I wanted to do something quirky to close off the year. I like to think we are all dinosaur kitsch connaisseurs here. As the blog’s resident European mainlander, I have made it my mission to visit lots of dinosaur-related attractions, expositions and museums around the continent. I will then write whatever there is to write, whether it’s about priceless, unique vintage models in Poland or rubbish animatronics at some zoo. I’ve found that in this time of plenty there is no shortage of dinosaur attractions, and future plans are always in the works.
However, not every dinosaur you run into in a public space warrants a full blog post. Some theme parks, museums and zoos have one-off dinosaur rides, attractions or themed zones, too slight to write a featured article about but altogether too interesting, kitschy or quirky to pass over.
So here is a collection of random dinosaurs and dinosaur attractions I have run into in my travels over the past, give or take, three or four years. With my appetite for theme parks and zoos, I’m sure I will run into many more in the years to come. Take this as a rough guide to places where dinosaurs are found, whether or not it makes sense for dinosaurs to be found there. I advise you to read this one through to the end, because they get progressively better and the last one is an absolute doozy.
Kinderstad Heerlen (Heerlen, the Netherlands) – Wildwaterbaan
It is often said that South Limburg is the region in the Netherlands that feels the least like the Netherlands, and is therefore the capital of quirk in my rather un-quirky home country. The three first entries on this list are all located here.
I wanted to give a brief nod to Kinderstad Heerlen, an old factory hall turned FEC in the capital of the long-extinct Dutch mining industry. They managed to fit quite a lot in there, including this small scale log flume with some goofy dinosaur models along the course. The dinosaurs are butt-ugly, but not in any particularly interesting way. I guess the idea that young riders are supposed to imagine themselves adventuring through an ancient jungle while they are in fact in an industrial bunker is pretty hilarious.
Mondo Verde (Landgraaf, the Netherlands) – Some Dinosaurs
Located a stone’s throw from the famous Pinkpop festival terrain, Mondo Verde is a large and very uniqe park consisting of a zoo, an amusement park and most significantly a huge collection of world gardens of all kinds. Run by the same people that manage nearby Kinderstad Heerlen, Mondo Verde impressed me greatly. This place just never seems to end; it truly has everything, from Italian fountains to medieval castles to tropical greenhouses to the Alcazar to giant aviaries to lions and (small) roller coasters. Free food, too.
I think there was a featured dinosaur themed zone here in the past. Dinosaurs are no longer advertised as a big feature here, but they’re still around, though in a pretty sorry state, as you can see. Again, these are common models.
With so much else going on in this place (I have not begun to scratch the surfuce of all the crazy stuff they have here) I can’t in good faith complain about underwhelming dinosaurs. My biggest knock against Mondo Verde is that, beautiful though the rest of the park was, the zoo exhibits were merely functional, but nothing to write home about.
Gaia Zoo Kerkrade (Kerkrade, the Netherlands) – Dino Dome
If you want a great zoo in South Limburg, Gaia Zoo has you covered. It is a truly excellent zoo with an impressive collection of animals in spacious exhibits that often look great, too. Divided into four areas – Taiga, Rainforest, Savanna and Limburg – their main play area is called the Dino Dome.
Featured in the Dino Dome, apart from a large network of climbing frames that are the main draw, are some life-sized Wolter Design models which we like around here (even though that metal slide sticking out of Brachiosaurus’ side can’t be healthy) and some nineties-tastic murals. Stranger are the smaller dinosaur models scattered throughout. Ever wanted to see a Velociraptor with opposing thumbs, or a horrible mutant Oviraptor tortured by its own existence? I wonder what company made these. They don’t look like Wolter, and I’ve never seen any more like these. Given how broken some of them look, they can’t be great quality, either. Anyway, I’m not gonna clown on this too much, Gaia Zoo is great. And they have a dinosaur carousel!
All three attractions I showed you so far have been within an 8 km radius of one another, so a one-day dinosaur kitsch excursion around these parts is a viable option. You could even cycle, which is kind of what I did!
