The final elements of the Storybook Circus portion of the new Fantasyland project at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom park were opened late last week, and the results are mostly delightful.

With Pete’s Silly Sideshow, guests are treated to an all-new character meet and greet opportunity that has elaborately themed sets and the flavor all its own. The merchandise location, Big Top Souvenirs, certainly holds its own as a themed place to browse and even to graze, if you’re in the market for a sweet treat.

Come one, come all!

Let’s start with Pete’s Silly Sideshow. This is the middle tent in the new area, and as the name implies, it’s themed to look like a circus sideshow. That means there are oversized displays at the entrance, including Pete himself looking very excited and rather playing the part. The oversized mouth we must pass through in the next room also seems to be an appropriate circus metaphor.

I'm glad they didn't add yet more clowns to the land.

Inside the tent, we see themed sets for Daisy, Minnie, Goofy, and Donald. Goofy and Donald can be visited by standing in just one line, and the same is true of Minnie and Daisy, though it looked like the line for the latter might be a touch longer most of the time than the Goofy/Donald line.

Goofy is dressed up like a circus daredevil, and his backdrop suggests a wheel of death for a motorcycle, and indeed we see a still-smoking motorcycle prop jutting out of the wall. Donald is a snake charmer, which doesn’t particularly fit with any history of Donald Duck that I know of, but neither is it a clash, particularly.

No Wiseacre Farms tribute?
The snakes' eyes look like they ought to be rotating, but they didn't.

Daisy is a fortuneteller, and she stands in front of a fortune-telling cart. Minnie is a dog trainer, and I’ve seen one person online call her outfit that of a tight rope walker, and indeed it does bear some resemblance to the outfit worn by the tightrope walker in the Haunted Mansion in the stretching gallery.

I predict: You will like this circus!
It's better than Mousercize, admit it.

I enjoyed the little touches that marked this as a true Disney project, such as the artificially aged and distressed signage at the front of the attraction. I didn’t find any references to Mickey’s Toontown Fair, though I am still searching, please e-mail me if you locate any! I did take note of the reference to Melody Time in the signage, a nod to the 1948 Disney movie by the same name.

Have a look behind the front marquee, and you will see painted notes on the back. Similar reminders just inside the sideshow tent are labeled such things as “Pete wall number one”— the idea being to imply that this is a real circus, which might have to be torn down, packed up, transported across the state, and rebuilt quickly. Details like that added a touch of “whimsical reality” that Disney does so well; certainly it gave depth to something that might otherwise have been a one-dimensional experience.

There are also posters of many lesser Disney characters in the background, a nice touch.

Just outside Pete’s Silly Sideshow is an open plaza with a couple of food carts. These carts are also themed like circus train cars, and just like the cars at the nearby splash zone, these have been labeled with numbers. In the splash zone, the cart numbers refer to park opening years here in Walt Disney World. One of the new carts bears the number 55, an obvious tribute to the 1955 opening of Disneyland. The other cart is labeled 34. It’s a lot less clear what 34 refers to. All the other carts refer to parks, so even if we could find something significant in the company history that occurred in 1934, such as the first Donald Duck cartoon, it’s not clear that such a tribute fits in with the nearby park tributes. Let’s see if any of the official Disney blogs clear this one up.

We also saw a new food carts at the front of the land, this one labeled with the number 13. That is conceivably a reference to Walt Disney’s fondness for the number 13, a fact which can still be seen in Disneyland’s address — 1313 Harbor Blvd., which Walt chose himself.

There are tables scattered around the new plaza by Pete’s Silly Sideshow. They are painted in colors you might find in the circus, but they also seem pretty clearly to be modeled after the color scheme of the famous Pixar ball.

There are no giant table lamps nearby to bounce on

The third tent in the area, the yellow tent which was labeled on none of the models or maps, is also open. It turns out to be home to more tables for relaxing, and the FASTPASS machines for both Dumbo and Barnstormer. Apparently, this sort of combined space will be the way Disney does FASTPASS in the future, with tables for resting and even outlets for recharging devices.

There are blue lights in the tent ceiling that are excitingly bright in person (and hard to capture by photos)

You won’t catch me saying this very often, but the standout star of the new area is, yes… the merchandise location. Big Top Souvenirs is decorated to look like the main circus tent, so there are lights all over the ceiling, and many ladders used throughout the design. Trapeze swings dangle from the top, and circus train cars of all manner and variety ring the outside, repurposed here as cabinets to hold the merchandise or as the cashier checkout stands. There is a central focal point in the form of a circular candy store right in the middle of the tent, which also gives the circus tent a candy odor that is not at all out of theme.

You can come in the front, or exit out the meet and greet into this tent/store.

