Efteling is the largest theme park in the Netherlands, and as it opened in 1952, it is one of the oldest theme parks in the world. Efteling is located in the town of Kaatsheuvel, in the municipality of Loon op Zand, and has received over 100 million visitors. Originally the park catered towards children with a fairy tale theme. In over fifty years the park has evolved from a nature park with playground and a Fairy Tale Forest, into a full-sized theme park. Efteling currently covers approximately 160 acres. This area has changed only marginally over the course of its history. However, the park’s foundation owns a much larger area of land, covered mostly with young forest, some grassland, roads, and an 18-hole golf course.
It is twice as large as the original Disneyland park in California and predates it by three years. Nowadays, Efteling caters to both children and adults with its cultural, romantic and nostalgic themes and its variety of amusement rides.
Efteling ‘officially’ opened on May 31, 1952, when the Fairy Tale Forest, designed by the famous Dutch illustrator Anton Pieck, was declared open. Initially, the Fairy Tale Forest was home to some ten different fairy tales, all of them brought to life using original drawings by Anton Pieck alongside ingenious movements and lighting and sound effects designed by the Dutch film maker Peter Reijnders.
The success of Efteling has been attributed largely to its high-quality ride designs and architecture and its pleasant green environments and gardening. When Anton Pieck was asked to design the initial fairy tales for the park, he made sure the park would live up to his personal high standards: there would be no use of cheap building materials, plastic or concrete. Pieck’s illustration style, somewhat grim and dark, yet also romantic and nostalgic, was the thematic base on which most future expansions were built.
Pieck worked for Efteling until the mid 1970s, when his position as chief designer was passed on to the young Ton van de Ven. Later on he designed many more successful rides and new fairy tales, leading him to be considered by some as the world’s best ‘imagineer’ after Disney. Van de Ven continued his work until 2002, when he retired. A new team of imagineers is currently working on new Efteling rides.
Efteling has been divided in four sections: the theme park, the four-star Efteling Hotel, the 18-hole golf course and the new holiday park with bungalows. The theatre which was used for park shows is to be developed in a property to house big theatre productions which are not included in park admissions. The theatre can therefore be considered as a fifth section.
The park is divided into four themed areas or ‘realms,’ though these are not entirely comparable to Disney’s ‘lands.’ Originally, the park was divided into four areas called North, West, East, and South, with most of the park’s historical rides and attractions, like the Fairy Tale Forest, located in West.
When the park reorganized its infrastructure in the late 1990s, it also changed its area names. North was changed to Reizenrijk, West became Marerijk, East became Ruigrijk , and South became Anderrijk.
Although the park was not built with these divisions in mind and the names may seem cryptic, they do make a certain sense. Perhaps the area most suited to its name is Ruigrijk, where most fast rides like the double-loop roller coaster Python located. Marerijk is the home to the Fairy Tale Forest and the Fairies of the Droomvlucht, Anderrijk has some rides that are inspired by non-Western cultures, while Reizenrijk has the Carnaval Festival ride, which travels through several different ‘countries.’
Not only the Fairy Tale Forest, but almost the entire Efteling park was built in a rather rural area, with lots of pine trees, giving it a ‘nature park’ feeling. Together with the large ponds and gardens, the park’s abundant green space is rather unusual among the world’s leading theme parks.
Thanks to great efforts to decorate the park using loads of pine trees and thousands of Christmas lights in winter, “Winter Efteling” is growing more popular every year, reaching a climax during the holidays when thousands of people visit the park.
Efteling has a good relationship with the Disney theme parks. Disneyland Paris consulted Efteling during its construction and design phase, in order to adapt the American park to European culture. As a token of appreciation the Disney Company gave Efteling a small statue. Ton van de Ven, who designed many of Efteling’s attractions.
There is in fact a legend of sorts connecting Disney and Efteling: for years, rumors have circulated that Walt Disney got his inspiration for Disneyland, from Efteling — and in the early 1950s Walt Disney travelled to Europe a few times, visiting tourist attractions.