Thanksgiving greetings from Efteling, the world's best theme park

November 23, 2017, 2:17 PM · KAATSHEUVEL, The Netherlands — Happy Thanksgiving to our American readers... from here at the world's best theme park.

Last summer, Theme Park Insider readers collectively voted The Netherlands' Efteling as the world's best theme park in our annual Theme Park Insider Awards, dethroning five-year-consecutive champion Tokyo DisneySea. An independently-run park in northern Europe, Efteling cannot call upon the deep pockets of the Oriental Land Co., nor the intellectual property of Disney. But it does draw upon Europe's rich tradition of fairy tales, the artistic genius of creative director Anton Pieck, and an obvious commitment to great customer service.

Pieck, who lived from 1895-1987, designed Efteling, which opened three years before Disneyland, in 1952. His work endures in Sprookjesbos, or, "The Fairytale Forest," a walk-through collection of scenes from 29 classic fairy tales. Some are simple, static installations, while others are now multimedia productions, including animatronics and Pepper's Ghost effects.


This isn't some quick walk-through. My daughter and I spent nearly 90 minutes taking in everything in this delightful forest. This is the heart of Efteling, an attraction that defines the park and should command your attention on a visit.

The Gnome Village

Don't skip the unfamiliar tales. It's a shame that most Americans' knowledge of fairy tales are now limited to those stories that Disney has transformed into animated films. Fortunately, Efteling introduces each of its fairy tale scenes with a plaque describing the tale, in four languages. Some of my favorites here were not the familiar, Disney-fied stories, such as the tale of the Indian Water Lilies.

So many European fairy tales were created to frighten children into staying in line. But they endured because they often delivered moments of irreverent fun, too — such as the "Table be Laid," which includes a donkey shooting coins from his backside. Naturally, we had to drop 50 cents to make this happen. (It's the only element in the attraction that costs extra money — but you get to keep the souvenir!)

As delightful as the Fairytale Forest was, Efteling has much more to offer global theme park fans. Our first stop this morning was the park's newest attraction, Symbolica, which Ben Mills reviewed for us so well when it opened last summer: "It's less a linear narrative journey and more a sequence of magical happenings. In this sense, it's very reminiscent of Mystic Manor at Hong Kong Disneyland in both tone and execution."

After experiencing Symbolica in person, I agree on all counts. This is a masterwork of theme park attraction design, well deserving of the Thea Award it picked up last week at the IAAPA Attractions Expo in Orlando. (It missed our eligibility deadline for Best New Attraction last year by one day. So look out in 2018!) The on-ride video that we produced from the park's feed last summer cannot do this experience justice, for there's simply too much detail to take in a single viewing, whether that be through a camera's or your own POV.

Symbolica draws upon the park's tradition of creating world-class practical dark rides, including what might be one of the world's darkest dark rides, Fata Morgana. Themed to One Thousand and One Nights, you ride in the POV of the protagonist, who makes his way through the king's armory, his menagerie, his treasury, and eventually, his harem. But, unlike the author Scheherazade, you are not going to get away with fooling the king. A searing glance from a killer serpent, and it's all over for you.

Offering a somewhat lighter note, Droomvlucht [Dreamflight] flies you through a world of fairies and elves, evoking much of the style from the Fairytale Forest, and which is also called back by moments within Symbolica, as well.

Thrill fans, Efteling has not forgotten you. Joris en de Draak [George and the Dragon] is a GCI racing coaster that offers just enough airtime to keep you from feeling the full effect of its wooden track.

But the thrill highlight of the park (IMO) is Baron 1898, a delightfully themed (!) Bolliger & Mabillard dive machine. It's nowhere near the tallest, fastest, or longest dive coaster out there, but its theme and decor make it wonderful fun.

With the temperatures in the 40s (F) and rain for much of the day, we declined the chance to ride the park's splash track roller coaster De Vliegende Hollander. By the time we'd made it over to that side of the park, we'd finally dried out and were in no mood to get wet again.

Even with walk-on queues throughout the park, we could not come close to experiencing everything Efteling has to offer in one day. (Granted, the park opened at 11am and closed at 6pm.) Trading more time for more lines, this is probably a two-day park for a first-time visitor. But it's definitely a must-see. Getting to Kaatsheuvel can be a trick — much less getting to The Netherlands for many Americans. (We took two trains and a bus from Maastricht, where my daughter is in school for the semester.)

A Walt Disney World fan who wants to plan a dream trip to Disneyland Paris would do well to add a trip to Efteling, and then Europa Park, to make it an Orlando-style, four-park vacation. You might even discover yourself thinking that Efteling does a better job of living up to the ideal of what a Disney theme park ought to be than the Paris parks do. I know that I feel that way.

