Seth Kubersky’s Best Week Ever September 10, 2015: Efteling, The Netherlands’ Anti-Disneyland

It goes without saying that we at Touring Plans are pretty big fans of the theme parks produced by the Disney and Universal corporations, as they they typically represent the current pinnacle of the genre. But every so often it’s important to take a step outside the Orlando box and experience a different type of attraction, if only to gain some perspective on other cultures, and a deeper appreciation for the art and history that informed the parks we love. With that in mind, take a step through the looking glass with me now for a bizarro Best Week Ever, as we explore a place that shows us what a Disney park might look like if only Walt’s vision had been a whole lot darker, creepier, and quirkier. Welcome to Efteling, the anti-Disneyland of The Netherlands!

Located about 2 hours by train and bus from the city of Amsterdam, Efteling (or “De Efteling” as the locals call it) celebrated its 60th anniversary in 2012, which means it predates Disneyland — often referred to as the “first theme park” — by a good 3 years. There have long been rumors (some propagated by the park’s PR department) that Walt himself found inspiration for Disneyland during a visit to Efteling, but there’s no hard evidence to support that story. Even so, it’s fascinating for a frequent Disney guest like myself to see the striking similarities, and sometimes surprising differences, between the resorts.

Efteling is an enormous attraction, with a sprawling organic layout that resembles Busch Gardens Williamsburg or or Tampa more than the exactingly engineered Disney and Universal parks. I spent two days there and felt like I just scratched the surface; while I got to experience Efteling’s insane selection of dark rides and the brand-new Baron 1898 roller-coaster, I sadly had to leave several E-Tickets (including the dueling wooden coasters and hybrid dark/coaster/water ride) for my next European vacation.

Unlike the Disney parks, whose designs were the product of dozens of talented Imagineers, Efteling largely reflects the artistic vision of two people: artist Anton Pieck, who created the opening day attractions, and Ton van der Ven, who took over from the 1970s through the turn of the millennium. The result is a charming and idiosyncratically personal consistency to the characters found throughout Efteling’s attractions; imagine if every Disney animatronic was designed by either Marc Davis or Mary Blair. While Disney still employs some name-brand artists (chiefly Joe Rhode), and there are virtues to the modern “design by committee” method that tends to smooth over the individuality of the mega parks, at Efteling you can practically still see the fingerprints of the craftsmen embedded in their creations, making it a amazingly intimate, personal experience.

Without further ado, here’s a small selection of the seriously surreal sights to be seen inside Efteling. Please do not attempt to adjust your computer — images in your monitor may be even weirder than they appear!

 

 

Let’s start with the first two Efteling rides I experienced. Reizenrijk (or “Travel Land”) is located near the exclusive park entrance for guests of the official Efteling Hotel, were one night stays include breakfast and 2 days of park admissions for significantly less than the cost of a night in a WDW deluxe resort. The rooms are quite comfortable (if a bit small by American standards) and are filled with themed touches like mirror messages, a custom board game, and even a hidden non-Mickey mouse!

 

 

My first Efteling ride was Carnival Fantasy, a blatant “homage” to it’s a small world that replaces Disney’s gentle plea for world harmony with broad humor and politically incorrect ethnic stereotypes.

 

Next stop was Vogel Rok, Efteling’s answer to Space Mountain. This Vekoma-designed indoor roller coaster opened in 1998, and features some attractive scenic and lighting effects, along with a dramatic in-vehicle soundtrack (one of the first on a non-Disney ride) to support a slim storyline involving the eggs of an enormous bird. It’s not as good as California’s Space Mountain, but the first half of the track has an exhilarating sense of speed that I preferred to Orlando’s shaky Space Mountain.

 

Two rides in and it’s time for our first snack! Hot dogs are ubiquitous at every theme park, but I’ll bet you probably haven’t had a dog smothered in Calve sauce, which seemed to be a blend of mustard, mayonnaise, and herb relish. Yum?

 

Ok, so far things have been a little quirky, but here comes the first dose of creepy that I alluded to. As a theme park history junkie I really enjoyed this museum dedicated to Efteling’s past. But if these decommissioned dolls and ex-animatronics don’t give you the willies, I don’t know what will…

 

The museum also displays these “original artifacts” of “real” fairytales, like the Princess’ pea, Cinderella’s shoe, and Snow White’s poisoned apple.

 

 

Displays like these are a major attraction throughout Efteling. One of my favorites was this massive model train diorama depicting a mountain village.

 

In the same building is as the diorama is the park’s oldest attraction, a carousel that dates from the late 1800s. To my knowledge, this is the world’s only steam-powered carousel still operating for the public. Try to ride on the pigs if you can, but they are very popular!

 

Every park has a First Aid station, but the signage at Efteling’s is a little…different.

