Efteling – the Dutch Disney World

From Amsterdam’s Central Station, I set out to sample the Dutch version of Disney World, an award-winning theme park called Efteling. From studying the map and train schedules, it seemed possible as a day trip, although a long one.

You can get a direct train to the city of S’hertogenbosch – tough on the tongue – the nearest major station to the park, without having to change. As you leave the S’hert train station, immediately to the right is their bus station. You’ll quickly notice a special ticket window near the buses, with large lettering “Efteling,” easy as pie.

At this conveniently placed ticket window you can purchase both tickets for park entrance and the round-trip bus journey. Buses run about every half hour. They make a number of outbound trips to the park in the morning, then there’s a dry spell until the return trips start at about 5:45 p.m. At least that’s how it was in early May. The summer offers extended times for both the park and the buses.

Efteling is extensive, so be prepared to do a great deal of walking. It’s divided into four areas, with a central plaza, more or less. A figure called Pardoes, the magical jester, is the host at Efteling. His little stuffed shape is dressed up in all types of costumes and his face graces brochures, the park decor and more. There’s a female version of Pardoes and a child as well.

Be sure you save time for the ride called Fata Morgana. It’s the “Pirates of the Caribbean” of Efteling, complete with the requisite gift shop as you exit. Instead of happy-go-lucky pirates, the theme is Arabian Nights. Boats sail through this darkened world of life-sized auto-animatronic figures and a gigantic genie. As the vessel sails through the genie’s crouching legs, you get a very close-up view of his derriere! I rode through Fata Morgana twice and I’m certain Walt Disney could find no fault with this attraction.

Another, called Dream Flight, takes you into a dense forest filled with all sorts of pixies, fairies and troll-type figures. Instead of traveling via water, you fly through the air, sometimes fast and sometimes slow. The small, roller coaster-type cars travel along a railing attached to the roof. The car next to mine held two young boys, and, judging from their exclamations, they were enthralled. It was well done.

At Villa Volta, the pre-show was in Dutch, but I could gather something sinister and scary was going to happen. You enter a nicely furnished, normal-looking room, or so it seems. I had no idea what was in store for me, so I just followed the crowd and took a seat.

We were ensconced in two parallel sections of bench seats, when handlebars came down, bracing us in. Seconds later, the seats began swinging back and forth and at the same time the walls moved up and down, for a disorienting sensation youngsters love. I, on the other hand, kept my eyes closed for the duration.

Oddly enough, it may be the trash containers which struck me as the most innovative. At Efteling they are fanciful representations of fat men with very round faces. You put your trash into their open mouths and they speak. When you’re walking past they call out to you, saying in Dutch, “Paper here! Paper here!”

Similar to other theme parks, a small train travels around the perimeter of the park, but makes only one stop during the journey. I rode and chatted with a young couple from Brussels, who were vacationing with their little girl. Dolled up in plastic pink rain gear, 1-year old Lucille was adorable.

According to her parents, I was the first American, she had ever encountered.

Efteling is possible as a day trip from Amsterdam. I left my hotel at 8:10 a.m. and returned by 7:30 p.m. that evening. I didn’t even have to break my rule about traveling alone after dark. If you have the stamina, you could be up earlier and stay later. There is also a hotel at the site for longer stays.

I saw many adults enjoying the park, without children. One small hitch – the only maps of the park were in Dutch. But since most Dutch speak English you can always ask questions or just be brave and get in line.

From S’Hertogenbosch, trains run frequently back to Amsterdam Central station.

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