De Efteling - or commonly known as just Efteling - is a fantasy themed park in the Netherlands, situated in the town of Kaatsheuvel. The attractions are based on ancient fairy tales, myths, folklore, legends and fables. Home to world class dark rides and rollercoasters, the park is recognised for its detailed theming, in particular the Fairy Tale Forest, one of the oldest parts of the park. It is the largest park in the Netherlands and one of the oldest theme parks in the world. Twice the size of the original Disneyland in California and antedating it by 3 years, the park holds a lot of history...
Believe it or not, Efteling began its life as a Sports Park, an idea created by
Chaplain Rietra and Pastor De Klijn in 1933. Two years later, on the 19 May 1935, the Sports Park, named R.K Sports and Wandalpark opened, with a football pitch, two training pitches and a playing field. One year on came the installation of a playground and several funfair attractions. In 1950, the park expanded to include a nature reserve, and the Efteling Nature Park Foundation was formed, established by Reunier van der Heijden and Anton Pieck.
When it the park originally opened in 1952, it was a nature reserve and consisted of only two attractions - a playground and a fairy tale forest, the latter being designed by dutch artist Anton Pieck. This village was based on 10 fairytales, brought to life with original drawings, alongside machines and mechanics designed by Dutch film maker, Peter Reijnders.
These fairy tales were: Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, The Frog Prince, The Magic Clock, The Chinese Nightingale, The Talking Parrot, Long Neck, The Gnome Houses, Mother Holle and Wee Walter Messanger.
With life sized dioramas displayed in an atmospheric forest, the park welcomed 240,000 visitors in 1952 alone. In the following years, the park expanded to include a Boating Lake, a Swimming Pool and a Resteraunt. By 1956, the number of visitors reached 700,000. As years passed by, more fairy tales were added to the forest, and 1969 saw the arrival of the first steam train for the miniature railway. The first award: Pomme d'Or, was received in 1972. However, in 1978, after 26 years operating as simply the fairy tale forest, the park decided they wanted more; they wanted to become a theme park!
That year, the park opened the Spookslot Haunted House, a spooky walkthrough attraction. Costing a total of €1,588,823, the ruined castle took 18 months to construct and was officially opened on 10 May 1978. Inside, riders took a tour of a haunted castle and graveyard, filled with impressive effects, most notably the Pepper's Ghost effect. It was an immediate success with the record number of 1,449,078 visitors registered in that year alone, and the 25 millionth visitor was welcomed to the park.
1981 saw the arrival of Python, a Vekoma looping coaster. The €9.4 million coaster features 4 inversions - a double loop and double corkscrew - and reaches speeds of up to 47 mph. A height of 95 ft and drop of 72 ft results in a maximum of 3.5 G's and a length of 2,460 ft leads to a duration of 120 seconds. While not very well received due to noise complaints, it was one of the biggest coasters in Europe at the time, and the first thrill ride at the park, and there's no doubt that Python was a turning point in history.
Fata Morgana opened in 1986. It was a dark ride based on the 1001 Arabian Nights. The ride is populated by 140 animatronics in 10 scenes, and took visitors on a tour around Arabia. It is noticeable for its unique style compared to the other attractions at the time.
Over the next few years, expansions would be made to the fairytale forest, and the park continued to evolve into its current state of a fully fledged theme park.
1991 welcomed the parks second rollercoaster - Pegasus. The attraction was designed in an attempt to open before the opening of Disneyland Paris, however during construction, the engineers at the Dinn Corporation went on strike, leaving the coaster to be completed by Intamin. Designed by Curtis D. Summers, the wooden coaster officially opened on July 1 1991. With a short height of 49 ft and and even shorter drop of 39 ft, the ride wasn't as thrilling as its predecessor coaster, Python, however did achieve a top speed of 34 mph and pulled a maximum of 3.5 G's.
At the time, the park had 2 dark rides, and they wanted another. In 1993, the park opened one of their most beautiful attractions - Droomvlutch. Inside Droomvlutch, visitors fly through a dream world of forests, castles, fairies and trolls. The ride lasts roughly 6 minutes, within this time, riders travel through 5 different scenes in small open cabins hanging from the ceiling. Costing around €12.5 million, it was the most expensive attraction at Efteling to date, but more additions were yet to come...
