Making a Splash in Emilia Romagna at Mirabilandia and Aquafan
Northern Italy in August is hot, hot, hot. Thankfully there are plenty of places to cool down. Two of the coolest by far are Mirabilandia and Aquafan. Mirabilandia offers the world’s tallest waterslide while Aquafan hosts the biggest water aerobics class you could ever hope to take part in. In Emilia Romagna this summer we explored two theme parks you can’t walk away from without a thorough soaking…
Wet, wet, wet at Aquafan
At the wave pool the stage is pumping. Smoke pushes around mysterious hooded dancers while club music blares. Below them, like a barely clothed flash mob, hundreds of people simultaneously start moving on command. Suddenly they are all splashing and thrashing and jumping up and down, and pushing water into the sky.
It’s like several hundred toddlers having their first ever bubble bath. And in the thick of it, in the centre of the wave pool you can feel the music vibrating in your chest, and the sun on your back, and the water in your eyes and the crowd roaring and you are soaking and dancing and thrashing about with everyone else. And then you look at your teenage children on sunbeds looking at you and you wonder if you should be doing this.
And that’s before you notice the giant foam bath, gearing up to produce suds for the ladies only session. In northern Italy they do their theme and water parks a little differently from the rest and there’s no chance of staying dry.
Ladies and gentlemen welcome to Aquafan.
Aquafan is in a different league from other waterparks. Based in Riccione, about 15 kms from Rimini, the park has been entertaining crowds for over thirty years. In peak season it is packed with up to 5,000 people. There’s a diverse range of waterslides with the new Black Hole, 208 metres long, claiming to be one of the top 10 biggest slides in the world, and treating the crowds to a wholly dark experience. Another celebrated ride is Kamikaze, featuring two 90m runways where riders can race at a speed of 65km an hour.
Wave goodbye to queues at the wavepool
When I say crowds, I don’t use the word lightly. On our visit, even a simple water chute has a queue of at least an hour. And we reckon it’s closer to two for the big slides. So we abandon plans to slip and slide. But it doesn’t matter. Because the real action is at the wave pool. And there is no queueing to squeeze into that. In fact squeezing in is part of the mass participation Aquafan wavepool party experience. Aquafan is most famous for its DJ’s and the celebrities who appear there, and for the pool party atmosphere they create.
Once an hour the wave machine gets going, It’s powerful and fun and flings you around with abandon for seven minutes, under the watchful eye of a team of lifeguards. Huge aqua aerobics sessions and splash parties are led by dancers twice a day and anyone is welcome to join in. And boy do they join in. Joining in myself is probably the splashiest, noisiest, craziest thing I have ever done in a swimsuit.
Foam party fun
And just when I think it can’t get any more bizarre, they open the gates to the foam party. To women anyway; the men are pushed back by bouncers, resigned to crowding around the clear glass screen to watch. I’ve read about foam parties in Ibiza. I never for a minute imagined myself in one.
I’m slightly uncomfortable and not sure what to do, so I decide to go for it, splashing about on the floor, covering myself in foam and pretending to swim. This is not the chosen behaviour of everyone else, who remain on their feet, flinging their arms around in time to the music. I join them in flinging my arms around in time to the music while demanding Hannah covers me with more foam. She refuses to oblige, but a couple of other people do. And then I’m young and thin and clubbing with the rest, although obviously not as young and thin as them.
And then it’s over and I’m washing off foamy gunk and wondering if a bubble bath will ever be the same again.
Wet and wild at Mirabilandia
Mirabilandia is altogether different. In this theme park, 10 kms north of Cervia, (about 90 kms south of Bologna) the thrills come from the rides. They are fast and furious, and many of them come with a splash. As I’m making my way from one to another I think about British theme parks and how it took me hours to dry off after a solitary dunk on Blackpool’s Valhalla. Here, you are dry before the queue’s gone down for the next ride, even if you invest in a fast pass, known here as a flashpass.
One highlight of the park is Divertical, currently the biggest water roller coaster in the world. Like all the rides it’s slick and attractive, and although the queue is long if you don’t have a flashpass, the waiting area is covered so you don’t get sunburnt.
Divertical is a cross between a flume and a roller coaster with a powerboat racing theme. The best bit is the anticipation of gliding upwards on the elevator system before being flung back down. The 45-degree water flume apparently has speeds of up to 65 mph and as we splash back down to earth we are congratulating ourselves for having done it without getting too wet. And then a second drop gives us a good old soaking.
