Efteling mark 65 years with Symbolica

Since the opening of a Fairytale Forest in 1952, Efteling in Holland has grown to become one of the most visited theme parks in Europe.

To mark their 65th anniversary, the theme park resort has invested 35 million euros in Symbolica: Palace of Fantasy, and we were invited to the launch.

For this special event, we were first treated to a 'royal banquet' and kept entertained throughout by various characters, before being taken for a preview of the dark ride.

The new attraction is located in the heart of the theme park, acting as a centrepiece at the end of the Pardoes Promenade. A charming palace sits atop a cliff, with a plaza and water fountain beneath it. The queue winds around the side and up to the entrance, with some boredom busting features along the way.

Once inside, a pre-show in the entrance hall introduces the characters O.J. Punctuel and jester Pardoes, before a dramatic reveal allows you further into the palace.

Entering the boarding area you can choose a Music Tour, Heroes Tour or Treasures Tour, with each taking you on a different route.

Within the fantasy-themed carriages, touch screen panels allow you to choose a language (English, Dutch, French and German) and at various points during the ride you can control several interactive features. We were lucky enough to experience all 3 tours and loved the differences, making the whole thing instantly re-rideable.

The ride lasts for an impressive 7 minutes, taking in the observatorium, panorama lounge, botanicum, hidden stores and the royal hall, and along the way you encounter various other characters including Grandmaster Alamar, King Pardulfus, princess Pardijn and kitchen hand Polle.

The new ride uses a trackless system, so carriages appear to glide effortlessly around the rooms and corridors of the palace, moving forwards, backwards, spinning around and even overtaking others. Such a system has already been used by Disney for their Mystic Manor, Ratatouille and Pooh's Honey Hunt attractions and also by SeaWorld for their Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin ride, but it's still very unusual to see and is particularly effective here.

What is so wonderful about Symbolica is that unlike so many new attractions, especially in the US, there isn't a single giant screen to be found, a need to wear annoying 3D glasses or the use of a major brand. It's a simple, joyful, fairytale adventure brought to life with beautiful highly detailed sets, animatronics, lighting, music and clever effects.

The night before the launch, we stayed in a waterfront lodge within the new Loonsche Land holiday village, which is less than a 20 minute walk or a short shuttle ride from the entrance to the theme park. The main room had 2 beds, a seating area and a television, a separate room included another 2 beds plus bunk beds, and there were ensuite toilet and shower rooms. We also had our very own terrace overlooking the lake.

Loonsche Land offers a variety of accommodation including various other lodges located in the tree and dune areas, larger holiday houses for up to 12 people, as well as standard hotel rooms in the Loonsche Land Hotel. The holiday village occupies almost 7 acres and has a lot of opportunities for outdoor play and even a small animal enclosure, along with access to the nature reserve.

Our evening meal and breakfast were both served at De Proeftuyn restaurant inside the Loonsche Land Hotel, a modern dining area with an open kitchen, high quality furnishings and contemporary natural design touches. The limited but appealing menu included soup, quiche or salad as starters, 6 mains and 5 desserts.

We enjoyed a pair of delicious salads to start; the first with prawn, avocado, tomato and mozzarella and the other with goats cheese, honey, nuts and smoked beetroot. Our mains were a gourmet hamburger from the Josper oven and a seasonal cannelloni. To round off the meal we had a delightful trio of coffee, Dutch liqueur Schrobbelèrer and a cookie. It was all really delicious. In the morning we returned for breakfast, met with a sizeable buffet of fresh and tasty food and a wide range of drinks.

Our 2-day visit to Efteling gave us time to enjoy the rest of the theme park, which includes 35 rides and attractions set within the 4 realms of Reizenrijk, Marerijk, Ruigrijk and Anderrijk.

Baron 1898 is an awesome dive coaster with a really theatrical pre-ride experience, by far the best themed B&M dive coaster we have ever experienced.

Our favourite ride at the park as was the De Vliegende Hollander water coaster and dark ride, a fully immersive queue leads to the harbour where you board a longboat and head out to sea. A pitch black and misty sea perfectly builds tension before you encounter the ghost ship and begin an exciting outdoor coaster ride leading to a water splash.

We enjoyed a great view of the park from above on the Thai inspired Pagode flying island ride, there should definitely be more of these rides around the world. The Stoomtrein gives a relaxing journey around the park with more wonderful views and it's still an actual steam train which makes it that little bit special.

The park's live show Raveleijn is a lively 20 minute romp, with a combination of stunt horse riders, falconry displays, huge set pieces and impressive special effects within a spectacular arena. It's also available in several languages with the headsets provided.

The racing wooden coaster Joris en de Draak features the two trains, fire and water, in an exciting race to finish line and a clever celebratory moment in the station for whoever wins. It's much smoother than similar wooden coasters so we thoroughly enjoyed it.

We always look forward to a bobsled ride and the park's Bob is one of the best, ditching the standard cars with inline seating in favour of sleds that seat 4 people each with 2 across. The ride delivers a lively jaunt through the trees at speed with plenty of drops. There is also the classic steel coaster Python with a double loop and a double corkscrew.

There is an eclectic range of dark rides at Efteling from the forbidden city of Fata Morgana to the impressive dream world of Droomvlucht, while the former suffers from dated stereotypes it does have some excellent scenes and the later its an absolute delight, with an enchanting journey through a world of fairies and trolls, and a seemingly free-fall spiral down through a forest at the end.

Villa Volta was the first large scale 'madhouse' attraction and still stands up as one of the best, while Spookslot offers an interesting walkthrough alternative to a traditional haunted house ride. Carnaval Festival is best avoided unless you have young children (a very basic take on the Disney classic It's A Small World) but next door Vogal Rok is a thrilling roller coaster in the dark, which is considerably better than many of its equivalents.

Last but certainly not least, the Sprookjesbos (Fairytale Forest) that started it all is still to this day one of most magical places that you will find at any theme park in the world, and you could easily spends hours wandering the winding paths through the trees and watching all 29 different fairytales brought to life. The sheer scale of it is really quite remarkable, it all looks good and works, so is still the jewel in the crown. Other special features around the park include the 'paper gobblers' that are always hungry for rubbish and the typically Dutch self-service snack walls.

We travelled to Efteling by ferry from Harwich to the Hook of Holland with Stena Line, taking advantage of their handy overnight crossings with good quality on-board accommodation, and once in the Netherlands the theme park resort isn't much more than an hour by car so it's the ideal stress-free way to get there.

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