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The Flying Dutchman (Vliegende Hollander) is the Efteling’s largest, most expensive and complex attraction ever. A never before tried combination of dark ride, walk-through, water ride and coaster, the project took the park so long to perfect that it was delayed by a full season. But just as Captain Willem van der Decken was determined to sail the Flying Dutchman ship in the legend of the same name (“I will sail, storm or no storm, even if I have to sail to Judgment Day”), so Efteling officials were determined to get the ride right before it opened to the public this Easter.
“We have amalgamated the best of several popular attractions to create an incredible total experience,” says the Dutch park’s chief executive Ronald van der Zijl. “No other park has an attraction like it.”
The e19.2 million new addition is located within Efteling’s Ruigrijk area, where most of the park’s more fast-paced attractions are already housed. As they experience the Flying Dutchman, guests are taken back to the time of the Dutch East India Company. Boarding 14-seater boats in a sheltered double loading area surrounded by replica 17th Century houses, they float off into the dark and out through the harbour walls to the accompaniment of a specially-composed musical soundtrack.
Passengers are reminded that the vessel in which they are sailing has suddenly become a ghost ship, destined to sail the seas for ever and they pass through fog, haunting projections and a six-metre drop. As Van der Decken’s house burns to the ground, the boat climbs up through a blazing tunnel (the ride’s lift hill) never to be seen again, or so the story goes.
Years later, reports were received of a mysterious ship with a blackened hull and burning sails flying over the sea at frightening speed. This is replicated on the ride as a series of coaster dips and turns (engineered by KumbaK Coasters), starting with a 45 degree drop into a misty tunnel and culminating with a camelback as the boat plunges down into a lake.
A huge splash effect is created, but riders escape relatively unscathed before floating back round into the station area almost four minutes after they left. All the time the boat is connected to a track but as it passes through the lake, the ‘sailing’ sensation is most authentic and it even rocks gently from side to side.
A total of 11 boats are used along the 420 metre-long route, providing a formidable hourly capacity of up to 1,900 guests, who must be 1.2 metres or taller to ride. The ride reaches speeds of up to 70km/h and its steepest section (the lift tower) is 45 degrees, leading Efteling head of communications Henk Groenen to comment: “It is not a family ride as such, but it is also not too scary.”
Like any good attraction, of course, there’s only one way to truly enjoy the Vliegende Hollander experience – by riding it. In the meantime, there now follow five features that make the Flying Dutchman so unique.
1 - Strong Storyline
“We want to build unique attractions,” says Groenen. “For us that means the story is very important, and I think with this attraction we have managed to build something that feels like a movie. We started with the legend of the Flying Dutchman, and therein fits the coaster, but it is the opposite to a park that will buy a coaster and then fit a theme around it afterwards. That’s why we have done a lot of the ride ourselves; we wanted to give it the Dutch style that we have become known for and there aren’t many contractors who have that signature.”
2 - Walk, Don’t Run
While the ride section lasts 3 minutes and 43 seconds, Efteling insists the complete Vliegende Hollander experience is over four minutes long, when you take into account the walk-through section at the beginning. On busy days, it serves merely as a well-themed queue line, but the rest of the time can be enjoyed as series of dark passages exhibiting the smuggled treasures of Captain van der Decken. Alas, when there is no queue, many visitors dash straight through. “The walk-through section tells the captain’s story but a lot of people run and miss most of it,” remarks Groenen, “it’s a pity.”
3 - Unexpected Effects
The major reason the ride was so late in opening is because the boats initially struggled to make a seamless transition from the water and into the lift before the coaster section. Now a block brake has been installed before the lift, but the park has used this feature to its advantage, heightening the “fire” effect inside the tunnel as an illuminated wall of water briefly surrounds the boat at either side. “We hold them there for a second, they see a red glow and then the chain pulls them up. That has actually become a particular effect of the ride and really builds anticipation,” explains Groenen.
4 - Not Too Wet
“Olaf Vugts, one of the our directors, thought it was very important that when the boat splashes into the lake you do not see only a wall of water,” reveals Groenen. “The riders must see ahead and the people watching from the café on the terrace must see the emotions on the riders’ faces in the boat.” To achieve this, pipes were installed underneath the boats so that when they hit the lake, much of the water is diffused away from the riders, while still creating an impressive splash effect. Earlier on in the ride, the water collected in the pipes as the boats float through the dark ride section sprays out in jets from underneath as they drop down out of the lift tower – another unforeseen but quite welcome effect.
5 - The Sleeping Dutchman
Families staying at the Efteling Hotel can now sleep overnight in the Flying Dutchman Suite, one of 19 very special rooms inside the themed property on the fringes of the park. On entering this newest of suites, guests hear ghostly music from the attraction and sleep in timber-themed surroundings reminiscent of the Flying Dutchman itself. The suite is full of furniture from days gone by, including bunk beds for the children, but boasts the same 4-star superior standards as the rest of the Efteling Hotel.