The next phase of Disney World's Fantasyland expansion, reviewed (sort of)
Written by Robert Niles
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.Tweet
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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