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For tickets to Efteling, please visit our travel partner's Efteling tickets page.

Replies (16)

November 23, 2017 at 3:45 PM

I was fortunate enough to visit the park in the beginning of this year and was REALLY impressed! Did not expect to be so immersed in the rides and of course the walk through. What a great park and a must-see for theme park fans!

November 23, 2017 at 4:08 PM

So glad you got to experience the Baron, I remember the rush of being there on it's open day!
I'd love to ride Symolica!

November 23, 2017 at 6:27 PM

Looks amazing! A great article, Robert!

November 23, 2017 at 7:07 PM

Too bad you skipped De Vliegende Hollander, it was one of my favorites, though you're right, Baron is among the best of it's kind. Yes, a two day park, they also have a great mythological show with a fire-breathing dragon (with English narration in headphones), but we enjoyed the show enough to see it twice, without dialog on the repeat performance. BTW, I was there before Symbolica, but loved Droomvlucht and Fata Morgana, the fairy-tale garden walk through and pretty much everything else! And we were told that blue side of the racing coaster wins about 90% of the time, I guess it's something like 5 feet shorter?

November 23, 2017 at 11:57 PM

I just came back from a visit to the Netherlands where I spend a day at Efteling. The park just looked amazing. I grew up with going to Efteling at least once every year and as a teenager I even bought an annual passport.

During my latest visit I was surprised to notice that meanwhile it has become impossible to do all the attractions and shows in one day.

Efteling is absolutely world class, it has always had an extremely high standard for a park that mainly caters to the Netherlands (pop. 17 million ) and the Dutch speaking part of Belgium. Efteling has started to attract more and more people from other countries which is reflected in the multilingual fairy tale books next to the scenes in the Fairy Tale Forest as well as the spiel in the queue for their latest gem Symbolica which is in Englisch, Dutch, German and French!

The last couple of years I have been able to visit all Disney Parks in the USA, Florida and California as well as the Universal Parks in Florida. I've also visited Disneyland Paris several times and even worked there for one summer.

Having returned from my home park Efteling I can truly say: this is the best themepark I know.

Disneyland Paris is good, if you like attractions on the quality level of the late 1990ies so if you do have the chance to visit Europe, go to Efteling. They have a beautiful hotel and several bungalows where you can stay overnight.

November 24, 2017 at 4:07 AM

Not sure what's best about the videos: The rides they show, or Robert's narrations!

November 24, 2017 at 10:10 AM

Efteling opened three years before Disneyland, but I don't remember any stories of Walt Disney visiting there for inspiration. Your photos look amazing, especially the water creature and the mushroom houses, they look real and lived in with a lot of detail but not over the top. It looks like Disney quality but a little less pretentious. I'll give an example, Disney signage is very highly designed, the Jungle Cruise sign in Disneyland doesn't look like it's from the 1940s but the 2000s.

November 24, 2017 at 9:28 PM

You went all that way and only spent 1 day. Come on Robert. Looks amazing though.

November 24, 2017 at 9:29 PM

Sorry I didn't sign in. You went all that way Robert and didn't stay 2 days? Sheesh. Well it looks amazing.

November 25, 2017 at 1:46 PM

I'm glad you like the Efteling.
I went there with my grandmother when I was a little kid and kept going every year after that (that's about 50 years now). The park is at its best during spring and summer because the trees and flowers are in full force but they try to bring it to life every season.

I also hoped you enjoyed Maastricht. It's a very nice city. Hope you will visit your daughter again when the weather is a bit more pleasant.

November 25, 2017 at 1:58 PM

What a great review ! Just loved reading it.
If any of you want to visit this park and need help or need a guide through the park, just let me now.
It would be great to have more Americans visit the Efteling.
Most of the park is allready in 4 languages , but most pre-shows and some farytales are still dutch spoken. You get so much more from a visit when you understand the little details.
Also if you have just efteling-related questions , please let me now.

Contact :

Twitter : @demildedictator
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November 26, 2017 at 3:13 AM

For those who decide to stay the night at the Efteling, the park opens earlier.

November 26, 2017 at 3:27 AM

Flying Dutchman (vliegende Hollander) is one of the best attractions at Efteling. Highly themed darkride, coaster and splash in one. With a great dutch story (legend of the flying dutchman) behind it. The station inside is beatifull. And the splash is not making you very wet at all. You missed the corner with Vogelrok ( inside coaster) and Carnaval festival (darkride) in this review. I recommend this park above Disneyland Paris.

