Be Our Guest… and the Iger Sanction

Fantasyland is in full-time previews now: passholders, DVC, cast members, D23–pretty much every slice of the population. In general I like this approach, but I wish they had let the CMs see it before the regular public. It should be a perk of working there. If they need to let test audiences see it for a super-soft opening, then spread the word that CMs alone can get in. The news will spread soon enough.

I’d seen everything in the new land on previous soft openings, before the ‘regular’ previews began (and access was controlled), but this weekend on my D23 preview I got to experience Be Our Guest, the sit down restaurant. They spared no expense in making this look expensive. The food is good, though you should expect Disney-sized prices.

The area photographs well day OR night.

The restaurant is set into the stone under the Beast’s castle, and the archway entrance reminds many folks (including me) of the Harry Potter attraction from Universal. Inside are gargoyles, suits of armor, tapestries, and other such authentic-looking trappings.

The main ballroom is visually stunning. Elegant chandeliers (I hope those stay cobweb-free!) are suspended next to apparent frescoes. Those cherubs look more diverse (multi-racial) than you usually see in European castles and palaces, and their faces/hairdos look aged enough that I wonder if they are meant to represent the Imagineering team that worked on this. Someone email me if you know!

Orchestrated versions of the film’s songs play on a loop discreetly.
Are those Imagineers’ faces?

The far end of the ballroom ends on big windows; and a look outside shows it’s nighttime, and snowing (courtesy of projections). The snow drifts down, but every so often the wind will blow it sideways — a nice touch. Awesome, in fact. Perhaps more than anything else, this makes it feel not only like a Disney eatery, but a particularly magical one. I’d say “enchanting,” but that has special meaning for the movie that provides the source material, and there aren’t any animatronics like that.

That particular lack did disappoint me slightly. I seem to recall that some very early concepts made it look like a live-action version of the song in Philharmagic, with a table coming alive. Like the Tiki Room was originally meant to be: food AND an attraction. I stopped following the news and spoilers – I don’t like spoilers – so my guess is that this was shelved a long time ago?

The West Wing room’s darker and foreboding, so I was kind of glad I ate in the main ballroom. The projection of a rose shedding pedals was neat. Did the Beast’s (technically, Prince Adam’s) portrait light up or do anything? If so, I missed it.

There’s apparently a Hidden Mickey in one of the tapestries here somewhere.

There’s a lunch room off to the side. It felt a lot like the hotel dining rooms we saw in Paris, only more  detailed. The paintings and tapestries were more cheerful–a good word to describe the vibe in this room in general (versus stately for the ballroom and rather foreboding for the West Wing). The spinning sculpture of a dancing Beast and Belle was carved from a single piece of wood, an amazing effort.

We visited at dinner-time, so I don’t know yet how lunch works, but I do see a drink cell. Does that mean you can get free refills here? If so, it will be the first place in the Magic Kingdom to offer that.

I suspect I will eat lunch here often.

We agreed that dinner was tasty and elegant. I particularly liked the $15 cured meats platter appetizer-for-two. My entree was the shrimp and scallops in lobster cream sauce (heavy, tasty, a bit seafood-y) and my wife had the pork chop (a touch dry and unflavored, but the nearby beans were good and the macaroni was great).

Shrimp and scallops. Filling!

If you haven’t heard yet, there is a “Grey Stuff” dessert (you know, — Lumiere sings about it in the song?). It’s free and not on the menu, so keep in mind that they will only bring it if you ask for it AND you are celebrating something (like a birthday, etc). Adds new urgency to picking up a button from City Hall on the way in, eh? This oreo-tasting mousse is really good.

Don’t believe me? Ask the dishes!

As always, I’ve created more complete photo tour on my other blog–be sure to have a glance!


So much has been said online already about Disney’s purchase of LucasFilm (including LucasArts video games and ILM special effects studio) for $4 billion, that in some ways it’s hard to say anything new. Then again, the sheer volume of fan interest has itself become the story. For the merger of Disney and Star Wars is surely the biggest nerdgasm of the century. I count myself among the number of folks who dearly love both brands, and think this latest development is amazingly positive on pretty much every level.

It occurs to me that Douglas Adams was right. This author of the famous Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy books once wrote in the lesser-known Dirk Gently books that invention looks easy in hindsight. He used the humorous example of the catflap (doggie door)—it looks amazingly simple in retrospect, but SOMEONE had to have that initial idea, and that person had “vision.” This Disney-Star Wars merger falls into this category. In hindsight, it looks obvious, so obvious that one wonders why it wasn’t done before. Is Iger just that person with vision?

