I remember when my family used to take holidays to Orlando. We loved the theme parks so much, and for the months before a trip my mother would get guide books out of the library, then into the 2000s visit websites with tips and hints for families visiting.
Things like which rides to visit when for the shortest queue time, which park was busiest on a certain day. Mum would compile a notebook of all these time saving facts, and it made our visits more efficient and I guess then more relaxing and fun.
The websites with hints and tips on visiting a certain park would be posted by families who were experts at visiting the attraction. Usually a family who lived locally and took advantage of a yearly pass to the park, or someone who visited a few times a year & knew all there was to know about Universal, Disney etc.
So my blog today hopes to give you a few of these in-the-know things to be aware of before you visit, but disclaimer- this is based off Smix & I visiting one mid-week, Easter time day, not even an Easter Bank Holiday. It was also fairly quiet due to it being drizzly. With that in mind, here is my guide to visiting the new Tayto Theme Park, with a nine year old child. Whilst Tayto gave us admission in return for sharing our experience, I paid for everything else, travel, food, souvenirs etc.
Tayto Park is just north of Dublin. It's 100 miles from Bangor, and takes about the same length of time as it takes to drive to Dublin.
The website has directions for you, coming from wherever you live, and we just put 'Kilbrew' into a Sat Nav and got their very easily. You drive the Dublin motorway until the Mary McAleese bridge, then exit just after passing over it. Coming off it you'll need to pay a €1.90 toll, so if you don't have Euros on you, stop at the Applegreen's services just off the road after Dundalk, to lift some money. Coming home again you will again need to pay the €1.90 toll, so be prepared.
(When it comes to money in the park, you can pay by card, but if you want to use cash be aware there is only one ATM, just in front of you as you come through the entrance.)
Once you are off the main motorway it's about a 20 minute drive on country roads, which were quite quiet the day we visited. You'll see sign posts for Tayto Park once you get closer.
There are a set of impressive Tayto gates to drive through, and you will follow through to the big car park, where staff will guide you to your space. This is done professionally and like big theme parks they have a little train to shuttle you to the park entrance should your car be parked far from it. Oh, and parking is free.
Take note of what aisle you are parked in! We got so excited when we parked that I didn't, and then we had trouble remembering where we were. You'll spy the huge wooden roller coaster when you park so it's easy to get distracted!
TICKETS- Worth visiting the park site to decide what way you are going to do your visit, as there are options. Park entrance is €15. This includes all areas of the park, both the theme park and zoo, but there is an upgrade for many of the rides. For the rides you can buy tokens, or pay €28 online, or €30 on the day as your park entrance, rather than €15, and you get a wristband giving you access to everything, including unlimited rides. Kids and babies under the age of 3 get in absolutely FREE, and the park is pram & wheelchair friendly.
So it's best to investigate the full list of rides to see which rides your family might want to go on, the site handily has a height restriction guide too. You can work out whether a €15 ticket with tokens, or a €28 wristband ticket is better value for your family.
Should you all opt for the €15 entry, you still have access to the whole park including the theme park, zoo & factory visit, Ice Age and Dinosaurs Alive attractions, riding on the steam train and playing on any of the playgrounds around the park.
If you pre-book online, you can't cancel your tickets should you wake up and it be terrible weather, however if you want to change the day of visit you can do so, as long as it's 24 hours or more before your scheduled visit.
Once you have passed through the entrance terminal, you can choose where in the park to start your day. The rides are located in two pockets, left and right on the map, with the 100+ zoo animal part being forward and to the back of the park map.
We chose to head straight to the right, to the adventure zone section that has the huge wooden roller coaster, and a number of exciting rides.
Everyone has a camera on their phone these days, but it's worth saying that there are a lot of great photo opportunities. The park has many unusual sculptures and fun attractions to take a snap with. You can also pose for and purchase professional green screen family portraits, at a number of kiosks throughout the park, so that's another thing to think about, if you want a family photo to remember your grand day out, but don't want to carry a phone or camera all day.
The right part of the theme park map which we started in is called Eagle Sky Adventure Zone. The big rides such as The Cú Chulainn Coaster require wristband for entry, or tokens to pay for your ride. The park map will tell you how many tokens each ride costs and you purchase tokens from kiosks scattered throughout the park, for €1 each.
The queues for the rides are structured, so there's no pushing or cutting in, however there isn't any set dressing or theme for queues, like an American theme park might have. As the day was a little drizzly, we didn't have any queues longer than ten minutes wait the whole day.
The first ride we went on was the Windstar, which had hang gliders you control by pushing up or down on the bar, whilst spinning around.
We also loved the 5D cinema experience. Moving seats, bubbles, 3D dinosaurs and a lot of fun.
The park has two 'Vortex Tunnels', one of which is located beside the Windstar. You can go through them with just the standard €15 park ticket. It's an optical illusion of a spinning tunnel which makes you feel like the ground is moving, but it's completely static so if you feel dizzy just close your eyes and keep walking forward holding on to the railings.
