First Look: The Magic Kingdom's New Town Square Theater

by Jeff Kober, contributing writer

The new Town Square Theater, located toward the entrance of Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom, opened to the public Wednesday, March 30. Once referred to as the Exhibition Hall, this newly remodeled facility now provides a place to meet Disney characters. Most importantly, it's now the new home of Mickey Mouse. His old home was recently demolished in preparation for a new Storybook Circus area, which is part of a major addition to Fantasyland. From now on, if you want to see Mickey—and Minnie—this is the place to be.

Welcome to Town Square Theater. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

Kodak is clearly the sponsor, as they are with nearly every store to the right when you enter the Disney parks in Orlando and Anaheim. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

When you first enter you come to a small rotunda location. Everything here has a strong Victorian theme. The color, the moulding, and the details, are exquisite.

Here is the ceiling of the rotunda entry area. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

Exquisite Italian Style tile (appropriate to Tony's Italian restaurant next door) reveals the initials TS for Town Square. It is a dramatic space. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

There is great thinking here about guest flow. It's like the hub of the Magic Kingdom. Move right for Box Office Gifts. There you can find last-minute camera supplies before going into the park, or to pick up photos and photo CDs at the end of the day. Toward the left is Tony's Town Square restaurant. Continue forward if you would like to meet Mickey and other Disney characters.

This view is facing the lobby of Tony's from Box Office Gifts. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

Continue forward to visit either the Storybook Princesses, or to experience backstage magic with Mickey Mouse. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

Wait times for both Mickey and the princesses were listed. The actual time for Mickey's was not even half of what was posted. The princess time, however, was twice the listed length. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

There are two ways you'll be able to visit with Disney characters at Town Square Theater. One is to stand in the regular line. The other is to use FastPass, which allows users to insert their park ticket and, in return, receive a receipt that will allow them to come toward the front of the line at a later time. At this point, FastPass is not yet operating.

This space speaks elegance. It is a perfect companion to the Main Street U.S.A. experience. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

When you choose which character you want to meet, you will enter one of two sets of queues that fill this space. The foyer is designed to be filled with people waiting to see Mickey or Cinderella. That's what it's going to look like most days when people find out what's going on here. I am guessing that when this area is full it will usually be an hour wait for either character set. I strongly suggest getting a FastPass. Better yet, come back after lunch and before the 3 p.m. parade. The lines are significantly shorter then, as most guests have moved toward the back end of the park.

From here on out, erase your earlier memories of what this space originally looked like. Before, there were two theaters built for the Walt Disney Story, which opened back in 1973. Those are gone. In fact, the strangest part of the new Town Square Theater is that there is no theater. You have a lobby, a backstage set of dressing rooms, and a couple of gift shops. But no theater.

Let's enter the line to visit Mickey Mouse first. Sorry. I mean Mickey and Minnie. It never says Minnie on the signage, but you'll see her, as well as Mickey, when you get there. As you wait in this room, pieces of art portray the talents of Mickey the Magnificent. These are not just common show posters. Many of these images (and perhaps all of them eventually) come to life.

This is one of the enchanted art pieces that come alive. It may also be interactive as it has speakers or mikes in the frame. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

I love this one that involves Oswald as a rabbit Mickey uses in the show. Currently, this is not yet an "enchanted art" piece. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

This piece plays on swords piercing Donald. You'll see that play out in the gift shop. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

After leaving the large foyer you go into a small hallway. At the end of the hallway, you combine with the FastPass queue.

The first waiting room off the main queue. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

From there you go into another plain hallway. where you await to finally enter Mickey's dressing room. The space in these rooms are wallpapered, but have no art, or anything interesting to study. On both visits, I spent more time in these spaces than in the grand lobby area where you saw the enchanted art. It seemed that something should be filling the space. Neither of these rooms tell any story.

Neither of these rooms tell any story. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

Finally, you enter another hallway and are led to Mickey's dressing room to get a photo with Mickey and Minnie.

This banner greets guests as they first enter the dressing room. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

Here is Mickey's dressing room. The room is tight and filled with thematic details. But you really don't get a chance to get over and study them in depth. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

There are so many Disney references contained in this dressing room space. You really don't have enough time to study them. Here are some of them:

One of the best gags is this rabbit in the hat (you only see the ears) eating a carrot. You can hear him chomping down on it. It's very cute. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

A trunk filled with magic tricks for Mickey. I wish he could have performed one of those for us. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

On the desk is a letter from Angus MacBadger to Mr. Toad! You'll see that as a logo, Mr. Toad has his motorcar drawn on the letterhead. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

"Tuppence a bag" right? Only it wasn't supposed to be a bag of tuppence, but rather you pay a tuppence for a bag of bread crumbs to feed the birds. At first glance, the bag is confusing. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

You recognize this bird, right? Behind on the shelf are potions from Mad Madam Mim. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