Maybe. Certainly he didn’t inspire when he was new, and very much in Michael Eisner’s shadow. But then acquisition after acquisition, Bob has proved he played to win. Pixar, Avengers, Lucasfilm—those are big names. As big as Eisner’s ABC, ESPN, Power Rangers (oops)? Eisner played with networks, Iger plays with brands (movie-based brands). For what it’s worth, it appears that Iger’s vision is closer to Walt’s, who used movie-based brands as the basis of the theme park attractions. (Though if we’re being honest, we need to remember television played a big role Disneyland’s acceptance by the public, and some of the material was popularized by TV rather than feature films).

One thing I like about Iger: he knows how to keep a secret. In this hyper-connected world, it seems improbable that a mega-deal can stay under wraps. One single twitter leak would doom it. Yet here was Iger, not once but three times (four if you count the Avatar announcement for DAK) showing up out of nowhere with a megadeal. It kind of reminds me of the ending of the Godfather films, when sudden action rips across the screen in rapid-fire order, also seemingly coming from nowhere. Iger even looks a bit like Michael Corleone, right?!

Or maybe it’s not Iger’s vision. Maybe his timing was just right. Lucasfilm joins Disney for $4 billion, which sounds like a lot of scratch until you consider how much money Lucas makes each year (let alone in a year when a Star Wars movie opens in theaters). The merchandising alone is amazing. In many, many ways, so the consensus seems to be that Disney got the property for cheap. Why is that? One answer is that Lucas trusts the Disney Company and management and wants to leave his legacy with someone he has worked with. Undoubtedly true. It’s also true that there are only so many companies that can write a check (and stock deal) for $4 billion, so Lucas’s options were limited.

But beyond all that, I suspect Lucas was just ready to quit. He got beaten up pretty badly in the press and in the popular consciousness by reaction to the prequel trilogy, and that can’t be fun for anyone. Why not cash out now while he can? I respect that. I also respect that he was the man who created the mythos to begin with. Complain as we might about Jar Jar (and even Ewoks, if you’re as old as I am), the fact remains that George dreamed up the whole shebang, and it seems obvious only in retrospect. Catflap, indeed. Let’s all pause for a moment to give the man a debt of gratitude.

Hopefully this is only the beginning!

No one knows yet whether George will be involved in the future films. Episode 7 is due in 2015. Count me among those who would love to see Lucas confined to an advisory role, neither writing nor directing the next movies. Like many, I was blown away by the Avengers movie. If they do to Star Wars what Avengers did to Marvel characters… I can’t even finish the sentence. It’s too much to contemplate. My bank account would not survive such a temptation. (Disclosure: I saw Star Wars seven times in theaters in 1977, and have not come close to such devotion since—but I quake in fear that Episode 7 might do it to me. Are my expectations already too high?)

Closer to my usual topic, the theme parks stand to benefit as well. It must be stated that the movies certainly make more money than theme park attractions do (and merchandise still more), but there still seems to be call for some kind of theme park expansion. Apparently nothing is in the works now (remember: all of this came out of the blue!) Imagineers were caught off guard as much as you or I. But rest assured, they are frantically dreaming away now, and pitching ideas left and right for theme park implementations. Might we see a full revamp of DHS to make significant portions (up to half?) of the park turn to the Star Wars universe? Could we someday visit the rebel base on Hoth, or the Mos Eisley Cantina? I can’t even finish speculating. I’m enjoying the anticipation again.

The other question coming to mind is “Could Disney build a fifth theme park in Orlando just for Star Wars?” Well, sure, from a land perspective. There are expansion pads of theme park size between MK and Epcot (near the STOLport) and north of DAK. But would Disney do that? The financials seem to suggest that a fifth park wouldn’t extend vacations by extra days, and may in fact cannibalize visits to other existing Disney parks.

Obviously, that’s not desired. What they want is something that will get people to spend more money. Maybe a “boutique” park might work? Imagine something that costs extra – maybe a LOT extra – and not included with the parkhopper option. A comparable example would be SeaWorld’s Discovery Cove, and its limited daily attendance. Would you pay $150/day to visit all the Star Wars themed environments (Dagobah, Geonosis, Hoth, Coruscant, Mustafar, Naboo, Tatooine) in a single day? I might. The allure is that strong.

