Episode 3 - "Is Efteling Really Better Than a Disney Park?", or, "Don't Take The Flying Dutchman's Dining Sock"
The first official park on the trip was a good one - Efteling!
As everyone with a pulse knows, the Disney parks are often labeled as the de facto standard for theme parks around the world. Every major theme park has probably been compared to a Disney park at least once by someone, somewhere. Throughout Europe there are a few that are compared to Disney most of all - those include Europa Park and Phantasialand in Germany, PortAventura in Spain... and of course, Efteling, in the Netherlands.
Some people think it's better than any Disney park. Some people think it's better than every theme park.
My take? Efteling is its own special place, and you should throw those comparisons out the window. Sure, Efteling follows a similar formula to theme parks worldwide - develop attractions based around well-known stories. But Efteling does everything in such a unique way that you can't fathom any other theme park trying to emulate their approach. Whether you believe that their approach works, or is deserving of the hype, well, that's completely up to you!
Am I crazy? I sure am! But you should keep reading anyway.
After my romp through the Vondelpark, I made it back to the hotel to join the rest of the group, and we headed out to Efteling for that afternoon and evening. We stayed at the on-site Efteling Hotel, which is designed to look like a floating castle. After dropping everything off we were set free into the park.
I joined a group and we went straight into Vogel Rok, which I generally enjoyed. We then made our way around the park and paid our respects to Bob with a condolence ride, and I wish Bob a happy retirement. Next was a lap on Python, and then the final highlight of that evening was a first ride on Baron 1898, and I'll get to both of those later. We intended to get a ride on Joris en de Draak as well, but it went down and according to Andy, they were pounding on it all the way up to closing.
After a hysterically long drinking game of guessing the capitals of world countries, we turned in, and the next morning, we began our Efteling visit in earnest.
We had filming opportunities on four rides that morning! First up was Python.
Originally, Efteling was made up completely of the Fairytale Forest walk-through area. But in the late 1970s, someone had the bright idea to turn Efteling into a true theme park, and they needed an attraction to put them on the map. They hired a then newly-independent Vekoma to build their first looping coaster, much to the kicking and screaming of the neighbors. Over the years Python has gotten improvements to its cars, and for last season (2018), Efteling hired Dutch company CSM to completely re-profile the ride from the bottom of the drop to the brake run.
The result is... Fine! Python is pretty smooth, but kind of boring. Nevertheless, it is a significant historical coaster for the park and I'm glad they've kept it around.
Python is certainly one of the best-LOOKING Vekoma coasters out there!
You can see how Python still uses the original Vekoma track for the lift hill, turn, and first drop. Have I satisfied your craving for nerd shots now?
After a few laps on Python, we were informed that Joris en de Draak was repaired and ready for us to ride on.
Joris en de Draak is considered by some to be a "junior Lightning Racer" - a racing / dueling Great Coasters wooden coaster. Two dragons, Water and Fire (Vurr) face off, sometimes running side by side, sometimes crossing over each other, and sometimes coming at each other. The winner of each race gets fanfare at the end, including banners dropped in the station as the corresponding train pulls in. It's really neat!
While I don't like Joris en de Draak as much as I do Lightning Racer, it's still near the top of my Great Coasters coaster list. The setting is wonderful, the racing and dueling moments are exciting, and the coasters themselves are just plain fun. Never once did I end up with a "wooden coaster headache" after riding.
On a sentimental note, it also reminded me of East Coast Bash 2011 at Hersheypark, my first real Theme Park Review experience, when we had evening exclusive ride time on Lightning Racer.
You see, the REAL question is... Which one is George and which one is the dragon?
Third on our filming list was a surprise, the Vliegende Hollander, or Flying Dutchman. Flying Dutchman is a custom water coaster by KumbaK, the Dutch company that we know as providing trains for suspended looping coasters like T3 and Arkham Asylum Shock Therapy.
To put it simply it's "scarier Pirates of the Caribbean in roller coaster form", but it's actually a bit different. Instead of bombarding you in the face with animatronic figures and grandiose settings, Flying Dutchman does a lot to establish a sense of creepy, scary ambiance. It also has a surprise before the outdoor coaster section that really caught myself and most others by surprise. Also, for a water ride, the splash doesn't get you all that wet so long as you're sitting in the back half of the boat. It was actually really good!
