Storytelling and Theming, a Belgian Specialty

My last post was a review of Plopsaland De Panne, which I visited on Boxing Day. The next day I decided to go to Bruges to visit Historium, which I had read a lot about when it opened.

The attraction is located on the Market Square with its ticketing office being in the same room as the city’s visitor centre (quite handy!). It is a walk-through with 7 themed rooms (incl. animatronics, smell, smoke) by Jora Vision, where the visitor follows the story of a young boy, his master and a woman he falls in love with on a day of the year 1435 through a beautifully shot film.

Historium

Historium

The experience takes about 30min and gives a lot of information on the history of the city and its people. At the end, the visitor is invited to freely explore a couple of rooms with additional text and artifacts for a deeper understanding as well as a panoramic terrasse with beautiful views of the Market Square.

Market Square

I was not disappointed as I thought Historium lived up to its reputation. The high quality of the movie, script and theming contributed to a very ‘clean’ experience conducive to a history-based attraction. I can definitely see potential for similar attractions in a lot of historical places, especially when based on a movie that would be shot in the city by a local director and a team of historians to assist with the script.

Visiting Historium the day after Plopsaland De Panne I couldn’t help but notice something these two attractions have in common. And that is a superior storytelling and theming. Be it the history of the city for Historium or the stories of popular IP’s for Plopsaland both take a very meticulous approach of storytelling with a lot of respect, a dose of humor and a high sense of esthetics in the realization, in particular in the theming and media content.

So, until proven otherwise, I declare storytelling and theming a Belgian specialty!

REVIEW: Plopsaland De Panne

In a recent post I wrote about Disney’s business model I mentioned Steve Van Den Kerkhof the CEO of Plopsa Group, whose business is probably one that resembles the most Disney’s. The group’s 5 theme parks are all based on IP’s from their own Studio 100. So I decided to spend a couple of days in Belgium to visit Plopsaland De Panne during my recent trip to Europe.

I reach Plopsaland De Panne on Boxing Day after a 3-hour drive from Paris. Elke and Nick take me on a full tour of what is probably the best park I have been to after Walt Disney World in Orlando. Since recently the park remains open over Christmas and it works (the park hosted 9,000 guests on the day of my visit). The pricing structure is very simple: a single price for anyone above 1m!

We start with Mayaland Indoor, which spreads over one full side of the main square. This 5,000sqm area was added recently at a cost of EUR 8 million and revolves entirely around the Maya the Bee IP acquired by Studio 100 in 2008. The theming is superb and the attractions mix felt just right. My personal favorite is the giant tree house combined with a toboggan dropping kids straight into a pollen yellow ball pool and also the potato sack racing slide, which adults seem to enjoy as much as kids. The slightly elevated café is popular with parents having a drink while keeping an eye on their kids.

Mayaland Indoor

Mayaland Indoor

Ball Bath

Potato Sack Racing Slide

Then we start walking around the park and Nick tells me that the park used to called Meli-Park from 1936 to 2000 before Studio 100 acquired it, which probably explains why the landscape is so nice (even in the middle of winter). The old petting farm remains but is now home of the local Big & Betsy IP; the whole thing is very cute and works very well.

Petting Farm

The Plop the Gnome dark ride is my favorite. We embark on a boat journey through the magical world of this super famous local series. The ride, which opened in 2000, is very well maintained with great lighting and a multitude of simple animatronics and gives a memorable experience even for someone who is not familiar with the series.

Next is the brand new Vic the Viking land (EUR 5.5 million), which is another great example of very successfully themed area around one of the IP’s acquired by Studio 100. I don’t know where to start because everything is just perfect, from the facades to the placement of the Big Wave ride above the gate to the land, the Wickie The Battle ride, the retail, etc.

Vic the Viking

Vic the Viking

We quickly pass through the Pirates zone, home of the very good Anubis ride (with a surprising twist, which I won’t reveal here) and a classic flume ride. I get to have a glimpse at one of the many meet & greets the park is famous for.

And now we’re back in the central square buzzing with life on this cold winter day with an ice-skating rink, a bone fire, a Coke mirror palace and a Santa picture taking stage.

Ice Skating Rink

Bone Fire

It’s almost time for the night parade but before I must visit the giant retail outlet on the central square to buy some of the amazing merchandise (it’s on par with Disney, really!) and make my nephews happy!

Retail

I already said it but I will repeat it, Plopsaland is one of the best parks I have been to and I believe it is for the same reason Disney parks are so good too: the integration of rich IP into every aspects of the parks materialized by beautifully executed theming, superior merchandising, roving mascots and that magical feel of visiting someone’s ‘land’.

Hats off to Steve and his team for transforming an old amusement park into what is for me a new benchmark for mid-size parks.