But forget all of that. The carpet is the star here. Yes, I said, the carpet. It is painted, or perhaps woven, in such a way as to look like other surfaces. There’s a colored wooden board that provides a rough circle halfway out from the middle— remember, this is supposed to be big top of the circus. But despite all appearances, it’s not wood. I had to touch it more than once to satisfy myself that my eyes really were deceiving me. There are similar carpet tricks criss-crossing the rest of the floor in the form of canvas seams held together by rope — all of it carpet. Not since the wall textiles of the Symbiosis theater has carpet played such a big role in the theme of a location.

This is not a joke--that's a carpet.

I ended up liking these new additions to Storybook Circus. In fact, they helped me realize that I liked Storybook Circus more than I expected to as a whole. When the theme was first announced, I was very skeptical, but they have pulled it off with panache. I think my original problem had more to do with the idea of the circus than any particular conceptual artwork. I guess I have a somewhat developed bias against the circus theme inside a Disney Park. Walt tried it in the early days of Disneyland, and it didn’t work. The idea came back as a promotion in the 1980s, and it didn’t return again. Even the seaside carnival of DCA has circus overtones, and it also didn’t work, at least not in its original form.

Hungry? That's Humphrey Bear top and center by the way.

But the Magic Kingdom’s Storybook Circus has a different kind of charm and a different vibe from those earlier circus efforts. The heavy reliance on characters gives it a whimsical nature that makes a difference. In fact, I’d venture to say that this new area has less in common with actual circuses than it does with idealized ones. Certainly Dumbo’s circus is the main inspiration. There’s a 1930s quality to the decorations here. It’s not out of place to draw a comparison here to Main Street USA. Just as Main Street is a nostalgic reconstruction of a bygone environment, Storybook Circus is a nostalgic reconstruction of a bygone milieu.

Most visitors will not ruminate on such matters, nor should they. They will simply take in the circus theme and either accept it or not, based on how all those little details affect their personal biases. I think they will accept it as fitting since there’s a gentleness here, even an innocence, that betrays the naïveté of youth. What could be more fitting for the Magic Kingdom?

What are your thoughts? Does the circus theme appeal to you? Or should the Orlando Imagineers have come up wth something bigger or different considering all the other major new attractions now underway at other local theme parks? Be sure to scroll down and post your feedback below.

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  • steve2wdw

    Great report on Storybook Circus, Kevin. Your comments pretty much mirror my thoughts. I was very skeptical of the circus theme when it was announced, but as each piece has debuted, the tide of that skeptisism has slowly turned. Although I missed Pete’s Silly Sideshow by just one day, I did have the opportunity to visit Big Top Souvenirs and wow, what a surprise. The amount of eye candy in this space in incredible. I found that I made three trips back to Storybook Circus just to visit Big Top Souvenirs. I’ve never found any merchandise location at any Disney Park worthy of that amount of attention. I’m looking forward to my visit the first week of December to see the final piece I missed. Thanks for the update.

  • steve2wdw

    PS Kevin…..did you happen to notice if the band organ (imported from DLParis) outside of Pete’s Silly Sideshow was actually operating, or is it just a prop? An operating band organ would certainly enhance the atmosphere of this area.

  • indianajack

    It’s not bad, but I hoped for more immersion. This is why I’ll miss Mickey and Minnie’s homes, they were fun immersive walk-throughs. Tearing down Mickey’s home was a shame; I’m glad DL’s Toontown still has one.

  • eldabee

    Great photos and review! I really appreciated your Dumbo’s Circus reference – that’s exactly what I was thinking as I read this article. Can’t wait to see all of this in person next year!

  • KENfromOC

    Right off this area does not appeal to me, at least in pictures. Like Kevin, I am not a fan of circus themes (save for the limited circus theme of Dumbo/Casey area at Disneyland). Looking at the photos, it looks cheap – much like DCA’s boardwalk area did at it’s opening.
    Maybe Kevin, you could take some additional overall exterior shots so we could get a feeling of the whole area. Most of the photos I’ve seen of this area are close-up and detailed shots. Great photos sure, but for those of us who may not get to WDW for some time to come, they don’t tell the whole “story” . Even the inside of the souvenir shop I would have like to see a wide overall shot. Thanks!

    • Actually, I was there the day it opened to the public and it’s all quite nice looking and not at all cheep. We’d be the first to tell you if it was. 😉

      Here are more detailed photos from this week’s Dateline Disney World:

    • steve2wdw

      It definately does not come off as cheap…..I too was worried about the whole circus theme, but was more than pleasantly surprised. The whole area has an early 40’s kind of vibe. Well done in my book. Until you see it in person, I can understand where you’re coming from. Hopefully when you finally get the chance, you’ll see what the pictures can’t convey.

      • KENfromOC

        Good reply – thanks and I see your point! Yes we hope to get there in a couple of years (last was in 2005).

