Enter the Efteling: Take a Tour of the Dark Ride Capital of the World!

EftelingThe Phantom of the Ville gives readers a haunted tour of the most phantasmagorical theme park on earth, the Efteling!

Dark rides have been a fascination of mine since early childhood, and I know that I’m not the only one in the haunter community to have been introduced to the whole concept of haunting inside the greatest dark ride ever built, the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland or the one the built at the Magic Kingdom in Orlando a couple of years later. The Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean and Snow White’s Scary Adventures were my gateway to spooky themed attractions. Some years ago, I heard about a park that existed in the Netherlands that rivaled Walt Disney World in the scale and scope of its’ menagerie of dark rides. This holiday season I got to experience it for myself and since it’s not often that haunt fans in the US hear about this magical place, I have decided to offer the curious a personal tour.

The Efteling is one of the oldest theme parks in the world. It first opened its’ gates on May 31, 1952, a full three years before Uncle Walt opened his own park in Anaheim, CA. and Efteling is twice the size of the original Disneyland. The so-called ‘Dutch Disneyland’ is a completely fantasy-themed park that attracts over 5 million visitors per year, except instead of using corporate owned IPs to theme its’ rides and attractions, Efteling borrows from ancient myths, legends, fairytales and folklore. The best way for me to describe the vibe of the park is to imagine every 1980’s fantasy film from “The Dark Crystal” to “Labyrinth” to “Legend” to “Dragonslayer” all blended together and turned into a real-world place that you can walk through.

The park’s first attraction, and still one of its’ most popular, is the elaborate Fairytale Forest, where through its’ twisting pathways guests can meander to other areas of the park. You can discover 29 full-scale fairytale scenes along the way and see some of the strangest and most charming characters in any theme park in the world including a giant dragon, Hansel and Gretel, the Troll King, the Gnome Village, Rumpelstiltskin and a donkey that poops gold coins! You will also encounter some of the most unusual trash collectors anywhere, the Holle Bolle Gijs, who beg for and eat trash and paper throughout the park. You can hear them cry, “PAPIER HIER” as you pass by, and if you feed them they will say “DANKE.”

This is a park that has a ride called Monsieur Cannibale, which is like the classic teacups ride at Disneyland, except that here guests are placed in boiling cauldrons in front of a hungry cannibal witch doctor who intends to have them for second breakfast!

Efteling boasts four traditional dark rides plus three coasters with dark ride elements and two haunted attractions. Keep your arms and legs inside the ride at all times as we take a tour of the Happiest Place in Holland.

Symbolica Palace of Fantasy: Efteling’s newest, and at a cost of over $40 million, most expensive ride is a trackless dark ride that invites guests into a magic castle for an audience with the king. When guests reach the final stage of the queue line, they are given the choice of one of three different adventures that will take them to unique rooms not included on the other tracks. You can choose from the Hero, Music or Treasure tours. You’ll journey through rooms of wizards and enchanted trappings before you reach the king’s ballroom where your ride vehicle actually ‘dances’ with both the castle’s guests and other ride vehicles.

Droomvlucht (Dreamflight): This was probably my favorite dark ride in the park that presents less of a straight forward narrative and more of a waking dream. The ride vehicles hang from above and drift through various scenes right out of a power metal album cover including space castles, forests, troll caves and enchanted marshes. The climax of the ride is a free-fall spiral down a four-story set through a marsh full of trolls, elves and fairies.

Carnaval Fesitival: This is the first of two dark rides that will probably seem familiar to Disney fans. This one is basically It’s a Small World except instead of just visiting stereotypes of other countries and cultures, guests are invited to various carnivals around the world. The circus-style music is at least more tolerable than the earworm that tests guests’ sanity at Disney World.

Fata Morgana: Disney fans will immediately see the influence of Pirates of the Caribbean in this dark boat ride attraction, except this adventure replaces the Spanish Main for tales from ‘1001 Arabian Nights.’ Guests sail through the jungle and into an Arabian city, ultimately ending up in the royal palace. The most memorable scene involves sailing underneath a giant Genie whose dripping pants give the impression that he is about to pee on your boat!

Baron 1898: A steampunk themed steel dive coaster built in 2015 with a supernatural backstory. Just out of the loading station, there is an effects-filled scene depicting the vengeful spirits of former miners who lost their lives trying to mine gold from this cursed mine. The projection and texture mapped ghosts send guests straight down a 123-foot drop and into a short, but chaotic course.

Vogel Rok: This completely indoor dark coaster was probably my favorite of the park’s themed coasters. The theme involves Sinbad the sailor’s confrontation with a mythical giant bird known as a Roc. Guests board the coaster and are shot off into a dark, star-filled tunnel to confront a flock of monster birds. The climax of the ride has the coaster flying right inside the open beak of the winged creature.

De Vliegende Hollander (The Flying Dutchman): Unfortunately, this hybrid dark ride/water coaster was closed for the winter season when I visited the Efteling, but its’ story revolves around a legendary ghost ship. The dark ride portion involves confronting a hologram of the mythical ghost ship and a journey to the Underworld before a splashdown finale.

Villa Volta (Madhouse): The first of the park’s two haunted attractions, this haunted house is neither a walk-thru or a ride in the traditional sense. The pre-show involves an elderly animatronic character regaling guests with the tragic and cursed history of the house they are about to visit. Once guests enter the full-size manor house, a large theater with benches along the floor, the entire house begins to move until it spins 360 degrees around while the guests’ seats also subtly swing back and forth. The effect is quite dizzying and disorienting.

Spookslot (Haunted Castle): This haunted attraction, built in 1978, is starting to show its’ age as far a technological spectacle goes. Louisvillians can think of it like a huge version of the Caufield’s Novelty dungeon room. Guests walk through the lantern lit halls of an ancient castle until they reach a viewing area overlooking the ruins of an ancient monastery and graveyard. The huge set is basically a giant Pepper’s Ghost illusion similar to the one seen in the Ballroom at Disney’s Haunted Mansion. A procession of ghostly monks silently shamble through the monastery as the church bells ring and the dead start to stir in their graves to the orchestral strain of Danse Macabre. As the music builds, more and more ghastly animatronics begin to come to life.

These attractions are just a sampling of the magic and mystery to be found at the Elfteling. The park also is home to a 100-year-old steam carousel, a wooden coaster based on Saint George and the Dragon, a giant Pagoda that takes guests 150 feet above the streets below and even a museum displaying props and designs from the park’s history. For a dark ride connoisseur or folklore scholar, the Efteling is truly a dream within a dream.

The Phantom of The Ville

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