August 1st – August 13th
This is my first photo TR here so I hope you all enjoy
I recently graduated from my Masters at University, and so I decided to plan out a trip through Europe in order to celebrate and take advantage of my final ‘summer’. The intention was to visit some of mainland Europe’s major theme parks before finishing by visiting my girlfriend’s parents (which happened from 13th August to 18th). Plans had to shrink and change as I began to factor in travel times, rest days and more cultural visits on the way, and in the end I visited 3 theme parks:Efteling
– 2 full days (*+2 below half-days)
This is my favourite theme park in the world, and was also the subject case study for my masters Dissertation. *Sadly I was ill on what was supposed to be my first two days, and so I pushed my full days back eliminating my intended 3rd full day and a visit to Utrecht (provides a reason to go again I guess)Heide Park
– 1 full day
This was the only completely new park to me, and was visited alongside day trips out to Hamburg and Luneburg as well.Europa Park
– 3 full days
….and needed all 3 of those days! The park was very busy and, since my only trip there before this trip was one day only, I appreciated the luxury of many days. This portion of the trip was taken with 3 other people, unlike the rest of the trip which was solo (bar a few hours in Efteling).
I was tempted to visit Hansa Park, Tripsdrill and Toverland along the way, but in the end these would have been extra long journeys and instead I opted to revisit other parks or have relaxing days. Phantasialand was considered, but I spent a holiday in Cologne the year before, and so the urgency to visit wasn’t there this time.
--------------------------------------------------------------PART 1 - EFTELING
My starting point was my home in the UK. Thankfully my local airport recently started doing trips to Amsterdam, and so this is where I began. By 5pm of planes, trains and buses I reached my hotel and had made it to Efteling for a brief few hours. The park was absolutely heaving, and I was feeling tired and groggy, so very few rides happened on the first day. On Summer Saturdays the park is open until midnight, and though I didn’t stay nearly that long, I enjoyed the entertainment in each of the squares.
I will skip over day 2, and instead provide a more detailed report of the better two full days.
Efteling has been my favourite theme park for just over a year now. I’ve been there twice before (summer 2013 and winter 2014) and I fell in love with the place when I went there to use the park as an academic case study. I was writing a dissertation on the use of architecture in theme parks and how the layout of rides and parks is used to create fictional narratives. As a result of this I became extremely familiar with the park, and I haven’t looked back since. Whilst the rides are not necessarily as exciting as those in the USA nor as well-themed as Disney parks, the general balance of thrills, theming, atmosphere and lush surroundings makes it the most rounded park I know, and it’s a park in which I can truly lose myself.
For those who’ve never been to the park, I will try and summarise some of the main rides and the general layout of the park. The front entrance is an impressive thatched structure holding the ticket booths, which then spills out onto the first plaza, where the Arabian themed dark-ride Fata Morgana can be seen across the lake. Fata Morgana would be the first ride in the park on the first day, due to the large queues on other rides. Fata Morgana is a very impressive dark ride with plenty of animatronics, rich environments and special effects. Given the ride was made in the 1980’s it did not feel dated, and, as with everything in Efteling, the level of care taken on maintenance through the park was great. Some small bits didn’t work here and there, but the level of cleanliness was exceptional.
The main promenade to the centre of the park didn’t exist when the park opened, but it now provides the main route to the heart of the park from which guests can drift out to other parts of the park. One of the first rides I decided to approach from this section was the big new ride, and the only one I had never ridden: Baron 1898. Baron 1898 was excellent, and, though time is really needed to tell, may be my new favourite ride in the park. The new dive coaster was a fantastic overall experience. Yes, the layout was not long nor was it nearly as intense as other older B&M coasters. However, the free-fall is very fun and during its short coaster layout the ride never repeats itself. There’s air-time, some good forces and plenty of floating. To review Baron 1898 based on its layout alone, however, would be to do it a disservice. The exceptional station building is not only beautiful from the outside, but has two wonderful pre-shows and a short dark-ride section for the coaster. Really these elements work with the roller-coaster part to form the overall attraction. It’s a story experience, and I feel to review everything after the drop only would be pointless. The highlight of my days at the park and of my holiday.
On a lake near to Baron 1898 is the main ‘hub’ of thrill rides in Efteling: De Vliegende Hollander (water coaster/dark ride), Joris en de Draak (duelling wooden coasters) and Python (old Vekoma looping coaster). Of the rides in this area, I enjoy Joris en de Draak the most, and I feel it’s an under-rated set of wooden coasters. They’re not that tall or fast, but there’s lots of air-time and fun drops.
De Vliegende Hollander is incredibly well-themed in the queue and station building, and though the ride is quite fun it does not quite live up to the hype. I have enjoyed it more and more with each visit I make to the park since my expectations have shifted.
Amongst the vast forest areas of the park are lots of hidden gems. Spookslot, the park’s walkthrough haunted castle, is a weird little attraction. I’ve always found it fascinating as it’s quite unique, but to call it ‘great’ would be inappropriate. It’s worth going into the attraction expecting a quaint little attraction rather than a truly haunting and impressive experience. There is a short walkthrough section with eerie sights and oddities and a small show on a cycle, which if anything is more impressive than the main event. The main show depicts ghosts and ghouls rousing from their slumber whilst synchronised to Le Danse Macabre. It’s ok at best, but worth seeing if only for its uniqueness. Also amongst the woods and lakes are the Gondoletta tow-boat rides, the Bobbahn bobsled track, the Pagode observation island and a plethora of kids rides and shops which, whilst not amazing, all round out the park nicely and provide things to do and pleasant spaces in which to relax.
The Marerijk (fairy realm) section of the park contains some of Efteling’s most iconic rides, and some of its oldest attractions. Villa Volta is an exceptional Vekoma madhouse which is themed to a cursed house. Though low on special effects the preshow has animatronics and the main vault room is very well themed with some of the best music in the park. Droomvlucht is near to this ride and is one of the best dark rides I have ever been on. The ride takes guests through the world of dreams, and by dreams they apparently mean fairies and trolls. The level of detail is astounding, and it is a personal favourite in the park.
The oldest part of the park is the fairytale forest (Sprooksjesbos), and this is a roughly 90 minute self-guided walking tour through life-size dioramas, statues and mini-shows representing a large roster of famous fairytales. Whilst it seems some ignore this section of the park due to not having ‘rides’ I would argue it’s one of the best parts of the park. Some of the shows are very impressive (Chinese Nightingale has a visit from an ominous representation of ‘Death’), some funny (Emporer’s New Clothes) and some downright moving (The Little Matchstick Girl). I love to use this section of the park as a way to unwind as it feels quite secluded from the busy and more thrilling sections.
My two full days would be spent exploring much of the rest of the park as well, and I realise I have not covered a huge portion of the park in this already lengthy review. My final ride of the trip would be taken on Baron 1898, which helped to bookend a wonderful few days in Efteling. After this it was onwards to Hamburg and Heide Park! …