Efteling

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Efteling in the Netherlands. It probably doesn’t need any introduction, but hey… this is a trip report. And trip reports do need introductions. Like Walt Disney’s famous sentence ‘It all started with a Mouse’, this story can be described as ‘It all started with 10 fairy tales’. Back in 1952, Efteling opened with not much more than a fairy tale forest. During the following decades, Efteling expanded the fairy tale forest, but they also started to add classic amusement park rides in other areas of the park. Now, 65 years after the official opening date, Efteling can be considered as one of Europe’s leading theme parks. And I’m a pretty lucky guy, because the iconic Efteling entrance gate is within a one hour drive from my hometown.

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I’ve got a day off, weather predictions are wonderful and Efteling has just opened a darkride which is based on Mystic Manor, probably my favourite theme park ride on the planet. Three good reasons to hop on a train to Tilburg, from where the park is only one short bus ride away. When I arrive at 9.45, crowds seem to be at a reasonable height, but I notice that loads of other Belgians found their way to Kaatsheuvel today. That’s not just a coincidence: we really lack a decent theme park in Belgium. We’ve got Walibi and the quite popular Plopsa Group, but these are simply not on par with other European parks. That’s why Belgians love to cross the border to visit Phantasialand, Europa-Park, Disneyland Paris or – in this case – Efteling.

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First impressions are important. And although the impressive entrance gate and the friendly staff offer a warm welcome, Efteling seems to have some difficulties this morning. When the gates to the different themed areas open at 10 o’clock, ride breakdowns are reported at Joris en de Draak, Baron 1898 and at the brand new Symbolica. These technical issues would eventually be fixed within 45 minutes, but it’s quite annoying to see the out of order sign at these three recently opened attractions first thing in the morning.

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Over to the next best thing… In this case, that is De Vliegende Hollander, which can be translated to The Flying Dutchman. The funny thing is that the general public seems to enjoy this ride thoroughly, but the local fan community is quite negative. I find myself in between those opinions. Some things could have been better. For instance: during the darkride section, this attraction tries to make you feel like you’re sailing in open waters. Unfortunately, the movements are quite rough and it just doesn’t feel right. Furthermore, the lifthill is poorly themed and it features a very painful brake. Despite these (mostly technical) issues, I still enjoy the atmosphere in and around this attraction. The queue and the station are stunning, the coaster part is okay and the specially designed soundtrack is lovely. I totally agree that early concept drawings promised a more impressive ride, but overall this is an enjoyable ride experience.

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As I exit De Vliegende Hollander, the neighbouring Joris en de Draak is making its test cycles. I decide to wait for this wooden coaster to start operations and I’m lucky: 10 minutes later, the gates open and I’m amongst the first to enter the queue. That queue is set up quite nice, but I’m happy that I can walk straight to the station. Joris en de Draak is a dueling coaster manufactured by GCI and it has a simple, but satisfying medieval theme. Two teams – Water and Fire – compete against each other to defeat the dragon, which literally sits in a swamp between the tracks. I choose to ride the back seat of the Water-train, which has always had my preference. But rest assured: both tracks are lots of fun. Joris en de Draak isn’t the highest, fastest or longest wooden coaster in Europe, but it does deliver a good amount of thrill. The first drop is nice and the second part of the ride is pretty fast and intense. It’s not on the same level as Europa-Park’s Wodan or Troy at Toverland, but Joris en de Draak is still a very enjoyable family rollercoaster. The only major downside is its capacity. This coaster has been designed to welcome 1.700 guests every hour, but operations are way too slow to reach that number.

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Ruigrijk is the area where Efteling placed its most thrilling attractions. You can ride five of the park’s seven coaster credits here, and most of them are quite new. The only exception is Python, the oldest coaster in the park. This Vekoma double loop corkscrew was opened in 1981 and it was a true innovation at that time. But times change and nowadays, Python is much less appealing than it was during the eighties. The ride has no theming and the experience just isn’t that special when you’ve ridden other coasters with inversions. I have to admit that Python is beautiful to look at and I’m sure Efteling will do everything they can to keep this ride running as long as possible. But I’m no fanboy who would cry if Python would retire. No, on the contrary: I would stand there with a huge banner, desperately praying for a B&M flying coaster or so.

