Before I begin my 'rant'/review of Futuroscope, I would like to point out to all people going who think because the French did Disneyland so well in Paris that their second most renowned 'theme park' is just as much a success. Because in my opinion, it isn't.
Futuroscope isn't really a theme park, in the sense that your not going there to experience white-knuckle rides, or any rides in fact. To be brutally honest, Futuroscope is really a glorified multiplex cinema, because every attraction involves some kind of screen. If you're prone to 'square eyes', then I wouldn't bother with this place. As i was saying, this park is full of screens, whether it be Imax, Imax 3-D, Imax 3-D with a simulator, the list of screens goes on.
Firstly we come to getting there, and to be honest, it's one of the plus points. Its literally 30 seconds off the main motorway A10, and is pretty much slap-bang in the middle of France. It has it's own TGV station so it's easily accessible from Paris (although you'd be mad to give up the sights of Paris for this). Once you arrive at the car park, your wallet will slowly let out a small groan when you notice the parking costs. 10 Euros. And you don't even get a man to show you where to park like you do at Disney, which is asking for arguments about who gets the last spot in a particular area.
The asking price is pretty steep also. It's 33 Euros for adults, which is quite high considering there is actually only 3 'proper rides'. And being English, the rides weren't going to make much sense, so we had to get translating devices. Unfortuantely you will need to leave passport or driving license as a deposit, which again seems steep considering the devices feel like they were made by the cheapest bidder. All of this hanging around at the entrance meant that the queues were building up fast, and because all the rides...I mean 'attractions' are very similar, there isn't one ride that has a short or long queue, so it makes getting on things very difficult.
The first ride we headed for was 'The Future Is Wild', because 1) it was new and 2) I had seen billboards all the way from Calais to Poitiers advertising this ride. It was called a 'revolutionary experience', and so I thought a theme park branding itself on being 'futureproof', this attraction must be pretty special. After queuing up for 30mins, I was disappointed, no, I was astounded at how bad it was. The translating device didn't work so I was just scratching my head at what exactly the hell was going on. Basically, you sit on a train as it goes round to different scenes. The goggles you have to put on project a really shoddy CGI creature onto the scenery and you have a small glove which 'interacts' with the 1980's animation i.e. feeding a dinosaur with some 'meat'. It was catastrophically bad, and to be honest, it wouldn't have looked out of place in the Disneyland's original Tommorowland (yep, that's waaay back in 1955). Not exactly what I'd call a blistering start.
By the time we'd finished with 'Wild', pretty much every queue was an hour. The park had only been open for half an hour and I was already pissed off at the quality of one ride. We queued up for another half an hour for Travellers By Air and by Sea which was basically a nature program on a fancy screen. When I say fancy, I mean a giant Imax screen in front of you and a giant Imax screen below you (the floor was glass), and trust me, this experience really wasn't as impressive as it sounds. Plus the translator device still wasn't working so I was tempted the throw it at something. Unfortunately, they had my Dad's driving license, so it would have meant staying at Stephen Hawking's favourite theme park for even longer than I had planned. I thought wisely and decided to keep it in my pocket.
Then we got lost. The map isn't at all clear and there are so many paths going to the same location, it was very confusing. This was the last thing we wanted to do when it was 38 degrees centigrade. We discovered 'Mystery of the Nile' which was a documentary about explorers traversing down the Nile River. Finally, the translator device began to work, despite being barely audible over the Imax's 100ft speakers. As I sat there wondering if any of the stupidly annoying crew were going to get eaten by Nile Crocodiles, i remembered I was meant to be at a theme park, not a National Geographic screening room. Who in their right mind would pay this money to watch documentaries? The chairs didn't move, there were no 4-D effects and I sat there bored as hell. It just keeps getting better.
After the misery that was Race For Atlantis (a simulator, mixed with shocking 3-D, mixed with a shockingly poor and old Imax screen all combined to make one big pile of sh*t) we headed for Dance With Robots. Essentially you sit on a robotic arm and it 'dances' in time with some disco songs (e.g. Staying Alive by The Beegees). Each song has 3 different levels of movement with 1 being fairly tame, and 3 being shaken like Bond's Martini. I was not in the mood for any more half-arsed rubbish, so I went for the full-blown level 3. It was 2 minutes of upside downs, spins and massive G's that no roller coaster could ever emulate. I loved every moment of it and wondered why every other ride couldn't be the same in this shambolic park.
Next ride was a 'brand new' ride called Lapland Express. For any of you who have been on Wild Arctic in the SeaWorld parks, its essentially the same idea, but done really badly. All of the footage was on fast-forward and it kept cutting to random segments. The simulator itself was wildly overpowered, with some moments i was holding on for dear life. The idea of a simulator is that it's meant to simulate real life. And when in real life do snowmobiles travel at 345mph? I was reaching the point where I might simulate a rapid exit...
...which was exactly what I did. Quickly got some snaps of fancy buildings and headed for the door. Exchanged the 'translating' devices for a driving license, and escaped from possibly one of the worst days out in France I'd ever had. If your idea of a theme park is Imax screen after Imax screen and getting a hangover-style headache after the second ride, then be my guest a pay 33 Euros to stand in queues all day watching out-of-date documentaries. I however, will not be joining you and advise you to do the same.
