Ask anyone on campus and the chances are that at some point in their life they’ve visited Disneyland. The appeal is obvious. Most of us were raised on Disney films, and the chance to see our favourite characters brought to life is fascinating. However in both my previous visits I was left disappointed. Hordes of English tourists, queues that seem to stretch off into eternity, and the constant pressure to buy merchandise made the entire experience feel somewhat artificial.
I understand this will be a deeply unpopular opinion, and for many readers it may borderline blasphemy, but I come bearing a message of hope – there is a better alternative.
Eindhoven airport is only forty-five minutes from London. Another forty-five minute taxi ride at the other end and you find yourself in Efteling, the number one theme park of Holland. The oldest theme park in the world, Efteling retains a sense of genuine magic that some of the more mainstream parks have lost.
There are many trees and green spaces, creating a sense that you could genuinely be walking through a Hans Christen Anderson fairy-tale. There is also much more variety in terms of attractions. There are big thrill-seeking rides, but they do not overpower the park as they sometimes can. Such is its nature, you could easily spend a day in the park without going on a single ride.
However should you want to ride, you needn’t fear the queues. Dutch schoolchildren have different holiday times to their British counterparts. Due to a shortage of British visitors, this means that with a small amount of planning you can find yourself in a relatively empty park. It is not unusual to ride one of the park’s main rides, just to be sent around again because not a single other person has joined the queue. It is also nice to see Pardoes (Efteling’s equivalent of Mickey Mouse) wondering around without a swarm of children and overly-keen parents fighting for a photograph.
The lack of British influence also helps protect a distinctly Dutch culture. It is refreshing to see signs written in Dutch, rather than English or French. Nonetheless British guests are often considered a novelty, and thus exceptionally friendly staff are keen to do everything they can to give a pleasant impression. On one childhood visit I purchased two pin badges from a shop, only to be given another four for free because the shopkeeper heard me speaking English and wanted to make sure I had ‘the full collection’. The distinctly Dutch food is another gem.
Many of the attractions have not been updated in decades, providing a fascinating view into Holland’s cultural history. ‘Carnival Festival’ is the most striking example of this, where guests are taken on a tour of different countries around the world. Nationalities are represented according to stereotypes that today seem very outdated. Nonetheless in most cases the traditional feel of the place is utterly charming.
As the night approaches the Efteling hotel is the perfect place to continue the magic alive. Many rooms are heavily themed and totally unique. One room gives the impression of sleeping in a shipwreck, another a bank vault.
Since I was young, my family has visited Efteling every two years or so. Their music, their characters, and primarily their sense of genuine magic has formed a massive part of my childhood. It is the one place on earth where, for a short moment, fairy-tales and magic both seem possible.