Planning a work outing, corporate away day, family gathering or group getaway is arguably more appealing during the summer months when the sun is shining and there are venues galore to choose from. Andrew Moore details some alternative and exciting options for that special group occasion during wintertime
Portaventura Resort, near Barcelona, Spain
Group travellers wishing to escape the chill of the colder months and enjoy a little sunshine with a winter theme should head for PortAventura on Spain’s Costa Dorada.
Typically popular throughout the summer for seekers of thrill rides and holiday entertainments, the park remains open until the end of October. Largely closed in November, PortAventura is transformed into an atmospheric wonderland thoroughly bedecked with colourful lights and decorations as it reopens in December, throughout the festive season and into the early New Year.
Each of PortAventura’s six themed ‘worlds’ offer a different winter experience, packed with surprises and delights. Expect seasonal markets – perfect for gift shopping – ice-skating and a host of unforgettable rides, attractions and shows. In December, you’ll be dazzled by nightly firework displays, laser and water shows, and can marvel at the incredible acrobatics and choreography of the Champions of Ice skating extravaganza.
PortAventura is located an hour’s journey from Barcelona, meaning that the park can be easily reached by air, road or rail. There are four four-star hotels onsite and a wide range of facilities for hosting corporate events. Groups of 20 or more can benefit from a range of concessions, including free park entry/hotel stays (as applicable) for tour bus drivers.
For more information visit www.portaventura.co.uk
Liseberg Amusement Park, Gothenburg, Sweden
Attracting more than three million visitors each year, Liseberg is one of Europe’s most popular theme parks. Like many parks, Liseberg has begun to open after the summer season to provide Hallowe’en-themed fun and, closing briefly in November, has re-opened in December for the run-up to Christmas each year since 2000.
In the summer, the park boasts no fewer than 42 different rides, 20 remaining open in the winter. In the darker days and nights of winter, Liseberg sparkles with the addition of more than four million colourful lights.
The park is divided into themed areas, enabling visitors to stroll through time and experience life in the Middle Ages, wander through an old-fashioned town setting complete with cobbled streets, brightly-lit and decorated buildings, and an atmospheric market brimming with trinkets and gifts.
Elsewhere there’s a vast skating rink, a Lapland-themed area featuring traditional Sami tented dwellings and log cabins, and the chance to meet reindeer and perhaps take a traditional sleigh ride through the park.
Situated within walking distance from the centre of Gothenburg, Liseberg is easy to get to and provides a range of group and budget-friendly accommodation ranging from a four-star hotel to a B&B, self-catering cottages, a Youth Hostel and even a campsite. Groups of 15 people or more can benefit from concessionary park admission fees and books of attraction tickets.
For more information visit www.liseberg.com/en/home
Europa Park, Rust, Germany
Open daily from the third week of November to the first week of January (except December 25 and 26) this 90-hectare pleasure park is just as impressive and fun-filled in winter as it is in summer, and proves the perfect destination for a group excursion or celebration.
Where else could you ride a rollercoaster as snowflakes gently fall around you, or admire panoramic views of bauble-decked fir trees and millions of twinkling illuminations from the top of a 55-metre high Ferris Wheel?
If ice-skating, sleigh rides and a nightly Parade of Lights don’t lift your spirits, Europa’s gorgeous and traditional Christmas Market will. An irresistible feast for the senses, the market is packed with festively decorated stalls, each laden with toys, gifts and treats. The pervasive aromas of mulled wine, cinnamon and roasting almonds only add to the market’s warming atmosphere.
Europa Park boasts five four-star hotels, whilst truly adventurous groups can choose to stay in the parks own Wild West themed Camp Resort where accommodation includes log cabins, tepees and covered wagons. Groups of 20 visitors or more pay a reduced entry fee to the park (currently €31 as opposed to the normal adult fee of €36.50). The cost of evening-only entrance to the park is €19.50.
For more information visit www.europapark.de/en
Winter Wonderland, Manchester, UK
To a greater or lesser degree, your enjoyment of a British theme park is likely to be dictated by the weather and, inevitably, this becomes a bigger problem in the winter. Neatly overcoming this issue, Winter Wonderland is the UK’s only guaranteed winter-weather-proof indoor theme park.
Opening from the second week of December until the beginning of the New Year, and held in Manchester’s Event City venue adjacent to the famous Trafford Shopping Centre, Winter Wonderland offers everything you’d expect from a conventional theme park.
