Click on the title of this entry and you'll be redirected to the home page for the best darn amusement park for kids and grownups alike that we have ever been to, PLOPSALAND in DePanne, Belgium. We drove there in our lovely rental car, though you can get there by train too. DeLijn has special fares from Antwerpen to DePanne combined with reduced price admission to the park. We got a discount by ordering tickets on the web that we printed out and brought with us.
Plopsaland is located in Adinkerke, one town inland from the coast town of DePanne. If you go just west, over the border into France, you'll be in Dunkerque / Dunkirk, France, where the famous battle took place in WW2, and you can actually see Dunkerque from the top of the space needle ride in Plopsaland.
The park gets its name from an adorable dwarf-gnome tv character named Plop. You can see Plop and all his friends in a very Euro-techno music video if you're curious about Plop. In the YouTube sidebar, you'll see several of the other kids' show stars that you'll find all over Belgian tv, like Bumba the clown, MegaMindy the superhero, Piet Piraat (yeah, you guessed it, Pete the Pirate), K3, Samson en Gert (a guy and his puppet dog), Big and Betsy (Big means Pig) on the farm, and so on and so on. All of these "brands" are owned/managed by a kids' entertainment conglomerate in Belgium called Studio 100. Think Disney but not so knowing and worldly and sassy and glib and crass dumb and sitcom-y and all the other insulting things that Disney thinks our kids think are cool. Belgian kids' shows are AWESOME! Innocent fun, silliness, fairy tale / folk tale cornball senses of humor (Plop's little "ears" on his hat go up in the air when he is surprised, and I laugh every time). You can get Bumba burgers and K3 cookies and Plop cereal and MegaMindy juice drinks at the grocery store...every other girl in Antwerp seems to have a K3 book bag or a MegaMindy jacket...you get the picture. Franchise-o-rama...but somehow it's more fun when it's someone else's franchise-o-rama.
When you go through Plopsaland, there are themed areas for each of these characters. We let the girls drive antique tractors on tracks in the Big & Betsy area (there are real goats and chickens you have to watch out for too, wandering freely in the "field"!), we saw the K3 museum, we rode the awesome "Bos van Plop (Plop's forest)" boat ride through sweet dioramas of mischievous gnomes playing their way through the four seasons of the year...MeiMei was big enough to ride the round-and-round swings in the Bumba area, the roller coaster in the Piet Piraat area, a MegaMindy jetski ride that was AWESOME (that word again), bumper cars, the girls' first flume ride in the prince/princess area, and we wrapped it all up with a cooling run through a plaza that has a maze of water fountains squirting at odd intervals. Half of the parents just stripped their kids, boys and girls alike, down to their undies and let them get soaking wet, and nobody cared.
Another thing we really like about the park is that while you certainly can buy anything you'd like with a Studio 100 character's picture on it (we got the girls matching K3 nightgowns) it's not so in your face. The shops and carts are easily avoided, which eliminates much of the tedious negotiating that happens at so many theme parks. While the girls played on a huge play structure with John watching them, I just slipped over to the merchandise pavilion and got the nightgowns, no big deal. I really wanted to get the Plop hat with the string you pull to make the ears pop up, but didn't.
Food-wise, it's more like the American style "aha, we have you now!" with REALLY expensive meals and especially expensive kids' meals with a special cup or trinket enclosed. Add in the exchange rate and we were pretty limited. We ate hot dogs and fries that day and had an ice cream treat in the afternoon, but that was about it til we got home. I saw many Belgian and French families who had packed picnic lunches, and would probably do so myself if we ever go there again.
Regular readers will recall that the girls and I stayed in DePanne at Strandpark and went to Plopsaland from there over spring break in 2007, but John stayed behind in Antwerp and missed all the Plopsaland fun. It was SO unbelievably wonderful to see him seeing Plopsaland for the first time--he loved it as much as we did, and kept saying "yeah, this is great! What a great place." He also commented that the jerk-to-normal-person ratio seemed better than it might be in the US but I think that really depends on the park. We saw some pretty jerky behavior at Busch Gardens over the summer, though, come to think of it.
Feels good to get caught up...next entry: MeiMei celebrates her fifth birthday on a yacht!!! Is this really my life? Cause this is not in my wildest dreams what I ever pictured...it's better. And I want you to know that I am truly, eternally grateful for these trips, these memories, my family, our friends...sigh.