New Fantasyland: What to expect… and then ask about

Written by Kevin Yee. Posted in Kevin Yee, Walt Disney World

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Who is that guy?

Published on October 18, 2012 at 5:01 am with 23 Comments

Starting last Friday, all of new Fantasyland began operating during a soft opening phase, which this time they are calling a “dress rehearsal.” Except for the unfinished Seven Dwarfs Mine Coaster, the land is fully finished and operational. The plan is to run it on a soft opening basis basically full-time with the rest of the Magic Kingdom going forward, so unless your timing is rotten, there’s a great chance that on your next visit you’ll be able to see everything. What you’ll discover when you get there is a delightful slice of theming, and some of the best work Imagineering has done since Tokyo DisneySea. Here’s what to expect…

Ariel are fans Over the Moon!

Technically, what’s being opened up is only part of Fantasyland, rather than its own new land. But it does feel like its own land. The architecture and the character are unique to this corner of Fantasyland, and I’m betting that the majority of visitors will walk in the area and feel like they’ve come to a new land entirely.

The major locations here are well known: Enchanted Tales with Belle, Be Our Guest restaurant, Gaston’s Tavern, Bonjour Village Gifts, Under the Sea–Journey of the Little Mermaid, and Ariel’s Grotto. Under the Sea is the marquee attraction. It’s an Omnimover ride like the Haunted Mansion, which means it has very high capacity — something that will be very welcome indeed at the Magic Kingdom.

The Mermaid ride itself appears to be identical to the version that DCA, which most people consider to be a D-ticket rather than an E-ticket ride. The queue, however, is a vast improvement over Anaheim’s. It’s longer, richly detailed, and full of placemaking. There’s nothing that feels like they took a shortcut when designing or crafting the environment in the line. The carved rockscapes look expensive, and they would not be out of place at all if transported in their entirety to Tokyo DisneySea. If you’re the type of Disney fan who lives for immersive, 360° atmosphere, then you’ll be giddy when you step into this line.

Exciting to finally step under this bridge.

Are we really inside the Magic Kingdom here?

There’s an interactive element in this queue, implying that the line may become long and slow moving when FASTPASS or FASTPASS plus are used on this attraction. There is FASTPASS already, issued from Mickey’s Philharmagic and printed on the generic Magic Kingdom card stock, implying that there will be no permanent FASTPASS available for this ride. But since there is a dedicated return line for this attraction, we can safely assume there will be X-Pass reservations available, or perhaps regular FASTPASS via cell phone only.


The interactive element is a game you play with a blue crab you see on screens hidden extremely well amid the props and rubble of the caves. The crab will drag out a new object every few moments, and if it doesn’t match the theme of the surrounding props (such as plates, cups, or jewelry), then visitors are supposed to point at the crab, who will then discard the item. Sensors in the ceiling monitor your movements rather like the queue at Soarin’, but much more refined.

The game is just the right amount of fun. It’s not so silly and pointless that you feel like skipping it when you go by, nor is it so engrossing that you want to linger even after the line has moved ahead of you, which is a problem for the games at Space Mountain.

The very long load area is bigger than you’re expecting.

DCA’s version had “ice cream cone” hair at first, but not here in Orlando.

This column is primarily concerned with reviews rather than images, but I know some of you want to see lots and lots of pictures, so I’ve placed a wealth of pictures from the new land on my other blog. Here are the direct links for my coverage of Under the Sea, Ariel’s Grotto, Gaston’s Tavern, Be Our Guest, and Enchanted Tales with Belle.

Ariel’s Grotto is a traditional meet and greet, just to the side of Under the Sea. It has a few new touches in the rock work and lighting, but mostly it’s exactly the same experience as it was before construction began on Fantasyland several years ago. There does seem to be a branching point, so there are actually two chambers to meet Ariel, which obviously doubles the capacity and makes the line move twice as fast.

