After three years living in the Netherlands, I’ve finally gone to Efteling. Are you proud? Actually, quite a few different groups wanted to go with me for the first time so I always felt like I’d be letting someone down through not going with them and, well, never went. However, after a hard old week of capstone deadlines and the like, and with a hellish deadline month ahead, it seemed like the perfect time to take an impulsive trip! In the end, I was joined by Heleen, Laura, and Dania, and we had a delightful time.
For those of you who have no idea what Efteling is, it’s a fairy-tale/fantasy themed amusement park down in the south of the Netherlands. It opened in the 1950s, although it’s obviously been expanded since (and still is expanding), and it really does have quite a nostalgic feel to it. Oh, and I’m pretty sure that if you mention Efteling to any Dutch person they have to reply with something along the lines of “Droomvlucht!!!” – I’m pretty sure it’s national law!
I’m pleased to say that, after three years of waiting and a lot of hype, the place didn’t let me down at all. It has an old time feel that carries over to even the modern installations. In fact, I think it’s elegance and charm comes from the fact that they haven’t tried to hugely modernise the aesthetics.
One of the things I really wanted to go on was the carousel which is really quite old and, as I found out when I was there, really quite lovely. I believe it’s late 1800, although it’s obviously not been at the park that long, and with a Gavioli organ at the centre. Long story short, it’s really cool. I ended up in one of the carriages as the horses (and pigs!) were mechanised from below and I didn’t fancy risking that with my skirt. I hadn’t predicted that when getting dressed in the morning because it’s usually not an issue but, y’know, not worth risking it. Not to mention the fact that I think the carriages moved more than the animals, for once!
For all the carousel was a highlight for me (I like old fairground things, what can I say!), I think that the dark rides are the highlight of the park, in terms of its rides, really. There are three, to the best of my awareness (certainly three that we went on) and with another one being built at the moment. The most well known of these is the Droomvlucht (Dreamflight) which is a trip through a magical fairyland type thing. It’s kitschy for sure but also really quite magical and there is so much to see in each of the scenes. It’s split up into multiple scenes with one where you travel through a tunnel with small lights which makes it feel as though you’re traveling through space with stars going by, and then you end up in a room with these planets covered with fantasy buildings all glowing. It was quite delightful.
The second of the dark rides we went on was Carnaval Festival (Carnival Festival) which is basically Disney’s It’s a Small World, the toy box version. It’s a comical travel around the world with cartoon like animatronics and heightened stereotypes. Sometimes the stereotypes here, and elsewhere, were a bit uncomfortable, to be quite honest but anyway.
If you want orientalist views then it’s to the third dark ride you have to go and that is Fata Morgana, a boat based ride with a middle eastern theme. I found this one a bit creepy, to be honest. I mean, some of it was amazing and they are really clever with the all round experience (making the water splash to make it look like there are animals there, for example). However, the animatronics were a bit too close to the boats and they were just close enough to being realistic, but also far enough away, to be most uncanny. Also, the thing you do not want to hear as you’re going through the torture chamber scene with the threatening “swinging axe” doorway is that the ride has to stop for some reason! I guess we got the full experience there then! Oh, and we’ll not mention me tripping when getting in the boat and nearly falling in the water!
The other thing that has to get a mention before I stop talking is the Sprookjesbos (Fairy-tale Forest) which is a relatively large section of forested parkland with fairy-tale scenes scattered around. Some of them are simple scenes, some of them act out the stories fully, and some of them are more interactive. It’s pretty awesome. Oh, and they have my childhood favourite, The Little Match Girl! This one was told in full with animatronics and holograms telling the story and it was so moving.
After a full day (in which much more was done but this is getting really long!) it was an incredibly long trip home due to train cancellations and delays and so on. It should have been an hour and a half-two hours… it ended up being five hours. We really felt this and especially after the huge amount of walking at Efteling itself (and in my case, in heels because they are my most comfortable footwear and I didn’t think they’d appreciate me going around without shoes!) However, I did have an absolutely amazing day and I did miss quite a lot of the park so, erm, if anyone fancies going… just give me time for my legs to recover and I’m all for it!