All posts by Le Parcorama

Notre nouveau Podcast : La File d’Attente !

C’est un grand jour! Et pas uniquement parce que je poste un article sur Le Parcorama moins de six mois après le précédent – et en français qui plus est.

Avec mon compère Louis de l’excellentissime chaîne YouTube Parchéologie, nous lançons aujourd’hui notre podcast La File d’Attente! Au programme: parcs d’attractions et digressions. Toutes les deux semaines, on vous propose une petite conversation posey entre passionnés sur l’univers enchanté des parcs à thèmes.

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Top 10 : Disney Park Christmas Music

It’s early November and you’re a theme park nerd so MERRY CHRISTMAS everyone !

A while ago I posted a list of my favorite Underrated Disney Park Music, featuring all the greatest lesser known soundtracks of your favorite parks. This time, as the holiday season is starting in Disney parks—I mean those that are not closed due to COVID—I’m in the mood for sharing my favorite Christmas background music from the Disney parks. These are the cheerful atmospheric audio loops you can hear in various areas, attractions, queues and boutiques during the holiday season. They will bring a little bit of Disney Magic=&0=& to your living room for the holidays.

There is a ton of Christmas background music loops in the eleven Disney parks around the world so remember this is not a comprehensive collection but a selection of our favorite tunes. Those we like to play when we’re just chilling at home.

If you like this selection, I’ve also created a YouTube playlist out of it for your convenience. Enjoy!

Ye Olde Christmas Shoppe

This boutique located in the Magic Kingdom offers a selection of holiday decoration and ornaments. The background music is reminiscent of musicals from the 50’s and 60’s. It’s equally delightful and kitsch. It’s also our most played Christmas music loop at home.

 

Main Street Christmas Music – Disneyland, Magic Kingdom

This classic music loop has the same vintage qualities and brings typical 60’s / 70’s orchestrations of US Christmas classics. Definitely the most quintessential holiday music from the Disney parks.

 

Jingle Cruise Queue 

Since a few years the famous Jungle Cruise ride is getting a yearly holiday overlay : Jingle Cruise. The audio loop from the queue is in fact the “Global Broadcasting Service : The Voice of Civilisation” radio. It features swing and boogie woogie versions of Christmas classic songs including the Andrew Sisters and in typical Jungle Cruise fashion, some pretty quirky songs too. If The Twilight Zone – Tower of Terror had a holiday overlay, it would probably sound like this.

 

Buena Vista Street Christmas Music

From the same 30’s/40’s era, the holiday music from Buena Vista Street is just as exquisite, but with a big band twist.

 

EPCOT entrance holiday music

And now something completely different. These are basically symphonic orchestrations of Christmas songs. Epcot’s entrance area holiday music is so classic it’s almost generic. In fact it’s so generic they use the same audio loop here and there in the Walt Disney Studios “theme park”. But it will definitely get you in a festive mood nevertheless. Or at least, your mom.

 

Main Street U.S.A. Christmas music – Disneyland Paris

Unlike its american counterparts, the christmas loop of Main Street USA really puts the Euro in Disney. From the songs to the instruments and orchestration it really feels like Europe’s old tradition of Christmas markets. You can smell the muled wine just listening to it.

 

Echo Lake Christmas Music – Disney’s Hollywood Studios

Another big favorite here. It features 50’s legendary jazz and easy listening artists from Ella Fitzgerald to Dean Martin, to Nat King Cole. It just feels like Christmas in the lobby of a mid-century modern grand hotel.

 

World of Disney Christmas Season music – Disneyland =&1=&

The large boutique located at the front of Disney Village in Paris is packed with symphonic versions of the Christmas classics you need.

 

American Waterfront Christmas music – Tokyo DisneySea

If you never had the chance to experience Christmas in New York in the early 20th century, Tokyo DisneySea’s American Waterfront holiday background music gives you some joyful ragtime orchestrations of Christmas standards.

Wilderness Lodge Christmas Loop

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Watch Our four part Florida 2020 Vlog !

