With two young children to entertain during school holidays, but a family purse hit by the credit crunch, Ryanair's flights from London Stansted to Niederrhein Airport, near Weeze in northern Germany, jumped off the page. The price: one penny – including taxes.
This sounded intriguing, but where the heck is Weeze? It turns out to be in the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia on the Dutch/German border and a mere 45 minute flight away from London.
Cancellation fees were only eight pence, so we booked to fly and come back in one day. We set a budget of €100 - all the leftover currency from last year's holiday. What we found was an exciting and affordable day out in an area hardly known to British tourists.
Irrland amusement park is served by the airport shuttle bus to Kevelaer that leaves at 25 minutes past every hour. If you miss the bus, a taxi is under €12.
Entry is €3.90 per person and for €3 extra you can rent a useful wagon to carry their belongings around the 24 acre site.
The south side of the park is a massive ‘maize-maze' which has four main features. The children's first choice was the ‘Pirateschiff' (pirate ship) beside a giant paddling pool which featured tanks that slowly fill up and randomly dump water onto the expectant children below.
Shaded picnic tables with accompanying barbecues were readily available, along with kiosks dispensing drinks,fritten and sun loungers. The food was very good and cheap – at least compared to Britain. Arrive early to get a picnic table beside the Sandmatschberg - the most shaded picnic area. By lunchtime, the smog here from all the barbecues cooking sausages would put Beijing to shame.
After scaling the inflatable Kletterpyramid and Riesengebirge domes, we went to look at the Menschen-Waschanlage (human car wash) where children emerged from a giant mud pit to be sprayed with firehoses by the enthusiastic teenage staff (nice work if you can get it).
On the north side of the park we found a track for racing oversized tricycles and more inflatables for toddlers.
Standout features here are the slides from a 30-metre gantry built over an Antonov An-2 airplane, and the 70-metre water slide continuously sprayed by a fire engine. To escape the sun (or rain) there are also barns filled with pool tables and table football, rope swings and a pyramid of straw bales with tunnels to explore. With the petting zoo, farm animals and lots of other surprises, Irrland offered far more entertainment than we could tackle in a single day.
In the afternoon we took the airport shuttle bus again to the Bahnhof in Kevelaer so our son could film German trains. Afterwards we considered eating on the busy Hauptstrasse lined with al-fresco cafes, but opted for ice cream due to budget concerns. We savored the tempting range of flavours at Ital Eiscafe as some of the 800,000 pilgrims who visit the city each year made their way to the ornate church to view the 1642 shrine to the Virgin Mary.
Just off the Hauptstrasse is the local museum, which although large and undoubtedly interesting, was not tempting enough to ward off a nap. We bedded down happily at an adjacent park where playing families made us feel safe and at ease.
Busmannstrasse in the city centre offered up a post-nap charity shop (thrift store) with good value clothes and toys. Had we decided to throw financial caution to the wind, the Luxemburger Galerie mall, just opposite the thrift store, has a good range of more expensive shops.
By now it was late in the day and we still hadn't found our obligatory currywurst. Eventually we were rescued by barbecued ribs and chicken from Roland's Grill-Kuche and a currywurst from a neighbouring stand.
Two portions of tender and perfectly cooked spare ribs were just €5, a currywurst und fritten was €3.50. We bought cold beers and salad in the supermarket (plus German sausages and chocolates to take home) and had a lovely picnic in the square beside the fountain.
It was a short walk from here back to the station where joined some German students cooling their feet in the fountain while waiting for the airport shuttle, which leaves at 45 minutes past every hour. The bus came spot-on time and cost just under €4 per passenger. At the end of the day, after all the bus fares, food and admissions, we still had enough change from our €100 budget to buy coffees in the airport cafe for our flight home.