    • Kevin Yee

      I’ve also got a much larger photo update on my other site:

  • r1hert2

    So love the pics love the carpet shots for sure I am guessing the the candy area in the center is made to look like a carosel>(SP)? Nice touches for sure

  • Stickii

    I agree the main tent was awesome, I was lucky to see it on opening day last week. I made the whole circus theme idea work. Though I felt the whole fastpass area felt like a waist of space although it might be a great place to find a quiet out of the way place for a break, it felt like a dead zone. I hope it improves.

  • danyoung

    I saw the new area for the first time last week. It was really hot, so I didn’t do much more than a quick walkthrough and take some pics. While there isn’t much personal appeal for a single adult with no kids, I’m still pleased with the level of detail here. Like you, Kevin, I was especially impressed with the carpet in Big Top Souvenirs – just a great detail that adds a lot to the area!

  • SpectroMan

    It doesn’t come off as cheap, just awfully bright and a tad garish, as opposed to (what I hope and assume will be) the dark and forest-like exteriors of the rest of new Fantasyland.

  • Timekeeper

    Minor question, I wonder if the Cobras by Donald are reused from the Aladdin parade? Other than that, I’m glad that the Circus theme came out right in MK’s new Fantasyland. 🙂


  • WDW1974

    Kevin, you’re really becoming a softie when it comes to WDW and management. You’re certainly entitled to whatever opinions you claim, but to me (and I was there last week as well) it is incredibly loud, garish, tacky and cheap. It in no way resembles the level of detailing that Disney has shown it is capable of everywhere from TDS to DLP to DAK.

    There isn’t even much in the way of shade in this ‘new’ area. It feels like a kiddie land and just isn’t impressive unless you’re going in looking to be impressed.

    The only thing I can say is, yes, it is better than the Temporary Tentland that was there since 1988.

    I wasn’t even going to comment at all, I don’t comment much here anymore, but when you made the comment about the carpeting in Big Top … well, I just had to speak up.

    I was there the first day the tent was open and the carpet in some places is a sort of off-white and was already filthy (Disney, btw, doesn’t yet get why you place carpeting in certain areas and why you do not. I recall staying at Pop Century just a month after it opened and the food court carpeting was so filthy that it looked like it had been down five years. They went to tile at AoA, but even that isn’t being cleaned at all — check out the grout between tiles and it will tell the tale. But I’m not here to give you a history lesson on WDW ignoring basic maintenance. so …) one spot was just awful near the snack stand in the middle there was a large splotch where someone had spilled a coffee or a Coke and that stain wasn’t coming out. To see something that bad on opening day is simply inexcusable.

    I made a comment to my entourage that ‘take a look because five years from now that same stain will be there” when some middle-aged manager walked by and heard the exchange. Now, he should have stopped and chatted, but he didn’t. What he did do was tell someone there was a problem. So, three days later when I returned, someone had done a patch job that looked like it was done with an exacto knife. They cut out the stain and replaced it with an uneven patch of the same thing, making it look quite cheap and tacky. I now refer to it as ‘The Spirited Patch’ (hey, no one ever said I had no ego, right?) You can’t miss it.

    I didn’t experience the meet and greets because they aren’t my thing. I’m sure they’re done nicely. But I don’t visit for foamheads and I didn’t when I was a child either.

    Oh, and you might want to ask about the woman who threatened to sue Disney and got hysterical because her child is allergic to peanuts and she actually was stupid enough to believe they put real ones in the pavement and she demanded they be removed. Amazing how stupid people really are … and they are getting dumber by the day.

  • Aotphks

    This Circus area does not appeal to me in the very least. Based on the photos above, it all looks flat and uninspired. Maybe people with small children may find this inviting and fun, but after visiting the Harry Potter land and attraction over at Universal, this circus area simply doesn’t cut it. I have mentioned before that I welcome any upgraded themes and architecture at the Magic Kingdom park and based on what I’ve seen so far from the Belle/Beast area and upcoming Mermaid ride, it looks great, but the Storybook book Circus seems cheap. It’s a fortunate thing that Imagineers have found a way to integrate small historical details known to fans, but for the majority of people, those small touches mean nothing. I am all for “pretty” things to look at but I also want to see substance. A dual spinner, shop with nice carpeting and tri-dimensional character meet and greet rooms just don’t cut it.
    Big FAIL.

  • Disneylandfan85

    The area looks neat (you just gotta love all those inside references), but the thing I like is that Pete’s Silly Sideshow has almost all of Mickey’s friends there, but not Mickey himself, who is still on Main Street. He doesn’t even get his own poster in the surrounding area as other characters do.

    Aside from that gripe, though, it looks neat.

    • Disneylandfan85

      I meant to say, “but the thing I DON’T like”. I’m sorry.

  • Ravjay12

    Wow! What’s with all the negative criticism? Criticizing rugs and cheapness of the area? Did you guys not see what you had before? It’s one little part of a whole new land! They themed it around the Dumbo ride, one of the most popular rides in the park! They did a fantastic job with the Storybook circus! Disney World will go from being having the worst Fantasyland to the best Fantasyland!