November 26, 2017 at 10:23 AM

The park opens on 10am. So one hour extra to enjoy the greatness! ;-)

November 29, 2017 at 9:29 AM

Bonjour de la France, je suis un passionné d'Efteling, au point d'y aller plus que dans les parcs français ;) et j'ai même créé un blog en français sur ce parc

Hello from France, I am passionate about Efteling, to the point of going more than in French parks;) and I even created a blog in French on this park http: //

November 30, 2017 at 4:23 AM

Last week, I went two times .. :-) (On wednesday and on sunday)
Grew up with the park, my first visit was at age 2, now I'm 60 yo :-) ... It was Efteling that pulled me in, to become active in concept development for attractions myself (as "side product" of being an architect :-) )

Opening hours.
Good to know : even when the official timetable of opening hours of the park is saying "18 h = closing time", the park stays open longer. Most Aquanura shows then start at 18:15 and after you walked out from the Efteldingen shop near the entrance, then it's probably 18:45 :-)
The Efteling Theater is programming later. Those audiences walk in, while day visitors walk out. Sometimes, special event group bookings are on, and then nobody will chase you out of the park, you can stay to enjoy a later hour Aquanura presentation. (Later = darker = better :-) )
When in low season, a large crowd is expected on one day, the prolongued opening hour signboards will appear suddenly after noon. "We are 1 hour longer open today" , is a classic :-)
Last sunday, there was a +15000 attendance (perhaps almost 20000, the first overflow parking was near to being filled up) and I saw 2 versions of the Aquanura show, and enjoyed acrobacy performance thereafter in 'House of 7 senses' (The entrance building, which is used as circus big top in the late evening hours). I finally walked out around 8pm.

The tale of the Indian Water Lilies, was written by former Belgian queen Fabiola (but before she became queen) in her book "Los doce quentos maravillosos" (which I have in 3th print original Spanish edition at home, got it from my father :-) , I'm a big collector of fairy tale books.)
The witch in this animatronic show is nowadays making a smooth style appearance. It has not always been ike that. Originally, she popped up from below, violently !! (ON the one beat of the big chime) The saying goes that too many little kids started crying at that event... and Efteling would have decided to make it smooth for that reason. I'm not sure about the correct version of that story but I'm still missing the witch'es storywise correct outburst from the early days. Hope it's returning. :-) (Remember the similar stupid controversy about who should chase who, in POTC, a pirate chasing a woman, or a woman chasing the pirate ?... such changes over time add to the timeline of theme park sociology... lol )
The show is multilayered and it was the first experiment with that storytelling technique in Efteling. The music, "Afrikaan Beat" is from 1962, and although a bit younger then the writing of the fairy tale (1959-60), it reflects the jazzy European time period where Fabiola grew up with, rather then 'India' where the story is projected. :-) In the background of the grotto, can be seen (best before/after each show) the miniature version against star dotted night sky of an Indian looking pavillion which is REALLY behind the Indian Water Lilies grotto (if one would hew a hole in the back wall.. :-) ) , because it is Efteling's Flying Fakir fairy tale set ! Some kids seem to recognise it "Ohhhh, look there mom !..." :-)

Later on, subtle multilayering and also variable version experiences became a standard in the Efteling development of attractions. Probably not recognisable at a first time visit to the park :-)
The 3 version experience Symbolica development, can be seen as a culmination point, so far.

In it's darkrides, Efteling is not specifically bringing "clear cut story", but rather athmosphere, poetry, reflexions. It's why visitors all tell their own story, afterwards :-)
I found my own reflexion in the darkride part of the Flying Dutchman (the "splash" is only the 4th, last part of this attraction) As my personal life went through a thick mist of deep sorrow, period of 10-5 years ago, in this ride I'm enlighted every time the boat enters the scene without a scene... the unpenetrable thick fog (you can barily see the front of the boat from behind... lol) with the seagulls all around and a ship bell in the soundscape, the silty smell of the north sea in the air. It's total atmospheric stimulation of our OWN fantasy. Everybody is "seeing" something different, and I "see" the memory of my sorrow, and strangely, very happy about that. A different kind of theme park magic. NOT the chewed storyline.


When working on my own theme park concepts now, I care about variability, athmospheric and poetic strenghts, leaving space for imagination from the visitor, getting the visitor in the 'shoes' of one of the characters instead of just having it fixed before their eyes.
Fact is, we CAN learn a lot from Efteling which is doing things differently from for instance Disney and Universal. Differently, to the core of the storytelling itself. Into detail. Even the staffed First Aid station in the park is atmospherically themed: it has an Anton Pieck styled signpost outside, a broken leg hanging there well fit in bandages and representing the skill of the First Aid people, yet sweetly morbid humorous at the same time. That's Efteling, profoundly....

By the way :
A tricky QUIZ question :
How many major animatronic DRAGONS are there acting in the park ? :-) ... I'm curious to see who can get it right.
How many have you met personally, Robert ! ?


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