I was initially going to paste Howie’s trip report and change a few words, but I didn’t want a lawsuit on my hands. Basically, Howie had previously planned to hit Efteling, Toverland then Phantasia & Movie Park with the GF crew before rounding up the trip at Walibi Holland. I had previously visited Toverland & Phantasialand (but not for a while) and was keen to get back for… Taron. Can’t lie, Taron was the main target on my hit list. And to enjoy it with goons would be a privilege. I also expected Movie Park to be fun due to the company; and Star Trek looked pretty interesting. Anyway, after meeting Howie at the airport on Monday morning, we flew into Amsterdam Schiphol and got all the car hire faff out of the way. KLM cake & water aka breakfast Goon Express ready to depart. Our first port of call was a mildly wet Amsterdam. Some perfectly legal items were purchased, then it was back on the road, swerving between oncoming trams and curious looking cyclists as we tried to navigate our way out of Amsterdam and to the first hotel. TUESDAY 10TH - EFTELING Woke up pretty fresh and enthusiastic for the first park of the trip. I was a bit anxious as to how busy Efteling might be. We had booked on what was meant to be a quiet day, but this was one of the parks I’ve heard can be rammed quite often despite the time of year. The drive from our hotel in Tilburg to Efteling was probably about 15-20 mins from what I can remember. Nice and easy. The sky looked somewhat gloomy, but as we pulled into the car park, the sun broke through a little bit and gave everything an extra autumnal glow. Oh, and the car park was completely empty. Win/win. Eerily quiet. Beautiful. I’ve seen the Efteling entrance countless times in photos online etc, so I thought the whole ‘woah’ feeling wouldn’t hit me, but it did. The smallest chink of sunlight, the enchanting entrance music and the copious golden leaves scattered across the pathway, had created a magical feeling before I’d even gone beyond the entrance. A fantastic start to the trip. We agreed to start with Baron, since y’know, it can be difficult for a goon not to immediately sniff out a B&M at the first sign of one. Plus, the other major creds were in that vicinity. So, off we went. Along the way, I got my first real impressions of Efteling from inside the park. Clearly this was a well kept park, but I was already expecting that much. What surprised me is how consistent this was throughout such a big place. Literally no litter in sight. Music that flows almost seamlessly from one area to the next. Music and themes which would usually do little for me. It all seemed to fit so well with the time of year. Fountains appear thick and fast here. And what do we have here? I wasn’t really bowled over by the sight of Baron though. It certainly doesn’t look imposing, and I suppose the whole dive machine concept works so well based on that notion. The colour scheme was not complemented by the now mundane sky, and the trees in that area weren’t as colourful or seasonal as the others around the rest of the park. Also, I couldn’t help but have a certain image of Baron in my head, particularly one carved from that almost iconic photo taken by many of you at last year’s Ghosterforce. The blue sky and low lying golden sun matched with Baron’s extensive artificial mist and the train dangling over the drop proudly. I’m sure one of you can pull that photo up. Those custom supports are fab. Instead, I got Barren 1898. Alright, it wasn’t that bad. Once we got up to the half-empty entrance and were equipped with our quirky ride tickets I got the feel for it pretty quickly. The entrance is nice, as is the music and pre-show. The ride experience was very fun, my first go actually reminded me of Daemonen weirdly, I couldn’t tell you why specifically. Our second ride was front row and a few hours later in the day, and I thought that ride was a lot better. Felt much floatier and that drop is just much more enhanced when you aren’t half staring at a seat in front of you. Yeah, it’s a really fun coaster. The theming and overall package is much more impressive than our own dusty old Oblivion. I still prefer the shorter ride experience of Oblivion, however. Money shot. Pre-warning for the rest of this report. A ton of this won’t be in order. We shifted over to Joris next. Again, doesn’t actually look visually impressive upon approach. That’s not to say all the little touches aren’t fantastic - because they are. The Dragon is really cool, the cobbled paths are all very nice and I do love the way it sits right beside the lake close to the other big coasters. I reckon Joris would suit being alone on that lake though, and Baron could've easily had it’s own area. But yeah, there’s something odd but interesting about this set-up. So, Joris. Didn’t really have a clue what to expect. I probably haven’t seen a POV of this thing since it opened. I loved it! Firstly, that station music is super catchy and weirdly motivating. I was just eager to jump on and enjoy the experience. Think our first go was on the blue side (back row). I was surprised by how much lateral force you get on the initial turnaround before the drop. It really opens up for some great airtime moments on the first few drops and turns. One of my favourite sections is where both tracks intertwine by the bank of the lake. It also has a really good pace which is an important factor of a coaster for me. Isn’t it quite disappointing when a ride starts out really well and then just simmers out very noticeably? Lovely