This review relates mostly to the CINESCENIE - the night time show which is a part of the Grand Parc de Puy du Fou experience.
The Grand Parc stages it's Cinescenie on Friday and Saturday nights only, over just 15 weeks from June to September - the first two of those weekends being Saturday only.
YOU MUST RESERVE YOUR SEATS IN ADVANCE - it is very popular, and for two years, we found it booked up for our dates (peak summer), by February. Similarly, hotels in the area are busy too, and some insist that you must eat in the hotel on Fridays and Saturdays!
The show lasts for two hours, and starts after darkness falls - so you will be seated until well after midnight at this latitude! If you are able, take a cushion or something soft to sit on, and remember that even though daytime temperatures can be in the mid 30°s, it will almost certainly be cold after dark, so take a coat! If you have travelled by car, you will have to find your vehicle in the darkness afterwards, so be sure where you left it - the lots are numbered, but the rows are not. A good tip is to get a glow stick, and leave it in the windscreen where you will see it in the dark later.
The seating area holds 14,000 people, so when you leave you will find the traffic is SLOW - use the loos before you set off for your accommodation!
You will be seated well before the performance, but will be kept entertained while waiting by jesters, and other entertainers within the audience. When we have been there, a Park microlight passed overhead, followed by a small flock of geese!
So what will you see in the show?
700 years of history of the Vendeé region, narrated by a pedlar, and set around the (fictional) estate of the local "Maupillier" family.
State of the art special effects will keep you enthralled, and you will find yourself asking "How did they do that?" especially when a large ghostly figure crosses the lake!
Children especially will be entertained, but bear in mind that there are canon, and fireworks. The late hour should be a guide as to whether your children are ready for this sort of show, but I would say under 8 - 10 years might find it too much - you must gauge this yourself.
The action takes place around a huge performance area, which includes a lake, a ruined château, and a small village - some 23 hectares! Even the windmill you pass as you enter the park - some distance away - is lit up and seen in the distance, with it's sails turning at one point in the show.
The translation headsets available will keep you informed as to the nature of the story. Each has TWO headphone sockets, so you could save money by using two units between four people - and take you own headphones if your budget is stretched.
The statistics for this show are staggering in so many ways, so those who have not been will find it hard to grasp the sheer spectacle you will see if you go.
1200 actors, over 100 horses and many animals, old breeds of farm animals etc. as well as canon etc, are employed, together with fountains, lasers, smoke and fireworks - which keep you on the edge of your seat. We certainly did not notice the two hours we had spent watching in 2008, and returned in 2009 to see the show again!
You can get an inkling if you visit the web site for the Puy du Fou. On the current site, use the "My Puy du Fou" link, then the "My Goodies" link. scroll down past the downloadable wall papers to see high quality stills, OR click the link at the top which says "All The Videos" and you can then download and play good quality clips of the various shows and the accommodation.
The programs available as you enter the seating area are informative, and our children were GIVEN great quality A2 posters for the Puy du Fou to take home. Postcards are a must, as the action takes place too far away to capture good stills yourself. Flash photography is not allowed - and would be pointless at the distances involved any way.
Be aware that the DVD on sale contains clips of the show, and it's history, as well as behind the scenes footage, but does NOT contain a video of the whole show. Aside from the fact that such a video could not do it justice, it is part of the marketing of the show that you have to see it to believe it - a sentiment I heartily concur with.
So is it worth the entry price? Well this is MY review, and so MY opinion, but....
The music alone was worth the entry price - composed by Nick Glennie Smith (google him for his other credits!).
The fireworks alone were worth the entry price.
The spectacle itself was worth more than the entry price. My recommendation would be to spend two days in the Grand Parc in order to see everything, and perhaps make the night you arrive at your accommodation the night you see the show, given the late hours you will be keeping. Or go back the next year and see the bits you missed the year before and the new attractions which seem to be added annually! See other reviews here for ticketing advice.