I had heard a lot about this place in France from friends and family members and I was really looking forward to visiting it. It took us a few years, but finally we made it. We were staying with my parents who live not very far from there, so it seemed like the perfect family day out. The four of us set off on a very hot summers day, the kids impatient, my husband secretly reluctant (although he cant keep a secret from me), as he felt this place was going to be a sort of French Disneyland or Alton Towers. I had explained to him that nothing could be further from the truth, but I dont think he believed me.
~So, what is it?~
It is quite difficult to classify this place, but I guess the nearest description would be a theme park, only rather than a theme, it has a media: cinema In effect, it is a park full of cinema theatres, but not the usual kind. Each of these theatres has very distinct characteristics. There are giant screens, 360o screens, dome screens, dynamic cinema, 3D cinema and more, and a number of combinations of those
The Futuroscope is near Poitiers and situated in the French departement of La Vienne, in the Poitou-Charentes region (west of France). It is very easy to access by road as the A10 motorway is nearby, and signposting starts quite a distance from the park. It is also very straightforward to access by train, the park has its own TGV station (if you have never travelled by TGV, I recommend it, but that is perhaps another review). Travelling this way, it only takes an hour and twenty minutes from Paris. Or you could fly there, as there is an airport 10 minutes away by taxi, and it takes about an hour and a half from London (However, be aware that travelling by plane is not the most environmentally friendly mode of transport).
Lets get all the boring, but necessary details out of the way. The entry price is 31 for adults and 24 for children. There are also a number of deals and packages on offer which can all be found on the website. I appreciate that this may sound a little expensive, but we are looking at a special family day out, and if you think that there are over 20 attractions and shows on the park, it really is good value.
There is an extensive hotel park near the Futuroscope, so if you chose to spend two days there, it should not be a problem finding somewhere to stay. I cannot comment further as we didnt stay there.
In the park itself, not all rides (lets call them that for lack of a better word) are accessible to the disabled and younger children, and pregnant women are not admitted on some of the Cinema Dynamic shows. But this shouldnt stop anyone from enjoying a visit there, as there really is plenty to do and see. There are areas for little ones which seemed very well landscaped. In fact I had trouble keeping my teenagers out of there!
If you drive there, there is an extensive car park, to the tune of 5 a day. There are cash dispensers within the perimeter of the park.
There are plenty of facilities available, restaurants, cafes, etc, although if cost is an issue, bring your own lunch (and have more time to go round the different shows).
You can also get a translation set to help you understand some of the films. It was useful on one or two occasions. This service is free, but you will have to leave your passport or a substantial sum of money as a guarantee.
I refer you to the very comprehensive website for more information on opening times, as these vary at different times of year.
We had booked our tickets online and arrived in plenty of time, as the actual park doesnt open till 10 am. We collected our tickets at the information desk and walked right passed the queues that were forming at the ticket booths. As this was soon after the London bombings, our bags were searched, but this was done very professionally and if anything it made you feel quite safe.
The park itself lives up to its name, with an array of futuristic, visually striking buildings. My sister in law, who had visited previously, advised me to go round the park counter to the recommended route, in order to avoid queuing for the various shows. However, we found that there was no longer a recommended route and people went every which way. In all honesty though, although the place was busy, queues were not a major problem. We did have to wait for a few of the rides, but this was handled effectively by staff.
Finally, we got onto the first ride called Peril on Akryls. This was one of the Dynamic Cinema shows, with a Sci-Fi theme. In this one, you are sitting in a simulator moved by hydraulic jacks in time to the images and special effects you see. Wow! After only five minutes, thoroughly shaken AND stirred we felt a sense of achievement, having successfully completed our mission in space. We were hooked! Even my unenthusiastic husband had to admit that this was fun.
I dont want to spoil any future visit you might make by telling you too much, as the effect of surprise enhances the enjoyment you will get from you day. I would just like to mention a few of experiences you mustnt miss.
By far my favourite was Travellers by Air and by Sea, a beautiful, specially commissioned film showing mainly birds, dolphins and whales in glorious double IMAX technology. Whats that, you ask? Well, the room is equipped with a giant screen (672 square metres) in front of you, and another, bigger one under your feet. The IMAX itself is simply large-format film In this one, you feel like you are flying with the birds, and for 16 minutes, this is perfect escapism. I cant really describe how amazing that was.
Dynamic Vienne, although a little rough at times, was a mad trip through the Vienne departement and was hugely enjoyable. I have to say at this point that I dont normally like rides that you get in fairgrounds or theme parks, but this is very different. The sensations you get are not random and meaningless, they correspond to the action in the film. What a thrill to be driving a Formula 3 through the narrow streets of a sleepy village! Or to feel a train rush past you as you stick your head out of the window of your own carriage.
My children also loved the Cyber Alley, where they got to try their hand at all kinds of video games, which gave us a chance to go and see the Wings of Courage, a 3d film about the early days of the airmail service. I have to say the 3D aspect is a bit of a let down, but the film was very good.
I could go on and on about all the amazing things we saw, but it is probably better to leave you with just a flavour of this park.
Although there are now other parks built on the same idea, this was the first of its kind to my knowledge, and a great success for the Conseil General de la Vienne (the area council). It strives to renew itself and keep up with new developments.
In conclusion, we had a great day which we were able to enjoy together, and thats not always easy with teenagers. We will definitely go back in a few years, when they have changed some of the films.