 

Hold onto your hats, folks, because here is where stuff starts to get seriously strange. The soul of Efteling is in the park’s fairytale sculptures, which are often grotesque, scatalogical, or just plain kooky.

50 cents for your own golden egg!

Have some trash to dispose of in Efteling? Just look for the open-mouthed figures shouting “paper here!” They’ll happily swallow your litter for you.

 

Or if you can’t find one of those, wicker baskets like these are located throughout the park. No sign of PUSH here, however…

 

In the Leaf People village, you’ll find animated figures inside the fantastical houses, which you can glide past on a monorail.

 

We must pause here for a moment to recognize one of the greatest attractions in the history of theme parks. Behold, BENCH: THE RIDE!

 

(Yes, I know the “real” Bench ride is at Europa-Park, but Efteling’s is even more of an epic non-event.)

It may not look like much, but for legal liability reasons you’ll probably never experience something like this in an American playground.

 

Speaking of something you can find in America, Villa Volta was the world’s first Vekoma MadHouse attraction. I used to love Six Flags Great Adventure’s Houdini-themed version of this twist on the classic haunted swing ride, but that one is long gone, so it was great to be able to revisit the ride system (even if I had no clue what the lengthy preshow was about).

 

Now it’s time to take a Droomvlucht, or Dreamflight, to fairyland. Efteling’s answer to Peter Pan’s Flight is much longer, larger, and loonier than the Disney classic, and the high-speed spiral finale has a surprising kick. This one is not to be missed!

 

It’s showtime! Ravelejin is a large-scale arena stunt show involving swordplay, horsemanship, and a fire-spewing steampunk dragon than makes Festival of Fantasy’s float look like a tiny toy. The plot is pretty much expendable, and the climax goes a bit too long before the big finale. But if you like Medieval Times and IOA’s Sindbad show, you’ll love this.

Horse pyrotechnics! That isn’t something you see everyday…

 

The very heart of Efteling is the Fairy Tale Forest, a winding wooded walkthrough with imaginative incarnations of over a dozen classic children’s fables. Originally simple static sets, they’ve been upgraded over the decades with some sophisticated Pepper’s Ghost and projection effects, though the character animations are still quite elementary. These aren’t the watered-down, Disneyfied versions of these stories that most American kids are familiar with, either. You’ll find all the sadness and horror of the original Brothers Grimm tales here; even if you don’t understand Dutch, I defy you to watch the Little Match Girl show without welling up. Yet the little ones I saw seemed to take it all in stride…

 

Did anyone say World of Color? Efteling now has its own evening water spraying spectacular, designed by Bellagio fountain builders WET Design. The show’s technology is nearly as impressive as that used in DCA’s nighttime show, but because it doesn’t get dark in the Netherlands until after park closing, the colored lights and flamethrowers aren’t nearly as effective here.

 

Monkeys. Really nothing else to say, just: monkeys….
…and some random flowers from Efteling’s incredibly lush landscaping.
This bloom reminded me of Fruity Pebbles.

There weren’t many walk-around characters at Efteling, but we did have breakfast at the hotel with the park’s mascots. They seemed quite confused as to why I’d come all the way from Orlando to the Netherlands, but then I explained about “humidity.”

 

Ok, coaster fans, here’s the moment you’ve been waiting for! Baron 1898 is a brand-new B&M dive coaster similar to Busch Gardens Tampa’s Sheikra, only with exquisite steampunk theming. It features and elaborate load building with two high-quality preshows, during which projection mapping and audio-animatronics are employed to warn you against the ghostly “white women” who protect the mine’s golden treasure.

 

Unfortunately, while the ride looks amazing, it has an absurdly low carrying capacity of around 750 riders per hour, with one 18-passenger car departing every 90 second or so. And while its aesthetics are impressive, Baron’s ride is significantly less intense than similar coasters, with only one relatively short dive and two mild inversions before the all-too-soon final break run.

I arrived at Baron shortly after hotel guests (who get 30 minutes of early entry at select attractions) were permitted to start queuing, and waited about 20 minutes as a single rider. By the time I exited, day guests had stretched the line to several hours, and it never diminished significantly during the day.

 

Efteling’s other world-class dark ride is Fata Morgana, a 1001 Arabian Nights-inspired spin on Pirates of the Caribbean. Though not quite good enough to top California and Paris’ PotC attractions, I liked it much better than WDW’s Pirates, and the scale of the animatronic-filled sets is stunning by any standard.

 

Here’s a glimpse of Spookslot, Efteling’s Haunted Castle. Inside, a Pepper’s Ghost-fueled animated display depicts a “Danse Macabre” with floating ghosts and flying ghouls. It’s just a shame that overly-bright exit lights create reflections of the audience on the glass walls, ruining the phantasmic effects.