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While checking the park’s smartphone application, I notice that every single ride is running right now. That includes the brand new Symbolica, but the wait immediately climbs to a vast 70 minutes. That’s exactly what I was expecting (everyone tries to ride a new attraction first thing in the morning, right?), but I did not expect the single rider queue to be a mere five minutes. That’s why I exit Ruigrijk and I stroll (well… in fact, I racewalk) to the center of Efteling, where the new ride is located. This once was a sparsely decorated square with no clear function at all. But thanks to the addition of Symbolica, this area has become much more appealing. It’s kind of an Efteling-style Central Plaza, furnished with a pancake restaurant and a big ass weenie. That weenie is the Palace of Fantasy, which has become a new icon for the park. And behind those palace walls, there is some one-of-a-kind darkride goodness. Let’s go.

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When I arrive at the ride entrance, hundreds of visitors are squeezing themselves inside the main queue. Luckily, as a single rider, I can walk right up to the palace’s doors. Sometimes it’s advantageous being alone and this clearly is one of those cases. The ride itself has been equipped with awkward 3-3 seater carriages, so they need lots of single riders to fill up empty seats. The main downside is that single rider queues aren’t that common in Europe and some visitors clearly don’t seem to understand how it works. They just see a regular, long line and a considerably shorter line. They enter that short queue with their children and they expect to ride Symbolica together. Efteling does a fine job installing single rider queues, but the European public needs to take some lessons about how to use them.

As a single rider, I’m able to spend a lot of time inside the preshow and that’s a good thing. Preshows are often considered boring or unnecessary, but that’s not the case here at Symbolica. During this preshow, you can notice that Efteling invested in superb audio-animatronics and a beautiful special effect which involves the staircase. We then enter the palace’s basement, where the loading area is located. Normally, you can choose between three different routes: a Music Tour, a Treasure Tour and a Heroes Tour. However, as a single rider, you’re not able to make your choice. And apparently, I seem to be bound to the Music Tour today.

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Whether you get the Music Tour, the Heroes Tour or the Treasure Tour… there is no doubt that Efteling created another masterpiece. During my first visit to this Palace of Fantasy, my mind is blown by all the beauty surrounding me. During the first and last half of the ride, the quality even reminds me of Disney’s best darkrides. We see some spectacular scenes, which are perfectly complemented with dreamy music and lighting effects. Unfortunately, the middle section of Symbolica has been equipped with a dull interactive part. I can imagine Efteling wanted to do something special with this new darkride, but they really made a wrong choice. It’s such a shame that one of Europe’s most pleasing darkrides is ruined by some sort of computer game most riders don’t seem to understand. You don’t want to shoot any buccaneers on Pirates of the Caribbean and you don’t want to repel snakes using a computer screen during Indiana Jones Adventure, right? You just want to enjoy all the splendour around you. And that’s one of the few mistakes Efteling made while designing this ride.

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Efteling goes Disney darkride. That’s quite ambitious, especially because 35 million euros is just a fraction of the insane amounts Disney usually invests in its famous E-tickets. But Efteling succeeded with distinction and they should be very proud about Symbolica. It’s not as perfect as Mystic Manor, but it certainly is one of the better darkrides Europe has to offer. Although the interactive part is awful, I’m grateful that Efteling created such a beautiful darkride. And because the single rider line would stay this short all day long, I’m able to experience it again. And again. And again…

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Although theme park rides with opulent rooftop gardens are as rare as flying Asian temples, Efteling offers them both. A ride on Pagode is actually the only legal way to have a look at that Symbolican solar panel garden. Anyway: I always enjoy such a relaxing ride on Pagode as it offers some great views of the park, its attractions and the surrounding areas. Another nice way to enjoy the park’s beauty is a ride on Gondoletta. This boat journey lasts about 20 minutes and it really offers a moment of peace and quiet.

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We’ve arrived at Reizenrijk, an area dedicated to travel and adventure. Unfortunately, the theme is relatively indistinct and you can notice that this is an older part of the park. One of the latest additions is Vogel Rok, an indoor coaster which opened nearly 20 years ago. The entrance to this coaster features an enormous bird statue and that creates some pretty high expectations for the decoration inside the building. But please don’t be disappointed when you walk in, as Vogel Rok isn’t themed in an overwhelming way. You can get a brief look at some birds, lasers and a huge snake during the ride, but that’s about it. And although Vogel Rok offers some surprisingly strong g-forces, the ride is also pretty short. Don’t get me wrong: it’s a fun and smooth coaster, but it’s certainly not as impressive as Space Mountain.

