Efteling. Located in Kaatsheuvel, this whimsical and unique park easily rivals the best that Universal and Disney have to offer.
One of the more enjoyable surprises was just how easy and affordable it is to visit this treasure of a theme park. Efteling is easily accessible by train from Brussels or Amsterdam, and they have busses that leave every 15 minutes that take you from the train station right to the front gate. So there is no need to rent a car. Even better is that, at the moment, the Euro has near identical purchase power to the dollar, and park tickets, hotels and food were surprisingly affordable. For example, we booked a deal with a nearby hotel that was about a 10-minute walk from the front gate for two nights and that included tickets for two days to the park for two people for only $350! Try getting that kind of rate at Universal or Disney. We also were surprised by the good quality of the food offered in the park. A very tasty combo of a cheese turnover, fries with dipping sauce and a drink was only $7. The Dutch treat stroopwafel (a very thin waffle sandwich with caramel syrup inside) could also be found for $3-5.
Perhaps best of all was the time of year. From November to February, Efteling celebrates its winter festivities with ice skating rinks, fire pits and hot chocolate available throughout the park. More important, since Thanksgiving is an American holiday, the Dutch do not have time off at this time and parks were completely empty. I have never seen anything like it. Every single ride had a wait time of less than five minutes. The weather was mild and cool in the mid 40s and while there was a very real chance for rain, just bring a poncho. We rode many of the rides multiple times and still had plenty of time to amble along and enjoy the gorgeous greenery while sipping our hot chocolates. Even with airfare, a trip to Efteling at this time is easily comparable or even cheaper than a visit to Disney World and you don’t have to fight crowds. My wife and I loved visiting Europe at this time and plan to try and do so in the future as it is very easy to find deals on airfare and hotels all through Belgium and the Netherlands in late November.
Opening its doors in 1952 (an oft repeated though never verified claim is that Walt Disney himself visited prior to breaking ground on the original Disneyland), Efteling initially appealed to young kids with their Fairytale Forest. This portion of the park is still around and is a labyrinth of paths that showcase many scenes from classic fairy tales. Many of them you know: Cinderella, Snow White, Rapunzel, Hansel and Gretel (with that candy house that smells delicious). Many American tourists also might be surprised to see several that are completely new to them, such as Long Neck, which is an animatronic that can show off a giraffe-type neck, as well as my personal favorite, the pooping donkey. According to the handy plaque (thankfully written in several languages) this donkey descended upon a small village and would reward hard workers with a coin that exited from his rear. And of the course the animatronic donkey will happily shoot a plastic commemorative coin in your direction if you activate it.
This sense of whimsy can be found all throughout the park. To encourage visitors to keep the park clean, several trash cans are disguised as hungry characters who will “suck” the trash right out of your hand. You find these special receptacles throughout the park and will hear their cries of “paper here” as you walk past. They even thank you if you feed them. While all of this is pretty cool, the draw of Efteling are the rides - and in that they absolutely deliver.
Like any solid top-tier theme park, Efteling has a solid mix of thrill rides, family rides, and shows. Of particular note was the Symbolica, the Flying Dutchmen, and Baron 1898. These three were some of their newer attractions and easily can be ranked among some of the best rides I have ever ridden anywhere. Symbolica a trackless dark ride that was full of cute whimsy within a magical castle. It has three different versions, and with the lines so short, we of course did all three variations. Baron 1898 is an impressively smooth diving coaster, and while short, its cool turn-of-the-century theming and intensity made it a blast.
For me, a nerdy historian with a penchant for good theming, nothing topped the Flying Dutchman. This had the most immersive queue. You go deeper into a 17th century dockyard until you board a small boat. The boat resembled a smaller version of the Pirates of the Caribbean craft with one addition - a glowing lantern at the front of the vessel. It started innocently enough as a dark ride, but soon enough you enter an impressive storm sequence that leads you to the infamous Flying Dutchman - a supernatural vessel that foretells death for those who stumble upon it. The ride then transitions from boat ride to exciting roller coaster, which splashed back into the lagoon before returning to the dock. This was truly an extraordinary ride, and I would rank it among my top three rides of all time. We loved this ride so much we rode it five times in a row (which took less than 30 minutes). Again, try doing that at Disney during the week of Thanksgiving.
Special mention also must go to Fata Morgana, a Pirates of the Caribbean clone themed to the voyages of Sinbad (which had some very cool scenes), and the sleeper hit of the visit - a 4-D show titled Fabula which had some really neat effects, cute characters and a great lesson about friendship and power. Best of all these was just some of the great attractions you will find – including an indoor roller coaster in the dark (Vogel Rok), a bizarro version of It’s a Small World (Carnival Festival), and a faster than expected family coaster (Max and Moritz), as well as several others. Unfortunately, I did miss the wooden coaster George and the Dragon and the dark ride Dreamflight, which I hear are amazing but they were down for maintenance. Just means I will have to return!
[Note from Robert: Here are my on-ride videos from Joris en de Draak (George and the Dragon) and Droomvlucht (Dreamflight) from my Thanksgiving visit to Efteling, five years ago.]
Overall, I simply cannot recommend Efteling enough. The prices were affordable, the crowds were beyond easy to navigate, and the rides and shows were top tier. Next year, perhaps consider ditching the cornbread stuffing and turkey and exchange it for some stroopwafel, Belgian frites and one of the best theme parks on the planet.
* * *
For tickets starting at $48, please visit our international travel partner's Efteling tickets page.
And for more theme park news, please sign up for Theme Park Insider's weekly newsletter.Tweet
I'm in! I went to graduate school in Amsterdam but never made it to Efteling. I've been planning a trip back and will have to remedy that.
This is my favourite Theme Park in the world. Better than Disney and if you are there in winter the bonfires everywhere are amazing, warming and a real delight to have a hot chocolate while standing around a roaring fire. Get a great sense of community with the other people doing the same.
It is a shame you missed Droomvlucht, it is one of my favourite rides in the world and Joris en Draken is an amazing wooden coaster. Although i miss when the dragon would roar and breath fire perfectly timed to when the cars are going over the loading platform so it sounds and feels like a massive roar that shakes the world.
Am planning on going back next year for a 3rd time and I can't wait :D
was very fortunate to get to visit Efteling summer of 2018. was definitely much busier then but what a park. i do believe it is my favorite. an absolutely amazing assortment of rides and massive varieties and the restaurants and bars were quite good too. perhaps the star attraction is the scenery. the gardens are so beautiful
This article has been archived and is no longer accepting comments.
Whoa whoa whoa! Efteling is in the Netherlands. As in the U.S.'s next opponent in the World Cup. I felt a bit like a traitor to Uncle Sam enjoying this write-up as much as I did.
Efteling surely sounds like a fun place and is definitely somewhere I want to visit in the future. Thank you for writing such an entertaining and informative article about the ins and outs of visting. I placed myself under a (semi) strict no video policy of places I haven't visited in person yet, so your vivid writing was a plus. Hopefully Efteling stays awesome for years to come!