According to Tom Staggs, chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, the project was undertaken to provide a more relaxed space where families can enjoy traditional Fantasyland favorites and immerse themselves in scenes and settings from a new generation of Disney classics.
New Fantasyland, twice the size of the original, is the Magic Kingdom’s largest expansion since opening in Orlando some 40 years ago. Visitors still enter through Cinderella’s Castle, but the area now incorporates land once occupied by the 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea feature. The combined space hosts two theme areas, the Enchanted Forest and Storybook Circus.
THE ENCHANTED FOREST
Attractions in the Enchanted Forest are devoted to The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast with rides, experiences, buildings and landscape details that let visitors live within the story.
At The Little Mermaid’s Under the Sea ride, guests enter Prince Eric’s Castle and board a giant clam shell for a trip through an animatronics and special effects underwater world. Scenes, characters and songs from the movie tell Ariel’s story, including the happily-ever-after wedding finale. Nearby is Ariel’s Grotto, where Ariel signs autographs and poses for pictures with her fans.
Beauty and the Beast weighs in with the Be Our Guest restaurant. Diners can choose seating in Belle’s Library, the Beast’s West Wing lair, or the elegant Ballroom. The settings are replicated in minute detail, with suits of armor murmuring in the hallway, sparkling chandeliers and windows that look out through snowflakes at an idyllic French countryside. Lunch is casual while dinner requires reservations, usually months in advance. The food is French inspired and the restaurant is the first in Magic Kingdom history to serve wine.
Other Beauty and the Beast attractions include Gaston’s Tavern, serving family-friendly pub fare, and Enchanted Tales with Belle, an interactive telling of the story by Belle and Lumiere. The experience begins in Maurice’s cottage, then whisks visitors to the Beast’s library where members of the audience are called on to round out the cast.
Inspired by the movie Dumbo, the Storybook Circus creates a “big top” backdrop for rides and features inspired by classic Disney characters.
While a few former attractions have vanished, favorites have remained and been substantially updated. The Dumbo ride now has two rings of elephants circling in opposite directions and a joystick that lets passengers control how high or low their elephant flies. There’s also a waiting lounge that replaces standing in line.
The It’s a Small World and Winnie the Pooh rides remain, and the Barnstormer roller coaster has been relocated and remodeled. There are also more play areas for children, including a Winnie the Pooh space and the Casey Jr. Splash ‘N’ Soak interactive water zone. Cinderella’s Castle is still the Magic Kingdom’s icon, updated with a nighttime light show that bathes it in a shifting kaleidoscopic of pastels.
More attractions are still under construction. The Princess Fairytale Hall, slated to open in 2013, will be a meeting point for guests and Disney princess characters. Two more rides, the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train and the popular Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, will open in 2014.