“Dutch Disney,” except Efteling was first!
About 90 minutes (with no traffic) from Maastricht, there’s an amusement park called Efteling that’s been around since 1952. If you are a die hard Disney fan, you’d probably come here and say “hey they just copied the Disney concept” but, in fact it is widely believed (never proven) that Walt Disney drew inspiration from Efteling before opening Disneyland in 1955. The concept is similar with overarching fairy tale themes, rides and experiences throughout a sprawling park. Being married to someone who grew up going to Disney World (Florida) every summer with his grandmother, I wasn’t sure if it would meet Josh’s expectations, but I have to say…leading up to it, he was just as, if not more, excited as the kids to go.
We picked Mason’s birthday weekend to go to Efteling as we like the idea of experiences as gifts and this was a pretty Dutch experience that most Dutch children have at some point. Some friends of ours suggested we try to stay at the hotel on site because your stay then gives you two days of access to the park, and this was pretty solid advice. We didn’t realize at the time, though, that it was a holiday weekend, so only the Friday night was available at one of the hotel properties, meaning we’d have to leave right after school on Friday and try to get there.
Being a birthday event, we let Mason invite a friend and, lucky for Caleb, we let that friend’s brother come along as well. This isn’t the first time our boys have traveled with Cody and Emilia and they seem to do well together. Josh scoped out a family friendly room with 2 sets of bunk beds and a parent’s room off to the side. The set up was perfect for what we needed, and we were also able to include a “birthday package” that included cake and streamers in the room.
We arrived about 5:30 on Friday and, unfortunately for us, the park closed that day at 6 (not 7 as we thought) so we weren’t able to check out any rides. We were able to check in, check out the surrounding play areas, and then eat dinner at our hotel, which was much better than I expected. We then celebrated with the cake upstairs in our room and let the kids just hang out and play for a bit before calling it a night.
When staying on site and visiting the park, it is recommended you use the Efteling app and through this app they ask you to schedule your breakfast (and dinner) reservations. The app is super easy to use, helps you look for specific rides or attractions, and even lets you order food from some of the on-site restaurants, which was handy for lunch the next day. We originally had a later breakfast reservation because that was all that was available, but since the kids were up pretty early on Saturday, they were able to seat us for an early breakfast.
With full bellies and enough coffee (for me), we checked out of our room, loaded the car back up, then took the first shuttle to the park. When you stay on site, you get other perks like early park entry through a special gate. I think we could enter around 9. That being said, much of the park remains closed, and the rides do not open, until 10. There was quite some confusion here because we could see some families walking around areas that were closed off to us, maybe they had some extra special perks. At any rate, we got in the main part of the park early and then waited by a gate for 40+ minutes. Now, it was still handy to be there early and as soon as the gates opened the kids sprinted (literally) to the first ride of the day, BUT listening to kids complain about the fairness of waiting at a gate for 40 mins is not super fun. I don’t know the best solution other than to maybe not go right at 9am to the park if you have the early entry.
Once we got in, however, we rode alllll the rollercoasters Efteling had to offer and they were awesome! 5 out of 5 stars, would recommend. We took a short break for snacks and for lunch, but otherwise we were in lines or on coasters from 10 until after 6 pm. The kids were in heaven! And yes, I rode all of them except one, because one of our friends was too short for the ride.
We stayed in the park all day until around 6, when we started to make our way out. Lucky for us we were able to snag dinner at an Italian place at the park before walking back to our car and beginning the drive home.
Efteling has much more to offer than just roller coasters. There’s a fairytale village, nicer restaurants, some motorized boat attractions that seemed way more peaceful than the rides we were on, nice park areas, shops, little rides for smaller kids, a museum, and probably a bunch of other things I didn’t even get the chance to see. If you’re in the Netherlands with kids, and have a couple of days to spend just having fun, I’d suggest heading here.
Some novice tips (I’d bet there are better pro tips out there if you search for them!)
- bring a light rain coat or quick drying clothes for the wet rides (and for Dutch weather)
- stay overnight at one of the Efteling hotel properties. We stayed at Loonsche Land Hotel. There are also bungalows that are more rustic, have a small kitchen, and some can fit larger groups. We heard that the main Efteling hotel is also great and to book a corner room if you can. In all cases, book early – the Dutch love to plan things well in advance!
- you can bring your own snacks and drinks into the park but there are also an array of places to buy those things if you want
- for the Baron 1898 ride, you’ll want to put your belongings in a locker. When we were there those lockers took a euro coin to lock and we had no coins (there are some shelves you can also use near the ride but they are not secure). So you may want to make sure you have a couple of euro coins on hand.
- download the Efteling app
- If you have the time, give yourself 2 days. If you’re staying on site, you get access for two days so you don’t necessarily need to stay two nights.
- Save the Vogel coaster for the end of your day. By that time, most of the people seem to be in the part of the park where most of the other roller coasters are grouped together, which means there’s no real wait for the Vogel. We rode that one 3 times in like 20 minutes (including wait times).
- When you need a break, there’s a place called the Nest that is a small playground. It is near the different fast food style restaurants and the Halve Maen ride. Inside the Nest is a little cafe that served these delicious cinnamon twist things called Chimney cakes. Pairs well with coffee and kids.
The rides we loved:
- Halve Maen (swinging pirate ship)
- Joris en de Draak (all wooden roller coaster)
- Vogel Rok (indoor rollercoaster in the dark!)
- De Vliegende Hollander (“Flying Dutchman”)
- Baron 1898 (have to be 1.3 meters to ride, the tallest height requirement of the roller coasters)
You can skip (in our opinion):
Spookslot – supposed to be like a haunted mansion but was pretty boring and consisted of standing in a room and watching a “scary” film more or less. I’d say if you’re needing a break from hot or rainy weather, it might be a good spot, but otherwise I’d find other rides.
Max and Mortiz – well I’m not saying to definitely skip this one. It depends on the age of the children in your group. It is a newer ride, replacing an old bobsled style one, that is a good intro to roller coaster style rides for littles. The theme is based on German cartoon characters that everyone here has grown up with and that, apparently, a lot of modern day cartoons are based on. Of all the rides we did, I didn’t care to ride this one again, but it was fine.
What else I loved:
- The park is really well organized and in true Dutch fashion, incorporates nature throughout. Lots of paths and trees and even some green space. Not a concrete jungle.
- Prices were not exorbitant. Okay, so a bottle of water was indeed 3 euros, but not crazy! Just to give an idea, we stayed one night on a national holiday weekend, had 6 people in our party, 2 days access for all 6 (although we didn’t get there in time for the first day), and including breakfast and a birthday package it was about 600 euros total. For all those things. You can’t event get just park entrance for one day for under $100/person in Disney World. Much less hotel and breakfast.
- The rides. some of the best I’ve been on!
- The commercial side was not so in your face. In Disney World, when you exit a ride, you have to walk through a store that sells all the things related to the theme of that ride. Shirts, toys, stuffed animals, candies, yada yada yada. You can’t get away from it. In Efteling, there were certainly souvenir stands and stores. Several! But not at the end of every single ride. You weren’t constantly being sold to.
In the end, it was well worth the trip, created new memories with friends, and challenged us all to up our roller coaster game. Just look at my “brave” face, compared to everyone else’s, for the Vogel Rok – the one in near complete darkness! hah!