I love amusement parks. I first went to Disneyland when I was a year old, and I’ve been hooked ever since. Before planning my trip to the Netherlands this summer, I’d never heard of the Efteling Amusement Park. Of course, I had to go when I learned about it. Now I can’t wait to go again!
What is Efteling?
Efteling World of Wonders is modeled after famous fairy tales by the likes of Hans Christian Andersen, the Brothers Grimm, and Charles Perrault. It opened its doors in 1952, which incidentally is three years before the first Disneyland. Located in the southern part of the Netherlands (which is usually incorrectly called Holland), it takes a little over an hour to drive there from Amsterdam, and about an hour and a half from Brussels.
Traveling around the Netherlands, I’ve yet to meet a local who didn’t have wonderful memories of Efteling. Unlike Disneyland which costs a fortune, Efteling is reasonably priced and an integral part of Dutch upbringing. Many make regular trips to the park as they grow up, and they all have their favorite rides and attractions. When they heard I was going to the park for the first time, they were quite excited for me and wanted to hear back on what I liked the most.
I can’t really figure out why I hadn’t heard of Efteling, as it’s the third most visited theme park in Europe! Only Disneyland Paris and Europa-Park in Germany are bigger, and Efteling is just shy of second place. So far, Bakken in Copenhagen has been the only other amusement park I’ve seen in Europe.
How to Visit Efteling in a Day
Usually, when I would go to Disneyland, I would try to get there as close to the opening at 7 a.m. as I could to make the most of the day. On my trip to Efteling with a group of other bloggers, we left Rotterdam Central Station by bus at 9, arriving at the park at 10:30. However, Efteling doesn’t open until 10, so we didn’t miss much.
Going in through the staff entrance, we first received a behind-the-scenes briefing about the park and met Pardoes, the mischevious jester mascot who teased every member of our group. When not getting distracted by Pardoes’ antics, I learned about the history of the park, how it’s been designed over the years and how it’s a mainstay of Dutch culture. A few minutes later, we were unleashed for a day of fun.
I teamed up with half a dozen other Dutch bloggers who were already familiar with the park. That’s my first tip: go with a local. Most likely they’ve been there many times and know the best rides. Then again, the real trick is to try to get onto every ride in the park in a single day.
The Thursday we went to the park, it was overcast and scheduled to rain…a typical day in the Netherlands. I was excited. I used to try to time my visits to Disneyland in the same way, going during the week when the weather would be bad. I don’t mind a bit of rain, especially when some of the rides get you wet anyway. As it was, we did get a bit of light rain, but most of it was shortly after going on the rafting ride which also got us quite wet.
We certainly got lucky on the park attendance that day. I was told about how lines for the attractions could get as long as two hours…just like other amusement parks. The longest we had to wait for a ride was about 25 minutes and thus were able to visit nearly every attraction in the park.
The first “attraction” I saw in the park was called Holle Bolle Gijs. It’s a strange character with a big, open mouth built into the wall and repeatedly says something like “give me your paper.” Basically, you stick your trash into his mouth and he’ll say “thank you.” Slightly creepy, but a famous face at the park.
Droomvlucht, or Dream Flight, was our first ride. We went through an indoor, enchanted kingdom full of elves and goblins. I loved how much artistic detail went into the scenes, although the same could be said about the entire park.
Next came Carnival Festival, Efteling’s version of It’s a Small World, or should I say perhaps the inspiration since Disneyland came later. It was definitely an interesting ride depicting cultures around the world. I’d heard a rumor that the ride was considered racist by some critical journalist, but I honestly have no idea what they were referring to.
I suffered a slight mishap on the next ride, Vogel Rok The attendant at the beginning of the ride forgot to tell me to take my sunglasses off. Just as the right got started, my head whipped back and they flew off down into the mechanisms beneath the ride. They were long gone, but luckily I didn’t have to worry about too much sun for the rest of the day. I just hope they didn’t jam anything.
I particularly enjoyed our next attraction – Symbolica: Palace of Fantasy. It was similar to Carnival Festival with its swivel car layout but completely unique in that cars would take different routes and intermingle around each other. Thus, you could do the ride more than once and have a different experience each time.
We continued to go on ride after ride. After the palace was Pirana, the rafting ride where we all got quite wet. Well, the girl sitting next to me was the one who really got drenched. I’m just glad my Samsung S8 phone is waterproof, and that I didn’t drop it! Be warned: the ride didn’t have any place to keep possessions dry.
Baron 1898 is the newest ride in the park. It’s easily my favorite and by that, I mean the most thrilling. The 18-seat roller coast starts off with a 123-foot verticle plummet into a mist-filled hole in the ground. It only lasts a few seconds, but those are a few seconds of pure adrenaline. Maybe you can tell by the look on my face.
Our final rides were De Vliegende Hollander (The Flying Dutchman), Python (a roller coaster almost as fun as Baron 1898 but a little more stomach-jarring) and Fata Morgana (Mirage – similar to Droomvluicht but Arabian themed). Joris en de Draak, the giant wooden roller coaster, was closed for repairs on the day we went. Other than that, we basically made it on every non-kiddy ride in the park (not that kid rides aren’t fun too).
The girls also talked me onto Halve Maen, the massive boat swing. It’s not that I found the ride scary, but a swing that goes back and forth a few dozen feet just makes my stomach a bit queasy. Luckily, it had been a couple hours since we’d had a small lunch of kroketten (Dutch croquettes) and frites (fries) at the Steenbok restaurant. Oh, and I should mention that food at the park was surprisingly well-priced. Not at all what I was expecting for an amusement park.
Finally, we made it into the key attraction – the Fairytale Forest. In this enchanted woodland, there are 28 different fairytales depicted with little cottages, small and large figures, and various scenes. Each scene has the tale printed out to read, and some are even read aloud over speakers in four languages!
One of the most recognizable characters is from the tale The Six Servants, which I had completely forgotten about for years. Sitting on a rock, surrounded by a little pond, is a man whose head stretches up a couple dozen feet into the air. The head is on a motorized shaft and goes up and down as the story is read out over speakers.
The last attraction we went on was the cursed Villa Volta. This wild attraction really got me spinning, literally. It’s hard to describe, but two rows of tiered benches face each other, and swing back and forth as the room rotates around them. Confused? So was I! It’s like those spinning tunnels you can walk through in illusion houses, only wilder.
And that was all we had time for. We grabbed a few more photos of the park as we ran out to catch the bus, which was scheduled to leave at 5 p.m. The park closes at either 6 or 8, depending on the day and the month. There’s no regular schedule; you have to click on the day you want to attend in Efteling’s website to see the hours.
Visiting Efteling World of Wonders
If you’re in the Netherlands or even just in Europe, I can’t recommend Efteling enough. I don’t really think one day is enough to explore the park, and I’m looking forward to going back again myself. While I went on nearly every ride, there were a bunch of other attractions that I missed, and I didn’t see a single one of the six shows the park has. The park is open all year and has a full winter theme in the colder months. Opening hours are usually from about 10 a.m. to either 6 p.m. or 8 p.m., depending on the day. Admission to the park (in 2018) is $42 ($44 in July and August), plus another $11.50 for parking. Click the button below to order your tickets now!
Also, don’t forget to download the Efteling app. It provides all the information about attractions, restaurants and even wait times on an interactive map.
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