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The next phase of Disney World's Fantasyland expansion, reviewed (sort of)

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Published: November 15, 2012 at 9:26 PM
ORLANDO - Back when I worked at Walt Disney World, I worked in Magic Kingdom West Attractions. That now-defunct department used to cover all attractions operators in Adventureland, Frontierland and Liberty Square (which, if you look at them on a map, are the lands on the west side of Main Street USA and the castle). In MK West, we teased our counterparts in MK East, saying that they worked in a concrete stroller parking lot.

Not that we had anything to do with building it, but we loved the richly themed landscaped on our west side, anchored by the woods, water and rock work of the Rivers of America. Over in Fantasyland and Tomorrowland… well, things were pretty flat. With the exception of some creatively trimmed foliage in Tomorrowland, there wasn't much landscaping over there, either. Around the Fantasyland dark rides, at times the whole place really did just look like a giant stroller parking lot.

But now, finally, with the next phase of the Fantasyland Expansion opening, the Magic Kingdom's east side is beginning to look more like its west side. And that's a very good thing.

Yet… Fantasyland's expansion is not yet complete. Not while its heart remains under construction:

Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, under construction

That's the construction site of the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train (can you see the new track, poking out from the center show building?) - the mountain that will become the centerpiece of the Fantasyland expansion. Judging the Fantasyland expansion without the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train seems to me a bit like reviewing a meal by talking about the salad and dessert, but completely ignoring the entree. It's just not right.

So we're left to talk about the periphery. Many of use discussed the Storybook Circus phase when it opened last spring. Now, let's take on the Beauty and the Beast/Little Mermaid phase.

Be Our Guest

For me, the Be Our Guest restaurant provides the highlight of this phase. I'll devote an entire post next week to the restaurant, but for now I'll just say that it not only provides the best ordering experience in any theme park anywhere, it also raises the bar for food at the Magic Kingdom with one of the best meals I've had anywhere over the past several weeks.

Gaston's Tavern (which I'll also review in its own post next week) offers a few nifty gimmicks, too.

Gaston's Tavern

This phase offers two new character interactions, Enchanted Tales with Belle and Ariel's Grotto. The Belle encounter refines a new space between meet-n-greet and show, with an audience participation encounter than should serve as a model for future character attractions. I didn't go in - since I didn't have any kids with me and didn't want to feel like some sort of creeper - but my sister and her young daughter loved the show last week, and said that the mirror effect was stunning.

I did go on the new Little Mermaid ride, however.

Little Mermaid ride

As advertised, it's a clone of the Little Mermaid ride from Disney California Adventure, which I reviewed when it opened in 2011. While the ride itself is the same, the Orlando version does offer a much superior, well-decorated queue.

Little Mermaid queue

Look carefully for some of the animated moments you can find within it. Here's one:

And here's a ride through the attraction, if you want a sneak peek.

There's more to come inside the castle walls as Fantasyland continues to transform - the Princess Fairytale Hall is now under construction, too.

Princess Fairytale Hall

The Fantasyland expansion will be complete sometime in 2014. Once it's finished, I'm hoping that we'll find not just a beautifully decorated new section of the park, but also a well-themed story space, where we'll all feel comfortable just "hanging out" and being part of the atmosphere of this area, as we've found recently in Cars Land, Buena Vista Street, and yes, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. But until this land's really finished, I think it's just too early to tell how successful it ultimately will be.

