Hello, and welcome to Dateline Disney World! This week, we have a very detailed look at the New Fantasyland that just soft opened at the Magic Kingdom. To go along with that, we have news from MK as well as some tidbits from Epcot. We have a lot to cover today, so off we go!!

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Welcome to the Magic Kingdom!!

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[center][size=5][b]Fantasy Revealed[/b][/size]
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This past week, Disney has been running technical rehearsals on the New Fantasyland. After reading Kevin Yee’s article from earlier this week, I share many of the same sentiments he does, so instead of you all reading the same thing over again, I’ll show mostly photos of the area with a few snippets of my commentary. Since I’ve already also covered Enchanted Tales with Belle some time ago, we’ll get started with the Be Our Guest restaurant.

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Those guys are great photo ops and set the tone for the experience to come. Here’s the main entrance to the restaurant.

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Details from the entrance.

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Once inside, on the right is the area where you will order counter service food during the lunch hours. Both sides of the hallway are flanked by the suits of armor.

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Since the restaurant is not open yet, guests have only been able to see the main ballroom dining area. And it is spectacular.

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It is very clear that Disney was handed a large budget for this restaurant, and if the food is anywhere near as good as the theming, it should be a hit. There have been a ton of complaints saying that Disney should have done a dark ride here. I feel like that would have been amazing, and in my eyes, probably better than a restaurant. But, given the fact that this is the decision they made, it is still a victory considering how poor the food options in the Magic Kingdom are. The other parks have high quality, well themed restaurants that are special, and until now, the Magic Kingdom has not had one. Now it finally does. We just have to hope the menu never gets watered down!

Moving on to the village area, we’ll start with Gaston’s Tavern.

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You’re greeted by this great statue of Gaston and LeFou, which is two toned like Partners, and thus very photogenic.

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Once inside, you have the pork, some small snack items, and the new apple freeze imported from DCA. Here’s what the dining room on the left looks like.

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And the portrait of Gaston himself in the other dining room.

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Some details outside.

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In between Gaston’s and Bonjour! Village Gifts, you have the restroom area that also has some seating near it, and lots of more great details.

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Now we come to Bonjour! Village Gifts.

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The gift shop is a little small, and features all Beauty and the Beast merchandise, along with some generic Disney castle stuff. The thing about this place that surprised me and impressed me the most was the lack of Mickey, Minnie, and the rest of the gang. It makes Bonjour! special in that they can’t just get the same stuff here. And, the things that are in here, for the most part, can only be found here, which is great. Hopefully it stays that way.

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Then you have Maurice’s Popcorn cart next door, which is fine for what it is.

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Now we move on to what is, at least until the Mine Train opens, the highlight of this expansion for me, and that is the Little Mermaid omnimover attraction.

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This outside of this attraction and the queue are nothing short of Disney’s best work. Truly amazing.

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Inside, the ride is essentially the same as the DCA version, with maybe some slight lighting changes and a minute pacing changes.

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Overall, I feel that this attraction is a huge boost for the park. It might not be the E-Ticket everyone wants and it’s not the best dark ride, but a high capacity attraction like this, with a stunning queue helps set the standard for what they should do in the future. The queue for this attraction makes many of the rides on Walt Disney World property look bad by comparison, which I think is great. Hopefully we’ll see this high level of quality in future projects.

For my final thoughts on New Fantasyland, you’ll have to wait until the Mine Train opens, as I feel that is the attraction that will make or break this expansion. If it is a smash hit with great theme and excitement, this will all be a success. If not, it might leave a little to be desired. Either way, some things I heard while in the area were lots of guests comparing the land to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. And while it might seem visually like WWoHP, I really don’t think Disney meant to do just that. If they did, that huge E-Ticket we’re all clamoring for would have come into play. Still, guests are expecting it, and that could be a problem for Disney. But unlike Islands of Adventure which waited 10 years to give guests a reason to visit, Disney is simply expanding their Fantasyland to add capacity and a new level of detail and services. And at that, it succeeds.