stuff. After 4 rides on Joris in total (2 on each side, front & back) I reckon I prefer the blue side. Not by much, they are pretty similar aside from a couple of little sections. Great overall woodie. Love the boos & cheers after completing the race. We won 1 ride in 4, so plenty of boos for us. This coaster & theme made me feel like the whole Medieval England thing is really under utilised by some of our UK parks. It’s a really rich period with lots of creative possibilities for a theme park to work with. Merrie England is a prime example, ‘cause it was pretty turd, wasn’t it? And Camelot did give it a good go to be fair, but they just didn’t quite hit the mark when it came to quality. I’m talking about a Klugheim level themed area, with a nice big ass medieval coaster, and a slightly pretentious restaurant complete with roaming characters, ambient music and 1 hours exclusive ERT after park close for hotel guests We aimed to hit Python right after a few rounds on Joris, but on the walk over I spotted a couple of workmen on a cherry picker faffing with the track. Bit annoying but I wasn’t going to be too picky because a. it doesn’t look that great and b. I was just appreciating the unusually dead park and the fact we would be able to re-ride most things at will. Oh wellll. Since it was also in the area, it was time to experience Vliegende Hollander. The queue time was apparently 15 mins but we walked right onto a boat. The station was gorgeous, it’s a shame it was too dark to get a decent photo, but I’m sure everyone has seen it by now. Here's the famous 'outside bit'. The initial dark ride section was so epic. It’s a pretty simple set-up mind you, but that little lantern at the front of the boat coupled with the effective use of the mist and also that haunting music. So good. I love dramatic dark rides. Once you hit the outside part, it feels a wee bit anti climactic and generally the coastery stuff is meh. The first drop into the misty tunnel is pretty cool, but going from a s**t hot dark ride section back into daylight just didn’t have much of a punch. Mist is to Efteling what HB leisure is to Alton Towers. From here, we decided to delve further into uncharted waters on the hunt for the missing creds. We took a few wrong turns here and there, and as a result managed to see some lovely things. A weird little hedge maze? Luvvley. Howie made this local chap look worried. It was time to head to Vogel Rok. I have to admit, I love indoor coasters. Especially the REALLY dark ones, the sort that enthusiasts find boring. Basically ehawk, except to me it’s Alrighthawk. Vogel Rok certainly has the superior entrance. Probably my favourite entrance for an indoor coaster. It’s got a bit of a classic Hollywood feel to it, with the painted backdrop like an retro film set. I love that the bird actually moves too. We managed 2 rounds on this, but one was later on in the afternoon. I thought it was another really fun coaster. Better than Alrighthawk. The soundtrack, again, fantastic stuff from Efteling. And this one wasn’t pitch black, but I liked that there were some points of reference (some nicely lit sections) as you whizzed round with this epic music blasting. It was generally a good bit of fun. Spot the Howie And off we went again. This time to the last cred of the day? Or maybe it was Vogel Rok last? Lost again. But while we’re at it, shout out to those Unox hot dogs sold around the park. Really tasty mustard on those bad boys! Anyway, we did Bob and I actually enjoyed it. Bit more snappy than the Mack versions, but I love how weirdly steep some of the drops are, and how out of control they feel compared to the Macks. Nice to bag this little gem before it gets torn apart. Bob is probably the most ‘authentic’ bobsled experience I’ve had. Maybe they’ll become popular again in like 30 years, when all the future hipsters want to revive all the dodgiest, roughest coasters and charge even more to go on them. You’ll probably see a few in Shoreditch soon actually. Since all the creds cough Python cough were now done, we went on a mission to discover the wonder that was the ‘big pirate ship’, which Howie had mentioned at points throughout the day. As the day progressed however, Howie had started to doubt whether said ‘big pirate ship’ was really that big. Turns out it was pretty big, and we enjoyed it enough to re-ride later in the day. Woo! The bins at Efteling are brilliant. Look at this handsome devil. Then, we decided to do a dark ride run, starting with the newest first. What did Symbolica have to offer us? Well, firstly a very delightful looking exterior. You can tell the owners have splashed out a bit on this thing, because it’s now almost the centre piece of the park. The queue is also very interesting, and quite a good experience itself. I probably think this partly because I didn’t have to stand around ages and queue in it, but also the little pre-pre-show section and the journey beyond the magic staircase and down into the deep underground is decent. And then we come to the ride experience. It’s interesting. I’m actually finding it hard to elaborate on that. But I’ll try. Basically, I thought it was interesting from a technical perspective; to see so much going on at once, lots of advanced set pieces as you swiftly glide from one room to the next in the trackless car. All the timings were spot on regarding the music, lighting, animatronics and movements. My bug just happens to be that there’s no real consistency or narrative as such. Or not that I could deduce from each