De Efteling is an extremely large park located a few miles from Tilburg. The park is so big that staff travel round it on bicycles. Most of this space is dense forest, with pockets of rides in places. The vast majority of attractions in the park have very high capacity, and consequentially the queue lines move quickly. This is particularly fortunate given that walk times between certain attractions can be more than twenty minutes, and Efteling does not have notice boards giving current wait times.
Tom had visited Efteling before and advised us to head directly for Droomvlucht. This is a dark ride attraction through a fairy tale world, complete animatronic fairies et al. The scenery we passed through was, without question, the most detailed I have ever seen in any theme park anywhere, and easily blows similar attractions (such as Peter Pan at the Disney parks) completely out of the water. The realism was such that only a slight amount of imagination was required to make me feel like I really was passing through a magical world.
The ride system is somewhat more complicated than what is usual for dark rides, with the vehicle speed being increased and decreased in different sections. This variable speed means that the usual system of a constantly moving conveyor belt of vehicles cannot be used, which in itself reduces the overall capacity of the system. To compensate for this, each vehicle consists of two interconnected cars, and each of those can comfortably seat three adults. The cars rotate independently to give all riders a clear view at all times.
Many people consider Villa Volta to be one of the best Haunted Swing/Mad House rides out there. The basic theory of these rides is a swing which appears to invert completely, when in reality it is the room rotating around the riders. I have not ridden enough haunted swings to rank them with any degree of certainty. Having said that, this one is certainly an impressive attraction, backed up with what is one of the most memorable and dramatic soundtracks found on any theme park ride anywhere.
The first coaster we came to was Vogel Rok (#488). The type of attraction is not obvious from the outside; all that can be seen is a gigantic model bird with a head that moves from side to side. Only the prepared enthusiast will be aware that this is, in fact, a custom designed indoor coaster built by Vekoma, complete with soundtrack composed specially by contemporary dutch author Ruud Bos. The non-inverting status of the ride means that the trains operate with lap bar restraints, and that coupled with excellent maintenance work has resulted in what is my new favourite indoor coaster. Who'd have thought it?
Carnaval Festival could be considered to be Efteling's take on the Disney It's a Small World attraction. Different animatronics, and, thank god, a less irritating theme tune combined to make for a thoroughly interesting ride. It seems only fair to note, however, that the aforementioned tune could probably become irritating very quickly if heard half as often as the Disney version!
Given the remarkable state of the park's other Vekoma coaster it seemed possible, if not altogether likely that the other one, Python (#489) might be running well too. Enthusiasts will no doubt be in stitches at this point at even the thought that a Vekoma Double Loop Corkscrew might be running well. Needless to say, my optimism was entirely misplaced, and the only thing positive to say about this useful addition to the park was that it qualified as another credit.
The wooden coaster, Pegasus (#490), was rushed into the park in order to compete with Disneyland Paris which was due to open the same year. It was suffering technical problems when we approached it, and as is usual with such situations the staff member told us that it could be either two minutes or two hours. As it turned out, the wait was closer to two seconds, as moments later the all clear was given. Tom braved the back, while George and I decided to head for the front. This turned out to be the correct decision; while the front was average, the back was apparently brutal. The one interesting thing about the coaster was the birds eye view of the construction site for next years attraction, which is apparently to be based on the Flying Dutchman. It will be interesting to see what Efteling come up with here, as given the standard of their other attractions it could conceivably be worth making a return visit for.
The Spookslot attraction appeared to be an interesting animatronic show set in a graveyard. I say appeared because, unfortunately for us, we were totally unable to pay attention to what was going on. This was due to a large quantity of children, who were climbing on the railings and talking at the tops of their voices throughout the presentation. As it turned out, this was the first of a number of school groups we saw at various stages in the day, and like all such tours, the participants were completely beyond the control of their teachers. We made a decision then and there to return later in the day, if time permitted, to take in the attraction properly.
I wasn't much looking forward to Bobbaan (#491). There were a number of issues, chief among which was my experience two years ago on a similar Intamin-built bobsled ride, La Vibora. At issue there had been the trains, which hit the brake sections in a very awkward way causing jarring and pain for the victims willing passengers. Fortunately, Efteling purchased new rolling stock this year with two across seating. The net result was a coaster which, as Tom put it, "had nothing wrong with it at all". If anyone feels like experiencing the pain from the original trains, the bible reports that they have been sold to Six Flags and are now in use on the aforementioned torture device ride.
After a lunch break we made our way over to the Fata Morgana dark ride. This turned out to be an Arabian-themed boat ride through scenery of a similar standard to we had seen earlier in the day on Droomvlucht, complete with a catchy theme tune that lodged itself firmly in my brain for the duration of the day. When writing this report I spent a few minutes trying to come up with a better description of the ride, but I was unable to do so. It seems that the designer of the official web site had the same problem!
After stopping by the car to retrieve wet weather gear, we made our way over to the PandaDroom. The decision to look at this was based, more than anything else, on its proximity to the park entrance. We had no idea what to expect on the way in, but we found an average quality 4D theatre attraction with one unique surprise at the end that I won't spoil for those reading this!
Rather than easing off as we had hoped, the rain had gotten significantly heavier as we exited the theatre. The closest attraction was the Pagode flying island, but it had just been mobbed by schoolchildren, so we went instead for the Gondoletta boat ride, reasoning that it would provide a few minutes of shelter. We missed the sign on the way in that warned of the length of the attraction, a full twenty minutes due to the boats taking a particularly lengthy routing. Notwithstanding this, though, we were so tired at this stage that the length turned out to be a blessing. Better yet, the groups had moved on from the Pagode by the time we returned there, providing a few additional minutes of peace and quiet.
A careful look at the park map showed up nothing else that we particularly wanted to ride, so we started working our way around attractions we had already enjoyed, taking in Vogel Rok, Droomvlucht, Pegasus, Bobbaan, and Spookslot. The latter was much more entertaining without screaming children, and we were able to see the various details of the show ranging from the dancing gravestones (!) to the ghostly violin playing the Danse Macabre. We also managed a quick spin on the Volk van Laaf Monorail, though the weather was so severe at this stage that using it for photography was utterly pointless.