Attraction Review: Symbolica at Efteling

July 9, 2017

* This article contains spoilers. *

Concept Art by Sander de Bruijn
On July 1, 2017 Efteling's newest attraction Symbolica officially opened, in honor of Efteling's 65th anniversary. In this trackless dark ride, guests are invited for an audience with King Pardulfus Domerano and will be led through the magical and hidden rooms of the Palace.

Symbolica: The Palace of Fantasy was realised in a year and a half, at a cost of 35 million euros and is the biggest and most expensive attraction in the history of Efteling.

The roof of the palace is 9 meters high and has 8 towers on top. The largest tower is 20.8 meters tall and weighs 16,000 kilograms. Efteling installed about 800 solar panels on the roof of the palace. Together with plants that attract butterflies and bees, these solar panels create the impression of a roof garden when viewed from above.

Photo by Efteling

The attraction uses a trackless ride system, the ETF Multi Mover. These Fantasy Carriages can transport six people and will take one of three different tours (Music Tour, Heroes Tour, or Treasures Tour). Each of these tours offers a different adventure, with interactive elements. There are 34 Fantasy Carriages in total, two of which are suitable for disabled guests. The advantage of this trackless ride system is that that the vehicle can follow different routes inside the attraction, it can move forward and backwards, rotate completely, slow down and even accelerate in certain scenes.

Concept Art of the Fantasy Carriage by Efteling
On July 3, 2017 My mother and I finally had the opportunity to discover what the designers of Efteling had created.

From the main entrance of the park, you now walk straight towards a beautiful palace at the end of Pardoes Promenade, surrounded by 2,500 square meters of sculpted rock. It's definately an eye catcher, with the pretty fountain (featuring a "dancing" pearl) in front of it. Even though it's a new attraction, the palace fits in perfectly with Efteling's older attractions because of its style and color. It's as if it has always been there.

This whole area, with the pancake restaurant Polles Keuken next to it, feels so much more alive now. And it has become a lovely area where you could simply sit on a bench and enjoy the atmosphere.

Efteling renamed this area to Fantasierijk and the name of the square has been changed from Brink to Hartenhof. Hartenhof was actually the name of the attraction that was originally planned to open in 2012, for Efteling's 60th anniversary. It was based on the world of Pardoes and the planet Symbolica (where they speak Symbolican). But the name Symbolica is definately a better (easier to pronounce) name for the attraction, now that the park wants to become an international tourist destination.

On the columns next to the palace gate, you'll see the waiting times for the attraction. You can either choose the standby line, which is the normal queue for the attraction, or the single riders line. Because the single riders line was almost just as long as the standby line, we chose the normal queue.

As soon as you enter the waiting area you'll find yourself in a beautiful palace garden, with trees as old as Efteling, topiaries and lovely rose bushes. You'll also discover two beautiful pavilions (each 10 by 10 meters) that protect guests from the sun and the rain. They are in the same detailed style as the palace gate. It's a pieceful place where (again) you could easily stop and sit on a bench for a while, íf it wasn't a waiting area where you're expected to move on.

Photo of standby line (@Eftelwesley)
The queue was very long during my visit, but the very funny etiquette announcements by Lackey O.J. Punctuel on the sound system made everyone laugh and smile and definately made the wait feel shorter. The announcements were in English, German, French and Dutch, just like the pre-show. In this waiting area there are also etiquette rules to prepare the guests for their audience with the king and riddles written in Symbolican to solve.

However, it was very sad to see some bad guest behavior. The attraction had only been open for a few days and already so many rose bushes had been stepped on by guests. Maybe some low fencing would solve this problem in the future? I also noticed a lot of rubbish in the bushes. Maybe adding a few more bins could reduce this problem?

After the walk in the palace garden you go up the stairs, through the large wooden doors and enter the reception hall of the palace. There you are invited by Lackey O.J. Punctuel for the audience with King Pardulfus Domerano.

The reception hall (61 by 60 meters in size) is one of the many rooms of the Palace of Fantasy. It's very colourful and detailed and features a large staircase with an animatronic standing on it. Efteling introduced the character O.J. Punctuel on their "Making of Symbolica" YouTube series. Because of this great marketing, the animatronic doesn't need much introduction and you jump straight into this believable world that you've become familiar with over these past few months. For the pre-show, a certain amount of guests are let inside the room and then the door closes.

