Once, a family
engagement had me standing in the rain being battered by the wind as I
waited for our evidently in-demand table at a restaurant with quite an
extraordinary reputation. The local dining out guide touted this as the
place to be seen, and indeed, I can attest to this restaurant’s
difficult task of choosing my fate from the menu was made worse by
virtue of the fact my fellow diners were bewildering me with their
recommendations, moreover the fact the menu seemed to be in a foreign
language. I like to consider myself as having at least a comfortable
grasp of common language, yet I was stumped by the time I got to
made my choice and enjoyed it, but left with the uncomfortable feeling
that while this was a good restaurant, it was hardly worthy of such
acclaim. “Wasn’t it brilliant?” asked one of my comrades.
“Yes, yes, very good” I said in fear of confrontation.
A few weeks later,
I visited another restaurant. Similar price, similar fare, but certainly
not alight with the glow of hysteria as this other eatery. Yet, against
my expectations, this food was an absolute gastronomic delight of the
highest order. It was magnificent, and while I felt it a great injustice
that this place wasn’t the subject of such acclaim, I could leave with
a smug grin on my face thinking to myself that I now I can enjoy better
food than the all-singing all-dancing restaurant down the road without
having to queue for the privilege. It was my little secret.
Yet, to this day,
I still haven’t worked out why this restaurant has been overlooked.
Maybe people are too busy queuing in the rain outside Restaurant A to
enjoy Restaurant B? Who knows, but what I do know now, and what I have
since learnt is not to let recommendations taint my expectations.
The same goes for
I visited Efteling
in the company of those who enthused about Villa Volta. Same with
Dreamflight – another wonderful ride, but not a patch on Efteling’s
real unsung hero.
Fata Morgana is
simply 24-carrat gold disguised as a dark ride. You can have your
Dreamflights, you can keep your Phantom Manors – this is
absolutely everything I expect from a dark ride.
For me, dark rides
fall into two categories – those where the ride system is simply a
tool to move riders around various tableaux, and those which use the
ride system as part of the attraction itself.
In terms of the
latter, the most famous example has to be Spiderman (Universal’s
Islands of Adventure), a ride which has set something of an unachievable
benchmark in the industry. While Spiderman’s success of course has
much to do with the various elements of the ride working together, with
a ride system that speeds up, slows down, spins and generally jostles
however, is one of the very best examples of the former. This ride uses
a towboat system similar to that used on Swan Boat rides where the boat
is tethered to an underwater cable that follows a set route around a
lake or waterway.
is no bigger testament to the virtues of the theming on Fata Morgana
when as one of my favourite rides, it uses the same ride system as one
of the worst.
Being the worst,
Drayton Manor’s Excalibur is the perfect cure to insomnia, and just
goes to show how the towboat ride on its own simply does not work if
expectations are raised further than the ride simply being a serene boat
ride around a lake.
the scientifically proven boredom of the towboat ride on its own, Fata
Morgana manages to entertain by taking riders to another world, the full
weight of the attraction simply carried by the magnificently original
and comprehensive theming throughout.
Of course, you
have to find the ride first.
Fata Morgana used
to catch your gaze from across a lake opposite the park’s main
entrance, but since then the outstanding Efteling Theatre has been built
between the lake and the entrance, somewhat obscuring the outcrops of
While Fata Morgana
comprises of a buzzing bazaar of Moroccan white-washed buildings,
trimmed with elaborate ramparts and crowned with spectacular
incandescent egg-shaped roofs surrounded by fountains, mosaics and
gardens, it isn’t immediately obvious this is a ride.
occasional ability to match Disney’s prowess in theming is matched
only by their standards in queue design. Or lack thereof. After
navigating a cattlepen of quite extraordinary proportions, the queue
enters the main building and wraps around the inside of an enormous
hall, in the centre of which a turret overlooks the turntable which
boats slowly orbit around.
A final flight of
steps takes you onto the turntable and into the boat, a fairly modest
affair with four rows of four-or-five seat benches. Once seated, the
boat peels away from the turntable and heads through a heavy pair of
curtains into the deepest depths of Morocco.