Readers' Opinions

From David Brown on November 16, 2012 at 3:49 AM
I've just got back from 2 weeks in Orlando and we were in the Magic Kingdom 4 times in total during that time. New Fantasy Land was only open for cast member previews or Annual Pass holder previews but one evening last week we walked by and hit lucky - (anecdotal evidence suggests they opened up the area to anyone several times in the evenings, especially during Not Sop Scary parties and Very Merry parties). I have always felt as you did Robert - that Fantasyland was just a stroller parking lot and little more than a fairground with some kiddie rides around it. Assuming the Seven Dwarves Coaster and its landscaping is done to the same standard as the area now opening then what Disney are creating is a richly themed environment that if anything blows the Wizarding World out of the water. I was DEEPLY impressed by the level of detail, especially around the Little Mermaid queue. As has been observed the ride itself is a simple ride-through - classic Disney but not exactly cutting edge or thrilling - but frankly the walk-through to reach it and the exterior raise this in my mind to one of Disney's finest moments so far. Gastons Tavern, Be My Guest restaurant, (which was serving but also open for guests to walk-through and view), are equally impressive and the Beast's Castle looks stunning at night...
I agree it's too early to make a final call on new fantasy Land but even at night and in the dark it impressed me deeply. It is on course to be the most richly-realised environment in any of the Orlando parks.
I thought Disney were missing the boat by spending all this time and money on New fantasy Land but I was wrong - they are doing exactly what's needed and what will draw in (massive) crowds for years to come.
From Ray Schroeder on November 16, 2012 at 7:10 AM
I was visiting the Kingdom 10/13 - 10/17 and they were having a dress rehersal of the new Fantasyland :). Wow. They did a great job. The atmosphere as you walk in takes you to another world. The trees, waterfalls, birds singing, you don't feel like you're in Florida.
The Little Mermaid ride has some amazing effects. The interactive queue is a lot of fun. I was impressed at how they make you feel like you're going underwater. The technology behind the animatronics has improved greatly. You have to ride it a few times to take it all in. I was lucky enough to go on it 4x's. Look for the hidden Mickeys. I spotted a few. Even though the Enchanted Tales with Belle is geared toward kids, check out the effects. Amazing. La fou Brew is pretty good too.
Good job Disney. I can't hardly wait till 2013 when the rollercoaster opens.
From Sylvain Comeau on November 16, 2012 at 9:13 AM
Will the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train ride be an E Ticket? Considering how long it will take to build, it would seem to be at least a solid D Ticket.
From 208.54.39.177 on November 16, 2012 at 7:44 PM
Its funny how everyone seems to be more impressed with Ariel's cue, than the ride. Shouldn't it be the other way around?
From David Brown on November 17, 2012 at 5:01 AM
I actually think that with the Little Mermaid they have created an attraction where the queue is as much a part of the whole experience as the ride itself. It's not that one is better than the other but that they simply work together so well as to create one, much greater, attraction. There was no sense of anti-climax, just of something really good continuing in a different form....
From Anthony Murphy on November 17, 2012 at 9:46 AM
I got to sneak in during the Halloween Party...

Big thumbs up from this guy!

The mirror effect in Belle's house is stunning. The entire show is actually much better than expected!

From Daniel Etcheberry on November 17, 2012 at 11:17 AM
Robert,
You chose wisely not to enter the Belle attraction because with no kids you would have felt like fish out of water. I have to say though that I saw this attraction on YouTube, and the effect of the mirror is pure magic. Also the talking wardrobe looks great.
From Skipper Adam on November 20, 2012 at 5:28 AM
Daniel and Robert, I think it was a mistake not to see Belle. Because it is billed and boasted as an attraction/ show, nearly half the people going through are teens and adults. I work in New Fantasyland, and the attendance is clearly not just family with kids, and there is no judgement amongst the guest, just excitement.
From Andy Stevens on November 20, 2012 at 4:38 PM
I'm just back from two weeks in Orlando and was lucky enough to visit 'Enchanted Tales' with Belle. As we had our Grand-Daughter with us, she took part in the activities and I have to say it was a fun, delightful and charming experience. Absolutely brilliant! We also managed to do the Little Mermaid ride through and that also was very good. It's good to see Disney doing what they are good at. When Fantasyland is fully open I'm sure it's going to be marvellous. Also, a new attraction, for one day only at the 'Casey Jr Splash and Soak Station'. Watch the old guy try and get his three year old Grandaughter out of the soak zone without getting wet! Impossible.

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