I’ve got 7 year olds.  We’ve traveled a fair amount and gone to lots of different kid-oriented destinations.  None of them compare with Playmobil FunPark in Germany.

We’ve been to DisneyLand.  Disney is a tiresome, passive place.  We go from line to line, wait in lines to ride rides.  The rides are passive and do not encourage imagination or participation beyond sitting there and being “entertained”.  There is no requirement for creativity on the part of the child (or parent.)  Further, Disney is one big sales pitch for more Disney entertainment products.  The Disney rides are old and tired.  Looking at  FutureLand which should really be called 50s land, it makes me sad.  DisneyLand has not grown or evolved since the 50s.  It’s a miserable place.

We’ve been to a number of resort waterparks.  They are generally okay.  The kids have fun splashing in the water, but these places are one dimensional.  You can go in the water or you can hang out by the pool.  There’s little else to do.  The best of these resorts is the now closed Kona Village.  Kona Village was a nice place to vacation for adults and they generally have enough stuff for the kids to do that the adults can relax and read.

LegoLand was the previous reining champion of places for kids.  We’ve been to LegoLand a number of times over the last few years.  LegoLand offers lots of cool stuff built with Lego blocks.  LegoLand has a fair number of rides that are targeted to our age group and a little older.  There’s a reasonable swath of licensed products floating around (e.g., Star Wars and Harry Potter), but the licensed products do not dominate the experience the way that they do at Disney.  What’s best about LegoLand is there are a lot of participatory activities.  There’s a castle that the kids can run through, a fire rescue activity where the whole family has to hand-crank a fire engine to the scene of a fire and then hand-pump water to put out the fire.  All in all, my kids can spend many days at a stretch at LegoLand participating with the activities at the park.

Then we found Playmobil FunPark in Germany.  It’s just so cool.

There are no rides.  It’s like the biggest, most amazing playground I’ve ever seen.  There are slides and rope ladders and construction pits and rafts you can use to board a pirate ship.  There are indoor activities (tons of Playmobil sets that kids can use for as long as they want.)  The food is good and reasonably priced.  There’s beer and really good coffee for the adults.

Everything at Playmobil FunPark encourages participation.  Participation between the kids and the play items.  Participation between parents and kids.  Participation and sharing between the kids and other kids (which is especially cool because our kids don’t speak Germany so they had to and did find creative ways to interact with other kids at the park.)  Everybody needs to use imagination.  Everybody needs to use their body.  Also, there’s not an obsession with safety.  There are places where kids can fall down and bump their bottom or scrape their knees.  This, in my opinion, helps kids explore their limits.  No, it’s not a pile of broken glass or rusty nails, but it’s not the antiseptic rubber coated nobody gets hurt kind of place that so many other theme parks have become.

We’ve spent 3 solid days at Playmobil FunPark and the kids show no sign of being bored.  They play and explore.  They go off on their own and come back with stories of pirates and dinosaurs and the wild west.

Oh, and it’s dirty cheap.  It’s €10 per person per day.  Kids meals are €5 and adults meals are €8.  There’s very little up-sell (although there is a huge Playmobil store, but you don’t have to walk through it to exit the park.)  The total €80 for a day here beats the $400+ that it costs for a day at DisneyLand hands down.

I think the thing that distinguishes Playmobil FunPark from other places is the lack of names or characters.  The activities are organized as themes that are launching points for imagination and creativity.  This markedly contrasts with Disney where every ride is about a character and the creativity is supplied by and ends with the scenario that Disney specifies.

So, if you’re looking for a great family vacation in a place where your kids will play and have a ton of fun, hop a flight to Frankfurt, grab the train to Nuremberg and spend a week at Playmobil FunPark.  You’ll save money versus Disney and you’ll have a European vacation in the mix.