The next large addition was Villa Volta, the world's first Vekoma Madhouse. Using a technique known since the early 20th century, riders are seemingly flipped upside down in an enchanted room. This is achieved by the benches where the visitors are seated being placed on a swing that swings with a maximum angle of 30-40 degrees. The interior of the house is a drum built around this swing that can turn 360 degrees, giving the visitors the illusion that they themselves are turning upside down. A disorienting experience, it was a large success, and lots of similar attractions have now been installed.
1998 was the year when the park installed their 3rd coaster: Vogel Rok. Vogel Rok was different in fact that it was completely indoors, creating a thrilling experience in the dark. Without light, the ride would seem faster, and better than of located outside. Extensive theming covered the queue, station and entrance, however the coaster remained rather bare. In the coming years, more theming was added, enhancing the overall experience. The coaster itself is a family coaster, however is quite an intense ride.
It was quite a while before Efteling got another large attraction, and in the meantime, only minor changes were made. However, the wait was worth it, with the De Vliegende Hollander water coaster dark ride opening in 2007 for the 55th anniversary. It was a massive investment costing €20.3 million, and was manufactured by Kumback. The ride tells the story of the Flying Dutchman, a ship that got lost at sea. Riders go on a voyage into the unknown, and encounter the lost ship. The attraction ends with an outdoor rollercoaster section, and finishes with a large splashdown. It was a massive success, and is regarded as an excellent dark ride.
2010 saw the removal of Pegasus, and in its place, the construction of George and the Dragon, a Great Coasters International racing coaster. The two separate tracks, Fire and Water, compete against each other, in a race to defeat the dragon. The two tracks are almost identical, the only difference is that they mirror each others layout. Each had a height of 72 ft, length of 2,585 ft and top speed of 47 mph. Not only did it have two different tracks, it even included a massive dragon animatronic complete with fire effects! The ride was well received, and is in many coaster enthusiast's top 10 woodies.
2011 and 2012 were also big years for not attractions but shows, with the park opening both Ravelin and Aquanura. The first is a spectacular show with fire effects and horses, set in a well themed stadium. The second, Aquanura, is a fountain show which opened on 31 May 2012. The fountains were developed by WET Design, Efteling and Tebodin Consultants & Engineers. The fountains remain the largest in Europe and the third largest in the world, after the Dubai Fountain and the Fountains of Bellagio. Aquanura has a total of 200 fountains, subdivided in 9 types, each with its own reach and effect. 4 of the types were custom designed and built for this project, as were the light effects. 800 lamps were placed in the pond, and 29 lights and audio posts were placed around the pond, with moving heads on top, all in support of the water show. This creates a beautiful show of dancing fountains set to music, and one of the best in the world.
Their latest coaster - Baron 1898 - was completed on 1st July 2015. A Bolliger and Mabillard Dive coaster, it costed a total of €18 million, one of the most expensive purchases. The dive coaster is one of the smaller models, with a height of only 98ft and a maximum vertical angle of 87°. The attraction is praised for its heavy theming, some of the best in Europe, and detailed storyline. While the layout is sometimes criticized for its short duration, it certainly packs a punch and there's no doubt it's an incredible experience overall.
The latest addition to be added was new for new for 2017 attraction: Symbolica. The trackless dark ride tells the story of visiting King Pardulfus, the owner of the palace. After watching a pre-show featuring 2 impressive animatronics, riders then are taken on a tour by a character named Pardoes, who guides them through the hidden parts of the palace, where nothing is quite what it seems. Manufactured by ETF Ride Systems, the attraction uses world class technology, and utilises 3 different tours: Music, Hero and Treasure. Each takes a similar route, however vary slightly in the route that they take. Within the castle, there are a total of 12 incredibly detailed scenes, and each car visits 9 during its journey. All tours end in a finale in which they dance around each other in a grand ballroom, interacting with the other vehicles. It was a massive hit, reaching the top spot dark ride for many, and continues to be praised for its highly detailed theming, story line, technology and animatronics. It was the most expensive attraction at €35,000,000, but there is no doubt that it was definitely worth it.
So there it is, the history of the Efteling. It's came a long way, from its founding state of a Sports Park, to the magical theme park we see today, and is certainly more than what meets the eye, with this historic park.
A short history of Efteling by Finlay Cooper