Last February we finally returned to Orlando! Since our last visit, so many things have changed. A ton of new rides and lands has been added. Pandora The World of Avatar, Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure, Volcano Bay, Star Wars : Galaxy’s Edge, Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway, Disney Springs and more (I’m saying ‘and more’ because it would be awkward to add Toy Story Land, Fast & Furious Supercharged, Skull Island : Reign of Kong and Ride Thru New York Starring Jimmy Fallon to this incredible list of world class attractions)

My husband Mansour and I are happy to share with you our vlog of these unforgettable weeks. As non professional vloggers (yes mom, this is 2020 and vlogging is a job) you’ll see it doesn’t really follow the traditional rules of vlogging. We haven’t covered everything you can do in Orlando and and the footage we made didn’t allow us to make an edit that follows an actual timeline. Instead, every episode will be focusing on one theme, park or land. For instance an entire episode will be dedicated to Star Wars : Galaxy’s Edge !

As French is our language, the vlog is entirely in French. But if you don’t speak French, I think it’s a great opportunity for you to make fun of us as we are painfully trying to say Runaway Railway. It’s pretty entertaining.

We hope you’ll have a good time watching this four part series. One episode released every Sunday afternoon. Make sure to let us know what you think, we love to hear your feedback. Maybe we’ll do more videos of our adventures in theme parks in the future if you like it. Enjoy!

Episode 1

Episode 2

Episode 3

Episode 4

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Review : Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway

Oh hi! You’re still here? I haven’t posted anything on this blog in two years, you’re a creep. Well thank you so much for sticking around all that time.

I had the chance to visit Orlando recently and since my last visit, there has been a ton of new additions at Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando, so in the coming weeks I’m going to review a bunch of world class attractions… If motivation remains high and coronavirus lockdown gives me time. To kick off this series, we’ll start with the newest addition that opened just a few weeks ago. Choo choo, here is your Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway Quality Control review !

As MMRR has been open for just a couple of weeks, I should warn you that there will be major spoilers in this review. You’ve been warned.

 

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First, a tiny bit of context. Runaway Railway is located in Disney’s Hollywood Studios at Walt Disney World. It is a dark ride using trackless vehicles going through the zany universe of the new Mickey Mouse animated shorts. To the frustration of #TeamNostalgia, this new dark ride is taking over the show building of The Great Movie Ride : a mock up of Hollywood’s Chinese Theater. I personally won’t miss The Great Movie Ride. I’ve never been a fan of this old school dark ride that used to take the guests through scenes of classic Hollywood movies. It felt outdated for way too long in my opinion.

From the outside nothing has changed on the exterior of the Chinese Theater, except for the addition of a very nice animated neon sigh reminiscent of the golden age of Hollywood movie theaters. Let’s enter the queue line. Certainly the most underwhelming part of the attraction. The portion of the queue line that is inside the Chinese Theater is short and looks the same as the old Great Movie Ride queue and Mickey Mouse shorts posters are displayed on a dozen of screens. That’s a bit boring but it’s nothing compared with the absolute boredom you’ll experience before, in the outside portion of the queue line, which is basically just switchbacks at the right and front of the Chinese Theater. It’s quite disappointing that there was zero budget for a little bit of theming of any sort when you see the attention Disney is putting to keep guests entertained in the queue line of all major rides and considering the immediate popularity of MMRR. Like they did not expect Runaway Railway to be a hit attraction. Huh?

Photo : Disney

Anyway, after this massive boredom here you are, in the preshow : a projection of a whole new Mickey Mouse short called Perfect Picnic. And as the film just started in this mini movie theater, an event in the animated short is causing the theater’s large screen to burst and be ripped, wide open for guests to literally walk into that gap and step inside the colorful, life-size, hand drawn world of the Mickey Mouse shorts. It’s kind of reminiscent of the famous Cinémagique effect where a performer goes through a movie screen. But this preshow effect is even more elaborate as the movie projection keeps going on while some parts of the ripped screen are torn apart and even curling. This reveal is just the first of the many wow effects that will happen in every scene of the ride.

So let’s step in Goofy’s train. It is made of five trackless vehicles. Four of them are transporting guests and the first one is the locomotive. As the train departs from the loading station, Goofy appears from a window at the back of the locomotive. If you’re in vehicle one or two, you’re in luck because it’s almost impossible to see this from vehicles three and four. The kind of issue we’ve seen previously on Mystic Manor. Then, along the path of our train appear Mickey and Minnie in their car. They are made as audio animatronics and their faces are projected from the inside, like on Frozen Ever After and Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. They’re the stars of the ride but the execution of Mickey and Minnie’s faces looks kind of weird and disturbing. On the other hand I can’t think of another way to translate such a fast moving 2D animation to fully tangible animatronics.