 

Think that’s odd? You ain’t seen nothing yet! This is Efteling’s famous pooping donkey. Put some spare change in the slot, and the animal will lift its tail and expel a golden coin from its rear end, sending kids gleefully chasing after the gelt. I shi- … um, KID you not!

 

Last, but certainly not least, here is the most controversial attraction in Efteling, and perhaps all of Europe (putting aside ones created by Banksy). At Disney parks, the Mad Tea Party is a familiar staple, but here the carnival spinning cup ride has been raised to ridiculous new heights (or depths, depending on your perspective).

In this version, guests become victims in the cooking pots of an African cannibal, whose offensive caricature commands attention in the center of the swirling cars. While the vehicles spin, a catchy Dutch ditty tells the tuneful tale of a European explorer who goes native and joins a tribe of man-eaters.

 

 

This type of insensitive racial depiction would never fly in today’s big American parks, but in The Netherlands (which has a more diverse and multicultural population than you might expect) it seems to be taken in stride as “good clean fun.” So the next time you see something strange at Disney or Universal and wonder “how on earth did they get away with that?” just remember that things are infinitely weirder at Efteling!

Join us next week for my first ever visit to the world’s most beautiful Magic Kingdom (at least according to Tony Baxter), Disneyland Paris!

 

Seth Kubersky

Author of The Unofficial Guide to Universal Orlando. Co-author of The Unofficial Guide to Disneyland and Beyond Disney. Contributor to Unofficial Guides to WDW and Las Vegas. Live Active Cultures columnist for the Orlando Weekly. Travel and arts journalist. Theatrical director and producer.

26 thoughts on “Seth Kubersky’s Best Week Ever September 10, 2015: Efteling, The Netherlands’ Anti-Disneyland

  • September 10, 2015 at 10:38 am
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    How did I not know this existed?!?! I was just in Amsterdam for the long weekend. This place looks amazing.

  • September 10, 2015 at 10:53 am
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    Seth, you have really outdone yourself! Awesome Best Week Ever… what a weird and wonderful place. Thanks for reporting back from your vacation. Safe travels.

    • September 11, 2015 at 5:43 am
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      Thanks so much Amanda! Looking forward to sharing more of my trip with you.

  • September 10, 2015 at 11:13 am
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    Amazing post Seth! Thank you for all the photos and for sharing your experience at efteling! It is fascinating to see another theme park (beyond Disney parks and Universal) and to see some of the differences. Great job Seth!

    • September 11, 2015 at 5:44 am
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      I’m so glad you appreciated it! This post was a bit of a stretch outside our normal subject matter, but I’ll try to do more of this type if enough people like it.

  • September 10, 2015 at 11:23 am
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    Thank you so much for sharing, Seth! I honeymooned in Amsterdam two years ago, and I’m sorry I missed doing this! Hopefully there will be more posts on foreign (not necessarily Disney) parks as well as the standard Disney posts!

    • September 11, 2015 at 5:46 am
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      Thanks Sara, I’m sure you had an amazing honeymoon in Amsterdam even without Efteling, but it is worth a return trip. If enough others enjoyed it I’ll try to do more non-Disney posts in the future!

  • September 10, 2015 at 3:41 pm
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    Hi Seth,
    if you are going to “Phantasialand” in Germany, please let me know. We only live 15 minutes away and I could show you around.
    One thing about the donkey. It’s from a fairytail by the Brother Grimm. Wikipedia tells me the englisch name is “The Wishing-Table, the Gold-Ass, and the Cudgel in the Sack”

    • September 11, 2015 at 5:48 am
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      Thanks Sandra, I wish I could take you up on your offer but Germany wasn’t in the cards this trip. Some day i want to return and do Phantasialand, Europa-Park, and WB MovieWorld.

      PS I appreciate the donkey info, I knew there had to be a good explanation! 🙂

  • September 10, 2015 at 4:02 pm
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    I really liked this post!! Gonna have to make it out there someday. 🙂

  • September 10, 2015 at 4:42 pm
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    Great post, best post so far! If one would like to plan a trip there when would be the best time to go in relation to crowds, weather, and cost. Could you possibly do another post on some of the trip details or what made you venture there. Great Job!!! Can’t wait to go there one day.

    • September 11, 2015 at 5:53 am
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      Hi Terrae! I sought out Efteling because some friends had visited it with Theme Park Review and their pictures were just so insane, I had to see it for myself. As a 1-time visitor I’m not too qualified to give advice, but the park is open year round and crowds aren’t too bad on weekdays when school is in session. The weather in September was cool (mid 50s to low 60s) with intermittent light rain, a wonderful change from hot Orlando. Tickets were very reasonable (about 1/2 of WDW, even after the exchange rate) and so was food.

