“Much more than just a fairy tale park”
Efteling in the Netherlands. This Dutch theme park probably doesn’t need any introduction, but I’ll give it anyway. 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, nearly 70 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 is within a 1-hour drive from my hometown.
Dutch thrill seekers usually prefer Walibi Holland over Efteling. However, as the nation’s number one theme park, Efteling boasts a quite impressive coaster collection as well. A total of 8 credits are currently operating at the park and the most popular one is Baron 1898. Not only was Baron 1898 the Netherlands’ first B&M, it also became one of the most impressively themed steel constructions in the world. This collaboration between Efteling and B&M has lead to a wonderful result: just watching Baron 1898 is a spectacle on its own.
Baron 1898 is no ordinary dive coaster. It’s an experience which consists of an interesting pre-show, a jaw-dropping station and an excentric main character. This splendour makes up for the particularly short coaster ride: Baron 1898 is just 500 metres long and the first drop is less than 40 metres. 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.
Ruigrijk is the area where Efteling placed its most thrilling attractions. Here, you can ride 5 of the park’s 8 coasters 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 80’s. Despite its expensive and extensive renovation in 2018, the ride experience remains mediocre and theming is nonexistent.
In 2009, Efteling tore down its underwhelming Pegasus wooden coaster and then replaced it with Joris en de Draak. This is a dueling coaster manufactured by GCI and it has a simple, yet satisfying medieval theme. Two teams (Water and Fire) compete against each other to defeat the dragon, which sits in a swamp between the tracks. I’ve always had a preference for the Water side, but rest assured: both tracks are lots of fun. Joris en de Draak isn’t the tallest, 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.
The last must do at Ruigrijk is De Vliegende Hollander, which translates to The Flying Dutchman. The funny thing is that the general public seems to enjoy this ride, but the local fan community is quite negative. I find myself in between those opinions. Some things could have been better. The dark ride section, for example, is rather weak and the lift hill feels like it was designed on a Monday morning. Despite these issues, I still enjoy the atmosphere in and around this attraction. The queue and the station look stunning and the soundtrack is lovely. I totally agree with the fact that early concept drawings promised a more impressive ride, but overall this is an enjoyable ride experience.
Efteling’s coaster assortment is completed by Vogel Rok (a smooth, but rather short and scarcely themed indoor coaster) and Max & Moritz. The latter is the park’s newest addition and it replaced a classic bobsled coaster, which was removed in 2019. Efteling opted for a duelling Mack powered coaster to please the families, but they seem to have forgotten that theming plays an important role. With its ugly queue and its slapstick decoration, Max & Moritz doesn’t seem to fit in Efteling’s distinguished atmosphere. On a brighter note, the coasters are fun, the music is catchy and the overall capacity is high. That’s greatly appreciated in a theme park with an attendance of over 5 million visitors per year.
Apart from Disney and Universal, most theme parks don’t seem capable of creating stunning dark rides. Efteling is one of the very few exceptions, though. In fact, many of the park’s dark rides play in the world league. In 2017, the park inaugurated Symbolica, which counts as the European version of Mystic Manor, Hong Kong Disneyland’s highly regarded dark ride. Efteling was quite ambitious and they invested 35 million euros in this attraction. Luckily, the project turned out to be a success and Efteling should be very proud about Symbolica. It’s not as perfect as Mystic Manor, but it certainly is one of the better dark rides Europe has to offer. The pre-show is entertaining and most of the scenes are on Disney level.
Another beloved dark ride is Droomvlucht. This translates to Dream Flight and that’s exactly what you get: the carriages soar through an unreal world full of fairies, trolls and magical castles. Please don’t think that those elements create an infantile ride, because Droomvlucht also boasts an insane amount of details and wonderful music. This is truly a world-class dark ride and it’s one of the many reasons why I love every visit to Efteling.
Symbolica and Droomvlucht are great, but my favourite Efteling dark ride is the 35-year old Fata Morgana. Despite its age, this indoor boat ride delivers pure awesomeness. The audio-animatronics move flawlessly and the theming is on par with Disney’s greatest dark rides. On top of that, Fata Morgana offers a great soundtrack and the exterior is almost as spectacular as the inside of the building. Very few parks have ever created an attraction this perfect. So dear Efteling, please give this beauty all the care she needs. It would be great if Fata Morgana survived for another 35 years.
Ask any person in the Netherlands about Efteling and they will talk about the fairy tale forest. Sprookjesbos (that’s how we call it in Dutch) is an opening day attraction and it’s 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 fairy tale 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.
Piraña is one of the park’s most popular rides on warm summer days. Thanks to its impressive Inca theme and its natural surroundings, this rapid river looks phenomenal. This was one of the world’s first modern rapid rivers and it’s still one of the very best. Another not to be missed attraction is Villa Volta, the world’s first Vekoma mad house. It’s got a fantastic exterior and the main show features a legendary soundtrack. 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) pre-shows in which Dutch is the only spoken language.
BEAT THE CROWDS
Efteling currently is the third most visited theme park in Europe. Therefore, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that it can get crowded here. The entire month of August and all weekends are guaranteed to be busy, especially if the weather is nice. Fortunately, Efteling is open year-round and that creates loads of opportunities for a calmer visit. Tuesdays and Thursdays outside of school holidays seem to be the sweet spot if you don’t like queueing at all. When planning an ideal Efteling day, be sure to check Belgian and German school calendars as well. Belgians and Germans make up a huge part of Efteling’s audience, so they have a big influence on the crowds.
Efteling usually opens at 10 or 11 o’clock, depending on the season. Be there in time and you’ll definitely enjoy some rope drop advantages. Most thrill-seeking visitors will choose Baron 1898 as their first attraction of the day, but I recommend starting with Ruigrijk’s other attractions. Joris en de Draak and Vliegende Hollander generally have long wait times all day long, so I’d visit them as early as possible. Then continue on to Python, Vogel Rok and Carnaval Festival. The park’s signature dark rides may have decent queues as well, but they all move rather quickly. Their mid-day waits should be manageable, even on busier days. Planning to have lunch at one of Efteling’s sit down restaurants on a busy day? Then prepare to eat before 11.30 AM or well after 2.00 PM. Service is often a bit slow and these venues get seriously overcrowded at noon.
Just like many modern-day theme parks, Efteling offers single rider lines. However, I don’t recommend using most of them. Unlike many other parks, wait times for single rider are often just as long as the regular wait. This is especially true for Baron 1898 and Joris en de Draak, where the single rider queue often moves dramatically slow. One major exception is Symbolica, though. Thanks to its awkward 3-3 seating, this attraction requires loads of single riders. If you don’t mind splitting your group while riding Symbolica, this can reduce your wait significantly.
WORTH A VISIT?
Efteling has been a great theme park for many years, but recent expansions really took this place to the next level. Efteling differs greatly from other parks. They don’t offer the tallest, 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 as shiny as Efteling does. The result is a unique theme park in which nostalgia and modernity meet. Finally, I would like to compliment the people working here. European theme park staff are sometimes pretty unwelcoming. This is a problem you’ll encounter at 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 didn’t lose its typical Dutch charm. And to be honest… what more do we need than a friendly smile, some wonderful dark rides and a family pack of poffertjes…?
Does Efteling deserve all the praise it gets or do you find this park overrated? Is Baron 1898 the planet’s most beautiful B&M coaster? And do you have a stroll through the Fairy Tale Forest during every Efteling visit? Share your opinion in the comments section at the bottom of this page.