Photo : Disney

As Mickey’s car crashes into our train track switch, Goofy’s locomotive leaves the other vehicles of the train, which are now going on on their own. The four vehicles are travelling trough multiple large scale scenes made of one simple technique : a blend of physical sets and projection mapping. What strikes me the most was how the projections seamlessly blend into intricate physical sets and props. The work on lighting, color grading and projection calibration is truly mind boggling. The ride also heavily includes other techniques to feature media, including transparent LCD screens – the rendering is so sharp I don’t believe it’s pepper ghost. Whatever technique is used, the integration of media animation, large or small scale, is seamless and once again : Oh! So! Sharp!

I don’t want to break down the whole ride scene by scene (support your favorite on-ride POV youtuber instead) but here are a few more observations, other than the name of the ride is impossible to pronounce for a French speaking ass guest like me.

Photo : Disney

In every scene there is something happening everywhere around you. You’re literally wrapped by animation, 360°. That’s great for ride re-rideability because you’re going to need multiple rides to catch everything that’s going on. As a result it encourages you to look around in every corner of every room. However there is one scene (the tropical torrent) that is not themed on a back wall leading to the single vehicle alcove underwater scene – basically what’s behind the back of the vehicles on the picture above. It’s just plain black and it’s weird because from the beginning of the ride, the ride “teaches” you to look around absolutely everywhere, even in your back and all of a sudden you’re like, whoops this portion is not supposed to be looked at.

Daisy’s dance studio is the funniest scene (OMG HER LITTLE BOOTS!), and it may not show on video but the way the vehicles are booty-shaking their way out of the studio makes it impossible not to giggle. However the art direction of this scene feels disconnected to the rest of the ride. No animation, just a lot of humans facing a large mirror… until big ass flowers made of LED lights appear behind the mirror. It suddenly looks like real life again and also kind of tacky. At least the cute Daisy animatronic (AND HER LITTLE BOOTS I’M OBSESSED!!) saves it.

Photo : Dan Brace

Disneyland Paris’ Ratatouille attraction uses a similar system of trackless vehicles going through a blend of projection scenes and a few physical sets. Interestingly (or sadly if DLP is your home park) on Ratatouille the scene that’s the most effective compared to the rest of the ride is when each vehicle enters its own small, individual projection dome alcove. As opposed to Ratatouille,  Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway has a similar feature and compared to the rest of the ride, it’s the most underwhelming part because suddenly it’s lacking physical sets. It’s just a movie sequence without the other half needed to create the illusion that you are in a cartoon : tangible decors. While MMRR fixes the imperfections of the Ratatouille ride, which was back in 2014 Disney’s first attempt at a large scale screen-based ride, it’s another testament on how the rat ride is deeply flawed. When Orlando locals, familiar with world class screen-based rides for 20 years, will discover Ratatouille at Epcot, it’s gonna hurt.

The grand finale is a scene that looks like a factory and in a flash transforms into the park where Mickey and Minnie were supposed to have a perfect picnic from the beginning, remember? Some previous scenes did that kind of environment shift already (tropical torrent to underwater) but never to the extent of the factory grand finale. Here the physical sets where machines, gears and hardware are projected suddenly change shape and morph to appear like trees, a carousel and other things you can find in a park. It all happens so fast and it’s truly never-seen-before as a theme park special effect, it’s the perfect way to end the ride on a surprising wow effect.

Photo : Disney

Some people describe Runaway Railway as a large scale Fantasyland dark ride. I think it’s much more than than. The elaborate preshow, the trackless vehicles, the insane sharpness and preciseness of projection mapping. And the countless wow effects. MMRR is not just action packed, it’s also packed with the most advanced tech. The amount of projectors needed to achieve this instant blockbuster attraction must be crazy. Many times it left me wondering « Wait, how did they do this? » And as an overanalysing theme park nerd who has seen it all, it’s a bold achievement.

In this era of only-major-IP-based-attractions, it’s a miracle that such an innovative dark ride is based on the new Mickey Mouse shorts. Don’t get me wrong though. I think they’re excellent and in my top 3 favorite Disney productions of the past decade but these shorts feel immensely underrated to me. For a lot of guests, Runaway Railway will be their first encounter with the Spongebob style humor and divisive ugly-funny appearance of the new Mickey Mouse shorts. While most theme park fans do not like the everything-IP trend of current Disney, choosing the Mickey Mouse shorts must be saluted.

