Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Netherlands by sea- then a Dutch flight

The Flying Dutchman is the stuff of legend. Many myths and stories surround the ghost ship that sails the seven seas, the sighting of which is regarded as a bad omen for mariners everywhere. When Efteling, Holland's premier theme park, wanted to challenge the industry with a world class ride, they chose the Dutchman legend for the theming.

The ride was due to open in April 2006, however technical problems thwarted this and it actually opened for the 2007 season on April 1st this year, twelve months late.

The new ride is located on a lake shore in an area already with a nautical feel- a huge pirate ship called the Half Moon is nearby, as well as a spinning ride where your carriage is ship-shaped. There are two roller coasters nearby- Python is a steelie with white tracks, whilst pegasus is a Woodie that borders the lake setting.

As the ride comes into view, the show building is a sight to behold. It is a 17th Century mansion in Dutch style in stone and timber, with balustrade gargoyles and dormer windows made from up-ended ship bows. An ominous tower can be seen towards the back of the house, with roller-coaster tracks emerging from on high and tipping sharply down into the abyss below. A catchy seafaring hornpipe tune can be heard, which follows you on your journey.

A queue space outside zig-zags through ropes, eventually leading to the front door of the house. Inside, it is rather bleak and grey, with smoke-damaged pictures and slightly lighter squares where pictures used to be. Passing through several rooms, a mirror transforms into the face of the flying Dutchman who gives ominous warnings (in Dutch).

The internal queue space continues through a large (ripped) framed canvas picture of a ship and downwards through a dark secret tunnel. In nearby cellars, glimpses of forgotten treasure can still be seen. As you make your way downwards, roars and footsteps can be heard above whilst smoke and ghostly red light seeps downwards.

Eventually, you reach a stone staircase, which leads you into the upstairs rooms of an inn and what looks like a chaldlers. Through occasional windows, glimpses of a bustling harbour can be seen. On leaving the upper floors, you are on a stone gallery looking out onto a 17th Century harbour night scene which is a hive of activity (well, of fellow riders queueing for their turn).

Down the stairs to above dock level, and here you make your choice to go left or right down more stairs. There are two loading platforms with a central island platform for the loading crew. (Apparently the disabled get to ride twice when there are an odd number of cars running as only one platform has access facilities with no way of getting wheelchairs across to the other side).

Each ride car holds fourteen people (in a 3-4-3-4 configuration) and the back two rows are elevated in order to see over the headrests of the rows in front. The car is boat shaped with an ornate lion shaped inner prow, supporting a flickering bows lantern.

(Apparently, the ride can run 11 cars maximum, with six in the station and the other five in various blocking zones around the ride).

On boarding a large padded lapbar holds you firmly in place. With various creaks and groans, eventually the ship commences its journey into the unknown.

On leaving the station and passing under the people queueing on the stairs, you slowly head out to sea between the hulks of two large vessels. One is busily loading supplies, whilst the other is hauling up water in a leaky bucket. You notice that the ships both have Lion prows and that there is a distant storm approaching.

Discreet doors slide quietly open ahead and you enter a mist. This mist rapidly becomes so foggy that you can hardly see the lantern in the Bows and if you are wearing glasses, they suddenly become sodden. Eventually you emerge from the mist into a storm. In between thunder & lightning flashes, you can discern a curtain of water ahead. On this wall of water, a ship appears and is rapidly bearing down on you. Suddenly you lurch upwards and the golden form of a prow can be seen above as you suddenly lurch down into the abyss. A striking musical chord is heard and the walls light up as a watery red. You rapidly make your yourney steeply upwards at at the top the ghostly image of the Dutchman steering the ship can be seen. Then the boat tilts downwards again, the doors open to the outside and you are on your way round the track. Swooping steeply down into a mist filled tunnedl, you bunny hop into a horseshoe bend and slow into a block brake section in an elevated barn structure. Your momentum carries you on outwards over another hop and then down into the splash zone, your boat burning off speed as flumes of water shoot into the air either side of you. You gently trundle back along the lake shore and then back into the show building, where you disembark, exhilerated and not too wet.

They spent more than $25,000,000 on this ride, much of which would have went on the theming and effects. Is it worth it?

Well, a qualified yes. It is supposedly a high throughput ride, rated at 1,900 people per hour. To achieve that figure though, it needs to despatch a boat every thirty seconds and they are nowhere near that, more like 60-90 seconds. Consequently, it gets big queues (45 minutes when everything else was 5-10 minutes). The effects indoors are a little tricky to see, especially for spec wearers. We rode it twice and David wasn't too keen the second time as he doesn't like the dark bits. Unfortunately, our second ride was extremely quirky, we stopped in every internal scene, the effects played their repertoire and then we were just in the dark for another thirty seconds or so before lumbering onto the next zone. It gave me a chance to take in some of the subtleties of the design but we all had visions of the thing packing in and us having to be rescued on planks and waders. We headed straight there at rope drop and had to wait outside for ten minutes or so as they advised us that it sometimes took a while for the ride to get going in the morning. (Indeed, it was still rather lethargic for us!)

It is worth a twenty minute queue but no more than that and the outside bits aren't particularly high adrenaline. You can find buckets out about it at the dedicated website- www.dvhe.nl (in Dutch, I'm afraid, but includes a live Webcam).

2 comments:

james higham said...

And people enjoy this sort of thing, do they, Ian?

Delicolor said...

James, of course they do, people like to feel out of control in a controlled environment. It isn't as dangerous as Bungee jumping but they aren't called thrill rides for nothing.