More imaginative than any theme park Florida can offer (with better food to boot), Futuroscope, near Poitiers, is a fabulous journey-breaker en route to or from southern France
Futuroscope – isn’t that the thing we drive past on the way to the Dordogne or Pyrenees? Some sort of theme park isn’t it? We had indeed raced past it on the A10 several times, but a French friend pushed us to give it a go and we decided on taking a break in the middle of a gîte holiday in the Gironde. Great idea, fantastic day, bad logistics. Next time – and there will be a next time - we’ll use it as a stopover coming or going, or maybe even take the TGV, which has a station at the park.
The basis of Futuroscope is using audio-visual technology to entertain and, this being France, to sneak in a bit of scientific and artistic enlightenment too. If ‘audio-visual’ drags up bad memories of school film-shows, forget it. We went into outer space, spent time under the sea taking in a trip to Atlantis, and took part in a 1920s bootlegger car chase (twice - it was brilliant), and plenty more besides. And our brains were fooled time and again into accepting the illusion.
Creative use of 3D, IMAX, 360-degree cinema, and surround sound had us screaming, fearing for our lives, amazed, amused and entranced. Maybe even, rather subtly, educated too. When they say don’t go on something if you have a bad heart, they mean it. Likewise, if you have a dodgy back, you should avoid the rides where hydraulic jacks throw the seats every which way. But if you’re fit and have kids big enough to enjoy the experience, go for it.
Comparison with Florida theme parks is inevitable. Naturally the French do food 10 times better. Futuroscope offers lots of outdoor activities by way of contrast – playgrounds, pedalos, percussion instruments you can walk through, self-propelled chairlift - whereas the Americans, perhaps fearful of litigation, don’t. The evening show at Futuroscope was more beautiful, more artistic and considerably less cheesy than US versions. But if you want giant roller-coasters and log-flumes go to the States.
You’ll probably see the same rides returning to the USA in following years, however, while in Poitiers they seem to change things from one year to the next – but then it’s easier to load a new film and switch computer programs than to rebuild several thousand tonnes of steel. In what seemed almost like a jibe at the mega-ride culture, Futuroscope has a tiny oval circuit where you are strapped into a pod that automatically turns upside-down in its stately progression, though you can provoke more somersaults if you choose – needless to say, child chose.
Service was friendly (this is not Paris after all), and in stark contrast to US theme-parks you don’t feel under constant pressure to buy overpriced tat. This is a big park – 131 acres – with lots of green space, water and sci-fi architecture to enjoy as well as the multi-media attractions. The atmosphere, helped by a beautiful summer’s day and that openness, was pleasantly relaxed, with some clever side shows: there are few things funnier than seeing a jet-powered Frenchman on roller-skates. The only negative was one queue where we encountered a guest for whom showers and deodorant were still mysteries.
We pre-booked (very necessary) a day and night package, staying at the Mercure (take a torch for the 15-minute walk back to the hotel zone), with parking at the hotel, day passes and evening meal at the park. Next time we’ll do two days to take things easier and fit it all in. We’d not bother again with inclusive meals - decent quality and lots of wine, but a bit Butlins. The moules elsewhere looked better, or a simple steack-frites under the stars would have done nicely too.
Next day, after a lazy breakfast, it was back on the A10, sharing memories of the great stuff we had seen and done. For my 12-year-old wise connoisseur of all things theme-park, it is Futuroscope he would choose to revisit. And we shall.