My six-year-old has been talking for months now about an idea she has – she’s planning to open a theme park when she grows up. It’ll be covered snow, there will be sledding, ice-covered slides, and reindeer carousels. You can stay overnight there – like glamping she says, only in igloos. And there will be snow cones instead of 99’s. Oh, and the coffee cups will have pictures of Anna and Elsa. We may have some licensing issues there. I’ve gone from nodding and smiling in a “yes dear” way, to real enthusiasm for her idea – so much so that I’ve started to wonder if Disney have already thought about this.
On our journey to Tayto Park today, she talked at length again about how it would all work. She says she’s only going to charge an entrance fee of €2.00 and after that everything is free – except the snow cones. She feels that if people like it, they’ll come back, and they’ll tell other people. She’s really thought this through, and I like that her ice theme is very thorough and consistent. What was a little less obvious, or at least to me, was the theme of our destination today – Tayto Park. But really, with all that fun, who needs a theme?
When we first visited two years ago, I wondered what on earth Tayto Park was. For anyone reading this who is not from Ireland, I should explain that Tayto are our national crisps (of course, doesn’t every country have a national crisp?) and they’re as Irish as Guinness and black pudding and brown bread. Then in 2009, Largo Foods who own Tayto, started building work on a new theme park, beside the crisp factory in Ashbourne Co. Meath. As you do. And it’s brilliant.
It’s hard to tell what it’s all about before you go, and even when you’re there it can be difficult to put a finger on it. There’s a Wild West theme running through it, along with lots of Native American symbols like Totem Poles and teepee tents. There are farm animals, but also endangered leopards. And of course, it’s full of slides and rides, with names like “The Rotator” – an insane contraption that swoops its screaming passengers about 100 feet up into the air then turns them upside down.
And of course, the real theme is crisps. Whoever had the idea of charging people to come in, and then surrounding them with branding at every turn is a marketing genius. Mr. Tayto is everywhere – you can pose beside a giant plastic Mr. Tayto or a giant hedge trimmed as Mr Tayto or if you’re very lucky, as we were today, you can meet and shake hands with actual Mr. Tayto.
So for a short review of Tayto Park, here goes: we took a factory tour, surrounded by images of crisp packaging from the past, we walked through the Vortex tunnel which the kids loved though I was left reeling. We spent some time in a maze, had a picnic in the gorgeous sunshine, beneath a totem pole. The kids played in the playground, crawling through a network of tunnels from giant slide to giant slide. We checked out the animals, got some ice-creams, then tried out the air jumping. It was very, very busy today so queues were long – unusually so. And unlike Clara’s Frozen theme-park, you have to pay extra for many of the activities – air-jumping, pony-rides, zip-wire, and if you’re really crazy, The Rotator. But for smaller kids, or smarter parents, there’s plenty to do for free – including face-painting, two play-grounds, a sand-pit, the animals, the mazes, water features and the Vortex tunnel. And for the fortunate, meeting the man himself as he strolls around shaking hands, complete with his own security detail.
We left after five hours of non-stop running, climbing, sliding and jumping, with tired, happy kids. The final excitement came when we were presented with a free packet of Cheese and Onion Tayto on the way out the gate. “I love Potato Park and I love these Potato crisps,” said Emmie, “They’re my favourite ever.” Job done then Mr. Tayto.
“it’s not surprising it’s so busy, being Ireland’s only theme park,” I remarked to my husband as we drove away. “Well, it’s the only one at the moment mum,” piped up Clara from the back seat, “but not for long – not when my Frozen park opens. Then we’ll have two.”
Note to self, get on to Disney.