Photo : Disney

One last thing. Last year a “Black Box” dark ride rumor was floating around and supposedly in development for Disney’s Hollywood Studios. The concept : making a heavy use of projection (mapping) so theme could be easily interchangeable through times. When you think about it, with its solid projection hardware, the lighter use of physical props, and the neutral entrance and queue line, the Chinese Theater could totally be the canvas for that rumored Black Box concept, with the Mickey Mouse shorts as its first iteration. To say the least, I hope I’m wrong and it’s not going to happen.

Overall Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway has been surrounded by less buzz, anticipation and marketing than Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge and Toy Story Playland, but it’s definitely a very strong headliner attraction and the family dark ride that Disney’s Hollywood Studios needed. I understand a ride that relies so much on projection can be repulsive to some people. But believe the hype. Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway masters the theme park industry’s challenge of the past twenty years : screen-based rides are no longer a dirty word.

Thank you nerds for reading my Quality Control review. Make sure to leave a comment below or discuss on Twitter! See you in less than two years, hopefully! Jump to English version / Lire la suite

Disney to invest in Disneyland Paris with billions and IP’s

After twenty five years of turmoil, it feels kind of surreal to write about it but this is finally happening. Earlier this week, Disney CEO Bob Iger announced that The Walt Disney Company will invest two billion euro in Disneyland Paris. The new development mainly includes an important transformation of the infamous Walt Disney Studios. Three major additions have been revealed in the statement: new Marvel, Frozen and Star Wars themed areas alongside new attractions and shows. To make this announcement even bigger, Bob Iger met French president Emmanuel Macron (not related in any way to first EuroDisney ambassador and favorite gay icon of mine Sabine Marcon). But you don’t get to have brunch with a country’s president even when you invest two billion just to announce it. They probably discussed lobbying stuff like tax cuts, land and how to facilitate Disney’s buyout of EuroDisney. But for your convenience I’ll focus here on what you truly care about: attractions.

In the ill fated history of Disney’s Paris resort, the Walt Disney Studios park certainly is the darkest chapter. It has been designed with no ambition, no budget, no taste, no sense, almost no ride and technically no desire to build it. Nothing but the strict, contractual obligation to open a second theme park by 2002, as stated on the convention between Disney and the French government. Walt Disney Studios instantly became famous for being the worst Disney Park ever made thanks to its signature Basic Supermarket Parking Lot aesthetics. In my opinion, it’s not just the worst Disney park but one of the worst amusement parks ever made. But enough with the past. Those fifteen years of WDS nonsense have been painful enough. For more on the WDS fiasco, read my dedicated article.

Photo: Disney

Photo: Disney

This week’s highly anticipated announcement is the natural next step to The Walt Disney Company‘s recent buyout of the Paris resort. Now that Disney is the sole owner of Disneyland Paris, it finally has full control of what it can or cannot do. While we can’t be blind to the fact that EuroDisney minor shareholders have been pretty much robbed in the process, as a theme park nerd, I’m happy when I can visit a great, fully functional, profitable theme park. I’m even more happy when I don’t have to fly to the US or Asia and double my visit budget to do it. It’s been frustrating enough to be a European theme park nerd when the world’s greatest amusement park operator struggles so much do deliver quality investments where I live, to the point it became a joke. Yes, DLP is still Europe’s number one tourism destination but the the European theme park market leaders in terms of ambition, creativity and guest experience/service have become Europa Park and Efteling. Not Disney. *Awkward silence*

So, what’s in this announced investment plan? Two billion euro will… Wait. Let’s pause for a moment. Two. Billion. Euro. Two billion euro will be invested in Paris, *including* a transformation of the Walt Disney Studios park including new Marvel, Frozen and Star Wars inspired areas, rides and entertainment and also a new lake. These will open by phases starting in 2021 (while in an interview Bob Iger states from 2020 to 2025). The press release doesn’t go much deeper into details, but the concept art, as vague and purposely blurred as it is, maybe reveals a little bit more. Let’s now brainstorm and speculate on what hasn’t been detailed! Please note that the things presented as rumors next on this post come from reportedly insider sources from the ED92 forum.