In my view, this is one of the great success stories of park operations and Imagineering working together. There was an overall recognition that people at Walt Disney World really want to meet Disney characters, and that the lines moved too slowly. Increasing capacity by adding breakout rooms was a stroke of genius, and it has worked extremely well for the Meet Mickey attraction on Main Street.

The “cinnamon roll” rock. Interestingly, Gaston’s Tavern actually serves a cinnamon roll. Coincidence? I think not.

Pretty lighting.

The Bonjour Village Gifts shop is well themed on the outside, but it surprised me little on the inside. This is perhaps the only area in the new land that did not have a striking character of its own. It wasn’t bland exactly, but neither did it scream out a rich backstory the way every other location did. There was not a lot of special merchandise, except for some plates and cups with elegant Beauty and the Beast designs on them. They seemed fancy enough that I’m not sure every tourist will want them. There was a lot of princess stuff here, as you might expect, as well as a few castle oriented items, including some that celebrated Disneyland’s castle.

But something you least expect to find here leers at you from the back wall. The dominating portrait of a Renaissance man is actually a depiction of the Magic Kingdom’s current president, Phil Holmes. On the one hand, I just love the level of tributes in this painting. Phil was an opening day cast member, so his last five-year service milestone was 40 years, and in this portrait, he wears a ring with a 40 on it. On the shelf behind him is a Donald Duck figurine, also standing for the service award giveaway bestowed upon recipients at the 40 year mark. Items on the table in front of Phil represent milestones during his tenure: a magic lamp for the Aladdin ride, an apple for the closed Snow White ride and upcoming Snow White coaster, and peanuts for the major expansion during his reign, Storybook Circus.

A park map lays open on the side, showing Mickey’s Toontown Fair in the corner. Over Phil’s shoulder is a patch of Haunted Mansion wallpaper, which is fitting because it was Phil’s first work location — he was at the Mansion on opening day in 1971, in fact.

On the other hand, it’s kind of weird to have a sitting park president install a tribute to himself while still on the job. It seems, well… just a touch egotistical. There is perhaps precedence for a park president to be honored at the opening of a new land in the Magic Kingdom. In 1993 a small tribute to Disneyland president Jack Lindquist was unveiled at Mickey’s Toontown, where one of the fake pumpkins was given eyeglasses that resembled Jack’s. But Jack’s tribute was subtle, and it was unveiled for him as a goodbye present, since he was leaving the company. Importantly, it was a surprise for Jack. Was Phil part of the planning process for his own tribute? See more pictures and closeups of this portrait here.

Gaston’s Tavern is a quick service location with a couple of dining areas on the sides. Yes, there are antlers all over the walls and ceiling. The signature drink, a frozen apple-mango concoction, is clearly meant to incite the kind of fervor normally seen for the butterbeer in Harry Potter. It’s also identical to a drink sold in the new Cars Land in DCA. Several folks are raving instead about the pork shank, which apparently is like a turkey leg, although smaller and obviously pork rather than turkey. I look forward to trying it.

If you move around the statue in just the right way, a friend assures me, it looks like Gaston is “filling” LeFou’s cup.

The atmosphere inside is cozy and appropriate.

The Be Our Guest restaurant, on the other hand, was not operating yet, But visitors could take a tour of the front area, and it looks smashing. It’s well themed, almost realistically so. Real castles — and I’m thinking here of Neuschwanstein — are not full of rococo gold leaf like you find in palaces. Rather, they have simpler plain walls and only minor decorative wooden arches. I was impressed that the Be Our Guest restaurant, nominally to be found inside the Beast’s Castle, would aim for this level of realism.

Lots of attention to detail.

This exact location is probably why so many people compare the area to Harry Potter; the arch-in-rock looks the same.

It looks very elegant.

Suits of armor down one hallway.

The new area lets us see the back side of the coaster under construction.

