Think of Vienna and what comes to mind? Probably grand palaces, beautiful museums and wiener schnitzel – or perhaps the song by Ultravox. So we were stunned to find, in a park just east of the historic city, a free-to-enter theme park housing a very strange restaurant.
Prater amusement park is no secret of course – its giant ferris wheel, Wiener Riesenrad, was the world’s tallest for 65 years (from 1920 to 1985) and has featured in numerous films including The Third Man (voted best British film of all time by the British Film Institute in 1999).
However, we were expecting to find a small fairground centred around the wheel; what we found was a sprawling theme park. Walking in through the elaborate entrance and eyeing the towering attractions, I was reminded of Warner Brothers’ Movie World in Australia. There were gorillas, dinosaurs, demons and even some papier-mâché humans to wrestle with… what more could you want?
A feast of thrills
Prater is free to enter and wander round, charging instead for individual rides. It boasts more than 250 attractions and practically every type of attraction is represented: rollercoasters, log flumes, waltzers, catapults, bumper cars, go-karts, mazes, drop towers, swings, ‘5D cinemas’, helter-skelters, ghost trains, fun houses, bungees, and various machines that will spin you, throw you in the air and turn you upside down. The rides all cost around 3 to 5 euros per person. That’s in addition to a Madame Tussauds, a circus tent and a Planetarium!
On Easter Monday we found Prater unusually quiet, meaning unlike all other theme parks I’ve visited there was no need to queue for anything. Hence Steve ended up going on the 90-metre-high drop tower almost all by himself!
Be wary of Prater’s rides if, like me, you’re not a white-knuckle thrill-seeker. Watch them do a full cycle before deciding to go on yourself, or else you might be taken by surprise like I was…
First I made the mistake of going on an enclosed ride called ‘Extasy’, having incorrectly identified it as a waltzer. I only realised this was not the case as the machine spinning us at 120km/h began turning on its head, hanging us upside down as we span for what seemed like an eternity. I have to admit I felt pretty good after surviving it though!
Second, feeling that I’d learned my lesson, I decided to take the ‘safe’ option of a water rapids ride where turning upside down was impossible. I’d been sat on the ‘Wild Alps’ ride for three seconds before the tyre-like boat unexpectedly began rising 25 metres into the air, with barely any surrounding support. This was followed by a fast descent into a pitch-black tunnel, some corners so sharp we thought the boat may tip over, and motors that set us spinning so fast we had to grip the handrail to avoid flying from our seats!
What I didn’t know then is that Wild Alps is the largest and longest ride of its kind in the world – and, despite the various surprises, I really enjoyed it and would strongly recommend it. It helped that I managed to avoid getting splashed, while Steve got soaked.
The Rollercoaster Restaurant
It was beginning to rain and we were about to leave when we spotted one of the park’s large TV screens playing an advert for a ‘Rollercoaster Restaurant’. I was captivated by how bizarre it looked, and delighted to find that it stood just metres away! We thought it couldn’t hurt to give it a try.
Upon entering we saw only a large empty staircase and a counter set into the wall. Staff at the counter asked whether we were here for food or drinks, then told us to go upstairs to be shown to our table. Upstairs, our surroundings thus far still bare and warehouse-like, we found the door that led into the very different world of the restaurant itself.
I looked around in wonder at the twisting towers of miniature rollercoaster tracks, winding round the room like chrome ribbons. TV screens dotted around the room showed ‘robots’ (large mechanised arms) ‘mixing cocktails’ (lifting and placing jars), while pulsing neon lights changed the room from red to green and everything in between. It was a lot to take in – and then we were taken to our table, handed a tablet, and shown how to use it to place an order. That was the last time we interacted with a human staff member until it came to paying our bill at the end.
Placing our order
We proceded to swipe through a long menu of luminous cocktails, each with a robot-themed name such as ‘Robo Punch’. After much deliberation, I dragged a ‘Technopolitan’ into our basket, Steve dragged in a beer, and we carefully aligned the tablet’s camera with a small hole in the table to place our order.
About five minutes later the lights set into our table flashed to let us know our order was coming. I excitedly scanned the ceiling for small plastic cars beginning their journey along the rollercoaster tracks, and spotted one whizzing over to our table from the other side of the room. We watched the car spiral down to our table before dropping onto the metal ring in the table’s centre. The cocktail came in a well-sealed jar, while the beer bottle arrived wearing a little elasticated hat to hold it in place!
The birthday song
Just as we thought we’d reached peak madness, the lights dimmed and began flashing. A pop song began blaring round the room and all the screens began showing the accompanying video: a very colourfully dressed man dancing around and singing some kind of birthday song, joined by a cartoon potato and tomato. I couldn’t see whose birthday it was, but everyone certainly knew about it!
While we were glad we’d experienced a Rollercoaster Restaurant, we were also glad we’d opted only for one drink each and not for any food served in plastic boxes (the only way to keep it from spilling everywhere). Nevertheless, I’d recommend it for something very *different* to do in Vienna – and something that will thrill small and big kids alike!
And as for the more traditional attractions of Vienna? These are detailed in the following posts:
All text and photos (c) Juliet Langton, 2017. All rights reserved.