It begins when the stairway splits open, revealing a hidden passage.

No, seriously.

Once upon a time, Walt Disney Imagineering created the standards of the modern dark ride. The epic, wildly-scaled adventures of Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Caribbean... The "Ride The Movies" marvels of Indiana Jones Adventure, Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, and STAR TOURS... Even onward to modern masterpieces like Mystic Manor, Rise of the Resistance, and Expedition Everest. 

Image: Efteling

But make no mistake... jaw-dropping wonders await beyond the Disney Parks you know and love. Armed with in-house mythologies, increasingly accessible ride technologies, and the support of a growing industry of thematic design firms, a whole new generation of stellar dark rides has arrived... and none embody that more than Symbolica at the award-winning and often-discussed Efteling in the Netherlands...

Efteling is a park that's probably already on the bucket list for many of our readers for one reason or another. For thrillseekers, it might be Efteling's highly-themed B&M Dive Coaster or its GCI wooden coaster wrapped around an animatronic dragon. For dark ride enthusiasts, it might be the airy, wondrous Droomvlucht or Fata Morgana – a ride rivaling Pirates in scope and scale

Image: Efteling

But when Symbolica opened in 2017, it set a whole new standard for just how rich, vibrant, surprising, and magical a non-Disney dark ride could be. The ride invites guests into the realm of King Pardulfus for a tour of the Hartenhof Castle. But as the tour begins, guests are instead intercepted by the king's jester, Pardoes (who, as it happens, is a mascot of Efteling now given his own signature attraction).

With a wave of his glowing jester staff, Pardoes splits the castle's grand stairway down the middle, granting guests access to a  hidden chamber where magical, airy "fantasy floats" await. Right off the bat, guests get to choose one of three tours of the castle – the Hero Tour, the Music Tour, or the Treasure Tour – with each tour visiting nine of the eleven total scenes during the ride.

Image: Efteling

All tours begin in the Observatorium – a library space where the ancient wizard Almar, who conducts a giant celestial model around him. From there, the floats dance along a balcony, looking out across the kingdom as dreamy, glowing butterflies descend. 

The floats are whisked away and into what might be the ride's signature scene: a beautiful, warmly-lit greenhouse filled with magical plants. But then, with a magical spell from Pardoes the greenhouse's glass turns from translucent to transparent, revealing that we've been transported underwater. As a giant, friendly whale swims down (via a physical animatronic!), its tail accidentally cracks the glass, hurrying the tour onward. 

Image: Efteling

At Pardoes' urging, the floats make their way into different chambers, where magical mirrors alight with an interactive game riders can play from their seats. Then, it's on to the finale, as the floats find their way to the service corridors of the castle's kitchen. Corks pop, gems gleam, and magic abounds en route to the royal hall, where the king himself presides happily over the dancing vehicles. 

Symbolica must be seen to be believed, so please watch this incredible view of the ride:

One could certainly argue that Symbolica takes a hint from Disney's own Modern Marvel: Mystic Manor. But make no mistake: this wholly original trackless tour of an enchanted castle is exactly what Disney fans say they want more of in the world: original, extravagant rides that embrace homegrown characters and create new franchises for the parks they inhabit. Playful, colorful, and – importantly – a ride where nothing goes horribly wrong, Symbolica is a true gem that deserves to be on your to-do list.

And until then, tell us – did you know about Symbolica? What do you think from the video alone? Is this a ride that would join your bucket list? Or have you been lucky enough to try it in person? Let us know in the comments below!


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