Enchanted Tales with Belle is more than just a traditional meet and greet. You don’t get individual time with Belle, and you can’t get her signature. But what you do get is a show and an experience. At its heart, this is mostly an opportunity for kids or even adults to do some play-acting with Belle in retelling her story. But the library room in which this takes place is well themed, and there is an impressive amount of build up to this, such as the robotic wardrobe character, an Audio-Animatronics figure in her own right.

And, perhaps best of all, there’s a narrative device used to transport us to the Beast’s Castle that surprised me when I saw it, and I mean that in a good way. I don’t want to ruin your surprise, but let’s just say that this was one of maybe only three or four times in my life when I did not know how an effect was achieved mechanically. Such a moment is always a big wow for me.

Maurice’s cottage

The animatronic Wardrobe

Participants clap their way around the room (it’s not quite a Congo line)

Mood lighting in the library

Lumiere is an animatronic too, and a good one.

In some ways, New Fantasyland is more than the sum of its parts. It’s the first real expansion of the Magic Kingdom since Mickey’s Toontown Fair, which was always meant to be temporary. There is a freshness to this new land, almost an urgency of theme, that will leave its mark on even the most jaded of returning Disney visitors. Frankly, the quality reeks of Tokyo DisneySea.

The new area in fact causes you to rethink Fantasyland at large. Fantasyland has always been about European stories and places (Peter Pan’s England, Snow White’s Germany), but the entire area from the castle back to these new rides now refers to a very specific region — France. And this is delightful, precisely because it provides a counterpoint to Disneyland’s Fantasyland, which is themed to look like Germany. France here and Germany there: it makes sense because these two countries provided the majority of inspiration for the fairytales that made the Walt Disney company famous.

Is the new land a challenge to Harry Potter and the Harry Potter expansion? Not really. But I have doubts that it was ever supposed to be. If and when Disney wants to get serious about challenging the Boy Wizard on his own terms (ie, young adults and teens), there will be other attractions announced. This expansion was more akin to “counter programming” you see other channels do when the Olympics are on; not an attempt to compete head to head so much as to offer something different. Something that plays to their strengths.

So yes, New Fantasyland is WDW’s counter-programming to Harry Potter and SeaWorld’s expansions. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Particularly when the results speak for themselves. Frankly, there is a REASON that Disney is the 800-pound gorilla in the industry, and when they put their minds to it, they accomplish a lot. Storybook Circus and New Fantasyland are dyed-in-the-wool Disney classics, and as one of the most vociferous Disney World critics, I’m not afraid to admit it.

What are your thoughts? Is the new Fantasyland a Belle or a Beast of an addition?

More information and updates

Readers are invited to connect with Kevin online and face to face at the following locations:

About Kevin Yee

Kevin Yee is an author and blogger writing about travel, tourism, and theme parks in Central Florida. He spent more than a decade working at Disneyland and cultivating a never-ending fascination with that park’s rich traditions and history. Now relocated to Orlando, Kevin enjoys the Disney offerings on both sides of the country. Kevin is the author of numerous independent Disney books, including the popular Walt Disney World Earbook series and Walt Disney World Hidden History. Readers are invited to connect with him online and face to face at the following locations: – Kevin’s personal blog for daily WDW updates Public Facebook page – or friend his personal Facebook account, Twitter feed (user UltOrlando), Google+ account (user cafeorleans), Email at [email protected], Weekly Walt Disney World, a Facebook group of regulars who visit Disney World each weekend. Visitors from out of town are encouraged to come and say hello when in Orlando! Join the FB group to learn when/where the next meet is. Kevin’s books on Amazon

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Comments for New Fantasyland: What to expect… and then ask about are now closed.

  1. Love the article and the pics. Kn ow that this is done perhaps they WDW will get to redoing the rest of the part to make it look as detailed. Once can hope.

