To say I was excited to see the New Fantasyland in the Magic Kingdom was an understatement. I landed the first slot on Friday morning (9:00 a.m. – noon) so it was off on the bus bright and early. According to the instructions, I was to check in at the Transit Center (odd) and then proceed to the preview. I took a chance that was only for those driving in and was rewarded with a very friendly Cast Member just outside of the gates who checked my name off the list and snapped on the preview wristband. Off to the New Fantasyland!
Once through the park, I passed through a bevy of cast members guarding the preview entrance. I did not envy them that morning as they had to continually turn away interested but reservation-less park guests. Once in the New Fantasyland, I was met by two more cast members who were explaining that Belle had slept in that morning, which meant Enchanted Tales with Belle was closed. Well, bummer—but it is a preview (or "dress rehearsal," as they were calling it) after all. So instead of visiting with Belle, I wandered down to my first stop, the Be Our Guest Restaurant. We were allowed in the lobby to take pictures and to gaze at the incredible tapestries and mosaic. It is a beautifully themed restaurant, and it was unfortunate that it was not open for business (more on this later).
Next up, I headed down to Gaston's Tavern to check out the offerings. Gaston's is a walk-up eatery with an assortment of interesting-looking offerings, including LeFou's Brew (served in a specialty tankard or mug) and a pork shank that is rumored to be the "new turkey leg." Gaston himself came out to greet guests and pose for pictures next to the fountain he kindly donated to the village. Next to Gaston's is a small gift shop, Bonjour! Village Gifts, specializing in Disney castle and Beauty and the Beast collectibles. A four-pack of white and gold dessert plates (that will never see a crumb of dessert) and four matching wine glasses (also destined for display) decided to follow me home; who was I to resist?
At that point, it was time to check out the first new attraction experience: Under the Sea – Journey of the Little Mermaid. A true benefit of the preview was the ability to stop and explore the queue without the push of a crowd to get through in a hurry, which gave me time to take in all the details. If you have visited the Little Mermaid ride in Disney California Adventure park, you will be familiar with the story and trip in the Clam-mobile. What is very different from its West Coast cousin is the queue, which is incredibly detailed and themed. From the waterfall greeting to the shells "embedded" in the walls, it is truly an experience to explore on its own. Scuttle the Seagull, with the help of a small group of crabs, even has a bit part explaining various items found "under the sea." Once through the ride, I took a sharp left to visit Ariel's Grotto, which is a picture opportunity area. What was very interesting to note is the Imagineers who planned the New Fanstasyland guest experience did not include the obligatory drop into a gift shop at the end of a ride; at this point in time guests can actually wander the area without the usual bombardment of Mickey key chains and stuffed animals. Heaven!
By that time, I noticed a small group of people moving across the bridge to Enchanted Tales with Belle—it was open! About time she got up—but I guess we have to cut the princess some slack as this is new for her as well. Guests are gathered into a small waiting room that is a re-creation of Belle's living room. Once the guests are assembled, they are shuttled into Maurice's workshop, where a cast member engages the audience with stories of Maurice's inventions. I won't tell you how we get to the next room, but I will say the effect is spectacular and elicits gasps from the guests. The wardrobe places a major role in the next guest experience as parts are awarded from the story of Beauty and the Beast, including guards, the feather duster, and Mrs. Potts and Chip. Guests are then moved into a very well-appointed library, where they are greeted by one of my favorite Disney characters, Lumiere. With the help of the guests playing roles, a wonderfully expressive animatronic Lumiere surprises Belle with a presentation of the story of how she met and fell in love with the Beast. It is very charming and the children especially seem to enjoy it. I will say it will be a very slow load, so do not expect to move quickly through this one.
For me, the final highlight of the New Fantasyland preview had to be enjoying a Triple Chocolate Cupcake at the Be Our Guest Restaurant. From the inventive use of RFID in serving their guests to the elegance of the main dining hall, the Rose Room, and the West Wing (complete with the rose from the movie),
Disney did a phenomenal job of bringing the story of Beauty and the Beast to life. I understand from talking with a cast member that reservations are sold out for the next several months in the dining areas, however walk-in service will be available. Even if the wait is a long one, dining at Be Our Guest is an experience not to be missed. And if the Triple Chocolate Cupcake is any indication, the food there is also at the top of the game.
All-in-all, I think that Disney's Imagineers have added a great new addition to Fantasyland and I look forward to returning to visit it again in January when we return for the Walt Disney World Marathon!