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Do you like darkrides? Do you like colorful scenes? Do you like little puppets in different costumes? And… do you like rides with catchy songs? If the answer to all those questions is yes, then you’re probably a huge fan of Carnaval Festival. You could compare this ride with Disney’s It’s a Small World because the concept is similar: you travel around the world and you see lots of cute puppets during a celebration. It’s quite cartoony and less sophisticated than other darkrides at Efteling, but in my opinion it’s a fine darkride. It makes me smile and the theme song always gets stuck in my head for a couple of hours. Fun fun fun.

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It may sound funny, but I really enjoy having lunch at Efteling. Although the park’s food and beverage offerings aren’t that unique or cheap, I do enjoy the Dutch cuisine which is served here. It’s all about chicken skewers with a typical sauce, fries with a sweet kind of mayonnaise and fried snacks which can be bought at a snack wall. The best Dutch invention however, is the thing called poffertjes. These miniature pancakes are an afternoon snack which was sent straight from heaven. Very ordinary to the Dutch, pure joy to me.

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Vekoma Madhouse rides are uncommon in America, Asia and Australia (in fact, every kind of amusement ride is uncommon in Australia, right?) but you’ll find plenty of them in Europe. These revolving houses are often completed with a spooky theme and some kind of creepy background story. It’s a fun ride concept, but it lost a considerable amount of power because we’ve got so many of them. Two major exceptions are Alton Towers’ version Hex – The Legend of the Towers and Villa Volta here at Efteling. Villa Volta opened in 1996 and it was the first of its kind. I remember that I absolutely adored this ride as a child and my opinion didn’t change over the years. The exterior is gorgeous, the main show is sumptuously themed and the ride soundtrack is just amazing. Despite all this beauty, Villa Volta might be a little underwhelming for non-Dutch speaking people. That’s because this ride offers two (pretty boring) preshows in which Dutch is the only spoken language.

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Never – I repeat: never – make the mistake of entering Raveleijn. This medieval themed theatre may look amazing, but the actual show is a huge disappointment. So if you happen to see the name Raveleijn, please turn around and just enter the neighbouring gate of Droomvlucht. The queue for this darkride may be long, as it is one of the park’s most beloved attractions. But after you’ve survived waiting inside a huge concrete hall, you will be rewarded with true beauty. Droomvlucht translates to Dream Flight and that’s exactly what you get: the carriages soar through unreal scenes full of fairies, trolls and magical castles. Please don’t think that those elements create an infantile ride, because Droomvlucht also impresses with an insane amount of details and some wonderful music. This is truly a world class darkride and it’s one of the many reasons why I love every visit to Efteling.

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Ask any person in the Netherlands about Efteling and they will talk about the fairytale forest. This Sprookjesbos – that’s how we call it in Dutch – is still the beating heart of the park. In other words: you just have to take a stroll through this brilliant piece of history. I really like how Efteling combines the original fairytale displays with new, modern installations like Cinderella and Pinocchio. I usually don’t spend that much time inside the forest, but especially for first-timers it’s a must-do.

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Efteling is divided into several themed areas. But unlike Disney-parks, these areas haven’t always been there. That lead to some difficulties, especially in the southwestern part of the park. How could you ever combine a Swiss bobsled coaster, a South-American rafting ride and an Arabic palace into one single themed land? Efteling solved this problem in a typical Dutch way: why don’t we just call it… ehm… Other Land? And that’s how the Anderrijk was born. The star of this area is within that Arabic palace I was talking about and is called Fata Morgana. This darkride is more than 30 years old and that would be a valid reason to tear it down for most amusement parks. But I really hope Efteling doesn’t think that way, because Fata Morgana might be my favourite ride within the entire park. Despite its age, this boat ride through a forbidden city is pure awesomeness. The audio-animatronics move flawless and the theming level is on par with Disney’s greatest darkrides. On top of that, Fata Morgana offers a great soundtrack and the exterior is almost as spectacular as the inside of the building. There are very few parks which ever created an attraction this perfect and it’s even more amazing when you know that it’s been here since 1986. So dear Efteling, please give this beauty all the care she needs. It would be great if Fata Morgana survived for another 30 years.