  • September 10, 2015 at 5:37 pm
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    https://www.efteling.com/en/bosrijk
    We are going next month, 3 days admission, 2 nights in on-site cabin for roughly $750, and that is 2 adults 4 kids, at the bosrijk, which means woods.
    I would think it would be a good 3 or 4 hours drive from Amsterdam, and Dutch traffic can be bad, so I would not consider it as a day-out from there.
    If you could go during the week, during Dutch school term, you can pretty much walk onto these rides. As you can see in the photos, it can be busy!!
    We are big Disney fans in this house but would never consider going to Disneyland Paris over Efteling, way better value for money, way better atmosphere.

    • September 11, 2015 at 5:56 am
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      Thanks for posting Steven. We looked into staying at Efteling Village (which is where the Bosrijk is) but for only 2 people the Efteling Hotel was more cost effective.
      The train from Amsterdam (via Tilburg) was only about 2 hours, plus a short bus ride to the park. Public transit in Europe is so easy I can’t Imagine renting a car, but you definitely want to stay overnight — too much to do for just a day trip!
      Enjoy your visit!

      • September 11, 2015 at 9:38 am
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        Thanks!
        The hotel is great and anyone interested should look at the themed rooms on the hotel website, some crazy stuff!
        You did really well with the photos,by the way.

  • September 10, 2015 at 8:19 pm
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    I could not stop reading this. That bizarro Small World would certainly have hallucinagenic effects on me. It’s familiar and foreign at the same time, very confusing!!
    Thanks for a great article!

    • September 11, 2015 at 5:58 am
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      You’re so right Liz, I was definitely having some flashbacks to my 1990s club kid days… 😉

  • September 10, 2015 at 11:48 pm
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    For anyone who made it this far….ugh…I miss Daisy!

    • September 11, 2015 at 5:59 am
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      I know how you feel Steve, I miss Daisy too. But for now it seems you are stuck with me for your free entertainment. If you have any specific constructive criticism, I’m all ears!

      • September 12, 2015 at 12:12 am
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        The length of the post was a turnoff for me…that’s all. I’m sorry for the insensitive comment Seth. I certainly respect all the touringplans bloggers including yourself. You all provide a great service for us Disney/Universal fanatics. I truly enjoy coming to the site to get fresh takes on the new and the old happenings in the theme park world.

  • September 11, 2015 at 4:31 am
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    Loved this post Seth! I live in Amsterdam and have been to the Efteling often. It’s a one of a kind park that has seen a lot of Disney influence especially the last couple of years. Though I think all theme parks keep an eye on each other (did you see cinderellas mice in the museum? With the plaque from disney paris?) After having kids, it has become a frequent discussion if the park should be updated to become more kid friendly (those fairytale woods can even freak out grown ups sometimes!). We have agreed that they should start taking out all the racist stereotypes. That is just not ok anymore. I wouldn’t call it anti-Disney but it’s definitely not Disney (thank goodness, otherwise it would just be a rip off 😉 thanks for this post! And I would love to see other parks as well! This is fun 🙂

    • September 11, 2015 at 6:06 am
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      Glad you liked it Yasmij! I saw the mice but must have missed the DLP plaque.
      Calling it “anti-Disneyland” was a bit hyperbolic but I was just so struck how both parks take similar material but present it in such different ways.
      Some of my best childhood memories are from visiting weird, creepy attractions like Fairy Tale Forest in NJ, which Efteling reminded me of. Maybe I was scarred by all that stuff, but I wonder if American kids today aren’t missing out by having everything so safe & non-threatening?
      I was definitely disturbed by some of the ethnic depictions but they didn’t seem to be motivated by malice or hatred, so I tried not to be too judgmental. It’s interesting to hear that a local felt the same way!

  • September 11, 2015 at 9:17 am
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    I don’t this was weird, really amazing actually. Thanks for sharing. It just seems like the talented designers don’t really understand the concept of cute. They should go to Japan and learn about the kawaii.

  • September 11, 2015 at 4:23 pm
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    Enjoy one of my most favorite films in Disneyland Paris – Cinemagique.

  • September 12, 2015 at 5:54 am
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    Great post Seth! I’m Dutch and visit the Efteling and WDW annually. The song played at the spinning cook pots is actually not Dutch but French. One quality the Efteling shares with Disney is that there are a lot of things for an entire family to enjoy together. Just walking through the park is already a fun experience. The landscaping and theming is just great in my opinion. If you compare that to some of the other amusement parks where your just hopping from attraction to attraction, its an entirely different experience for me.

    Hope you enjoyed your stay and keep up these great blog posts.

    Translation: http://aegtte.weebly.com/monsieur-cannibale-mister-cannibal.html

  • September 15, 2015 at 11:19 am
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    I loved this post, I’m always interested in seeing the differences in theme parks around the world. Keep up the great work!

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