Concept art: Disney

Concept art: Disney

Marvel Area

This might be the first phase to open to guests considering the recent announcement to revamp the stupid Rock’n’Rollercoaster into an Iron Man feat. Avengers attraction. DLP insiders also whisper that RNRC and the Moteurs Action Stunt Show are both set to close by the end of 2018. Bye Felicias. Looking at the released concept art, this new Marvel superhero land seems themed as a colorful fantasy-sci-fi futuristic land, like the overall aesthetics of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, as opposed to the long rumored New York style theme for this Marvel area. I’m curious and a little bit anxious to discover what it’s going to look like considering Disney’s attempts at doing Marvel theming so far. While the inside of Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout at Disneyland and Iron Man Experience in Hong Kong look fun and sleek, the outside of these rides is quite generic (Iron Man in HKDL) and over-the-top-tacky like it’s based on Power Rangers aesthetics (GOTG in Disneyland).

This new Marvel land seems to include Disney Channel/Stitch Live and Restaurant des Stars buildings, Blockbuster Cafe, the Armageddon soundstage and the stunt show seems to stay, but is rumored to be re-themed on The Avengers. While Tower of Terror appears untouched, some sources say it will keep the overall style and experience but get rid of the Twilight Zone IP, so it can fit the classic Hollywood entry land. And stop paying rights for an IP nobody realizes it’s here or even remembers. If true that’s a great news. Tower of Terror is badly located on the park’s map and theming it on Guardians of the Galaxy would make it look like the central icon of the parc, the one that defines the whole park is a Marvel IP. Phew!

Concept art: Disney

Concept art: Disney

I just hope the Marvel area will not just use its most famous franchises as attractions and newer characters like Black Panther, Dr Strange and

Guardians of the Galaxy

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Review: Symbolica at Efteling

In the summer of 2017, Dutch theme park Efteling opened a whole new dark ride: SymbolicaPalace of Fantasy. This is Efteling’s fourth dark ride and the first one in twenty five years. It is also Efteling’s most expensive attraction ever built. I know what you’re going to say. I’m incredibly late to the reviewing party but here is finally my nitpicky Quality Control of Symbolica. Abracadabra!

The genesis of the Symbolica project actually started around 2010. Efteling has been working for years on a very different style of dark ride code-named Hartenhof, based on Pardoes the wizard, the mascot of the park. The original storyline revolved around the universe and characters developed for the live action TV series De Magische Wereld van Pardoes, which aired for the first time in 2011. But the most exciting part was certainly the innovative ride system. Think of it as a slow moving robot arm à la Harry Potter and the forbidden journey that can carry an audience of twenty-four people instead of four. The underwhelming public reaction to the TV show and merchandise sales led Efteling to put the Hartenhof project aside for years, in favor of Fairytale Forsest, day-time show Raveleijn, night time fountain show Aquanura and dive coaster Baron 1898. Make sure to google Hartenhof because Efteling released a lot of work material back then, including scale models, artworks and blueprints.

Artwork: Efteling

Artwork: Efteling

Back to present day. Despite the TV show disappointed, Pardoes has been the mascot of the park since 1989 and has always remained very popular among Efteling’s guests. The Hartenhof project was completely reworked, including the name change to Symbolica (the fictional planet where the whole Pardoes universe happens) more on par with the new international ambitions of the park. It keeps Padoes as the main character, and the show building keeps a similar design, still located at the originally planned space, at the back end of Efteling’s main avenue, just like the castle in a Disney park. While the outside architecture of Symbolica’s Palace of Fantasy is gorgeous and fits perfectly Efteling’s signature color scheme and shapes, the building looks a little bit boxy and flattened in my opinion. Together with the main avenue called Pardoes Promenade and the recent crêpe restaurant Polles Keuken in front left of Symbolica, it’s a whole area of the park that is now entirely dedicated to Pardoes. It’s cohesive but subtle, not in-your-face, Disney-style which I appreciate a lot.

At this point of the review, I need to warn you about the spoilers that are going to fill the rest of this post. If you haven’t experienced Symbolica yet and wish to remain free from spoilers, you should stop reading here.

