With the speed of change in modern life, a future -themed attractions park always faces the challenge of staying.. futuristic. To celebrate its 20th anniversary, Futuroscope, the second largest theme park in France, just rebuilt more than half its attractions. And the result is at the amazing edge of technology and imagination. So we can look to the future right now!
We promised our energetic young ones, seven year-old son and five year-old daughter, a stop on our tour to spend a week-end traveling in the future. Futuroscope is located near Poitiers and has its own TGV train station linking it at high speed to several cities in France. The train is absolutely the best way to get there as you can climb out the train and walk straight into the park after a ninety minutes trip. After checking in at one of the several nearby hotels, you walk ten minutes and find yourself in another time, another planet, another universe. If you like seeing your children's eyes go really wide (and don't mind a surprise yourself) you will not be disappointed.
The Future is Wild
Futuroscope is different from many better-known theme parks: it does not so much offer characters out of animated films or adrenalin-pumping "rides" but instead focuses on experiences. The newest attraction, the Future is Wild, is a safari into the future during which you can see, hear, and sometimes even touch animals that may exist five million, one hundred million and even two hundred million years from now.
Virtual reality is at the heart of the trip. You travel through future landscapes with a pair of binoculars and a bracelet. The park's technology inserts computer animations of the futuristic animals. Because the system knows the position of your bracelet, it can make a bird land on your hand and interact with you as you move!
In this way, you will feed babourakis, an intelligent Amazonian monkey living five million years from now. They live in villages and make their own nets to catch fish (as they will show you). You may also play with an octopus-monkey and see, two hundred million years from now, how dinosaurs are back on Earth.
The illusion is so real that it gets the same reactions from adults as from children. When a flight of spitfire birds overcame us, adults and children alike were ducking the flames. And not a few grown-ups were caught trying to pet the virtual butterfly-birds perched on their wrists.
If you ever went on an excursion in a safari-park, where the animals are free and you are caged in a car, the experience will be somewhat familiar. But in a way, Futuroscope's virtual reality is more real than real as it speaks to your imagination more strongly than any zoo. With twenty animals of the future to discover, the two-hundred million year trip seems to pass in a very short time. Our family was not the only one who took the ride twice as there is so much to see and remember...
Under the Sea
Another truly amazing experience is the underwater exploration. This takes place in a 3D cinema with the same virtual reality equipment. At first, you may think you are watching a Jacques Cous-teau documentary with beautiful views of marine life shot by expert underwater cinematographers. And then, the fish come out of the screen!
The whole theatre become as giant aquarium with moviegoers inside, and as you look around the room, you can see the other visitors surrounded by fish, turtles, sea-rays and sharks... Do not worry: this 'diving' is absolutely safe.
Futuroscope has several 3D cinemas with experiences ranging from white-water rafting from the source of the Nile down to the sea through to visiting a space station. Most of the presentations use advanced technologies to put you inside the action and, although the narration is mostly in French or English, there is very little of it: reality (even virtual) speaks for itself!
Dances with Robots
One ride that invariably attracts crowds is the dancing robots. You will see ten moving metal arms performing to the sounds and moves of composer/choreographer Kamel Ouali. Big deal you might say... then what if we add that you are sitting on the metal hands of the robots and taken up twirling and twisting with them seven metres in the air? We found it exciting!
It is all perfectly safe of course, but it will have your heart racing. This is one of the few rides that has access restrictions. You must be in good physical condition and 1 metre 20 or taller, a fact that was loudly protested by our adventurous five-year-old, 1,07 metre daughter.
Never mind: take the little ones to Children's World, a section of the park where younger children can finally be free of parents. Here, they play all kinds of adventurous games such as riding cars, climbing volcanoes, staging foam ball fights and... getting wet! Children's World has water sprinklers, water cannons, water slides and water rides, so bring a change of clothes for them.
With more than thirty experiences and rides, all engineered to amaze, challenge and shake you, Futuroscope also has islands of peace for well-deserved rest. In all, 250 hectares of beautiful gardens and lawns await your pleasure for a simple walk or even a short siesta in the shade.
Sustaining the pace of Futuroscope means finding a source of fresh calories to burn. There are four restaurants on-site. We spent a lot of time at Kadeliscope, a buffet of island cuisine from all around the world with an "all you can eat". La Crepe Volante cafe offers pastries, cakes and crepes. Saveurs du Soleil offers plenty of tapas, pizza, and pasta. And finally, explorers can have a taste of the cuisine of the future at Le Cristal restaurant with its menu.
When darkness falls, the Forest of Dreams rises from the depths of the lake in a blaze of light, music and fireworks, special effects and images on water screens, filling your eyes with wonder! This nightly evening show is a fairytale story about Lila, Drakkar and Professor Theo who set out on the trail of a magical plant that will save the world. Once the world is saved, it is time for the little ones to go to bed (more loud protest) in one of the nearby hotels. There are no hotels on site but within ten-minutes walking distance you will find ten hotels ranging from one to four stars with rates from EUR90 to EUR135 per night (double room).
Our two-day visit ended with yet another promise, this time not just to the children but to the whole family: with everything to see, experience and date at Futuroscope we certainly will be back, in nearest future.