Tayto Park provides plenty of fun for my thrill-seeking family's flying visit
Jenny Lee ended up in a spin when she and her family strapped in for a whirlwind day of fun at Tayto Park in Co Meath
BILLED as a gentle-paced exciting ride for youngsters, I willingly queued up for Flight School, expecting to enjoy views of the Co Meath countryside.
But boy, was I wrong. The truth is Tayto Park's newest ride made my stomach do triple-flip somersaults, as I hurtled along the 281 metre long track at speeds of 46kmph. I even confess I closed my eyes and gritted my teeth for the second lap of the ride. My six-year-old thought it was "fantastic fun", while my nine year old said it "didn't go fast enough".
Flight School is one of many new attractions that have opened at Ireland's only theme park, in the two years since we last visited. Opened in November 2010, Tayto Park is an unusual concept – a theme park, zoo and crisp factory all in one – and thankfully there are plenty of things for the non-thrill seeker to see and do.
The rides are divided into two 'lands', at opposite ends of the park. The Eagle Sky Zone is home to the fast thrill rides, while the Eagle Nest Zone has a selection of fun rides for younger children, with some active activities such as the Pow Wow Playground and Sky Walk rope course located in between.
Another new attraction for us was the Ladybird Loop spinning coaster. After my earlier experience, I decided to sit this out and watch as the rest of the family whirled their way round the figure-of-eight track inside a ladybird-themed carriage.
Unfortunately, I was too old to take a ride in the Nissan Driving School. The battery-operated cars give young drivers a real experience of what it is like to take to the road in a track that includes markings, traffic rights and roundabouts. My two loved being in control of the wheel – even though the youngest managed to have a collision with her older brother at a red light.
We managed to visit on a quieter day with little to no queuing, and thus had more time to explore the animal attractions the park has to offer – from viewing tigers and American bison from afar, to petting pygmy goats and lambs in the farmyard friends area. I also enjoyed viewing the fairy garden – complete with the tiny wooden Fairy Value supermarket, Fairy Inn and Fairy Footwear shop.
Another new attraction for this year is Lemur Woods, which allows visitors an immersive experience with the endangered species of ring tailed lemurs.
After working your way through double security doors – there to ensure no lemur escapees – you walk along a looped pathway within a natural woodland enclosure, watching the animals hang from trees or play. While you are not allowed to touch the animals, the same rules don't apply to them – as I found out with one cheeky lemur undoing my shoelace.
Next we took our seats for the World of Raptors birds of prey show in the open-air arena. During the 25-minute show, we watched some of the world's largest vultures perform a number of impressive tricks, while their keepers provide audiences with fascinating facts.
If you are frightened of birds, it's best to maybe avoid this as the birds fly low and even walk alongside you – causing my daughter to leap on to her daddy's knee.
After seeing eagles soar, I managed to pluck up the courage to experience the new Viking Voyage At The Park flume ride. And I actually enjoyed it – even hurtling backwards into the water.
Plastic capes are available to purchase as the ride does leave you wet. However, a big tip, especially on a windy day, is to follow Viking Voyage with a spin on the Windstar hang? gliders – which acts like a human spinning clothes line.
There are many picnic tables throughout the park for those wanting to bring their own snacks. On our visit, we enjoyed a carvery dinner in the large indoor Lodge Restaurant, and treated ourselves to a colourful dunk ice cream at the design your own ice cream lolly stand.
After having experienced almost all the park has to offer, including a father and son ride on the massive Cú Chulainn Coaster, we decided to call it a day.
But when my daughter and I emerged from a quick visit to the ladies, I was shocked to hear my daring son screaming my name while hanging upside down on the terrifying Power Surge ride. I couldn't even watch as he was spun upside down, around and around.
Thankfully, he came off smiling, as we ran to the exit to get our complementary packet of Tayto cheese and onion for the journey home.
:: Tayto Park's inaugural family Funfest festival takes place on June 29 and 30, featuring magicians, circus performers and top music acts including Nathan Carter and Hudson Taylor. This year, visitors to Tayto Park can return to the theme park and zoo with their previously purchased entry tickets and receive 25 per cent off their second visit. Full details at Taytopark.ie