Suitable for families and groups of all ages, there are sufficient thrill rides, activities, sideshows, games and market stalls to please kids and adults alike. Hungry visitors will appreciate a range of food concessions that range from grill, noodle and coffee houses to mulled wine stands, chocolatiers and creperies. Add in Winter Wonderland’s own circus, a bill of entertaining shows and the chance to meet and greet Santa, and it’s easy to see why the UK’s largest indoor winter theme park is a hugely popular choice for escaping the grey, chilly outside world and stepping into a colourful kaleidoscope of fun.
Groups of 15 or more who book tickets for Winter Wonderland in advance will receive a 10% group discount and exclusive hire can be arranged for corporate groups. Event City is easily accessible by air, road and rail and offers 3,000 free parking spaces.
Groups wishing to stay overnight in Manchester to take advantage of the city’s varied shopping, leisure and entertainment facilities will find the highly-rated Manchester Trafford Centre South Hotel both reasonably priced and conveniently located.
For more information visit www.winterwonderlandmanchester.com
Disneyland Paris, France
If any European theme park is qualified to offer a fairytale experience – even out of season – it has to be Disneyland Paris.
Whilst delighting kids will always be at the heart of Disney’s dream, the winter season at Disneyland Paris – which runs from the beginning of November to the first week of January – is guaranteed to provide a truly memorable time for everyone regardless of age.
Here, everything is done on the grandest of scales. From the daily Disney Christmas Parade during the festive season to the spectacular illuminations and nightly firework displays that light up this vast pleasure park, Disneyland Paris is bursting at the seams with winter cheer, as a full cast of Disney characters offer visitors the warmest of welcomes.
As you’d expect, there is no shortage of dazzling rides, shows and attractions to enjoy over the five separate themed areas of the park and – irrespective of the prevailing weather conditions – ‘snow’ falls every hour on Main Street to create that special seasonal atmosphere.
Even at Christmas, the park’s biggest rides and rollercoasters are in action, whilst a rota of pop-up shows, parades and other entertainments ensures that everyone has a magical time. With two luxury hotels and a wealth of shops, restaurants and bars onsite, Disneyland Paris is more than adequately equipped to cater for group travellers and offers concessionary pricing arrangements for groups of 20 or more. For more information visit www.disneylandparis.co.uk
Stockeld Park, Yorkshire, UK
Stockeld Park, between Harrogate and Leeds in Yorkshire, foregoes the rollercoasters and thrill rides to offer simpler winter activities and entertainments.
A wonderful destination for groups, Stockeld’s award-winning Christmas Adventure actually begins in October and continues until the beginning of January.
Set in a naturally beautiful wooded state, the centrepiece of this unusual theme park is the Enchanted Forest, through which a richly illuminated and decorated path winds for 1.2 kilometres.
Sculptures of woodland creatures and favourite fairytale characters line the route, providing an exciting pantomime spectacle that is as delightful for adults as it is for kids. Competitive types will enjoy the park’s Nordic cross-country ski trail.
Taking a scenic woodland and lakeside route on an artificial surface that doesn’t require snow, the Ski Trail is perfect for building up an appetite, which can be satisfied with Christmas ale and other seasonal treats in Stockeld’s dedicated Christmas shop or in the Woodland Café.
There’s also a vast ice-skating rink (which hosts an ice disco each Friday), a large natural maze in the shape of a snowflake and Santa’s Grotto. If you’re visiting before December 25, you can even pick up your own real Christmas tree; more than half a million Nordic firs, Norway spruce and Blue spruce are grown on the estate for this purpose.
Stockeld Park offers group rates and discounts for parties of 15 people or more and advance booking is required. The nearby Rudding Park Hotel is a luxurious and convenient choice of accommodation and frequently offers special seasonal discounts.
For more information visit www.stockeldpark.co.uk
Dreamland, Margate, UK
Since the late 19th century, Dreamland has delighted and excited generations of holidaymakers and in June 2015 re-opened following a £13 million makeover.
Packed with amusements, thrill rides and seaside entertainments from every era of the park’s existence, the revamped Dreamland promises something for visitors of every age, with more attractions on the way in 2016 and 2017. No word as to whether Dreamland will be open in the autumn and winter months, but you can be sure that it’s another outstanding venue where parties and group travellers can shake off those winter blues.
Tickets to Dreamland bought in advance online offer savings of up to 15% off the standard gate prices, which are £17.95 per adult and £14.95 per child.
As Margate is a popular seaside resort, groups wishing to stay overnight will find no shortage of hotel accommodation to suit all tastes and budgets.
For more information visit www.dreamland.co.uk