During the pre-show, another animatronic appears at the top of the stairs, Pardoes. I think the voice of this character doesn't really suit him and takes us out of the experience a bit. Also, because the character doesn't have a voice when he walks around in the park (as Efteling's mascot), maybe it would've been better if Pardoes didn't speak at all and O.J. Punctuel did all the talking instead?

The effect of the staircase is really amazing! With a lot of sparkles, the staircase splits in two and creates a passage for the guests. However, the second time I experienced Symbolica, the staircase took a long time to split in two. Hopefully this won't become a reoccuring problem for the attraction.

We leave the reception hall and enter a long hallway and staircase with instructions on the wall showing us there are three tours and we have to choose one of them. A few meters from the boarding station, there are three lines, with three banners above them indicating the three different tours. In the single riders line, you can't choose which tour to take.

We were able to ride Symbolica twice on the day I visited. The first time we chose the Music Tour and the second time the Heroes Tour. I prefer the Heroes tour over the Music Tour, because the carriages seem to move closer to certain objects and I could see certain effects a bit better because of the position of the carriage. But maybe just riding a second time has something to do with that too.

What I really like of the boarding station is how much space there is. On other attractions, guests are often guided to a small line with a number and have to stand closely behind each other. But here at Symbolica, there are three separates spaces, for the three different tours. You all stand next to each other, waiting behind the gate for your carriage to arrive.

The Fantasy Carriages have a lot of space inside them too. Even with three adults sitting next to each other, there is still plenty of space left. They are also very comfortable to sit in and the movement of the carriages is very smooth.

The attraction contains eleven different scenes. On every tour you will see nine scenes. To see them all, you'll have to ride the attraction three times. The ride is about 7 minutes long and the capacity of the ride is approximately 1,400 people per hour.

Concept Art of the Observatorium by Sander de Bruijn (@cindy_ve/looopings)
The ride starts at the 'Observatorium', where you'll see Magician Almar studying the universe. Almar is the most beautiful and detailed animatronic in this ride. The other animatronics in this ride seem to move less smoothly and look more animated. The animatronics in Symbolica were created by Garner Holt Productions, who also create the animatronics found in Disney's theme park attractions. After an animatronic Pardoes appears again and casts a spell over our Fantasy Carriage, the carriage moves faster and things start to come alive as we arrive in the next room.

The 'Panorama Salon' contains a painting of a landscape and a collection of butterflies displayed in jars. Then there is this beautiful twinkling effect that reminded me a lot of Mystic Manor at Hong Kong Disneyland. The Fantasy Carriage turns and we see this Droomvlucht/Diorama-like miniature landscape where suddenly beautiful large butterflies appear from above. The butterflies seem to have come alive because of the spell.

Still impressed by this scene, we go on to the next scene, the 'Botanicum'.
At that moment, I wished I could step out of the carriage to stay in both these scenes for longer, to take it all in. The rooms are so detailed, so beautifully designed. Also at the Botanicum there is so much to see, such as a gorgeous large flower that moves. The tropical greenhouse is definately one of the highlights of the ride. The glass of the peaceful Botanicum suddenly transforms and we see this large whale. Wow! The glass starts to crack and water starts to leak in. It's one of the ride's most amazing special effects.

The Fantasy Carriages have an interactive dashboard, which guests who sit in front can control. On my first ride, the on-board sound effects of this dashboard seemed to be constantly on and was very loud, which took me out of the experience, because it was hard to hear the music over it. I also noticed that the kids in the front of the carriage kept looking at the dashboard screen throughout almost the entire ride! Even on my second ride, this happened again, which i found quite sad. They should focus on what's around them, not just what's on the screen, as most of them already look at screens so much every day.

After the Botanicum scene Pardoes appears and shows us the way out.