We have travelled to the Vendee region of France several times and we had heard about The Grand Parc at Puy du Fou but it is billed as a Medieval Theme Park and it really didn't appeal to me! However having "done" many of the attractions in the area and faced with another day of dodgy weather (we were very unlucky in 2008) we decided to give it a go.
The tickets were about 25 euroes for adults and 15 for children. However when I enquired about directions at our campsite office they told me that we could buy tickets from them with a 5 euro discount each. This seems to be common practice in the area so either book online or through your accomodation if possible to bag a bargain! They also informed me that it was a simple journey and would be well signposted off the A87. They mentioned that the road to The Grand Parc gets busy--they were not kidding! The journey from Jean De Monts probably took about one and a half hours with at least the last half an hour crawling along a single carriageway road to the entrance.
The carpark on arrival was huge and was free. There appeared to be disabled spaces closer to the gates. At this point I will say that my french is not very impressive but it is better than the rest of my family (my children both study German at school!). I failed my O-level over 20 years ago and have done a couple of nightschool classes since. However I have always managed to read written French reasonably easily. Due to these limitations on our language skills I was a bit worried about how the day would work out.
When we arrived we were given a map of the park which had lots of information in english. We immediately headed to the customer service point as I read that they had Interpretation Headphone available. We purchased two sets with double earphones. These proved invaluable during the day, I was able to follow most of the shows (sometimes a little vaguely!) without them as I am not a fan of earphones but everybody else loved them. When you got to a show you chose your language and it was a radio to get your translation of the action.
The park is built on a huge scale and it is very difficult to explain the impressiveness or the splendour of the shows. I have been to Disneyland several times but the shows here were much more awe-inspiring. It is important after you arrive to plan your day. Each spectacle runs several times a day but they are quite long- about 40minutes or so. It is not possible to see them all in one day unless you are supremely organised and have great stamina. I believe the park sells two day tickets as well if you want to take it more slowly. There is a hotel on site.
The park is set amidst a tranquil woodland setting. There are various "walk-around" historical settings which have buildings, shops and craftsmen working. There are many people around dressed in appropriate clothing and each area is very atmospheric. There was a Medieval City, an 18th century village and also a Market Town of around 1900. There are various restaurants and snack areas dotted around these sites. We bought some drinks which seemed a reasonable price and we also took our own picnic. There were plenty of picnic areas. There were toilets throughout the park but I was informed by my son that some of the urinals were pretty much on public display so you have been warned!
Now we come on to the "Spectacles" as they are called. You needed to queue up to get a seat on the day we were there but it was the height of the season so I don't know if that is always necessary as the seating areas are very large.
My favourite was definately the Gladiators. This takes place in an enormous rebuild of the coliseum. There are lots of fight scenes with plenty of "blood-bags" so is quite gory. They even have tigers that come out but I think they are so well fed they just want to lie down and watch the action! The finale is a fantastic chariot race with bits of chariot flying off whilst we are all cheering for our hero. Of course good triumphs over evil (not quite like the real romans then!) but it is still very exciting to watch. When you take your seat be careful not to sit on those marked restrictive viewing (sorry - can't remember what that was in French but I'm sure it was something obvious), I think for some parts there would be no view at all from these ones.
The setting for the Viking spectacular has a large tower with a lake in front. The action involves lots and lots of fire and viking longboats. The final scene involves people being underwater for a long time-very impressive. I found the story to this one a bit dull but the the effects were very good.
---Birds of Prey----
I am not usually that taken with bird displays. I think I have just seen too many and find them dull. I found this one a bit contrived but it was impressive for the sheer number of birds that they have flying. Many of the handlers are walking around the audience so the birds brush past your hair regularly which is quite exciting! The story did seem to go on but I was having trouble following it (should have used the earphones!) so that is probably why. Everyone else thought it was very good.
