Dinopark – a fun-packed day out!

Here’s an idea for the ‘little ‘uns’: Dinopark, a theme park aimed squarely at the junior market, based around dinosaurs. While obviously not intended for me, I thought it sounded rather horrendous (plastic dinosaurs in what looks like a concrete jungle?). So I was stunned when mother-of-two, Petra, said it was the best day out they had ever had with the kids in Croatia; an absolute ‘must do’ and ‘really good value’. More than that, with the end of their holiday fast approaching, she was taking them for one last treat – back to Dinopark!

With such an endorsement – and hearing that it had recently been expanded and improved – I decided it was time to see for myself why what looked unappealing to me was such a hit with the children. So I tagged along. I’d also wondered what was there to amuse the more mature members of the family and this was a perfect opportunity to find out: this time Petra was going mob-handed! (The whole family – two sets of grandparents and her sister’s family, twelve of us in total – were equally curious to find out why Emily (4½) and Arthur (2½) loved Dinopark so much …)

 

On the dinosaur trail … in beautiful woodland

walking in Dinopark, IstriaDinopark has been created in a huge, old quarry and, according to park director, Anthony, is completely appropriate for the area. “Istria’s got great dinosaur credentials,” he explained, when we arrived. “Fossilised dinosaur bones and footsteps have been found all over the peninsular: it’s quite likely some have been dug out of this quarry. We’ve simply put the dinosaurs back where they used to roam!” And there was me thinking they were simply cashing in on dino appeal!

Arthur pressing one of the buttons, Dinopark, IstriaLong since reclaimed by nature, the quarry’s now a lovely place for a stroll along board-walks, under the trees (the complete opposite of the hot, noisy, concrete jungle I’d imagined). Covering over 40 000 m², there’s plenty of room for all the displays, rides and people. We visited at the end of July and, while there were enough people to give the place atmosphere, it never felt crowded.

“Push that button Arthur. Let’s see if we can get it to roar!”

And as for the dinosaurs – yes, they are plastic and some are looking rather worn. But when you press the button, most move and some even roar: I found them strangely appealing and surprisingly lifelike. If they amused me, I could see why small children, like Arthur and Emily, were totally captivated. I’m positive Arthur really thought they were alive and couldn’t believe his luck.

dinosaur at Dinopark, Istria“He’s a complete dinosaur freak,” said Petra, “so Dinopark’s absolutely perfect for him. He’s got posters on his bedroom walls and dozens of models. He knows the names of all of them – I have trouble keeping up with him.”

Emily riding a dinosaur, Dinopark, Istria“It’s why I had to get all these,” added Dad, Rob, waving a bunch of Dinopark leaflets. “His favourite thing this holiday has been the leaflet we got on our last visit. He’s ‘read’ it so many times, it’s now held together by fingerprints and sellotape. I dread to think of the tears we’d have had, if it had fallen apart before I got these back-ups!”

 

Older Emily might not be as big a dinosaur fan as her brother, but she too clearly loved the place. According to her, the best thing was riding the dinosaurs. It was even better than riding the pony in the petting zoo (more on that later). “As she’s horse-mad, that’s pretty amazing!” said Petra.

Emily & Arthur on train ride, Dinopark, IstriaFor those with an eye on money – probably everyone these days – I think Dinopark has got it right in that everything is included in the entrance fee. There’s no extra tickets to buy and that also helps reduce queuing. “Little kids don’t understand queuing to pay for rides,” said Petra. “When they want to go on a ride, they want to do it now, not wait until you’ve bought a ticket.” When we were there, Emily and Arthur were able to walk up to a dinosaur or ride and get on pretty much straight away.

But be warned: there aren’t a lot of rides and they’re all pitched at the junior market. Only three of the animatronic dinosaurs are ride-able and the other rides are a chair-lift, train, helicopter and roundabout. “By about eight, I expect they’ll have grown out of this,” said Grandma, Sally, Emily & Arthur on roundabout at Dinopark, Istria“but for now they’re absolutely perfect.”

