New Fantasyland is gearing up at Walt Disney World, with unannounced random test previews now occurring daily for the Beauty and the Beast meet and greet. These aren’t “soft openings” where you can reasonably hope to find it open if you show up; you have to get there at the right time and get lucky. That said, they seem to be happening with increasing frequency, so maybe they will inch their way closer to “open full time.” Others have seen the experience (perhaps you’ve seen pictures or video about it here?) but I have not; I will post a review once I do.

In the meantime, I’m going to train my camera lens and my attention on a much smaller detail of the Fantasyland expansion–the “back wall” of the castle. When I first heard about the expansion, I fixated on the miniature castles that would soon dot the landscape. There was a “back wall” to the castle then, too, designed to provide a demarcation between the castle area and the “Fantasy Forest” that lay beyond. It gave a clear boundary between the castle courtyard and the outside world. Back then it was pretty necessary, since there would be other castles to visit, and it wouldn’t make sense for them all to be in the same realm as Cinderella’s castle.

In a way, it’s just as necessary now, with the revised Fantasyland expansion plans. Gone are most of the other princess castles and cottages, but the Beast castle remains, so it’s still important to have it separated from the main Cinderella castle area.

Beyond that, though, I realized something in looking at the wall this weekend, still under construction but starting to reveal many of its details and theming. Namely, this wall serves a few other purposes besides division.

First, it offers a themed environment rich in details and history. This sounds trite, but it’s actually not as common as you’d think in Walt Disney World. Very often new features are added that look good or fit in, but don’t have a lot of interesting textures, colors, backstory, or tributes to history. So when something is added that provides proper “placemaking” it’s become something to celebrate.

The famous Disney coat of arms (is it really the Disney coat of arms? It seems to be ONE of them) is now on display on the back wall. If you’re wondering why it looks like butter, that’s because it hasn’t been painted/aged yet.

The various doorways and arches in the wall now sport labels of sorts near them: metal shields with painted imagery on them depict important symbols from Disney movies, and in so doing, highlight which of the films will play an important role in the new land. From Sleeping Beauty to Snow White, Little Mermaid to Beauty and the Beast, we can see all the painted shields on display just over the construction wall.

One of the things I like best about the new features is that they represent high quality craftsmanship. They could have taken a “cheap route” on several occasions–I’m thinking specifically of the little wooden window shutters here–but they elected not to. Instead, they did it right, and this is encouraging indeed.

One of the by-products of the wall that I did not expect was that it would serve as such an excellent focusing tool. It’s really almost as good as binoculars in how effective it is at making you recognize one feature as the “center” of attention. It does this by virtue of having two sides that “point” at the object in the middle, deeper in the land. But the true hidden majesty of this design is that the “thing” in the middle changes based on where you are standing in “old” Fantasyland. From one spot it looks like the Seven Dwarfs Mine Coaster, currently under construction, is the focal point. Move a few yards toward the carousel, though, and Eric’s castle from Under the Sea is clearly in the middle. and if you move all the way over toward Pooh, the Beast’s castle takes center stage. It’s a simple but an amazing trick–let the viewer fill in the gaps.

Lastly, consider the philosophical merits of the wall as a boundary. Sure, it keeps the outside world out, but in so doing, it also keeps the inside world in. And thus, it creates an internal space to Fantasyland that was never really there before. At present, it’s a pretty desolate and empty space. There is no landscaping and few places to sit (is that to prevent bloggers from standing on benches and looking over the fence?)

I suppose it’s possible they intend to use this space for stroller parking, as they did for several months last year. I hope not, though–that would be a waste of space. And they’ve already got stroller parking now set up closer to the Cinderella fountain, courtesy of several white lines burned/melted into the ground. I hate to see that. It kind of ruins the vibe of the area. It makes me want to sing “They paved paradise / and put up a parking lot” every time I see that.

Fortunately, there’s no evidence of this kind of tomfoolery in New Fantasyland, at least if the wall is any judge. It’s a little bit like judging a book by its cover. In this case, the “cover” of New Fantasyland is the wall, and as it’s revealed one precious bit at a time, we all seem to salivate in just the right ways. Disney still has the ability to make us pant in anticipation when the promise is high enough. And with this wall, the promise is high indeed.



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  • KingEric

    Looking good Kevin. I will have to check it out, one of these weekends, when I am not at Universal! lol

  • bakhuizen

    Thanks Kevin,
    As for the large area – Fantasyland stroller parking lot – It would not surprise me if Disney does not have something up their sleeve for this prime piece of Fantasyland real estate. Perhaps a small family flat ride or even a Royal Garden. I think this space will be a “wait and see” until the new Fantasyland opens.

    • KingEric

      You must remember this is the company that just held a press conference for 1,000 seats of new benches at Fantastmic, replacing standing room for 1,000 people.

      So I don’t think there is anything planned for this area, unless this is where they will stage Meet and Greets with 3rd tier characters.

  • ParkerMonroe

    Great insight, Kevin. I always appreciate your articles.

    bakhuizen: exciting prospect – the “Royal Garden”. That would be very nice, indeed!

  • StevenW

    The plaza next to the carousel is huge. What’s the point of having this much empty space?

    It seems like they could have added many small dark rides in the land instead of spreading things out with nothing specific to do. They make the guests walk long distances to see nothing in particular.

    As for the story behind the walls, there’s a lot of speculation because I just don’t see it. Maybe we can revisit after the construction walls come down and we see the real castle walls.

  • Fantastic review of the new area, I can’t wait to visit once that area is complete. Our last vacation to Disney World of was in 2009 and we had a blast!

  • Aotphks

    Nice photos and comments Mr. Yee, but as nice as that wall appears to be thematically, based on your review, all that calls my attention are the ultra expansive areas of just plain ugly concrete between the carrousel and the new Fantasyland expansion. That area looks horrible, bare and totally unappealing. I would hope for Disney to add some greenery there, trees and some flower beds and give the new Fantasyland a proper introduction besides a large flat concrete and castle style wall. A nice garden featuring photo ready character statues or props would be a nice touch.
    But that’s just my designer eye at work.
    Thank you.

  • Kevin Yee

    Regarding that large open space next to the Carousel: I tend to think they’ll use it for stroller parking, as they did before. But it’s not really big enough for a ride. I’m using a 10mm lens in those shots, so it’s almost a fish-eye.

    • Aotphks

      I have seen the space in person since my family and I visited last month. So yes, I understand it’s not large enough for a ride, But concern lies in the lack of greenery, which is something they apparently are fixing in the newer areas. But if this space was to be used as a stroller parking, it would be nice to make a nice one with a park-like atmosphere, with some trees and flower beds..As it is right now and as your photos show, it’s just concrete and very unappealing.

  • simmy25

    “Gone are most of the other princess castles and cottages”

    The original FLE plans had the same castles we have today. We just lost one cottage as they replaced Aurora’s and Cinderella’s with Snow White’s.

  • dreemfinder

    Kevin — There’s one more potential use for the new castle walls you haven’t mentioned…

    I suspect that the “the ultra expansive areas of just plain ugly concrete” will soon be lined — on both sides, mind you — with rows of profitable merchandise and snack carts, that will easily treble the sales space in the Happiest Land of All.