Irish Theme Parks; Compare and Contrast

As the Summer holidays headed towards their conclusion I suddenly realised that the list of “must do” items which the boys had put together at the start of July was lacking a number of “ticks” in the completed column. That’s not to say we hadn’t been busy, hey every day with four kids is busy in my book, but we just hadn’t travelled far beyond a 500 metre radius from our house as often as the kids would have liked. Well I say if you can’t find joy in the Botanic gardens and Glasnevin cemetery, then there is no hope for you! The boys didn’t exactly agree and demanded trips to Clara Lara fun park and Tayto Park within the space of a week or they would be giving me (and my first summer as a stay at home Dad) a less than favourable review when they got back to school!

For those of you not familiar with Clara Lara and /or Tayto Park, I will give you a quick initial guide to each. Clara Lara is an Irish institution and has been around for more years than I care to remember. I can even recall going there on a primary school trip and falling off one of the numerous rope swings into one of the freezing cold pools / ponds / lakes that abound the “attraction”. Tayto Park on the other hand, is a more recent arrival on the scene and has morphed from a mini challenger to Dublin Zoo into an all singing all dancing american style theme park complete with roller coasters, high wire adventure zones and queues, lots and lots of queues.

Clara Lara was first up and the initial signs weren’t promising and by signs I mean the dirty big black cloud which hung in the sky as soon as we started our drive into the Wicklow mountains on the outskirts of Dublin where the park is located. Let me say that the inhabitants of the Wicklow mountains are renowned for a certain requirement for sanctuary, whether it be the holy men of Glendalough or criminals trying to evade the Guards! Thankfully Clara Lara seems to be quite aware that it is constantly running the gauntlet of the Irish weather for they have placed wooden huts (some are even raised off the slightly sodden ground) all around the park so that the paying customers can keep their stuff and most importantly their spare clothes dry. For Clara Lara you see is primarily about water, lots and lots of healthy Wicklow mountain water, sure there are a few other bits and pieces around like the crazy golf, a zip line, etc, but it is really all about splashing about whether it be on water slides, in kayaks, in row boats or the aforementioned rope swings (did I mention that there are a lot of them).

The weather was nicer for our trip to Tayto Park although this and the fact that we chose a UK bank holiday meant that the place was mobbed. There were so many Tyrone and Armagh jerseys around that you could have been forgiven for thinking that you had just arrived in Clones on Ulster Final day. To our credit we had anticipated crowds so we had made sure to be at the gates at the very second they opened. First we headed for the big attractions, Viking Voyage, a splash water coaster which had terrified Lochlan (8) on our previous visit (to his credit he went for it again this time round) and then onto the Cu Chulainn roller coaster which were both enjoyed (although the former did leave me with a wet bum for the rest of the morning which wasn’t great), while queues were less than half an hour. But then we made the fatal mistake of stopping at a playground (goddamn those pesky kids and their need for some unscripted fun) and we never really got back on top of the queuing situation.

In comparing the two I would say that the boys enjoyed both equally but for parents (we travelled with friends on both occasions albeit with a larger group in Clara Lara), or at least from my own point of view, Clara Lara was far more user friendly. In Clara Lara it was possible to set up a base and while the kids might wander off anywhere, they would always know where they could return to, this is simply not possible in the much larger and much more crowded Tayto Park. That’s not to say that Clara Lara wasn’t busy, including a very large hurling team from Kilkenny (how did we know they were a hurling team from Kilkenny, well because they kept their hurls with them at all times as if they were surgically attached!) and Oscar (6) did become slightly disorientated at one point but I quickly found him by one of the aforementioned rope swings. For clarification’s sake and before social services are called, Ella (2) remained with me at all times and was not given license to roam like the others. Clara Lara was also considerably cheaper and had the added bonus of not being absolutely jam-packed with high in salt and / or sugar food outlets which definitely couldn’t be said for Tayto Park. Last but not least, while Clara Lara did have its fair share of wasps it didn’t have anywhere near as many as Tayto Park (see the above comment re availability of sugar).

On a side note the availability of wet suits (God bless you Lidl and /or Aldi, we can’t remember which) was also key to the boys enjoyment of Clara Lara where the water temperature wasn’t quite the same as that which we had experienced in our Brittany camp-site pool earlier in the summer. I mean if I had a wet suit when I was younger maybe I wouldn’t have dreaded those trips to multiple west Kerry beaches.

As a closing comment in my opinion the best thing about Tayto Park is usually the World of Raptors show where you can get up close with stunning birds of prey such as eagles, owls and vultures. However this time the show was cut short when the Bald Eagle on display made a run / flight for it. He must have been getting fed up with the wasps and the queues also!!


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