Photo: Looopings

Photo: Looopings

Alright let’s enter the castle through the main gate located one level above ground on the front side. This main hall act as a preshow where the audience is facing large stairs where the palace lackey O.J. Ponctueel is briefly introducing us to the world of Symbolica, and the Hartenhof castle we’re in, where King Pardulfus and his courthouse live, including Pardoes. Quick note here: there are multiple versions of the speech, which is nice because preshows can be a pain in the ass when it comes to ride repeatability. As you’re bored to death by Ponctueel’s speech, Pardoes interrupts him and casts a spell that’s literally cutting the stairs in half, revealing a secret corridor. As I wasn’t expecting it I was totally amazed by this large practical effect, complete with colorful (laser) pixie dust and thick fog. It’s a brilliant introduction that give you the feeling you’re about to discover a lot of secret stuff because the audience is invited to step in the revealed corridor. It leads you to the loading area downstairs. This stairway is probably the most underwhelming part of the attraction, due to a severe lack of theming and detail. It’s just basic and feels off theme.

Photo: Efteling

Photo: Efteling

The loading area however is your first introduction to the intimate and detail-heavy theming of Symbolica. These vaulted castle caves beautifully lit by candles are decorated with wizard stuff and also three tapestries facing the three carriages that will travel together. Music Tour, Heroes Tour, Treasures Tour: it’s up to you to chose your favorite experience. Every carriage is nicely designed in (faux) wood and can take up to six persons. At the front of every vehicle is a crystal ball lit up to the color of the tour you selected, and in the back of the car is a lovely pipe system filled with colorful liquid, purposely to magically move the carriages.

Photo: Efteling

Photo: Efteling

As the three carriages start traveling together in darker hallways lit with mysterious crystals, they immediately start to pass each other, a signature capability of trackless vehicles that feels sort of weird and gimmicky here, as the first vehicle is left alone facing a thick door. But here comes the first room, in my opinion the most beautiful scene of the ride: the Observatory. A round, domed space which is the workroom of a human looking animatronic wizard. This room is packed with props and whimsical wizard apparel like antique books, microscopes, potions and animal skeletons… On the ceiling hangs the most beautiful element: an elaborate system of rotating planets. The wizard is smoothly animated, like most of the attraction animatronics. Hidden behind his back is Pardoes, who casts another spell, but this time it’s on YOU! (in typical theme park fashion)

Photo: Efteling

Photo: Efteling

As you go further, the (laser) pixie dust is reaching more objects in the castle and seem to give them life. Here, it touches exhibited butterflies and as you’re contemplating a miniature city from a balcony, large-scaled butterflies fly over the model. I’m really not a fan of these awfully kitsch butterflies complete with obvious led light and fiber optics that don’t match the supposedly antique style of the ride. Also it’s hard not to see the direct inspiration from Mystic Manor with this laser pixie dust effect. Not just the idea (objects that come alive when they’re touched by pixie dust) but also the use of the exact same colored laser light.

Vehicles then reach the Glass Greenhouse, where various plants behave like they want to eat you. But there’s more. Behind the glass you can see approaching something unexpected: a full sized whale like there’s water outside the greenhouse. Wait. Not just a whale. A cute smiling whale that bumps into the greenhouse glass and breaks it! Actual water starts to come in the greenhouse as the cracks multiply on the glass. Hurry up, it’s time to leave this place before water fill the greenhouse completely. The effects on this scene are so unexpected and perfectly timed. It’s one of my favorite rooms in the whole attraction.

Photo: Kris Van de Sande

Photo: Kris Van de Sande

The carriages then split up accordingly to the tour you initially selected: Music, Heroes or Treasures. Again, like on Mystic Manor, your vehicle stops right in front of a mirror where a chest and various things are rotating around it. The first row of the vehicle has two touch screens where you’re supposed to touch colorful objects to do something on the mirror. Well after two visits at Efteling and riding Symbolica multiple times, I still don’t get what you’re supposed to do on the screen and what effect it’s supposed to trigger. It seems like you can either succeed at the game, or not, but again, it’s hard to understand whether you did it or not. It’s even more frustrating when you’re on the back row, with no screen. Not just because you cannot take part, but because sometimes front row riders will not even understand there is a touch screen in front of them and the whole group will awkwardly face this mirror where nothing is happening at all.

The three vehicles then leave their intimate boudoirs to travel across large and intricate vaulted caves where numerous furnitures and shelves are displaying objects that come alive. The movements of the vehicles are interesting because you’ll pass not just the vehicles of your group but also the previous group too, which creates a fun, messy atmosphere with a lot of action everywhere. This room is also one of the most heavily detailed, with a lot of props, candles, animated objects. Efteling really did a fantastic job at propping every scene on Symbolica. On the other hand, this scene has more interactivity as the carriages split up once again to face music instruments/armors/a big ass diamond in a gloriously minimalist room made of mirrors. Here again, the use of the touch screens is hard to understand. Also when you touch the screen, it takes too long between your action and the object’s reaction so you’re even less sure what you did or not.

