What do you get when you cross a Renaissance fair with a Las Vegas spectacle and a few hundred Roman gladiators, swashbuckling musketeers and marauding Vikings?
The one-of-a-kind Puy du Fou historical theme park in the French countryside.
After three decades of entertaining audiences with live-action chariot races, sword fights and epic battles, France's Puy du Fou will be recognized on March 17 as a "classic" theme park by the Themed Entertainment Assn. during an awards ceremony at the Disneyland Hotel in Anaheim.
The industry group's highest honor, known as the Thea Classic Award, has been previously bestowed on such archetypal theme parks as Denmark's Tivoli Gardens, the Netherland's Efteling and the original Disneyland in California.
Located on France's west coast about four hours by car from Paris, the historical theme park's picturesque villages take visitors back in time through the history of the region and set up the stories told in a series of arenas where visitors watch 30-minute shows with dozens of performers.
The marquee Puy du Fou shows include:
Triumph's Sign - After a parade of pagentry, the show unfolds in a series of gladiator battles, chariot races and prisoner executions set in a 375-foot-long Roman coliseum.
The Secret of the Lance - Set against the battlements of a Middle Ages castle, the story focuses on a young shepherdess, armed with a magical spear, who must protect her home from an attacking band of knights.
The Vikings - Interrupting a wedding ceremony, a Viking longship attacks a 1,000-year-old fortress in a special effects-laden show complete with fiery explosions and a saint walking on water.
Richelieu's Musketeers - Set in a 17th century theater, the park's only indoor show features swashbuckling sword fighting, flamenco dancing and horse-riding stunts.
The Ball of the Phantom Birds - A ballet of birds swoops low through the ruins of an old castle in an audience participation show featuring owls, falcons, eagles and vultures.
The Organs of Fire - The nightly symphony of fire and water on the old Puy du Fou lake combines the theatrics of Cirque du Soleil with the skyrocketing fountains of the World of Color water show at Disney California Adventure.
Cinescenie - The world's largest nighttime show features 800 actors and hundreds of animals as well as fountains, water projections, pyrotechnics, stunts and battles in front of the ruins of a castle. With seating for 14,000 people, the separate-admission Cinescenie is held on select weekend nights each summer.
Other theme park attractions receiving Thea Awards for Outstanding Achievement include: Star Tours: The Adventure Continues motion simulator (Disneyland and Disney's Hollywood Studios), "The Magic, the Memories, and You" nighttime castle projection show (Magic Kingdom), Space Fantasy spinning roller coaster (Universal Studios Japan), "The Crane Dance" nighttime spectacular (Universal Studios Singapore), FoodLoop restaurant (Europa Park in Germany) and Barnas Brannstasjon children's fire station (Kongeparken in Norway).