scene I saw. Dark rides like these are really enhanced by a narrative/dramatic progression of sorts, but I felt like there was just a linear journey through random sequences on this. Cool sequences, but nothing to fully draw me into the spectacle. More general loveliness as seen around the park. By this point I’d remembered that Fata Morgana was a dark ride and existed here, at Efteling! I had no idea what it was like at all, but we decided to hunt it down in this maze of a park. Along the way, we spotted a ride that Howie very briefly remembered riding (and enjoying) on his last visit years ago. And once again, we walked right on. The ride was Droomvlucht, by the way. And to my surprise, I enjoyed it slightly more than Symbolica. Is that mental? So what did I enjoy about this ride? To put it quite simply, the imaginative sets, the artistic direction, the way the ride works it’s way around particular scenes (almost like a film camera tracking in and around) setting a magical mood. A great example of this is in one of the final scenes in a rainforest. The lighting is coming directly down from above, lit carefully to mimic the sunlight casting onto the trees. The music is tranquil and mysterious. Lots of waterfalls and mist (which I now realise is a staple of Efteling) with animatronics. I also love the Castle/planet scene. Gives me some weird 70’s fantasy vibe. Thumbs up from me! Next came the rapids. Pretty fun, but the theme seems at odds with the rest of Efteling. I suppose this whole area has a mish mash of themes, but Pirana’s seemed to stick out a bit more than the others. Needs more pixie dust. All great theme parks have a token madhouse, and Efteling is no exception. Villa Volta is perhaps the brightest madhouse I’ve actually done… I think? It’s definitely better and more interesting than most - partly for that reason. It’s also another pretty ride on offer here, so another thumbs up from me. Pagoda. Pretty ride. Thumbs up. Pretty area. Thumbs up. Thumbs up. By this point I was getting a bit pissed off. Where were the crappy bits? No cheap game stall to throw the magic off kilter. No school kids with fidget spinners to drag me back to reality. This was a really decent experience, just walking around an empty park with things to see as well as ride. One thing we unfortunately missed out on was Raveleijn. But we did eventually find Fata Morgana which we thought was very easy to miss if you were casually passing it. This was another ride that I got a different ‘vibe’ from as we plodded through the queue. I now know it’s all inspired by 1001 Arabian Nights etc. Just going to cut to the chase on this one, favourite dark ride in the park. One of my favourites ever actually. Now I’m not saying it can rival Symbolica or anything that expensive and modern in the technical department. But, like Droomvlucht, the effects it uses are simple, effective and most importantly, they aren’t the only thing drawing your attention. The ride is tied together through themes of Arabian culture, from scenes of wealth and gluttony to poverty and torture. Everything seems to get progressively darker thanks to some more faaaantastic music and use of lighting and set pieces. The scenes are less ‘intense’ than the previous dark rides in that you have more time to fully digest each detail before you move into the next room. It’s just really, really good. You can tell it’s not new or particularly modern, but still, there’s just something about how everything comes together that is still genuinely impressive. I’ve never really heard what other people who have experienced Fata Morgana think of it - so please let me know if you agree or not! After a few more re-rides on some coasters and things (big pirate ship ) we rushed through the fairytale forest in an effort to see the last few bits of the park whilst making our way to Aquanura, the end of day fountain show near the front of the park. I love how Efteling's characters all have an unusually disturbing facial expression. Resting fish face. The show was a fab ending to the day, a decent length and far more grandiose than I expected from Efteling. And there was fire! And more of the charming music. Charming is generally a good way to describe Efteling, and my experience there. I was initially sceptical but I was won over almost as soon as I walked through the entrance. Maybe I was just lucky and came at the right time of year. But credit where its due, Efteling is a park that doesn’t rely on big rides, or even rides at all. It all relies on a feeling. And to be fair, there was no poor ride experience for me. Everything was of a high quality, even Symbolica, despite my mixed opinions. And that is why I rate this place, and am more than willing to come back and share experiences here with more friends and hopefully family too. It’s a park I think a wide range of people can enjoy for a variety of reasons. A thoroughly pleasing farewell, until next time. But the story doesn’t quite end there. We journeyed over to Sevenum, in preparation for our visit to Toverland the next day. Turns out that the cheapest hotel we booked was this night. And after checking in, we were both chuffed to find out it was needle free! Also - free bottle of Merlot! I don’t usually drink wine but… go on then! There was also a bath and a separate shower in our en suite which was cool. Definitely the best budget hotel I’d been to. Worth a punt if you’re ever visiting Tover. Romantic. Howie was chuffed with the wine! And that was our first day wrapped up. Thanks for reading!