Also, seeing as I’ve been a photographer far longer than I’ve been a blogger, the New Fantasyland is utterly amazing to me. The textures, details, landscapes (in the Magic Kingdom!) and endless photo opportunities have me very excited for it. That said, the jury is still out for me on the overall success of the area until the Mine Train is done and the expansion is complete.

[center][size=5][b]Less Bears[/b][/size]
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This week, the Country Bear Jamboree reopened, with about 5 1/2 minutes worth of content cut out of it.

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I’ll start with the good. The carpeting is new, the benches have been made more comfy, and the audio is much better. The Bears themselves have also received some very welcome TLC.

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Also, Big Al is still around, which is most important in this blogger’s eyes.

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Onto the bad.

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The show is clunky now. The transitions don’t feel like they should, everything is very abrupt. Much of the wit and political “incorrectness” is still there, but some of it has also gone away. The finale feels very rushed. The whole attraction just feels very short and disjointed now. For some, that is probably a good thing. For others, it will feel like the quality and value of the attraction has slipped. As someone who was terrified of almost everything at Walt Disney World as a child, the Bears were something I could do and enjoy. I have remarkably fond memories of the show from my very early childhood, and to see a much shorter show as a true shame. I don’t exactly know their reasoning for doing what they did, even though every other blogger is convinced they do know. But, I try to find the good in everything, and having the theater cleaned up and made fresh and new means that the Bears will be with us for a while. Which is certainly better than having them taken out, which has been rumored for years.

[center][size=5][b]Construction Kingdom[/b][/size]
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There is still construction happening at Magic Kingdom, so let’s start at the new bathroom area. Rock work continues to grow.

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Disney confirmed this week that there will be no character meets at this location, just “guest comfort”, which is fancy talk for toilets.

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The walls came down at the other side of the Castle Wall this week, and it is basically the same as the other side.

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More steel continues to go up at the Mine Train coaster.

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We can get new angles now that the new area is open!

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Old angles are still good though, too.

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Over in Storybook Circus, the Fastpass sign was installed at the Barnstormer. I found it interesting that it actually says “Fastpass+” and not just “Fastpass”.

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And lastly, at the exit, they’ve been testing a new way to get people out without using the turnstiles, which is probably all preparation for NextGen, which should be rolling out sooner than we all think. All the clues are scattered around.

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Welcome to Epcot!!

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As you can see above, some of the special EPCOT 30 merch is still available a couple weeks later.

[center][size=5][b]Re-Track[/b][/size]
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Test Track is moving along, with some actual changes outside the attraction to cover.

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Changes being made to the front entrance.

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From aboard the monorail, you can see how much work has been done outside.

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[center][size=5][b]This and That[/b][/size]
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A new meet and greet location opened recently in France. I was worried at first, since I think WDW is getting way too meet and greet heavy, but this location was carved out to find a home for the meet and greet that was already there and was causing traffic flow issues.

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Walls have gone up in the Innoventions Plaza area. My guess is installing a central Fastpass location for all the attractions getting Fastpass (SSE, Imagination, Nemo) as part of NextGen.

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The Jammitors were out doing their Food and Wine Festival inspired show.

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And lastly, John and Nancy Lasseter were in town this week doing wine demonstrations at the Wonders of Life pavilion.

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Not entirely newsworthy, but anytime you get the chance to photograph a celebrity, you should probably take it!

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Well, that wraps things up for this week’s Dateline. What are your thoughts on what you’ve seen of New Fantasyland? Are you a fan or foe of the new version of the Country Bear Jamboree? Let us know in the comments!!

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If you enjoyed the column, especially the photos, and you want to check out more photos and tutorials on Disney photography, please check out my photo site, [URL=”http://www.DisneyPhotographyBlog.com”]Disney Photography Blog[/URL]. And if you like listening more than reading, you can hear us talk about Disney and photography on my podcast, [URL=”http://www.ISO5571.com”]ISO5571[/URL]