Eight years ago we were living in sunny Orlando, Florida. It was our first move as a family away from the same city our parents were living in, and we were thrilled to be experiencing our first taste of truly being out on our own. We were young, energetic, and a whole lot tanner than we are now, but more importantly, we were also the lucky holders of season passes to all four theme parks at Disney World. It couldn’t have come at a better time in our lives. Lexie was five and plenty old enough to appreciate the thrill of the rides and the joy of meeting her favorite Disney characters in person. My fear of heights hadn’t kicked in yet and I’d dangle from the highest rides with all the confidence of a 20-something who hasn’t yet realized that she isn’t invincible. For us, Disney World really was The Happiest Place On Earth. At least the first 30 or so times we went. That’s right, over the course of the year, we went to Disney, I’m estimating, over 40 times. You know you’ve been too many times when you wake your 5-year-old up on a Saturday morning, tell her to get dressed because she’s going to Magic Kingdom for the day, and she groans and asks if she can just stay home instead. We were all pretty Disney-ed out by the end of that year.
Fast forward to the end of 2014. It had been almost a decade since we’d ridden on anything bigger and better than funfair rides, and we were finally ready to give an amusement park another go. It was going to be our Christmas gift to Lexie. But where to go? Disneyland Paris would have been the closest choice, but once you’ve experienced the best of Disney (the parks in Orlando), it’s hard for the others to compete. And then the answer sort of fell into my lap. I was reading an article about the amusement park that inspired Walt Disney to create his own parks, when I realized the park they were writing about was right here in Europe. And – it gets better – the article said the best time to visit was during the Christmas holidays! Coincidence, I think not. Three discount plane tickets later and we were off to Copenhagen to spend a day at the legendary Tivoli Gardens.
The day didn’t start out with a lot of promise. Rain was falling in sheets outside the window as we ate our breakfast at the hotel. We only had two full days in Copenhagen and I began to worry I’d made the biggest mistake ever in waiting until the second of these to visit the park. We waited an hour to see if the rain would stop and then bundled up, three layers thick this time, and decided we were going to make the best of it, rain or not. (At that point, I wasn’t even thinking the rain would stop. I was just hoping the temperature would drop enough that maybe it would turn to snow.)
So we’re walking to the park, about twenty or so minutes from our hotel, and the rain started to look like it was letting up. I tried not to get my hopes up. I tried not to even think about it, because mental jinx. But by the time we arrived at the entrance to the park, nearly everyone had closed up their umbrellas and the rain had been reduced to only a slight drizzle. How’s that for perfect timing? And thanks to the rain keeping most people away, we walked straight to the front entrance, no queue at all, and entered the park. The park that, mind you, would also stay almost completely empty of other people until nightfall. It was as if we’d rented the park out for ourselves and a dozen other strangers. We were jumping from ride to ride, sometimes even staying on the rides for another go because there were literally no lines at all. I couldn’t believe our good luck!
The first thing we rode was the biggest, fastest ride they have – The Demon. It was Lexie’s first roller coaster that goes upside down and, brave girl that she is, she rode right in the front with me! Cory stayed behind to take a picture, and I’m so glad he did because every time I look at it I start cracking up! We were not expecting the ride to go so fast as to knock our hats off, so in the photo you can see both of us with huge smiles on our faces…and our hands holding onto our hats like our lives depended on it. (Lexie’s ended up flying off at the end, but luckily a guy behind us managed to grab onto it!) We ended up riding almost every ride in the park, most two or more times each. Our favorites were definitely the Demon, as well as Tivoli Gardens’ other two roller coasters, and the Golden Tower that took us way up above the park, held us there for a few moments, and then dropped us straight back down. I swear they heard our screams all the way in Sweden.
The only thing that caused me to have a
minor freakout was the swings. These were no ordinary swings, though. These swings took us up three billion feet in the air, even higher than the Golden Tower, and then left us swinging up there in the wind, our legs dangling free, as it spun around and around. I made it through the first round alright, but on the second round, my imagination went into overdrive and the only way I saw this ride ending was either with us dangling precariously from the cables with sweaty hands or, even worse, falling all three billion feet down to the ground and ruining everyone’s Christmas holidays with our untimely deaths. Against all odds, we survived. And I’ll likely never ride on another swing more than three feet off the ground as long as I live.
When we weren’t hopping on rides, we were hanging around the little “fires” strategically placed through the park, even though whatever they were burning made us seriously light-headed. (At a certain point, we got cold enough that we’d rather be warm and risk passing out than stay cold.) Most of the time, we didn’t mind the cold, though. Tivoli Gardens was decked out like a true winter wonderland, so the cold temps only served to make the fake frost and snow that much more believable.
It only took me a few minutes in Tivoli to see why Walt Disney chose to base his parks after this place – Tivoli Gardens is the second oldest amusement park in the world and it’s still got it going on! The rides are loads of fun, the food is good, and the park itself – just the way it looks, particularly at Christmas – is something straight out of a storybook. I didn’t think it could get better, but after the sun went down, Tivoli Gardens really outdid herself.
I apologize for the giant photo dump, but this is only half of what I considered to be blog-worthy photos from Tivoli. It’s not hard to capture the spirit of the season here because Tivoli Gardens has thought of everything. It really is like walking around some kind of magical North Pole Christmas paradise. As soon as the sun set, we took a break from riding rides to walk the entire park and take some photographs. Well, that turned into a pretty long walk because every couple of feet we were stopping to ooh and aah at something else. This probably would have gone on for a good bit longer if it weren’t for Lexie reminding us, ‘But you said we could ride rides again twenty minutes ago!’ And so we rode most of the rides in the park once again, and let me tell you, riding some of these at night is a completely different experience than in the day. (Try riding a roller coaster when you can’t see what’s in front of you, even with your eyes open, and tell me that’s not scary!)
Tivoli Gardens did get much busier at night than it had been during the day, but it still wasn’t overly crowded. And most people seemed to be more interested in hanging around the Christmas markets than the rides, anyway. Speaking of the markets, that’s where we, too, found ourselves at the end of the evening. We enjoyed a warm dinner of crepes and hot cocoa in the markets, and then let Lexie pick one last ride, which, after serious deliberation, was exactly the same ride we started the day with. How appropriate.
We entered the park one hour after it opened, and eight hours later, we said our goodbyes. If it weren’t for the fact that we just couldn’t stand the cold any longer, we probably would have stayed until closing, but my warm bed was calling. Given how it all started, our day could have gone in a completely different direction, but as it seems to do more often than we deserve, the universe aligned itself for us at the last minute and this day at Tivoli Gardens ended up being one of our favorite travel days ever. Funny to say that about an amusement park when we’re off seeing places of, I suppose, quite a bit more importance, but sometimes you just need a day where the biggest decision you make is which roller coaster to go on next. When we first arrived in Copenhagen and witnessed the Saint Lucia Day celebrations at Nyhavn, I didn’t think anything we did or saw on the rest of our trip would be able to compare, but this day proved me wrong. Tivoli Gardens was definitely the cherry on top of one amazing Christmas holiday!
For a few money-saving tips on visiting Tivoli Gardens (and Copenhagen in general), check out my guide for families visiting Copenhagen on a budget!
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