  2. Great report Kevin!
    I for one hope Disney never gets into the game of “upping” Universal or any other place with the “at the moment” popularity of teen-young adult inspired attractions. I frimly believe that the “Potter World” will fade away in less than 10 years (as will the Marvel stuff, Avatar, et al). I keep coming back to when Pirates first came out in 1967. It was not a fad of the time, in fact pirates in general were not that big with kids or adults (as they were back in the 1930s-40s), And yet here it is all these years later and despite the upswing due to the movies, it is still the best attraction they have ever done!

  3. Great article and update, Kevin, thanks! I’m a Disneylander, but I hope to make it out to WDW someday, and this New Fantasyland gives me just one more reason. The expansion looks fantastic and frankly I wish we had the space to do something similar in Anaheim. I guess Cars Land and Buena Vista Street will have to do for now.

  4. I would actually say the Little Mermaid area is a step up from Tokyo DisneySea’s own Mermaid Lagoon. I need to see both again to say that with certain. But the images do look impressive. And I say again I think Disney has nailed the balance right with New Fantasyland. I don’t think its right to make a true comparrison until Snow White opens. But for now Disney has created some new experiences for children. And even adults will enjoy the Little Mermaid attraction and Be Our Guest Restaurant.

  5. Thanks for writing such an excellent update, Kevin!
    I really appreciate that you take the time to write clearly and boldly call things as you see them. If an L.A. Times car critic (Dan Neil, who later left the paper) could win a Pulitzer for criticism, maybe you could win one for writing about Disney. You or David Koenig.

  6. I knew that the painting was Phil Holmes. Every time I asked cast members at bonjour they told me it was the founder of the store or something like that. I like Phil just as much as any Magic Kingdom cast member yet I thought it odd to have such a blatant likeness in the parks while he is still with the company.

  7. For me, the problem with the New Fantasyland is that there’s nothing new. It’s the same parade of princesses that we’ve all seen before. They couldn’t build just one attraction that we hadn’t already seen? Something unique, that wasn’t directly tied to a movie or TV show?

  8. Nice update! Still don’t care for the interactive digital parts of queues, but I can just ignore them. Excited to visit WDW in the next year or two!

  9. “some of the best work Imagineering has done since Tokyo DisneySea”

    *cough* Cars Land *cough*

    • Did you not see the “some” there?

  10. I agree that Cars Land is more of a wow than New Fantasyland. But that doesn’t mean nFL is boring or second rate; it’s pretty hard to beat Cars Land, absent a belching volano with a sub lagoon in the middle of it.

  11. I have to say that LeFou’s Brew is gross. Take the poll now on MiceChat to say if you Love it or Hate it!

  12. They should have made a Beauty and the Beast attraction. Now you only have the Little Mermaid attraction which really isn’t all that great. FYI fastpass for that ride is not needed after the first 6 months.

    A mermaid attraction with Tokyo’s Pooh Hunny Hunt ride vehicle technology (see a version of this in the latest Imagineering book)
    A classic dark ride for Beauty and the Beast instead of Belle telling a story
    plus Seven Dwarfs mine cart coaster
    = a winner

    As it is now I will just wait to go when the mine cart coaster opens

  13. I originally did not like LeFeu’s Brew either… but one of the CM’s saw me make a face when I tried it and she suggested that I mix all of the whipped creams in with the apple cider part… and she was right, MUCH better after that. I may just order this without the whipped creams in the future….

    As for the Phil Holmes painting, I have no doubt that he planned this in some way, and it’s quite the DB move if you ask me.

  14. It’s weird that Belle appears in the Enchanted Tales show in her ballgown. Wouldn’t it make more sense to have her in her village dress?

  15. On the portrait, its seems odd that MK only had a vacation town for Mickey and Friends, not really another Mickey’s Toontown, I wonder if Mickey’s Toontown was considered for MK before Disney chose the Enchanted Forest, which does seem to complement the Cinderella Castle and the German influences in the old Fantasyland more. Also, having another dining option like the Be Our Guest restaurant is nice to have in MK, but I think most people, not the pre-planing people, but most people are going to expect a ride, not a restaurant. Other than that, great update.