Star Tours logo

Yes, dear friends, THIS is the Potter-Swatter. Just when Universal is nearing its crescendo with Transformers and the second Potter phase, Disney swoops in with possibly the one and only thing that might make Universal look second-fiddle again. It will be a few years until we see Star Wars in the theme parks, but rest assured that we will.

Big caveat here: there’s an 8-million pound elephant in the room, and that’s Disney’s traditional penny-pinching with theme park budgets. A *small* rollout of Star Wars themed environments would have all the charm of the International Drive version of the Titanic walkthrough (in other words, not much). If Disney elects to do the “bare minimum” for Star Wars, it will be no Potter-Swatter.

But if Disney swings for the fences? When they reach, they can achieve things no other company can rival. The Cars Land expansion in DCA is proof positive that even the most toxic of Disney park experiences can become transcendent. I fervently hope that when it comes, it will sweep all of us off our feet with its breathtaking audacity and pure awesomeness.

Michael Corleone, eat your heart out.

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  • Totally agree with you on Star Wars. If Disney wants to fight Potter, they’ll need to think BIG. Bigger than the current Fantasyland expansion – wich impresses with theme and underwhelms in attractions. I’d also advise that they think bigger than Potter or even Cars Land, which both suffer from a lack of attractions and capacity. Star Wars deserves bigger.

    • TDSTOM

      Hmmm maybe a Star Wars cart at the entrance to Tomorrowland?


  • Trumpet

    I don’t think Star Wars and Indiana Jones will compete with Harry Potter. The recent expansion in the Universal Studios and the Hogwarts express connecting IoA and USO along with Transformers could keep people there. I think the problem is that there are too many theme parks at the WDW, whereas, there is only 2 theme parks at the USO Resort. Disney World needs alot of investmemt to improve to a high standard.

    Thanks again Kevin. It is always good to have critical update of WDW.


  • SueinSac

    This is tiny, but it really bugs me that they used the British spelling of “grey” for “Try the grey stuff.” The movie is based in France (then it would be “gris”) and made by an American company…there’s no British in it! Maybe I’ve spent too many years doing spelling lists with my kids, but…it’s gray!!! Not Fifty Shades of…Grey… It’s such a cute concept that they’re doing this dessert and I want to love it, but that spelling just sets my teeth on edge. I do love Earl Grey tea – but, you know, it’s British! I wonder if it will be “e” forever now in WDW…

    • ParkerMonroe

      Seriously? This is what keeps you up at night?

      Well, the word “stuff” has a French origin (étoffe). So, let’s call it a draw.

    • KENfromOC

      SORRY SUEIN – But you’re wrong! If you ever used PrismaColor Art Markers (as I did in art classes years ago) to this day they still use “GREY” ! Don’t believe me? Heres the link:

  • mess98

    I’m nobody special and was able to eat in Be Our Guest… you just have to say the “right things” to the “right people” and you’ll get in.

    It doesn’t hurt if someone in your group is wearing something with Belle on it.

    • TDSTOM

      You’re right about that!

      I said “Hey, can I come in?” to a cast member and she said “Sure! Be Our Guest” and let us in.


  • flayrah

    For decades, in Southern California there was a friendly rivalry between the parks – Knott’s would make suggestive comments about Disneyland; Disney would talk about their poor neighbors; Universal would mention the ‘make believe’ parks (compared to their working Studios); and SeaWorld would ‘feel sorry’ for those parks up north that didn’t have perfect weather. But always with the goal of ‘go see for yourself’ and stay a few days longer in the area. I haven’t worked in Southern Calif. in years so maybe things have changed, but in Orlando all I hear is ‘Potter Killer’, ‘End of Potter’, etc. Maybe it’s just a different market, but doesn’t any attraction that gets visitors into the area a potential benefit to all attractions and related businesses?

    • Disney really made it a death battle when they decided not to play nice with the other parks (particularly in Orlando). Disney World’s sole goal is to get you to Disney World and trap you there for a week. They don’t want you to drive, they want you to take Magical Express. Once there, they do not want to make it easy for you to get to Universal, SeaWorld or any of the suffering local attractions.

      Magic Kingdom and Epcot are uniquely Disney parks. But the Studios park was built 100% to keep you from going to Universal. And Animal Kingdom was to prevent you from visiting Busch Gardens (and to a lesser degree SeaWorld). They made a decision to attempt to be a monopoly in Orlando instead of a leading partner in local tourism. It’s why Mickey has made so many enemies.