The other thing Rob liked about the rides was parental control. “We’re the ones putting our kids on the rides and we have control over the ‘stop’ and ‘start’ buttons, so can give them as long or short a ride as they want,” he said. At this point, Emily promptly proved him wrong, by finding she could turn the roundabout with her foot – by 4½ she had discovered that Dad was dispensable!

Emily takes a pony ride, Dinopark, IstriaIt’s not all man-made rides, though – Dinopark also has a tiny petting zoo. Ok, for now it’s just a couple of ponies (much approved of by Emily), some goats and rabbits – but it’s a start and Anthony confirmed they will be expanding it in the future.

Luckily for the rest of our group, the Dinopark trail also has some attractions for older visitors. You have archery (where Granddad, Rick, proved a dab hand) and there’s also paint-ball target shooting – far more appealing to both Dads (there is a small surcharge for the paintball pellets).

archery at Dinopark, IstriaThe target shooting was only introduced this year. “We’re constantly expanding and changing the park,” explained Anthony. “As well as the shooting range, we also added the observation ‘high tower’ this year. Next year, we’re planning to add some aquatic dinosaurs and upgrade some of our existing dinos.” This was good to hear, as I know Dinopark didn’t have a good reputation when it first opened. “We’ve done a lot of work to enhance and upgrade then park since it first open in 2009,” said Anthony, “It’s now a completely different and much more entertaining experience – for example, just look at the various shows we have.”

 

Show time

Flying Devils motor show, Dinopark, IstriaI hadn’t realised, but the dinosaur trail is only half the attraction. While the dinosaurs, rides and petting zoo are great for the little ones, the shows offer something for older members of the family, giving Dinopark broad appeal for the whole family.

First up was the Flying Devils Motorshow, held outside near the entrance. It didn’t last long, but was totally amazing. How those guys stay on that wire, I’ll never know – and then do those astounding stunts!

Then it was circus time and we moved into the show arena: a large converted disco! Petra’s sister, Nina (Mum of 1½ year old Raiko), was last here when it was a disco in the 1980s and reported that it hadn’t changed much inside. But what was great for partying teenagers now makes a superb big top substitute.

circus clown, Dinopark, IstriaIf Arthur was totally enthralled by the dinosaurs, slightly older Emily (4½) was completely captivated by the circus – and quite rightly so. The hour-long show was genuinely great fun: a real traditional circus with trapeze artists, acrobats and jugglers, as well as knife throwing and fire juggling – and of course there was the clown who completely stole the show. He … well I don’t want to spoil the fun. Let’s just say, I enjoyed the show as much as Emily.

After lunch in the restaurant – dinosaur-shaped burgers for the kids! – we were back in time for Magic Albin a surprisingly skilful magician who amazed and amused in equal measure.

relaxing in an egg, Dinopark, IstraAfter all that, we could have gone back round the park again and found the things we missed first time – trampolines, playground, high tower – but enough was enough. With tired eyes closing (and I’m talking about me, not the kids!) it was time to call it a day.

All in all, I give Dinopark a huge thumbs up – if you’re coming with small children, it really is a ‘must’, and I’m relieved to add there’s also enough to keep the rest of the family amused as well.

Just be warned: if you bring your youngsters here, you might never hear the end of it. They could easily end up like Emily and Arthur – who talked non-stop about Dinopark all holiday long and just couldn’t wait to get back!

 

Visiting Dinopark

Cute dinosaur, Dinopark, IstriaMy advice is to time your visit around the shows: Flying Devils (3 times a day – first show at 11:30), Circus (12:00 and 20:30) and Magic (14:00). We went early, arriving about 9:30, so had time to do the dinosaurs and rides, and have a cold drink, before the shows began. Alternatively, you could come in the afternoon and do the shows first.

Dinopark is in Funtana, on the coast road between Porec and Vrsar. There is a large, free car park outside.

For more information see the Dinopark website.

 

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