The Vacation Kingdom of the World: Approaching New Fantasylandby Tom Richards, contributing writer
New attractions at Walt Disney World offer something special for visitors, even for returning guests. There's a chance to experience one of the worlds of Disney in a new way for the very first time.
With the advent of the Internet, however, this experience has changed dramatically. Ubiquitous Disney websites are literally flooded with photos, blogs, reviews, hype, and criticisms. How can travellers who are thoughtfully planning their upcoming Disney vacation prepare while avoiding the plethora of "spoilers" that seem to pervade everything written about new Disney attractions? Avoiding all information about new attractions and restaurants, however, can put guests at a disadvantage. How can planners balance the "need to know" information with the spoilers and attacks?
Here are some suggestions for planning a visit to the Magic Kingdom's newly expanded Fantasyland that will give you an overview without spoiling the surprises.
This area—once home to Mickey's Toontown Fair—features an expanded Dumbo the Flying Elephant, a reimagined Goofy's Barnstormer, a children's splash-and-play area, a merchandise location, and a significantly remodeled train station. It is decidedly geared for the youngest visitors to the Magic Kingdom, and when viewed from this perspective, succeeds wonderfully. My kids loved the "double Dumbo" and the waiting area as well. The Casey Jr. Splash 'N' Soak Station held little interest for us, although it is a lot of fun watching other kids splash around in the colorfully themed environment (I admit that I am not a fan of splash parks inside theme parks—I can't imagine lugging swimsuits, swim shoes, and beach towels for the kids). Pete's Silly Sideshow (a meet-and-greet area) and Big Top Souvenirs (the mandatory merchandise location) round out the offerings here.
Even if you aren't travelling with young children, this area deserves a look—more than a look, really. Take a spin on the world's most famous pachyderm and enjoy the lights, music, and colorful reinterpretation of a Disney classic that make for a memorable experience. That said, there is very little "new" to this new area. Dumbo, the Barnstormer, the store—well, these are familiar experiences for Magic Kingdom veterans. That said, they have been refashioned with loving detail and creative vitality and we enjoyed out time in the Storybook Circus.
The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
Not a new attraction, to be sure, but a newly constructed waiting area and meet-and-greet add a much needed sense of place to this Fantasyland favorite. Long-time Magic Kingdom fans still mourn the loss of Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, and some Disney aficionados complain that this version of The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh lacks the inventiveness and level of detail found in Tokyo Disneyland. Haters seem to miss all that is good about this attraction. There's much to recommend in this charming little journey through the Hundred Acre Woods. It effectively captures the simple charm and lovely music of the films and books on which it is based. The newly constructed entrance—filled with entertaining gadgets to make the wait time go quickly—is quite fun, adding much needed greenery to the Fantasyland landscape.
Under the Sea: Journey of the Little Mermaid
A lot has been written about Under the Sea: Journey of the Little Mermaid, much of it overly critical. This seems unfair. Under the Sea: Journey of the Little Mermaid really succeeds in the way that all classic Disney dark rides succeed: it retells a favorite story with whimsy and charm. This is not a thrill ride; instead, it is designed to meet Walt Disney's own dictum that many attractions at Disneyland should appeal to guests ages "8 to 80" so that families can enjoy them together.
The setting for Ariel's adventure is beautifully transportive. The finely detailed architecture and the lush landscaping capture the look and feel of Prince Eric's kingdom in classic Disney style. Disney Imagineers had hoped that the Fantasyland Forest area would capture both the look and the feel of the classic Disney fairy tales. The effort and expense that went into meeting that goal is clearly evident in this area of Fantasyland. There's much to enjoy "Under the Sea" as guests enter Ariel's world in ways heretofore impossible. Music, humor, colorful settings, and endearing characters abound. Fans of the 1989 film—and most Disney World guests for that matter—will enjoy their time with Ariel, Flounder, and Sebastian.
Beauty and the Beast
Water, trees, bridges, and charming architecture await guests to the Beauty and the Beast area. Warm and inviting in every way, this area immerses guests in the fairytale landscape in truly convincing ways. When all is said and done, however, the village simply features a well-themed meet-and-greet, a restaurant, a pub, and some shops. This in not necessarily a bad thing, but guests need to know that, despite its beauty and charm, this area definitely lacks an attraction in typical Disney tradition. Enchanted Tales with Belle offers a unique opportunity to interact with characters in a memorable way. Gaston's Tavern and the nearby shops are quaint and fun—reminiscent of visiting one of the international pavilions in Epcot's World Showcase. This represents a new approach to Magic Kingdom experiences, or perhaps more accurately, a return to the kind of thinking that permeated the planning of the original park. Guests are invited to linger in a highly themed environment; this sort of immersive experience is most welcome.
