 million project, scheduled to open in 2024; and Shenzhen, a $1.08 billion project which broke ground this summer.

As for its smaller attractions, Merlin will open a Madame Tussauds attraction in Dubai this October, continuing its dynamic strategy of both premier large-scale attractions and recognizable small-scale attractions. • • •

Jordan Zauha
Jordan Zauha
Jordan Zauha is a freelance writer and narrative designer in the themed entertainment industry. As a member of the inaugural cohort of the Theatre MFA - Themed Experience program at the University of Central Florida, Jordan is a part of a new generation of themed experience creators fortunate enough to receive formal education in this art form that has delighted guests from around the world for the past 70 years. Jordan is a member of the Themed Entertainment Association (TEA) through their NextGen program. He is also a student member of the Themed Experience & Attractions Academic Society (TEAAS) which bridges the attractions industry with the academic community to build upon the knowledge of both fields.

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