A SUMMER GUIDE TO EUROPE'S THEME PARKS NO 8: PORT AVENTURA SPAIN

Spain's biggest theme park, has five themed regions: Mediterranean, Polynesia, Mexico, Far West and China.

The designers have shown great attention to detail. We soon stumbled across China's Forbidden City and the Chichen Itza ruins of Mexico, where we were held up at rifle-point by a Mexican bandit. The Wildest Town in the West has a graveyard, jail, local store and even a platform for public hangings. We stopped for lunch at the Saloon Can-Can, only to find ourselves caught up between two cowboys duelling in the middle of the bar.

There are many performances and things to see and some of the best roller coasters in Europe. Dragon Khan, in China, has eight loops. The first fall - 40 metres (130ft) - is stomach-wrenching, and the cars roar round at up to 110kmh (68mph). Not for the faint-hearted, it inflicts four Gs of acceleration on the body.

Children are well catered for: kids' attractions include Tami Tami, a roller coaster; buffalo-shaped bumper cars, in the Far West; and Waikiki Swing, in Polynesia. There's a large toytown, where children are entertained by the puppet show or the Chinese storyteller.

We went for the "guaranteed soaking" on Tutuki Splash, one of the park's three water rides

If you can, stay for the fireworks show at midnight.

Best for: those who think that an overview of world culture is of more interest than Donald Duck to children

Worst for: anyone who doesn't like it hot. Summer temperatures are relentlessly above 30C (86F).

Suitable for: children of all ages. People with disabilities can go on every ride bar one.

Admission price: adults: pounds 18 for one day, pounds 27 two days, pounds 35 three days. Children pounds 13.50, pounds 21, pounds 27.

Opening times: March to November, 10am-10pm (midnight in school holidays)

Food and drink: from snack and fruit stalls to waiter-service restaurants. Children's menus available.

Best for adults: day trip to Barcelona and Stiges; visit to Chambrils. Thrills and splashes at nearby water park Aquopolois, in La Pineda.

Getting there: fly to Barcelona or Reus (20 minutes from the park). Buses from Salou every 15min; park has railway station on the Barcelona- Valencia line.

Nearest resorts: Barcelona one hour.

Best time to go: avoid July, August and Saturdays (busy).

Sample package: seven nights at the four-star Estival Park Hotel, in La Pineda, from pounds 359 for adults. Seven-night, self-catering stay at Club Dorada Palace from pounds 339 per person. Child reductions. Through Airtours Summer Sun (tel: 0870 608 1940). On some dates Airtours offers free entrance tickets to the park.

Further information: Spanish Tourist Board, 22-23 Manchester Square, London W1M 5AP. Brochure line tel: 0900 166 9920; calls cost 60p a minute. General enquiries tel: 0171-486 8077.

Website: www.uk.tourspain.es

Port Aventura's website: www.portaventura.es

Rating: 9.5/10

The author travelled with her children, Lewis, seven, and Craig, five.

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