Be Our Guest Restaurant offers new dining experiences for Magic Kingdom guests. Demand has been high, and it is not uncommon for long lines to form for this dining location. Reservations are a must. One cast member at central reservations recently told me that guests are clamoring to get reservations and are devastated if they cannot. Be Our Guest Restaurant opened to mixed reviews. In some ways, it's a victim of its own hype and incredibly high expectations. This is understandable; Disney dining in not inexpensive and this film on which this restaurant is based is much beloved. My advice to guests is to approach Be Our Guest Restaurant with reasonable expectations and to remember, as the reservation cast member told me, "It's only a restaurant. A very nice one, indeed. But still, only a restaurant."
The Tangled Bathrooms
An odd name for an theme park area to be sure, but this is the terminology often applied to the corner of Fantasyland that was once occupied by the Skyway Station that provided transportation from Fantasyland to Tomorrowland. From all accounts, it will be a charming little alcove that will add water and greenery along with stroller parking and bathrooms to a crowded corner of Fantasyland. It will also provide an additional walkway to and from Liberty Square and the surprisingly close Haunted Mansion. The architecture looks appropriate to Fantasyland, particularly the design and coloring of Pinocchio's Village Haus with its gabled roofs and colorful shingles.
It also include Rapunzel's Tower, which has caused some concern for Magic Kingdom fans as it is clearly visible from Frontierland and Liberty Square. While some visitors remained unbothered by contradictory elements in the Magic Kingdom skyline, it is a long-held tradition that thematic elements remain as consistent as possible (those rules have, sadly, been ignored all too often in recent years. The removal of the lovely mature trees near Main Street cause unsightly contradictions that mar the Magic Kingdom's sense of illusion). Here's hoping that the fabled Disney landscapers will plant appropriately tall trees to block this pretty addition to Fantasyland from encroaching on the sight lines of America's past.
An additional benefit from this little expansion is the planned reimagining of the queue for Peter Pan's Flight. This Fantasyland favorite deserves some attention; the promise of an upgrade to the attraction itself is cause for much rejoicing in the Magic Kingdom. Let's hope that future flight to Neverland will be even more magical as guests follow the "second star to the right" over the twinkling lights of London to meet mermaids and pirates.
Seven Dwarfs Mine Train
One of the major criticisms of the New Fantasyland is the fact that sitting tight in the middle of the whole thing is a huge construction site, home to the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. Much has been written about the grand opening of Cars Land in Disneyland Resort's Disney California Adventure park, as opposed to the "open as it's completed" approach to the Magic Kingdom's New Fantasyland. There are many factors that figure into this decision on the part of Walt Disney World management. For example, the green-light to build the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train came after initial construction on the Little Mermaid and the Beauty and the Beast areas had already begun. While I agree that a grand reveal would have provided a grander grand opening, the benefits of opening bit by bit far outweigh the negatives. After all, think of the disappointed guests lining up at City Hall had Dumbo remained closed for long. Why would Disney want to deny guests opportunities to experience its newest creations? With the loss of Snow White's Scary Adventures, the need for attractions like The Journey of the Little Mermaid is keener than ever. If guests keep in mind that some inconveniences will undoubtedly occur as the area is completed, they will surely find much to enjoy.
Beyond the Castle Walls
Travellers all want to soar on the wings of anticipation, but it's also advisable to try to avoid the thud of disappointment. The wise planner will find much to anticipate in the New Fantasyland. From immersive design to charming adventures, the new areas of Fantasyland fit perfectly into the Magic Kingdom's overall approach to family entertainment. It's easy to second-guess decisions made by Disney management, and all too easy to pine for what might have been. Not that I am giving Disney a pass. After all, guests have a right to be demanding; Disney is an industry leader, and prices at resorts, restaurants, and theme parks reflect Disney's stature and reputation. While New Fantasyland may not be up to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter's standard of thrills, it does meet its goals of immersing guests in the fairy tale worlds of classic fairy tales. I have a strong feeling that once the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train opens, the New Fantasyland will more than exceed its rather modest expectations.