We chose this as our last show as it was indoors in quite an impressive looking theatre. I thought there would be lots of swash-buckling type action which my son would enjoy but we were wrong. I had to resort to the translator here as I could not make head nor tale of what was going on! There was little fighting but there was fantastic horse-riding. The stage was flooded with water and the combination of the horses and the light effects was absolutley stunning!
We were not able to see The Battle of the Keep as we ran out of time. Also the park is very famous for Cinescenie which is their Son et Lumiere, this involves lots of local residents. It was not showing on the day we visited but I think it adds about 15 euroes onto the ticket price. It would be very tiring after a day at the park and may be better seen on its own. The seating areas of most of the shows are quite exposed and lots of suncream is recommended. The photographic opportunities are countless so take an extra memory card or roll of film for your camera!
Overall I was surprisingly impressed with this park. The children thoroughly enjoyed it and learnt a little history along the way. Obviously the historical facts are certainly bent a little in the Frech favour but that would be the same in any country! I would recommend this as a day out for anyone in the area who fancies a change from the beaches!
If you ever find yourself holidaying in the Vendee and fancy a day away from the beech or swimming pool then I can definitely recommend Le Grand Parc, Puy Du Fou for a great family day out. It is a medieval theme park which really has no equivalent to it on English shores, perhaps the nearest thing that I have experienced would be Epcot Centre but that would be like comparing the watching of football on Hackney Marshes with a visit to the Emirates Stadium.
It is definitely beyond the range of a day trip from good old Blighty however if you are staying in the popular seaside towns of Jard Sur Mer or St John De Monts or anywhere in between then you are looking at about a 90 minute drive inland as the park is located just off either junction 29 or 28 of the A87 and is well signposted from either junction. The A87 is a toll road and you are looking at about 4 euro one way if you are coming from the coast.
Opening Hours and Costs
In all I found it a very reasonable day out as far as the entry costs and certainly it is a lot cheaper than anything on offer from the Taussauds group in England. For a start parking is free and there are plenty of spaces. On the day we went this was not an issue anyway as it was belting down with rain and I would estimate that there was probably only about 3000 people in the park.
Children under the age of 5 get free entry into the park whilst children between the age of 5 and 13 pay 14, 50 euros and adults pay 25 euros for a one day pass. If you are also attending the evening performance then the total cost is 22 euros and 40 euros respectively. Attendance to the evening performance on its own is 13 euros for children and 23 euros for adults. You can also purchase two, three and annual passes for the park however we certainly had no problem is seeing everything the park had to offer in a single day and I did not feel that there is enough to keep you entertained for two whole days.
The opening hours of the park are impressive. They do vary depending on the time of the year with the shortest day being 10.00 to 19.00 and the longest sees the park opening until 22.30. The park is open from late April until mid September but check the website before making the trip.
Translation headsets can also be purchased for about 9 euros and it is worth booking them in advance as supplies are limited however apart from one show where they would have been useful I found that you could pretty much follow what was going on or at least the jist of it.
I described it earlier as a Medieval Theme Park, you do not gets any rides instead it is a mix of large spectacular shows depicting various periods of history which are mixed in with areas that you can explore which represent re-creations of medieval and slightly more modern life in the form of working villages. The whole park is set in a wonderful wooded setting with some delightful water features and plenty of shade which will be very welcome as whilst viewing some of the shows you will be in the full glare of the sun or in our case the full force of the torrential rain that decided to fall for the majority of our visit.
It is also quite surreal at times and being a French production I would not necessarily describe it as being wholly historically accurate. For a start there are a lot of what I would call home wins which serve to paint French history in the most favourable light an at times the contact between reality and history is lost unless I missed the bit in my history books about the Vikings being the first to invent the submarine.
