As we check in at PortAventura’s Wild West-themed Hotel Gold River, hotel staff wearing gingham frocks welcome us and piped Western themes echo around the lobby. At any moment a lone piece of tumbleweed is sure to sweep through the reception doors on a gust of warm wind.
But I and my group of friends have more pressing matters on our minds – how to survive the thrilling rollercoaster rides at this theme park on Spain’s Costa Dorada, south of Barcelona.
The plan is to ease our way in with the gentlest ride first, so we choose Furious Baco. At barely a minute long, it is the park’s shortest rollercoaster.
However, any hopes of an easy introduction are soon scuppered. Furious Baco is short but ferocious. We rocket from 0 to 80mph in barely three seconds.
We hurtle up and down. We twist and turn and even flip upside down at one point. Afterwards, we need to sit down. The blood has drained from our faces and we walk with a stagger.
We look anxiously at each other: what on earth have we let ourselves in for?
Each ride is going to be like going a round with a heavyweight boxer.
We find a nearby cafe in the hope of settling our stomachs and slowly recover amid the rattles of rollercoasters and distant screams. Strangely, PortAventura’s only dangerous ride is located right next to us: a mobility scooter driven by an elderly Spanish grandmother who has broken free from her family. We watch in amusement as she fails to steer properly, but prepare to intervene when she heads towards a metal gate. Fortunately a family member rescues her.
Our next tummy-churning challenge is the resort’s newest attraction, the mighty Shambhala, built to replicate the Himalayas.
Visible for miles, it is Europe’s highest and fastest rollercoaster, with a first drop of 250ft and a top speed of 84mph. There’s a nerve-racking climb to the summit before you fly down the first drop. Then a mile of camel-backs (track elevations) follows, with the shortest drop still the height of a seven-storey building.
My friends are desperate to see themselves on screen. So, after every ride, we join the queues for the obligatory souvenir DVDs. I’m not bothered – I know my face will resemble the agonised character in Edvard Munch’s painting The Scream.
PortAventura is not all about adrenaline-junkie activities. There’s a Mayan-inspired mirrored maze, El Secreto De Los Mayas, and an aquatic park with a network of twisting water slides.
There’s also a Sesame Street area for young children.
We save the ‘worst’ ride – Dragon Khan – for last. With eight inversions, it is probably the most exhilarating in the park.
Our stomachs recover in time for dinner at the Grand Opera restaurant, where music from The Magnificent Seven is followed by Bless Your Beautiful Hide, from the musical Seven Brides For Seven Brothers.
We start the evening with a bottle of cava and a plate of nachos, served by waiters in cowboy gear. When the spaghetti Western soundtracks begin, we half expect to see a waiter appear as Clint Eastwood’s Man With No Name.
A smile erupts on my face, joined by giggles all round. We know we’ve survived.