Photo: Efteling

Photo: Efteling

You quickly pass through a Champagne and Food Stock room where crêpe chef Polles is running a cart with a towering stack of crêpes, like he wants to remind you to visit the nearby crêpe restaurant Polles Keuken. And here finally is the Ballroom, where the king of Symbolica is feasting with a large buffet filled with sweets, fruits, crêpes and cakes of all sorts that smells like strawberry candy. Basically this room has a large empty space at the center so the carriages can ‘dance’ and spin all together. It’s my least favorite scene, as there isn’t much stuff going on and this one is the closest to the part of Efteling’s signature art direction I really don’t like. You know, when character figures look like their face is melting, as seen frequently in Efteling’s Fairytale Forest, Fata Morgana, Droomvlucht and the Land van Laaf. I guess it’s a matter of personal taste as this scene was my friend’s favorite in the whole ride. Should I consider making other friends for that reason?

Before exiting the ride in the vaulted caves from the beginning, we get to see our on-ride picture on a wall full of frames displaying the various characters we just encountered, from Pardoes to the king to the cutest whale. The arrangement is lovely, but the definition of the used projector is clearly not appropriate as you can see large, chunky pixels on every frame.

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I’m not a fan of everything on this dark ride, especially some specific art direction choices, the lack of a memorable climax (the most impressive effects come during the preshow, the beginning and the middle of the ride) and the storyline is a bit unclear: what the heck is really happening in this castle? But that’s not preventing you to have a great time riding it. I guess the magic spells explain all strange and magical events. What makes Symbolica truly outstanding is the fact that it’s a purely contemplative dark ride, but in every scene there is something surprising that is never over-the-top like the big budget dark rides you can find in Orlando. Like a delicious sushi compared to a delicious hamburger, Symbolica is more modest but equally amazing because of it’s attention to detail and craftsmanship. Speaking of which, let’s go deeper into details, the work on light and music is remarkable, it makes a clever use of trackless vehicle technology and has a great quantity of props everywhere you look. Symbolica is actually the only dark ride that I know where absolutely every space is themed, from floor to ceiling. You won’t see any intrusive technical element. Even Disney and Universal rides never went that far as they usually have a lot of technical stuff hanging from the ceiling. Even the roof top of the show building received a garden like setup made of plants and solar panels, so it doesn’t look like an ugly warehouse when you’re watching the park from the sky in the adjacent Pagode panoramic ride. Detail, detail, detail!

It is a bit odd that the Mystic Manor inspiration is so obvious, but less than 99,99% of Efteling visitors will notice. At least they couldn’t pick a greater inspiration than Mystic Manor, and the things they reproduced are done as greatly as Mystic. The most important shortcoming is definitely the interactivity. It’s not just hard to understand, it’s unnecessary and in fact, very  distractive. And because it’s hard to understand, you’re looking at the screen even longer while there are tons of practical theming and effects surrounding you. That’s a bit stupid considering it’s the only dark ride of this era that doesn’t rely on projection screens… at all! As it takes out more than it adds to the experience, I would just get rid of the whole interactivity as soon as possible. It’s just very very bad.

Photo: Efteling

Photo: Efteling

Finally, a word about the budget of the ride. The cost of Symbolica is €35 million, which makes it the most expensive attraction in the history of Efteling. When you experience the greatness and discover the quality and quantity of things a regional theme park can do for that budget, it brings me even more respect to Efteling as opposed to the totally flawed experience that Disneyland Paris makes with a skyrocketing budget of €150 million on Ratatouille, an attraction mainly made of domed screens and few practical sets. I try to avoid comparing things too much, but I think it’s interesting to keep the budget in mind to fully acknowledge the efforts a team can make with creative thinking (and yeah, efficient cost management) when, like Efteling, they want to compete on the same international market as Disney in Europe. For all these reasons, Symbolica is one of the greatest dark rides I ever experienced – look where it’s ranked in my Top 20: Best Dark Rides in the World.

Thank you for reading this nerdy review! Make sure to watch the nine part making-of web series that Efteling posted on Youtube, and of course the complete on ride video below. Also, whether you have, or haven’t experienced Symbolica, I’d be curious to read and discuss your opinion about it in the comment section below!

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