The headline show is called Cinescenie and is the evening show that attracts the extra costs however it is only performed on a very limited number of evenings however from the video clips on the website it does look incredibly spectacular with a cast of 1,500 and a musical score including the work of Alain Delon. It was not performed on the day we attended however I m not sure I would have stayed even if it had been as it does involve a rather late night as it does not finish until 10.30 and if you have been in the park since it opened then fatigue could be an issue as well as the drive back to consider.
Of the other shows my personal favourite was the Phantom Birds Dance which was the most spectacular display of birds of prey I have ever seen. They had so many birds flying around a wonderfully designed amphitheatre that I nearly ended up with whiplash my head was turning so fast. The secret was that the handlers were in amongst the audience so the collection of birds swooped in from all directions.
My next favourite show was the Vikings as it was by far the most exciting of all the shows. Set in a rural village it is a fantastic visual re-creation of some Vikings coming along for a bit of rape and pillage, think Romford high street on a Saturday night but the guys have pointy helmets. It does get a bit surreal at the end which had the kids scratching their heads.
The Battle of the Keep is very funny with a lot of clowning around and some excellent horsemanship which includes jousting as well as some superb trick riding as well as a display of dressage skills. One of the things I especially liked with all of the shows is that whilst you could enter the seating arenas 30 minutes before the show starts and often getting there early is advisable there was still some form of entertainment going on to keep the kids occupied. Normally this was in the form of slapstick however it does the job nicely and does not need translation.
The Gladiators is set in a huge recreation of the Coliseum and it is an impressive stage. I particularly enjoyed the chariot racing which bought back memories of Ben Hur and younger kids will enjoy seeing the lions and tigers however one word of warning and that is that it is quite blood thirsty with plentiful use of blood bags which replicate someone having their throat cut and people I spoke to a few days later with children around the age of eight had found it too upsetting, my gruesome pair thought it was brilliant on the other hand.
The two good things about Richelieus Musketeer show were that firstly it was under cover so out of the rain and secondly it did feature another impressive riding performance however for me the whole show was too stylised and was the one show for which a translator device would have been useful but to be honest even if I could have understood it I would still have found it slightly boring, fortunately it was the first show we saw so best to get the worst over first.
Outside of the shows there is plenty to keep you occupied with lots of areas to explore and quite a few places where live music is performed or street performers are present. The gardens are also very pleasant and well worth having a look at as you walk between the shows.
Catering & Other Facilities
I had been warned in advance that the food was expensive so had come armed with a picnic lunch which we ended up eating in the dry in the car. Had it been sunny there were plenty of picnic areas in the park.
It is advisable to book either of the two restaurants in advance for lunch or an evening meal if you are staying for the evening show. Prices for the set meal did not look too bad to be fair however the more snacky foods like sandwiches were a little pricey for what you got. There is however a number of outlets and plenty of choice to suit most tastes and in the afternoon they were giving away some free cakes with any drinks you purchased which was a nice touch.
All of the toilet facilities I visited were clean, some are mixed sex and some of the urinals do sort of put you on public view so dont pee when the bird show is running.
Get there early otherwise you will queue to get in.
Mostly flat but good shoes are essential as you will cover a fair amount of distance as the park is well spaced out. From the entrance to the Coliseum at the northerly most point it is a 25 minute walk.
Plan your day, when we visited some of the shows were only performed once during the day.
Get to the shows early to ensure a seat, all the viewing areas are huge but they do get full even on a wet day and you want a seat as some of the shows last for about 40 minutes.
If it is a hot day be aware that you will be exposed to the sun so slap on the sun cream.
Take a packed lunch as the food can make a reasonable day into an expensive one.
Although mostly flat those not good on their feet may find some of the terrain difficult and all of the arenas have stepped access and I did not notice huge provision for disabled visitors and the website is sadly lacking in information from what I can see.
In summary this was an excellent day out that was very entertaining and represented great value. I would return just to see the bird show which my words do not do justice to.
If you want to sneak a look at some of the shows check out the website which has some video links on it.
Thanks for reading and rating my review.