Yo ho, a pirate's life for...wait a second.
Our last filming coaster was to be Baron 1898, but it was down during the morning. Onto other things, we suppose! Let's talk about those dark rides...
Fata Morgana is the park's Arabian-themed boat ride. For whatever reason someone (Barry) kept trying to convince me that there was a drop, but it never happened and the payback is later in this photo trip report.
Carnival Festival is the park's (formerly more racist, apparently) knockoff of It's A Small World, with a thankfully less catchy tune. Colin and I enjoyed it enough.
Villa Volta is one of the few operating Vekoma Mad House rides, and it was my first. It was too disorientating and while I didn't get sick, everyone else can ride those from now on.
Dreamflight (Droomvlucht) was Efteling's signature dark ride up from the early 1990s up until 2017. It uses a suspended ride system to fly through some wonderful, completely practical show scenes, to a beautiful music score. I can't really figure out why, but I really, really liked Dreamflight and it still sticks with me. Some people also consider it a credit, too!
Symbolica, now Efteling's signature ride, is a really cool trackless dark ride with three variants, and to get the credit, you have to ride all three. A lot of young people in my field gush over Symbolica and like to use it as an example of how Efteling is beginning to steal Disney's lunch money. I definitely think it's on the level of the best dark rides I've ridden at Disney parks, but I have yet to try their truly trackless rides like Mystic Manor and Pooh's Hunny Hunt, so I can't come to a conclusion either way. All I know is that I really liked it as well!
Quick! Let's make up some magic words for the main character to say during the ride! Brilliant!
Efteling's comparisons to Disney parks are even more relevant now, because there is now a distinct promenade that leads from the entrance right up to Symbolica, much like Main Street USA leads Disney guests up to their castles, but without the stores and buildings.
A group of us also visited Efteling's headlining attraction, the Fairytale Forest. Let's take a look at some highlights...
Hang on here, Monstro, I need to massage your tongue...
Hang on here, mister giant, I just need to steal I MEAN SMELL your feet...
Hang on here, children, I just need to look shocked until the Americans go away...
Hang on here, everyone, I just need to make sure you all know that it's longer than average...
And of course, the main event, the Magic Donkey!
This brings a whole new meaning to, "put your quarter in and take your turn"...
For the uninitiated, when you put fifty cents into the coin slot below the Magic Donkey, it hee-haws, raises its tail, and literally poops out a plastic souvenir coin. It was hilarious to see everyone attempt to grab their coins and I failed pretty spectacularly as well.
Seriously though, the Fairytale Forest is awesome and is a HUGE contrast from shows and meet-and-greets at U.S. theme parks. While U.S. theme parks turn shows and experiences into long, drawn out narratives, the Fairytale Forest knows that your time is important. Each little setup is meant to only be seen for three or four minutes tops, before moving onto the next one. It keeps the mind moving and helps when children (and certain redheaded theme park enthusiasts) have the attention spans of rodents. There's really always something cool and interesting to see along every pathway. Plus, it's in a very logical loop so it's difficult to get lost - just keep moving forward and you'll find your way out!
There's also a wonderful play area nearby, with an elevated monorail!
This probably the most gorgeous play area I've ever seen and I just wanted to sit and relax for the entire day.
It's so well-hidden, so secluded... It's really blink and you miss it.
Daniel and Andy having a moment on the see-saw.
I eventually broke off to take some more photos in the area around Joris en de Draak, the Gondoletta, and Baron 1898. As I was over on the opposite side of Baron 1898's layout, I saw the wheel at the top of the lift turn, and, sure enough, they had started cycling trains!
I put on my best "man on the street" hat and kept watch, and sure enough, Baron 1898 opened back up to guests. The park's management was wonderful - they still let us film on the ride! They had a really great strategy of keeping two trains for guests and one for us, so that normal operations weren't disturbed from our filming session.
So, which is the more appropriate caption? "DON'T LOOK DOWN" or "TAKE THE TUNNEL"?