Where else would he get his crystal ball, but from Madame Leota, the disembodied mistress of seance at the Haunted Mansion! Other props give nods to Disney heritage. One book on the shelf says "Magic Kingdom: Royalty's Greatest Magic." Another book has a silhouette of Goofy and says "Out of my Mind." Still another says "Sorcery for the Stage: Apprentice Edition." Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

Blue prints of "The Saw of Dread." You'll see the actual saw in the gift shop. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

This bulletin board holds a note from Presto, the magician of Pixar fame, an announcement about a certain Band Concert, which was from an earlier Silly Symphony cartoon starring Mickey; and a notice for missing dalmatian puppies. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

The problem is that the time you spend in the room is only for taking the picture. It's really not structured to casually look around and appreciate the details. In fact, the PhotoPass photographer is really standing in front of it. You're standing on the other side of the room next to Mickey and Minnie. So the placement of these details doesn't really work. It's also why some of my photos are somewhat fuzzy. I really had to grab the shots on the run, because others were coming into the rather intimate space to have their photos taken. So I really didn't have long to look and shoot.

The highlight of course, is Mickey and Minnie. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

Of course, it's really not as much about the theming as it is the chance to meet the characters. But even then I was surprised. I really thought Mickey might have a unique magicians outfit, in the same way he wears a bandleader outfit at Toontown in Disneyland. I even thought they might have him suddenly appear out of nowhere. When Cinderella was going to have her chateau in the Fantasyland Forest, there was talk about doing a Cinderella trick with her changing from rags to riches. I thought they might do the same with Mickey—suddenly appearing before a group and then doing photos. Again, he is a magician.

There is also a version of Mickey being tested that greets you and talks with you. That didn't happen here either. It will probably come sometime in the future.

Still, my experience in the Mickey/Minnie queue was very nice. It certainly was better than what soon occurred with the princesses. Let's return to the original queue and line up to meet the princesses.

The Princess meet and greet starts out in the foyer as well. The enchanted art here shares trivia questions about the princesses. If you're a Disney buff, don't get too excited here, these questions are for the kindergarten group.

These continually showcase trivia questions for the kids to answer. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

Once you leave the main foyer though, everything drops in quality. You enter a plain painted room with a small wall that partitions FastPass guests with standby guests. There is nothing to look at, and the wait is slow. Even the ceiling is missing. This is a stark contrast to the other meet and greet experience next door with Mickey.

Walt Disney World is a master at occupying your attention while you wait. But we spent some 15-20 minutes in this barren section of the queue waiting to finally go in and visit the princesses. In total, we waited nearly an hour, even though the wait was listed at that time as being 30 minutes. That's a long time for a parent. It's a longer time for a small girl waiting to see her favorite princess. And it's an horrendous amount of time to the older brother who has to wait with them. Definitely check out the wait times and even ask if you're uncertain.

I apologize for not having a perfectly still image. After all, no one, I mean no one was moving in this queue. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

You're left wondering if they weren't in better shape with being at the Adventureland Veranda meet and greet.

From here you move across the room to three all three princesses. When I visited there was Cinderella, Belle, and Sleeping Beauty. They were all beautiful. And they spent a lot of time with each family as they moved across the room.

Of course, the princesses are supposed to move back to Fantasyland when a new home is created in place of Snow White's Scary Adventures (couldn't we do a Tangled dark ride instead). I suppose that is why the area wasn't highly themed. Still, you would think they would create a space that could be used for any character doing a meet and greet.

After you finish visiting either Mickey or the Princesses you are led into the gift shop for the Town Square Theater.

Town Square Theater Gift shop at the exit to the meet and greets. It's nicely themed. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

Remember the blue print earlier for the Saw of Dread? Here it is in the gift shop. Ironically, it holds the princess gifts within it. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

Remember that poster earlier of Donald in the basket of knives? It replays here in a cute way at the gift shop. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

Another one of Mickey's tricks, the Saw of Destiny. Photo by J. Jeff Kober

What was the best part? Two things:

1. Vice President of the Magic Kingdom Phil Holmes was there checking the place out. He was seen coaching the cast members to not let the queues become serpentine in length when there are no guests filling in the space. Afterward he stood in line with the guests to visit Mickey Mouse. He didn't cut to the front. He experienced it alongside everyone. He really seemed to be walking in the customers shoes. I like that.

2. While waiting for some girls to line up with Cinderella, a PhotoPASS photographer assigned to Cinderella turned around and took a photo of the mother holding her youngest child, who was asleep in her arms. I'm sure that picture of the mother and toddler will probably be the most priceless to the family after the trip is over.

Should you visit Town Square Theater? Absolutely. No trip is complete without a visit with Mickey and the gang. But be smart. Either use a FastPass or visit the theater in the afternoon when the area is much quieter. With little to no wait, it will be a much better experience.

Meanwhile, join us tomorrow. We have some exciting details about new attractions coming to the Magic Kingdom, Disney's Animal Kingdom, and Epcot.