      Disney isn’t a nice neighbor as they were in the days of Walt. In fact, they can be downright evil at times. They don’t just want their fair share of the pie, they want the whole pie.

      • Amy VandenBoogert

        And here’s this for irony… I refuse to set foot in Animal Kingdom and prefer Busch Gardens. In my little world, Animal Kingdom doesn’t exist. Take THAT, Disney!

  • StevenW

    I do agree that $4 Billion sounds cheap. Lucas should have held out for $10 Billion, which compares with Marvel at half the price and half the development of its film and merchandising franchise. Lucasfilm has much more in its arsenal. Marvel has little.

    Companies like Disney CAN afford to pay $10 Billion. Disney pays with a combination of stock and cash. Other ways of paying is allow Disney to have majority ownership and other investors have minority ownership. Perhaps the low pricing is due to anticipation of Disney stock appreciation that will eventually be reflected in the stock price. If this is true, then Lucas should have held out for additional stock options.

    The Be Our Guest restaurant looks nice, but it doesn’t seem to do much for me. It seems much too adult for the family demographic. I can’t imagine families with toddlers enjoying a night out for dinner. It is too much of a hassle.

    • loudube

      Just wanted to comment on Be Our Guest. I took my family, including three toddlers, last week and it was very enjoyable. My two year old was a little frightened by the lightning in the west room (which occurs every 15 minutes I think), but overall it is very family friendly and has the usual kids menu along with steak and meatloaf. The space is so open that any noise coming from children is drowned out, which I like. The seats were large and actually butt against each other, so I didn’t have to worry about them falling out of them either. The cured meats were awesome and I enjoyed the scallops and shrimp as well.

  • David Hollenbeck

    I can see them making a LucasLand work, if not as a park itself, certainly a “land” in Hollywood studios. Now, before you go laughing and thinking I just made one of the most obvious statements on the subject…

    You want something unique to Florida? Think of how to couch all this with what you have now and the story can really slide in comfortably. Of course, you’ll have a lavish Star Wars and Indy area, but you can put the streets of America to use with some re-theming to American Grafitti, leading to an area that, on one side is American Grafitti, with the drive in restaurant and dovetails into Carsland (assuming it has been greenlighted) on the other side as Flo’s, with some sort of acknowledgement – I picture it as similar to a Partners statue, but with Lucas holding Yoda’s hand with one hand, and with the other shaking Steve Jobs’ hand – bridging the two areas, since they are intertwined. I can picture allusions to Radiator Springs Racers in Grafittiland, without it being by name necessarily. Something about the drag races, even if it’s only on the bathroom walls.

    But Dave, you say, American Grafitti is an old film no one really cares about much anymore, why would Disney do something like that? To pull the story together with what they already have. Also, it sort of builds on the time passage progression that the studios started out with that got blown up by the Sorcerer’s Hat. It’s also generic enough (not in a bad way) that knowing anything about the American Grafitti film isn’t really necessary to appreciate that area of the park, plus it connects the primary attractions of Lucasland’s Star Warsville to Pixar land. I’m sure there is a world of complications with that scenario I’m not taking into consideration, but it seems like a good concept to me.

    Another thing they can do with it is breathe some life into the Animation Courtyard area by continuing to feature Disney animation, but also have it be a showcase for stuff that ILM is doing. I don’t know if that was part of the Disney deal or not, but how fun could that be? It just gives you many avenues to build upon with specific and non-specific movie themes. That is, Star Wars is specific, and if they did some sort of ILM attraction that featured new technology in a story that wasn’t for a theatrical-release film. There were commercials a year ago or so for FiOS or Comcast’s multi-room DVR with the robots/armored space dudes fighting in the kitchen, then bursting into the living room and another with a fire burning the house, but despite it happening in his house, the owner is just watching all the stuff happening as he moves upstairs to see the floor collapsing. I picture ILM having something like that there, sort of a Future of Film Watching experience.

    I realize it’s not my money I’m spending on all of this, but hey, you’ve got people BEGGING for something good, here, why not go for legendary? I mean, if Disney is the bigger kid with longer arms that has been keeping the fiesty smaller kid named Universal at bay by putting it’s hand on Uni’s forehead and extending, staying safe by virtue of Uni’s short arms, well, Uni’s swings are getting closer to connecting or are landing some blows. Disney can either go into defensive mode or teach the kid a lesson. I’m not anti-Universal, just thinking of how Disney would want to position itself given the competition.