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It’s a scorching hot day in Kaatsheuvel and lots of visitors are searching for a way to cool down. Therefore, it’s hardly a coincidence that Piraña is one of the most popular rides during the afternoon. Despite the warm summer weather, I skip this one today. I really like rapid rivers when I’m in a group, but these rides are much less fun on your own. On the other hand, I just love to watch people getting soaked during their ride. Luckily, this attraction is surrounded by scenic pathways, which give an excellent view of the waterfalls and the rapids. This, in combination with the impressive Inca theme, makes Piraña a true beauty to look at. And the best part is that the actual ride doesn’t disappoint. Piraña was the first of its kind in Europe and after all those years, it still remains one of the most enjoyable rapid rivers ever built.

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From the Incas to the Alps in less than two minutes… it is possible at Efteling. Unfortunately, the Swiss decoration of Bobbaan is much less impressive than Piraña’s elaborate theme. In fact, Bobbaan is just a steel coaster through the woods, with some Swiss yodel music inside the queue and the station. It’s a shame that this ride hasn’t been themed like many other Efteling rides, but the coaster itself is actually good. It’s got some (very) painful parts, but overall this is a pretty decent family ride and it’s very popular. Lines can get quite long here, but the single rider line could get you inside one of those bobsleds considerably faster.

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It’s been two years since I’ve written a trip report about Efteling. And there was a lot to write about in July 2015, since Baron 1898 opened that month. This B&M machine was one of Europe’s biggest novelties in 2015 and there are several reasons why. Not only was Baron 1898 the Netherlands’ first coaster manufactured by B&M, it might also have been the most impressively themed steel construction in the world. This collaboration between Efteling and B&M has lead to a wonderful result: Baron 1898 is one of the most beautiful rollercoasters ever built. It’s a true icon which draws the attention from every single person who passes by. Watching 18 people dangling over the edge and waiting for a mine bell to initiate their descent… that’s quite amazing.

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Today is the very first time I conquer Baron 1898 as a single rider. And I do like that, because I get to sit in my beloved third row several times. Some people consider the front seats as the best, but I prefer an insane amount of airtime over an unbeatable view. Besides, Baron 1898 is no ordinary dive coaster. It’s an experience which consists of an interesting preshow, a jaw-dropping station building and an imposing animatronic of the main character. This splendour makes up for the particularly short coaster ride: Baron 1898 is just 500 meters long and the first drop is less then 40 meters. Therefore, it’s certainly not as thrilling as most American B&M dive machines. But thanks to the opulent decoration, I enjoy Baron 1898 just as much as a ride on Griffon or SheiKra.

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I really like to visit theme parks during hot summer days. Parks are at its best under clear blue skies and heat always seems to keep the heaviest crowds away. That’s not different at Efteling: queues for the most popular rides are less than 15 minutes during the afternoon. The only exception is of course Symbolica, but I’m still able to ride it a couple of times thanks to a short single rider line. After I’ve taken some extra tours through this Palace of Fantasy and after I’ve made another descent into the baron’s gold mine, I can leave Efteling with some great memories. It’s almost 7 PM when I say goodbye to the park. Or should I say see you soon? I hope so.

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I’m always a little jealous of people who live close to spectacular amusement parks like Disneyland, Europa-Park or Cedar Point. However, today I rediscovered that there’s also a world class park within short driving distance from my hometown Antwerp. Efteling has been a great theme park for many years, but recent expansions really took this place to a next level. Efteling is quite different from other parks: they don’t offer the highest, fastest or most thrilling rides, but they try to create great attractions for a broad audience. Besides, there aren’t many theme parks who succeed in keeping older rides shining as Efteling does. The result is a unique theme park in which nostalgia and modernity come together as one. Finally, I would like to compliment the people working here. European theme park staff are often pretty unwelcoming. It’s a problem which you will encounter at places like Europa-Park, Phantasialand, PortAventura and Disneyland Paris. But at Efteling, almost every staff member is extremely friendly and helpful. It’s been like this for years and although the park attracts a more international crowd nowadays, it doesn’t lose its typical Dutch charm. And to be honest… what more do we need than a friendly smile, some wonderful darkrides and a family pack of poffertjes…?

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Exactly… nothing!

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