Other rides in the Eagle Sky section were more white knuckle, and I was pleased Smix isn't a thrill seeker as The Rotator, Power Surge, Air Race and Endeavor looked terrifying to me!
The Eagle Sky Zone also has a huge ride under construction, which should be open this summer 2017. Viking Voyage is set to be an exciting water ride, and it looks great already.
Eagle Sky has a number of dare devil climbing activities, all accessed with either your wristband or by buying tokens. The Extreme Climbing Wall is the biggest I've seen, but is usually only open at the weekends in Spring, but all week once July & August come around. Summer opening also applies to the massive Tayto Twister Slide.
There's also a Sky Walk Aerial Course, which is a clip and climb attraction. Many of these have certain height requirements, but everything can be checked ahead of your visit in the park FAQ section.
The next section we visited was right at the furthest left of the map, the working Tayto factory, which has a tour. We passed through the Eagle Nest adventure area which has open playgrounds and water fun areas, as well as a spiral mound and mini hedge maze which are open to all visitors, but more on those later.
We've taken the Tandragee Tayto factory tour, which is done in groups where you actually go on the factory floor, in your hairnet & hygienic gloves, but for the Southern Tayto factory things are a little more removed, but fun none the less.
Your visit isn't staffed, you walk through at your own pace, and the story of manufacturing is told by videos and projected light effects on the corridor of each stage of production. This was pretty clever, and the kids took to it more readily than a list of facts read out to them.
From your vantage points you can watch the crisps travel from seasoning to bagging, to boxing to warehouse. There are snazzy robotic arms working away stacking boxes which kids will love watching.
You can view the factory floor and each stage of production via viewing bays, again really good for kids and I think the factory was one of my favourite parts of the day actually.
At the end of the tour there is a little fun discovery room with some tablet games and W5 style science activities.
Back in the park and we were hungry. As you come back from the factory tour you'll come across the huge Lodge Restaurant pavilion.
Its a lot like an American theme park restaurant, with choices like hot food, soup or sandwiches, or ice cream. Nearby is a smaller, outdoor but sheltered pizza cafe, with family deals or pizza by the slice.
There are coffee docks and little shops scattered throughout the park offering refreshments at decent prices, so you won't ever have to trek far for a drink or snack.
I'm also pleased to announce a lot of bathrooms spotted around the park, no panic treks halfway back to the start of the map if someone needs the toilet.
The must have snack for us however, was at the concession beside the start of the zoo section, beside the meerkats. At The Twisted Chip you can purchase 'the world's longest chip' a tasty crisp on a stick for €3, seasoned with either cheese & onion, salt & vinegar, or sour cream. You can also get a sausage on a stick or chicken wings.
You aren't allowed to feed the animals, but you could tell the meerkats were well aware how tasty the chips were. They would follow you along the glass if you had one!
So we took the mid point in the afternoon to explore the zoo section. It's more like Dublin Zoo than Belfast Zoo, and thankfully flat and easily walked around. They have over 100 animals including a petting zoo and tigers.
Next we took a walk through the Ice Age & Dinosaur Alive attractions. These are open air and accessible for all visitors. You walk round through the animatronic displays at your own pace.
The last section we had to visit was back over towards the left of the park, the second theme park ride section called The Eagle Nest Zone.
While the Eagle Sky Zone is home to the fast thrill rides, the Eagle Nest Zone has a selection of gentle, fun rides for the smaller children.
Queue times are posted, and again we didn't wait too long for anything. There is the calm Ferris wheel, spinning tea cup ride called Honey Pot Bears, and the gentle Leap Frogs. There was also a Pony ride which looked like a race round a track, but it was closed the day we visited.
The Rocking Tug is fun for all ages, and the Shot Tower is suitable for younger kids who are thrill seekers. There's another, smaller climbing wall and Air Jumpers, plus a classic carousel. It's also the home of the steam train which is open to all visitors without needing tokens or a wrist band.
Again there are concession stands with ice cream, drinks and candy floss, should you need a snack. You could also bring your own picnic into the park if you fancy, and every section of the park has los of seating, including sheltered areas for the drizzly Irish summer weather!
The Eagle Nest Zone has a couple of attractions which don't need a wrist band or tokens. There is a little fun water area, which must only be turned on on dry days. There's also a hedge maze and a spiral climbing hill which has a good view of the park from the summit. As well as the huge, main playground, there are smaller playgrounds dotted throughout the park.
There are plenty of souvenir shops, including a huge one at the entrance/exit, and prices aren't too bad. We bought a little snow globe and some stationary for Smix to take back to school.
You also get a free packet of crisps on your exit of the park!
So, is the park worth the trip & price? We say yes. We had a lovely day out. There was so much to do and see, and it's a proper theme park so you get the value of your ticket price. We would definitely go again, maybe during the summer, or again next Spring when even more rides are open. The park is open all year round, but not every day during off peak season, so make sure you visit the official website before you plan your own visit. It has opening hours and info about which rides operate all year round, or only for summer season.
Let me know what you think if you've made the journey to Tayto Park- @rudedoodle on Twitter.