To talk you
through Fata Morgana scene-by-scene is to do the attraction a grave
injustice. Fata Morgana is a ten-minute boat journey through the
tropical rainforests, bustling ports and market towns, dark fortresses
and magnificent palaces of Morocco. All of this is given a tinge of
fantasy as a wizard guides you from scene-to-scene and you encounter
some inexplicably exotic characters.
borrow elements and themes from each other, and the same can be said of
dark rides. Fata Morgana isn’t a complete pillar of virtue in this
respect – the opening scenes in particular borrow a few scenes from
Disney rides like Pirates of the Caribbean.
Yet, avoiding an
uncomfortable feeling of déjà vu, every one of Fata Morgana’s
standout moments is without parallel. The most extravagant scene has a
Moroccan emperor in his boudoir surrounded by tens and tens of servants,
belly dancers, musicians and entertainers.
decorated room has a sense of majesty and opulence that makes Villa
Volta look ramshackle by comparison. The scene brought to life with tens
of animatronics, too, punches its weight even in opposition to the
originality, well, the entire theme neatly sidesteps the necessity to
rely on overused themes such as pirates and ghosts, while in the
attraction itself there are several supremely effective moments, such as
the moment when using visual trickery it appears the boat is listing to
the side as it passes down a narrow corridor fired upon by lasers that
explode into the water.
encompasses every element of good story telling. It has passion,
malevolence, tranquillity, fantasy and a certain je ne sais quoi without
having to resort to fireballs and drops. While Valhalla tries to take
you to another world, you can’t escape the fact you’re on a log
flume passively watching showy special effects, while Fata Morgana works
on a far more subtle level taking you into the middle of another
culture, using lavish scenery, warm lighting and a beautiful soundtrack
to help tell the story.
While I bemoan
dark rides copying elements from each other, one welcome imitation on
Fata Morgana is the exquisite cast of animatronics – all 130 of them.
Like Disney’s animatronics, each character is realistic and
charismatic with overly exaggerated facial features to give each a
unique personality. Most talk and are animated down to the finest
detail, whether their eyes blink or their eyebrows move.
And it is small
touches like this that make a good dark ride. Of course you’d expect
me to heap praise upon standout elements that have that wow factor, but
often in dark rides, it is the small and individually insignificant
touches that all add up.
Another example is
how the boat passes from scene to scene. While scenes on dark rides
often bleed one into the other, there is always a curtain of steam, pair
of doors, a port cullice or pair of curtains between you and the next
scene. This gives a great feeling of thumbing through a storybook,
having to turn each page to reveal each twist in the storyline.
A few transitions
are particularly clever. One where the boat turns on the spot in the
water, surrounded in tropical foliage which subtly parts as the boat
heads towards it. And just as the boat heads towards a dead end in a
cave, the wizard helps by parting the rocks with his magic wand.
On dark rides, you
often get the feeling that designers sit down with a blank sheet of
paper and come up with ideas to fill it. “I know, fireballs, lots of
fireballs!”. Sounds great, eh? Not necessarily in the context of
storytelling – put together all these ideas, and you’re left with a
special effects bonanza with no continuity whatsoever.
In all honesty,
the plot on Fata Morgana is hardly challenging, and in places is
neigh-on non-existent. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. If you get
the gist of being guided through a Moroccan wonderland by a wizard, then
great, if not, then never mind – it looks great, anyway.
Like the other
great dark rides such as Phantom Manor, Fata Morgana has a sense of
majesty and artistry to it. Other rides are painting by numbers by
comparison – they do the job, but by contrast Fata Morgana has an
elegant flair to it.
A sign of a good
dark ride is complete escapism. Fata Morgana makes it easy to forget
that you are simply being told a story, and draws you in with open arms.
Few rides manage this, but as far as I am concerned, even fewer manage
to appear to do this so effortlessly.
MS 23 September 2005
▪ Original theming and storyline
▪ Absolutely astounding animatronics and characters
▪ Lavish and consistent level of theming throughout
▪ Lots to look at throughout the ride
▪ Decent in length and high capacity
▪ Awful queue line
▪ Some may find the ride lacking in up front effects