Plopsaland de Panne (Adinkerke, Belgium) – Dino Splash
Plopsaland happens to be the home of my all time favourite roller coaster, but my partner found her happy place at this water ride. This dinosaur theme park ride stands out for being actually kind of nice looking, with the animatronic and model dinosaurs, the landscaping and the queue building a cut above average. That T. rex roaring at you as you come splashing down looks pretty good for a theme park animatronic. On ride, you take a pretty sweet course through a volcano. Take a shot.
Movie Park Germany (Bottrop, Germany) – The Lost Temple
Movie Park Germany is a movie themed park with no actual rights to any actual movies (WB retracted their licence three years in), so all the rides have “generic” movie themes. There’s a horror movie coaster, an aliens water ride, a fantasy themed rapids and a western themed wooden coaster, all themed to movie tropes with no movie attached. So, of course, there is a designated dinosaur ride. It’s a screen simulator ride called “The Lost Temple”, though the actual “temple” bit doesn’t factor in very much.
The buildup you get from getting into the queue line and exploring the preshow is actually quite well done. On screens, some experts tell you that you are about to partake in a project exploring some newly discovered cave systems, looking for “archaeological treasure”. All the while, subtle and unsubtle signs tell you there’s something weird going on. You even pass a spookily-lit dinosaur skeleton at some point, giving you a clue of what might be up. The suspense rises…
Then you board the ride vehicle, which is whisked off into a room surrounded by giant screens… and then everything goes cuckoo bananas. All subtlety goes out the window as waves upon waves of dinosaurs are quite literally thrown at you from all directions while the vehicle shakes and shimmies all over the place. It is completely preposterous, and it completely deflates all the suspense built up in that pre-show. One T. rex stalking you is terrifying, tons of them all taking turns to pounce before harmlessly bouncing off the vehicle and falling into a crevasse is less so. I suppose as a kid I’d have loved it, but here’s a theme park ride that definitely belongs on the kitsch list.
Wiener Prater (Vienna, Austria) – Urgewalt der Giganten
Did you know Vienna, for all its reputation as a classy place, has a good claim to being the Kitsch Capital of the World? And I’m not just talking about Johann Strauss.
So there’s this place called Wiener Prater. It’s less of an amusement park and more of a permanent fair, with free entrance and a pay-per-ride system. There are more permanent fairgrounds in the world, but they tend to be run down, dirty and sad places. The Wiener Prater is huge, well maintained and thriving, and has an unparallelled collection of rides, coasters, restaurants, games, history and strangeness. And the strangest of all was called Urgewalt der Giganten, or Ancient Forest of Giants. Or possibly Blue Planet, or, Urriesen, or Der Jurassic Park.
The Aesthetics of the front facade are nothing short of psychedelic. Dinosaurs and dinosaur-like beings adorn every corner, in sometimes wildly conflicting styles. Some of them are paper-mache creations, some of them look like repurposed standard models, some almost realistic, some completely fanciful and cartoonish.
What awaits you inside after you fork over a few euros absolutely lives up to what you see on the outside. The attraction is a combination of walkthrough and ride elements. You walk under and along big, elaborate diroramas full of extremely strange dinosaurs and other critters, all probably homemade and utterly bonkers looking. There’s staircases with eyes. There’s snippets from Walking With Dinosaurs projected on the screens. There’s a truck ride where your driver is an unintelligible goblin man. A giant T. rex attacks you, only seen for a second. There’s lifts and rope bridges. And there’s the main room, dimly lit, full of volcanoes (take a shot) and jungle sounds and so many incredibly strange looking dinosaurs. The more you look, the more hidden monsters you find. It’s pure dinosaur kitsch heaven.
In all honesty, this ride is the reason I wrote this article. I’ve never seen anything like it, my photographs barely do it justice and I don’t want to spoil everything that happens. It truly is worth experiencing for yourself. I mean, don’t go to Vienna just for this thing, but if you’re in Vienna anyway, this is a must-do if you love dinosaur kitsch. It might just be the ne plus ultra of the genre.
As 2023 begins, I am full of vigor and plans to see more hidden corners of the world… and if there’s dinosaurs, I will always tell you about them. Do you want to visit any of these places, or some of the others we’ve shown you over the years? Are there any other quirky dinosaur attractions I should know about? Let me know in the comments! Happy New Year!