  • Speedway

    Re the CM thing, we’ve been having previews since mid October. Don’t you worry about us.

  • ttintagel

    I’m guessing that the Lucasfilm deal has been in the very casual discussion stage for many years. (Makes me think of those late-night talks people have with their BFF’s: “If neither of us is married when we turn 40…”) It does feel like a very natural fit, totally unlike Marvel did. Done right, I think a Star Wars land could do for DHS what Carsland has done for DCA.

    • I agree. Star Wars feels like a much more natural Disney fit than Marvel. And a major Star Wars land – done right – could make the Studios the don’t miss theme park in the world. But if they just do a Cars Land sized land or just add attractions here and there (as they did with the various Nemo rides and attractions) then it won’t matter much.

  • JiminyCricketFan

    Disney had a great opportunity with the Be Our Guest restaurant. I am disappointed that Disney opted to just decorate the interior rather than bringing some true Disney magic and have fixtures be animated in the dinning room. It is truly sad that Disney has just declined as it has. So much opportunity to create a truly magical experience for the guests. Instead they much made another Disney over priced dining experience. There you remember how large the check was more than the experience.

  • waymire01

    Have to say I’m kind of disappointed in Be Our Guest. While it is a beautiful restaurant, and the menu looks great, I was totally expecting a dinner/show atmosphere.. with a large production of the dining scene in the movie including animatronics, character interaction, the works. Keep hoping it is yet to come.. if not what a missed opportunity.

    I really get the impression that this acquisition was much more of a personal decision by Lucas, rather than a strategic move by Disney. For some reason yet unknown he decided to place his “baby” in a good home, and of course Disney jumped at the chance.. the basic definition of a “no-brainer”.

  • Ravjay12

    Great post Kevin! While Universal may have the upper hand now, eventually the Harry Potter hype will cool off. There are no other Harry Potter or Transformers movies being made. Disney is planning 3 more Star wars films, more Marvel movies, and at least 2 more Avatar films which they have licensing with. With Marvel, Star Wars, and Avatar, Disney has a golden opportunity here to do something really big at a time when all these film franchises are going to be at their peak.

  • danyoung

    I read on another site that the ceiling cherubs are indeed the children of Imagineers. Some of them look cute, but some are kinda creepy . . .

  • Disneykin Kid

    Movies make more money than theme park attractions? Maybe so, but it’s the theme park experiences that help keep the movies evergreen. Snow White has a great story, but as a movie looks increasingly old fashioned. But it doesn’t look so old as a ride or walk around characters. Theme parks are the Disney company’s interface with the fans, if you create good feelings there, it fuels fanaticism for other parts of the company. If Disney can build quality experiences with Star Wars, the fans will become only more fanatical.

  • Timchat2

    Between the Phil Holmes portrait and the cherub children the New Fantasyland might win for having the creepiest (and most unnecessary) tributes in the history of WDI.

  • topdad1

    Tomorrowland could be the entrance portal to a Star-wars land. Enter via the old carousel of progress, after 3 turns and preshows, exit from teh back or side of COP, to a new world that would replace/ overlap or extend over Autopia . Or cross under the berm , buy up property across South Harbor Blvd. LOTS of room for a whole new world. Similar options in Florida, with lots and lots of room to expand. I’d really hate to see $ 150 additional fee . We know it can be should be done right or not at all.

  • Disneykin Kid

    Harry Potter is more likely to become dated than Star Wars. It’s film component will become dated, simply because the actors will become dated. Star Wars’ main characters are also human actors, but there is a greater emphasis on creatures. Also Star Wars is more of a timeless fantasy, whereas Potter is more tied to a time period – the 2000s. Also since there are no more Potter movies, audiences will eventually become less familiar with it, not so with Star Wars, which has remained popular for 35 years and counting. The determining factor though is quality, new movies have to have great stories, and they have to equal or better Potter in the theme park experiences.

  • pineapplewhipaddict

    I’m sorry, but I have to nitpick on this one – his name was never officially “Adam.” The creators have even admitted on the DVD commentary that they accidentally forgot to give the Beast a real name. The name Adam came from fans/the internet.

  • pineapplewhipaddict

    /a CD-ROM Game was what apparently called him Adam. In any case I feel like fans ran rampant with the name. Until Disney calls him Adam in other instances, I feel that it’s iffy.