The carriages split up and move to the special tour scenes: 'Muziek Salon', 'Helden Kabinet' and 'Schatten Boudoir' (Music Lounge, Heroes Cabinet, Treasure Boudoir). This scene is almost the same for all three tours. The carriage stops in front of a mirror, where we see ourselves sitting in the carriage. This is the moment that our photo is taken. Objects appear on the mirror and the interactive part starts. Guests sat in the front of the carriage, can play a little game by pressing the buttons on the dashboard. However, it wasn't entirely clear what the intention of this scene was.

The carriages move through the 'Verborgen Fantasie Depot' (Hidden Fantasy Depot), a large room with lots of cabinets and details to see. There is so much going on here and there are some great effects, like books that turn their pages on their own. Depending on the tour you choose, the carriages move to a second scene where the interactive dashboard plays another role. On the Music Tour, guests can play an instrument and on the Heroes Tour, guests can make suits of armour fight each other, all by pressing buttons on the dashboard. Although it might be fun for kids, to me, this interactive dashboard seems totally unneccessary in an attraction of this calibre.

All the carriages come back together and we move through the 'Koninklijke Champagne Voorraad' (Royal Champagne Stocks), where champage corks pop and pass through the 'Provisie Passage' (Provision Passage) where Polle comes out of the kitchen to serve pancakes. I definately need more rides to really take in what all these scenes have to offer!

Concept Art of  'Nikkelen Nelis' by Robert-Jaap Jansen & Jeroen Verheij
Finally, we arrive at the 'Koningszaal' (King's Hall), a colourful room with a large table of food. Behind this table are animatronics of Pardoes, King Pardulfus and his daughter Pardijntje, who welcome us to this ballroom scene. On the side is Lackey O.J. Punctuel, awaiting our arrival.

Large mirrors adorn the walls and cute armoured one-man-band animatronics on the side of the room, play along with the music, while guests of the king are seen dancing.

A press release mentioned that the Fantasy Carriages would "dance" through this room. I didn't expect it, but it was true. I was very impressed by the movement of the carriage, especially in this room. It really felt like we were walzing through the royal chamber and it made me smile from ear to ear.

The very last scene of the ride is the 'Galerij der Fantasievollen' (Gallery of Imaginers), a wall with photos of the guests that are taken during the tour along with some photos of the residents of the palace. If you've decided to buy the photo, you can do so in the unload area of the ride.
There is also some Pardoes merchandise that guests can buy.

The soundtrack for Symbolica is beautiful. I had very high expectations for the music and I was not disappointed. The music was composed by René Merkelbach and performed by the Galaxy Symphonic Orchestra in Belgium. Every scene in the ride has it's own beautiful variation on the theme: mysterious, dreamy, a waltz; Symbolica has it all. Hopefully Efteling will release a CD of this music in the future.

René Merkelbach has been composing music for Efteling since 2006 and has created some incredibly beautiful work. For example, the music for Baron 1898, De Vliegende Hollander, Joris en de Draak and the new Park Area Music.

Concept Art of the Exterior of the Palace

To conclude, Symbolica is a great attraction! There is so much detail, both on the outside of the palace and on the inside of the ride itself. The ride is just... wow! Goosebumps! There is so much going on, so much to see! The amazing soundtrack definately plays a big part in it too.

I had very high expectations of this new ride and wasn't let down. At times, it reminded me of Mystic Manor at Hong Kong Disneyland. I had hoped for an attraction like that, so the similarity is a great thing. It's nice how Efteling's designers were inspired by Mystic Manor and made it their own, adding many other advanced effects and scenes, to create an original ride. The attraction doesn't use large screens to tell the story, like so many other attractions do these days. It is full of animatronics and props. Everything you see is "real".

One of the things that I was worried about before hand was getting sick, because of the movement of the carriages. Well, i didn't feel sick at all! The carriages move so smoothly; even the turns and waltzing motion in the King's Hall were very subtle, which was a lovely surprise!

One ride on Symbolica is not enough. I felt quite overwhelmed after my first ride. There are so many details in this ride, so many beautiful and amazing effects to see, that you have to go back on it again to discover new things. The ride immerses you in a believeable and magical fantasy world that you want to experience again and again.

This attraction is of very high quality, the theming is excellent and Efteling should be proud of this beautiful new addition to the park. I want to compliment everyone who has worked so hard to make Symbolica become a reality!