But it’s not a total body soaking. This is delivered by Eldorado Falls, an unassuming looking log flume. Compared to other rides, the 27 metre drop at 70km/h is not that scary or wet. But the exit is across a bridge and if you are in the wrong place at the wrong time, you are hit with the spray from a 15 metre high wave. The ride was designed to suggest the power of the great US waterfalls and the spray is so forceful it regularly creates its own rainbow. And you are turned into a walking clothes line.
Mirabilandia theme park
It’s not all about the water though. From the moment you enter, Mirabilandia murmurs style. In Italian obviously, but it’s the kind of style you can’t miss. In our theme parks back home we have random doughnut stalls and candy floss competing with rock candy canes for a pound that isn’t worth much any more. And expensive horrible coffee. In this theme park there is an American style diner selling freshly made lasagne, and vending machines that make you a pizza. Not a slice but a whole pizza. We can’t resist trying it out as you can see here in our video..
Style and speed
But it’s the car rides that really wow here with their styling as well as their speeds. Unsurprisingly for a region that produces some of the fastest motor cars in the world as well as a tourist route called Motor Valley, many of the rides at Mirabilandia are car themed. This includes the face stretching magnetic iSpeed ride which accelerates from 0-100km/h in 2,2 seconds, (I cried all the way round on the first go) and the Autosplash ride where you bomb along in pastel coloured Cadillacs.
Gas and wheels
Meanwhile the Hot Wheels show is one of the dirtiest, smelliest most impressive live theme park shows you will ever see. I can’t even find the words to tell you about it as I’m still mentally processing the smoke and fire. But you can expect cars driving along on their sides, playing football, flying around a cartoon track like they are at the Nürburgring and appearing from nowhere to perform tricks. Does this image of the Hot Wheels loop the loop look like a toy? I was there watching it and still could hardly believe it was a real car. Check out the video and tell me if you believe in Hot Wheels.
Hotel Universal Cervia
We stayed at the four star Hotel Universal in Cervia, where grand hotel décor meets beach life. The 110 room hotel is part of the Batani Select group owned by the Batani family. The hotel is located next to the Adriatic coast in Pinarella, just a few minutes walk from a pine forest. It’s a spot favoured by locals and Italian holidaymakers and the beach is buzzing with activity from sunrise to sunset.
Beach, pool and terrace dining
But if you don’t like sea and sand, the hotel has a decent sized outdoor pool and jacuzzi; our room and large balcony overlooked the pool. Early each morning I popped over the road for coffee at Bagno Casadei 153 bar, arriving back just in time for the free and expansive buffet breakfast, which we took inside or on the terrace depending on how full on the sun was. The airy reception is enhanced by the biggest lampshade I’ve ever seen, made out of Murano glass, and a piano.
The staff speak good English and are charming, especially the head waiter who is channels his inner English gentleman for the English tourist. Dinner was a four course treat with food sourced from the Batani farm and the vegetable garden in the Tuscan hills. We washed it down with a nice bottle of local Pignoletto. The kids particularly enjoyed the pudding buffet. I can’t possibly comment.
Mirabilandia is situated just off Highway E45 in the direction of Ravenna. Opening hours vary, click this link for details and dates of opening times. Ticket prices differ according to entrance time and season but start from €24.
In peak season I recommend a flash pass as the crowds can be overwhelming. It’s not cheap but it will increase your enjoyment and ensure your place on your chosen thrill rides. Prices vary depending on what access you want. See here for details.
Aquafan is in Riccione, 60 kilometres southeast of Mirabilandia. Go early to grab a sunbed at the wave pool for prime view of the shows. This will also helps you avoid the traffic, which can build up in school holidays. If you go in peak season prepare for crowds at the slides and food kiosks, which are many. (Including McDonalds if you have fussy kids.) Take coins for lockers to leave your valuables in.
Aquafan is open every day from early June till early Sept from 10am-6.30pm, with evening shows often held after that in the nightclub. Tickets are valid for two days. At the time of writing they cost €28 for an adult and €20 for a child. If you go after 3pm in the afternoon you can buy a reduced ticket for €16. Children up to 100 cm are free, but won’t be able to go on the bigger rides. For more info contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Disclosure Note: We travelled to northern Italy with the Emilia Romagna tourist board. Mirabilandia and Aquafan provided free entry to the attractions. All riding, sliding and wearing of bubble beards, as well as the words and photography were, as ever, all our own.