When it comes to theme parks, I might be considered somewhat of a snob. My parents met while working at Disneyland and I enjoyed the luxury of season passes throughout my childhood. So when I moved from the United States to Korea almost two years ago, Lotte World barely piqued my interest. I’d heard from friends that this Korean-style Disneyland was a kids’ dream come true. Not only does the Lotte World entertainment complex contain one of the world’s largest indoor theme parks, but it also offers outdoor thrill rides, an ice-skating rink, a folk museum, an aquarium, parades, a shopping center and even a manmade lake.
It was time to see what all the fuss was about, but when the day came Korea was faced with a typhoon warning that likely meant heavy rain for Seoul. Fortunately most of the Lotte World activities are indoors and open 365 days a year, come rain, shine or typhoons. With this knowledge in mind, we set off.
Adjacent to the theme park is the sprawling Lotte Hotel World, a sleek, 469-room high-rise with views of the city and the park’s attractions. After navigating the busy streets of Seoul – one of the world’s megacities with a population of more than 10 million people – the polished lobby with its soaring atrium and cool marble accents is a welcome respite from the city’s frenetic energy.
After checking in, glass elevators whisk us skyward and we enter a whimsical room, decorated in a lively cartoon character theme (although I’m told these themes will change in July). Loti and Lory are Korea’s version of Mickey and Minnie (although they are raccoons, not mice), and they also feature the popular (and bizarre!) monkey-sausage character from the Cocomong show. The kids love the oversized stuffed animals, the cartoon bedspreads, and the ceiling painted sky blue with fluffy white clouds. Our room overlooks the indoor part of the park, awash with natural light streaming in from the massive glass dome that covers it. With rides, balloon vendors and characters just below the window, the pointing and squealing begins.
First opened in 1989, Lotte World has been steadily growing and adding new attractions, and the park now welcomes close to eight million visitors a year. The typhoon warning must have scared away other would-be patrons, as the line at the gates was delightfully short upon entering.
Festive music blares, characters dance around, and joyful, roller coaster-induced screams echo throughout the massive space. Overhead, dark-haired children peek out of hot air balloons suspended from a track, meanwhile vendors sporting raccoon ears (no mouse ears here) smile and wave, and couples wearing matching outfits wander hand in hand – I’ve learned that couplewear is all the rage in Korea. After contemplating buying matching raccoon ears for my husband and me, I decide we’ll instead try our first ride, a bumpy escapade through ancient Egypt in the fast-paced Pharaoh’s Fury.
It’s not raining yet, so we decide to visit Magic Island, the outdoor section of the park. Surrounded by a lake and with a Disney-esque castle in the center, this is where the larger, faster rides and coasters are located – including Magic Island’s most popular attraction, Atlantis Adventure, reported to reach speeds up to 72 kilometres per hour.
We ponder our next move: should we ride the carousel or grab some peanut butter roast squid? Just then lively music begins to blast from the sound system as an announcement declares the nightly parade is beginning. Dancers clad in mermaid costumes, bag pipers wearing Scottish kilts, and of course the stars of the show, Loti and Lory, dance their way through groups of tourists, while the catchy lyrics proclaim, “Welcome to Lotte World, we make your dreams come true, reach for the stars, and let the sun come shining through!” The typhoon didn’t get the memo.
Back at the hotel, we indulge in a gourmet Chinese dinner at Toh Lim before calling it a day, but not before choosing a bottle from the restaurant’s extensive wine list.
The breakfast buffet serves Asian and Western dishes, and I grab a little bit of kimchi to add Korean flair to my omelette and toast. The typhoon’s cloudy fingers have finally stretched up to Seoul, and the rainy day means we’ll be exploring some of Lotte World’s indoor attractions. Though not particularly popular with the younger member in our party, I insist we visit the Lotte World Folk Museum, where 5,000 years of Korean history is on display, and there are daily traditional music and dance performances. After gazing at fossils, folk paintings and a model of a village from the Joseon Dynasty, we decide that it’s time to venture into different waters.
In the Lotte World Mall, across the street from Lotte World, we find the Lotte World Aquarium – Korea’s largest indoor aquarium and home to 55,000 creatures from 650 different marine species. It’s still raining, so we decide to end the day at the hotel’s indoor pool, which is what most of the other guests have decided to do as well. As I listen to the splashing, I daydream about visiting the posh Sulwhasoo Spa, whose brochure promises “harmony and tranquility between your mind and body.” There is a kids’ club at the hotel, so they might not even notice I’m gone.
As we watch the lights of the parade flashing below our window that night, the TV weather anchor announces the rain will continue for days. We dare the deluge to come: tucked away in our cosy room, snuggled up with Loti and Lory, nothing could ruin our Lotte World holiday.