I really liked Baron 1898. The theming was wonderful. I understood the pre-show even without the language barrier. The first sequence where the ghost ladies get scary and possess the mine shaft lift to start the lift hill is probably the best single themed roller coaster moment I've ever experienced and it works SO well. You get some excellent hang-over while being held at the top of the drop, and the zero-G roll is really fun. It's in the top tier of my coaster rankings because it's such a good complete experience.
After nearly a full day of exploring, we were corralled back toward Dreamflight and Villa Volta to see Efteling's stunt show, Raveleijn!
Raveleijn (that's "rav-ell-ein") is a story-based stunt show that involves a group of kids turned knights who fight the bad guys to save the princess, who, in the end, turns out to not be the best person herself. Of course, throughout the show, there are crazy things that happen such as...
HORSE! ON! FIIIEEEE-AAAAHHHHH!
Dragon! On fire and steam and water and unicorn farts and and donkey coins!
Later in the evening, we got to check out Aquanura, the park's fountain show, and unfortunately my camera battery ran out! Quite frankly though, I don't really see the appeal of Aquanura. The fountains look nice for sure, but the music they set the show to was a set of electronic dance remixes of the ride themes throughout the park. Now, I love EDM, but I did not like the Aquanura remix AT ALL. It reeked of the "bad" kind of EDM which doesn't really have anything other than a pulsing beat.
It was okay though, because the show was still pretty decent and was a nice capstone to our day and a half at the park.
Enjoy some more photos!
Most of the trash bins at Efteling are actually characters, where you place your trash in a certain place, such as the cannon here or in a character's mouth. They basically shout at you to put trash in, and thank you when you eventually do.
Here's another cool section of the park with some rides and the Efteling museum. If you look closely you'll see a fellow photography nerd in there somewhere, but I've heard he's a little more slick behind the camera than I am.
So, remember when I said that Python had some trouble because of Efteling's neighbors? That's because Efteling is right up against the village of Kaatsheuvel and its surrounding areas. I've heard that potential noise pollution is a huge issue with these people whenever Efteling wants to build something new. You can choose the side you're on with THAT one.
Baron 1898 looping and swooping. It IS really good.
Here's something interesting. Efteling knew that people were going to be able to see the roof of the Symbolica show building from the Pagode observation tower, so they went through the extra effort to make the roof look nice. That sort of thing takes Efteling up a few more notches in my book and I can appreciate it as a designer in the theme park business.
Once you go up, there's only one way down...
One perfectly-framed promenade, and one perfectly-bored dad.
I really do like this place. A whole lot. While I don't think that it's my favorite theme park in the world, I do get where the hype comes from and I certainly don't think it's overrated! It's wonderful, and special, and that's why it matters to me.
Random thoughts and musings:
- Funny story, I know a lot of people just adore the park entrance and their trips to Efteling aren't complete without a photo of it from the parking lot, but I actually completely forgot about it! That last photo was the only one I took of the entrance.
- Stroopwafels and Pofferjes are AMAZING and I absolutely have to find somewhere near me that makes them even close to as well as the ones I had at Efteling.
- The Steam Carousel was...interesting. Certainly some historical value there, but it really didn't feel like a traditional carousel to me. Perhaps that's the point?
- Efteling is MASSIVE and the walk from our viewing location for Aquanura back to the Efteling Hotel rear park entrance is probably most difficult slog I've ever done at a theme park.
- The Raveleijn dinner after the show was absolutely delightful and really tasty. Bonus points to the chicken catchers.
- A lot of people like to call Baron 1898 the best themed roller coaster in the world. Going off of what I said before, I personally think it's one of the best complete experiences I've ever seen built around an outdoor roller coaster. There are some that may have better rockwork (like Taron) or a better queue (like Expedition Everest), but, in it's own way, it can go toe-to-toe with some of the best themed roller coasters out there.
- Apparently I was less than two seconds away from completely steamrolling a small child as I came down one of the slides at the playground. Also, apparently, Daniel and Andy found it hilarious.
Thanks for reading!
Next time - getting injured at Toverland!