A SUMMER GUIDE TO EUROPE'S THEME PARKS, NO: 1 PHANTASIALAND, GERMANY

Phantasialand, Germany's best known theme park, is eight miles (13 km) from Cologne. The park has different themes from around the world; you can stroll through life-size mock-ups of Mayan Mexico, Petit Paris, China and Berlin's Brandenburg Gate. At the Silverado Theatre you can watch a spaghetti western in German or, at the Arena de Fiesta, an ice show on the miniature indoor ice rink.

Pop star Michael Jackson has been the patron of the Colorado Adventure driverless ghost train since 1996. Other thriller rides include the Space Centre, where you can whizz around one of Europe's largest indoor roller coasters. And if you have nerves of steel there's the Mystery Castle, where you're catapulted 65 metres into the air.

The whole family will enjoy the multi-dimensional film "Pirates!". Images bounce off the screen while your chair vibrates, "bat wings" waft gusts of air at the back of your head and Captain Lucky squirts water in your face. All this activity left my children crying out for "more scary rides". My advice is to go on the white-knuckle rides before lunch.

Best for: Children aged 3 plus. Any weather - if it rains, 75 per cent of the park's areas are covered. Perfect for those who don't like queues, the maximum you're likely to wait for a ride is 15 minutes.

Worst For: Children under 2. Height restrictions will stop smaller children from going on some rides.

Admission price: Adults around pounds 12 for a one-day pass and pounds 8 for children. Children shorter than 1.2m (3ft 11in) enter free.

Opening times: Daily from 9am to 6pm from 1 April to 31 October 1999. Stays open an extra three hours a day, to 9pm, from 1 July to 31 July

Food & drink: You can eat at self-service or sit-down restaurants in China Town, Old Berlin, Hacienda Mexico, and Petit Paris. Chicken nuggets and chips costs pounds 3.50, Wiener Schnitzel and chips pounds 4.50, soft drinks around pounds 1 each. You're permitted to bring your own food with you into the park and there are designated picnic areas.

Good for the whole family: Pirates, White Water Run, Silverado Theatre, Arena de Fiesta, Character Parade, Space Centre, Colorado Adventure.

Best for kids: Kids Paradise, Kids Country, Old Berlin Steam Merry Go Round and face painting in Petit Paris.

Best for adults or teenagers: Mystery Castle, lunch at China Town Restaurant.

Main attractions: Galaxy, Hollywood Tour, Silver Mine, Ghost Rickshaw, Cable Car, Waltzing Dream, Condor, Penaten Kids Paradise, the daily parade, which features 40 different Phantasialand mascots known as Phantis.

Getting there: Take the train from the Haupt Bahnhof (mainline station at Cologne) to Bruhl. A pounds 6.50 Minigruppenkarte allows up to 2 adults and 3 children to travel.

Nearest resort: Cologne

Family attractions in cologne: The Imhoff Stollwerck Chocolate Museum, Cologne Zoo, the Rhine Park with dancing fountains and boat trips on the Rhine.

Package price: A one night break in Cologne from pounds 123 per person (based on two sharing) which includes a one-night stay in the four-star Maritim Hotel and return flights from Heathrow with British Midland. Extra nights cost pounds 40 and there's a 25 per cent reduction for children. The German Travel Centre (tel: 0181-429-2900) sells park tickets in advance.

Rating: 8/10

The author travelled with her two children Lewis (aged 7) and Craig (aged 5).

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