More competition means better rides for Europe's theme parks

Europa-Park, Europe's second most-visited theme park, has confirmed some of the new rides and attractions debuting next month as it counts down to its reopening for the summer season.

Faced with stiff competition from European favorite Disneyland Paris, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, Europa Park is promising a "gigantic" summer season when it reopens to the public on March 31.

Chief among the highlights will be the new wooden rollercoaster Wodan, which reaches speeds of up to 100km/h as it weaves in and out of the park's other rides, subjecting passengers to forces of up to 3.5G.

Also new is a new 4D film, "The Secret of Balthasar Castle," and a themed four star hotel exploring the journey taken by the Pilgrim Fathers to New England in the USA, marking the opening of the park's fifth hotel.

With an estimated 4.25 million visitors in 2010, Europa Park holds something of a slim lead over Europe's third most popular theme park, Die Efteling in the Netherlands.

Die Efteling attracted four million visitors in 2010, the most recent figures from the Themed Entertainment Association (TEA) suggest, compared to nearly 3.7 million for Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen and 3.05 million for Port Aventura near Barcelona, Spain.

In the Dutch park, efforts are being stepped up to increase competitiveness, with a huge water display called Aquanura set to be introduced in June.

Slated to be among the world's top three water shows in terms of size, the spectacular nightly performance will feature lights, flames and gallons of dancing water designed to celebrate the park's 60th anniversary.

In Port Aventura in Spain, preparations are under way for the debut of Europe's tallest rollercoaster this year, soaring 76 meters into the sky and hitting 134 km/h on the way down.

Widely expected to be called Shambhala, the coaster will dwarf its neighbour at Port Aventura, Dragon Khan, and is expected to include an underground tunnel at the end of the drop.

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