Roller coasters and water slides; I gave up on that type of thing years ago. As a younger man, I decided that nervously queuing up for the chance to be hurtled around just wasn’t for me. So I opted out — a decision I’ve yet to regret. But there’s nothing like the wide eyes of a six-year-old child for pushing you out of your comfort zone. And, during our first few hours in Duinrell, it’s clear my policy of abstinence will have to be reconsidered.
Located close to the coast of northern Holland, Duinrell is like a supercharged Dutch Center Parcs — with accommodation arranged around both a water park and a theme park. And, as we explore the latter, it’s quickly clear that my eldest, Leena, intends to try everything over the next eight days. Mercifully, there are height restrictions, which rule her (and, therefore, me) out of some of the more savage-looking rides — not least The Falcon, which plunges down a vertical drop straight into a terrifying loop-the-loop, to a chorus of screaming.
There is, however, a decent handful of rides Leena’s just about tall enough for, so I agree to give some of them a whirl, beginning with the Aqua Swing — and, while being flung around in a great circle on a chair swing wouldn’t normally be my idea of fun, there’s something about the summer breeze and the faint spray of the fountains beneath that makes the whole thing enjoyable.
Next, it’s the Kikkerachtbarn, a harmless-looking family coaster towed by a happy looking frog. I approach this one with little fear, having seen very small children emerge from it with smiles on their faces. My confidence is misplaced, as, while the circuit isn’t too wild, three of four sudden bursts of acceleration remind me why I don’t normally do this type of thing.
From there on the baton is passed to my partner, Rachel, who takes Leena first on the rather frightening-looking Dragonfly roller coaster, and then the Splash ride, in which an open-topped craft plunges head first into a giant puddle, soaking all its passengers in the process.
Relieved to be leaving them to it, I instead take my two-year-old Greta on a charming little train for toddlers. Soon after, she falls asleep in her pram, so I retire to a large glasshouse cafe for a coffee and a pancake. At the cafe’s centre sits a beautiful, 153-year-old carousel, and as I watch chocolate-faced children jump on and off it as it slowly rotates, I decide that I’ve pushed myself quite enough for one day.
Make a splash
The new morning brings a new attitude, and a new source of excitement. The Tika pool is sprawling and magnificent, with more than 16 slides, and I’m determined to try as many as I can. They’re all over so quickly — what is there to worry about? The trick, I tell myself, is to start boldly, so within seconds of arriving, I grab Leena’s arm and head straight for the Pelican Slide, for which there is momentarily no queue.
The Pelican is a short, steep slide that ends abruptly and drops you free fall, through the air, into a deep trough of water. It takes a matter of seconds, and looks relatively harmless, so I put Leena on it first and watch as she plops down into the water below. It’s only when she emerges several seconds later, coughing and spluttering, that I realise I’ve misjudged things.
Fortunately, she’s hastily fished out by her mum, who shoots me a look, which seems to say: “Have you lost your bloody mind?” Sheepishly, I follow behind, hitting the water with a significantly heavier splash. It’s not my finest bit of parenting, I admit.
Arguably, it’s the bold start I was after, and oddly emboldened by this, we try as many slides as we can over the next few days. Leena and I are eased in gently by some surprisingly fun children’s slides. We’re dazzled by the impressive light shows on the raft rides Moonlight and Starfright. We’re pleasantly buffeted about on the Blue Shark, while I’m twizzled around on the Triton and just about emerge unscathed from the Green Barracuda.
It’s time, I decide, to make the jump to the superfast section. But my enthusiasm for this idea wanes after Rachel tries out the Cycloon, which shoots her at terrific speeds into an open-topped chute, around which she’s spun in a state of panicky bewilderment. Normally so at ease with high-speed thrills, the look of anguish on her face suggests she’s more than met her match. I decide to quit water slides while I’m just about ahead.
On our final day, there are no roller coasters, and no trace of a water slide. Instead, in Amsterdam there’s a canal-side table set for lunch, and plenty of juice, coffee and wonderfully strong beer. Greta is clapping at a passing horse-drawn carriage, while Leena is watching the boats sails along the Singel. The sun is shining brightly on the watery city. All is well. And I’m sure Leena would admit, that, for this moment at least, her Daddy’s comfort zone isn’t a bad place to be.
How to do it
Al Fresco Holidays is offering seven nights for up to six people, arriving at Duinrell on 14 April 2018, staying in a Vivaldi Riviera three-bedroom mobile home, for £394. Book by 28 February to access this rate, plus receive an additional 10% off any arrival period when using promo code 18AF10P.
Published in the Family Travel guide, free with the Jan/Feb 2018 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)