The Vacation Kingdom of the World: A New Parade - The Festival of Fantasy

by Tom Richards, contributing writer

Who doesn't love a good parade? The image of a Disney parade winding its way down Main Street U.S.A. Is almost as iconic as the white spires of Space Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad careening around a tight curve, or the blue turrets of Cinderella Castle. The much-loved tradition of Disney parades predates the opening of the Vacation Kingdom of the World; in fact, it can be traced to opening day at Disneyland in 1955.

The purpose of the Magic Kingdom's 3:00 parade has evolved over the years. Early in Walt Disney World's history, parades offered guests the best—and often only—opportunity to see Disney characters. Now, with the ever-increasing meet-and-greet experiences available for guests, the role of the character parade has changed. Parades have become more and more spectacle, and the newest Magic Kingdom parade does not disappoint.

It's easy for frequent visitors to the Magic Kingdom to take these daily productions for granted. I admit that it has been years since I've watched the 3:00 parade; in fact, I think that the last time I lined up along the curb on Main Street for a daytime parade was in 2001, when the Share a Dream Come True parade premiered. Both the content and the music of that parade were truly inspired, and my family and I still enjoy listening to the soundtrack from this parade. (This soundtrack, as well as music from parades featured at the Disney-MGM Studios, Disney's Animal Kingdom, and Epcot—all composed for the "100 Years of Magic" promotion that premiered in the fall of 2001—are available on a wonderful cd entitled "Magic in the Streets.")

The Magic Kingdom's latest parade, The Festival of Fantasy Parade, is a worthy continuation of a time-honored Disney tradition. Unlike so much of the recent live Magic Kingdom entertainment offerings that are less than inspired, static, embarrassing attempts at "hipness," or overly saccharine, this new production offers color, movement, heart, and excitement that highlights favorite Disney characters, old and new.

The first float, The Princess Garden, is dedicated to the "happily ever after" fairy tale stories retold by the Walt Disney Studios through the years features a green garden-like setting, complete with topiaries and the woodland animals that seem to befriend so many of the Disney princesses. Three of Disney's most popular princesses, namely, Belle, Cinderella, and Tiana appear accompanied by their respective princes. This 50-foot-long float includes lovely details from the films and is accompanied by royally dressed dancing couples. At the very end of this unit, Disney's newest princesses, Anna and Elsa from Frozen, wave to enthusiastic crowds while the ever-popular Olaf twirls nearby. Music from several films blends with the "Festival of Fantasy" theme song, including "Beauty and the Beast," "A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes" from Cinderella, and "Once Upon a Dream" from Sleeping Beauty.

Following the Princess Garden, the Tangled float features Flynn Rider and Rapunzel aboard a large ship sailing the high seas. A highly kinetic unit, this one features a variety of swinging pendulums which hold some of the lovable, but at times problematic, thugs from the Cozy Duckling. Look for Rapunzel's golden hair interwoven throughout this fun float. Adding to the fun, favorite songs from the film—"When Will My Life Begin?" and "I've Got a Dream"—are cleverly woven into the soundtrack.

Disney favorites Ariel, Sebastian, and Flounder grace the next float dedicated to The Little Mermaid. Now that Ariel and crew have taken permanent residence in the new Fantasyland Forest, it certainly is appropriate that this little princess has her time in the spotlight in the new parade as well. Elaborately costumed dancers, musical favorites such as "Under the Sea," "Kiss the Girl," and "Part of Your World," and an imaginatively designed seashell float make this section a highlight.

Just when my sons were concerned that this was a "princess parade," beloved characters from the James M. Barrie story Peter Pan saved the day. The boy who wouldn't grow up, Peter Pan, sits alongside Wendy Darling high aboard the infamous pirate ship, the Jolly Roger, and sail above Neverland, Skull Rock, Tinkerbell, and Captain Hook swinging below on a huge anchor, pursued by that ever-present Crocodile and his ever-faithful first mate, Mr. Smee. A colorful float with moving parts, smoke effects, and glorious colors that seem to come straight from the film, this is a highlight of the parade. Music from the beloved 1953 Walt Disney film—including "A Pirate's Life," "You Can Fly!," "Following the Leader," and "The Second Star to the Right"—compliment the scene. One reported commented that the "Lost Boys" who precede the float with their enthusiastic dancing might have been inspired by the Disney Broadway production Newsies. Whatever the inspiration, they are a fun, and welcome, addition to this memorable parade unit.

The next float is also based on another adventure story, this time from the Pixar Studios' film Brave. Princess Merida stands tall upon an enormous Scottish bagpipe as colorfully dressed dancers "step in time" to a medley of music from the 2012 film: "Touch the Sky," "Fate and Destiny," and "Remember to Smile" are all melodies featured here.

A classic Disney heroine is celebrated in the next float, even though she herself is not a featured performer in this presentation. Sleeping Beauty, Walt Disney's ambitious and visually stunning 1959 animated film, is presented in an exciting, iconic float. Brave Prince Phillip battles silt performers representing a field of thorns, dancers meant to mirror Maleficent raven, and an incredible fire-breathing dragon to reach his true love and awaken her with "true love's kiss." The three fairies, Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather, also appear, just as they do in the film, to aid Prince Phillip on his quest. The dragon is incredible; according to Disney press releases, it is "53 feet in length and 26 feet tall." Designed in collaboration with Broadway's Michael Curry, the dragon is best described as a steampunk interpretation of a medieval monster. The entire experience is enhanced by references to the classical music of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky as adapted by George Bruns for the 1959 film. Familiar melodies include "A Cottage in the Words," "Battle with the Forces of Evil," "Hail to the Princess Aurora," and of course, "Once Upon a Dream."

The parade's finale features a who's who of Disney's beloved characters, including Pinocchio, Dumbo, Alice in Wonderland, and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. There are visual references to Fantasia, including dancing hippos and Pegasus horses; there's a salute to the new Storybook Circus featuring Dumbo and colorfully costumed dancers; and there are the classic Disney characters like Pluto, Donald Duck, and Daisy Duck. In most Disney parades, Mickey and Minnie appear either at the very beginning of the parade or at the end of the parade. For example, Spectro-Magic featured Mickey at the beginning and Minnie at the end. In the Festival of Fantasy, Mickey and Minnie are featured at the end, high aboard a giant hot air balloon called Mickey's Airship. As the cavalcade of beloved Disney characters march along, references to much-loved Disney classics such as "When I See an Elephant Fly," "Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah," "Whistle While You Work," "I've Got No Strings," "The Mickey Mouse March," and "When You Wish Upon a Star" play in the background. All in all, a fitting, and fun, finale to a wonderful new Magic Kingdom experience.

While visitors rarely plan a vacation to see a new parade, and while most of us come to expect parades as part of the Walt Disney World experience, it is unfair to take for granted the time, energy, creativity, and funds necessary for the creation of a new daytime presentation as elaborate of the Festival of Fantasy. It is a worthy addition to the Magic Kingdom experience, one that lives up to that oft ignored but well-respected Walt Disney dictum of "exceeding guest expectations."