Prehistoric fun in the 21st Century
They’re relatively cheap to construct and kids can’t get enough of the theme: Dinosaur parks are big business in Eastern Europe. Here Anna Lukasik surveys the situation in Poland, while further down the page we profile a three-strong park chain in Slovakia and the Czech Republic with ambitions to expand a little further west.
For many years Poland lacked a good theme park, now dinosaur parks are everywhere. The country’s first park devoted to dinosaurs opened in 2004 at Baltow in the Kamienna river valley. The choice of region was not accidental. Since the 1970s, traces of allosaurs, stegosaurs, camptosaurus and kompsognats were found in Jurassic rocks of the S´wie˛tokrzyskie Mountains. These discoveries would probably have been the last were it not for the “Delta” and “Balt” development associations from the Baltow Commune. In dinosaurs, they groups spotted an extraordinary opportunity for this small, inconspicuous village.
In spring 2004, construction of the Baltow Jurassic Park was launched. The opening took place just six months later, and since that moment Baltow ceased to be just another anonymous farming community, and instead become a trailblazer for the entire S´wie˛tokrzyski region, attracting tourists from all over Poland.
Apart from dozens of natural size figures of dinosaurs and other extinct animals, the park offers a fossil museum and a children’s playground. Colourful notice boards placed along the trail offer information on the geological periods and dinosaur models featured. The youngest visitors can play paleontologists, digging out a skeleton of a giant predatory tyrannosaur. The park offers also workshops, where children can paint dinosaur models.
The year 2007 was marked by an abundance of new dinosaur theme parks in Poland. Then, in April 2008, Zaurolandia opened in Rogow. This privately financed park is the biggest Jurassic-themed park in Poland, comprising an area of about 20 hectares. Its undisputed advantage is that it is located alongside road number 5, close to Gniezno and Bydgoszcz, and only 12 km from Biskupin. According to its owner, Tomasz Szarski, in the first season Zaurolandia pulled in 247,000 visitors.
There is one man that has created all the exhibits in Polish dinosaur parks, and that is Krzysztof Kuchnio. Recently he opened his own park, the Forest Educational Path in Nowiny Wielkie near Gorzów Wielkopolski. The concept of this park is very similar to all the other parks.
The country’s smallest dinosaur park, meanwhile, opened last year in Koacinek near Lódz. Apart from dinosaur sightseeing, guests also have the chance to spend a night on the farm.
Of course dinosaurs also remain one of the most popular subjects of contemporary museum exhibitions. Renewed popularity was spawned by Steven Spielberg’s classic film Jurassic Park in 1993, but this trend itself is not enough to keep youngsters interested. Just as museums provide visitors with the same educational and entertainment offer, dinosaur parks, equipped with the same exhibits and panels, may soon start to lose customers. What was a revelation four years ago is already becoming a cliché.
This is the main reason why park owners have started to expand their offer. The Delta association in Baltow, home to the oldest of the country’s dinosaur parks, has achieved a lot. Dinosaurs have turned out to be an excuse to redefine the area’s character, turning it into a fully-fledged tourist resort. Visitors not only enjoy the dinosaur park, but also a diverse offering including summer canoeing rallies on the Kamienna river, a winter ski slope, safari, horse-riding centre, plus countless trails for pedestrians and cyclists. This year the association even opens another dinosaur park in Solec Kujawski.
One may ask how the new parks will differ from the existing ones in the area. Competition has to be welcomed, as it will stimulate higher quality. The dinosaur parks really should compete to win customers. What is important in this business is that the guest not only comes in the first place, but also returns and recommends the place to others. Tourists are getting more and more demanding and soon will not be satisfied with yet another copy.
This article is reprinted with kind permission of Atrakcje magazine
An educational attraction based around an enduring theme, Dino Park is the largest park brand in the Czech Republic, counting two outlets to date plus one in neighbouring Slovakia. Now the developer of Dino Park, West Media, hopes to take the concept to Western Europe, where it reckons its value for money offer will be well received.
Guests can learn more about the Mesozoic era by visiting Dino Parks at Plzen or Vyskov in the Czech Republic, or just outside the Slovak capital of Bratislava. A total of three million guests in five years, between 200,000 and 300,000 annually per park, have visited so far.
Inside guests can view and interact with static and animated dinosaur figures in variety of scales as they imagine what it might have been like to live on Earth 65 million years ago. To make the environment that little bit more believable, the parks’ owner has also introduced a rare prehistoric pine called Wollemia Nobilis. Each park also includes a 3D theatre, paleontological playground, fossil dig, Dino Cafe, Dino Grill and Dino Shop. All dinosaur figures and attractions are built in-house.
Though there are no other theme parks to speak of in the Czech Republic, West Media’s general manager Jiri Machalek reckons Dino Park’s success is simple: “It appeals to people’s fantasy,” he says.
The parks have also been built on a foundation of offering value for money, admission set at around €4 per guest. As he looks for partners elsewhere in Europe, Machalek is keen to keep the pricing competitive compared to other attractions. This is, after all, a low-tech operation with relatively small running costs, bolstered by solid school bookings throughout the season.
Pictured below: Dino Park Plzen