New Fantasyland is for the Nerds

Written by George Taylor. Posted in Disney Parks, Imaginerding, Walt Disney World

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Published on November 26, 2012 at 5:01 am with 39 Comments

I had the opportunity to visit New Fantasyland a few weeks ago. I’m not the first person to snoop around this area, but I did spend some time thinking about the ramifications of New Fantasyland and what it means for the future of the Magic Kingdom, Walt Disney World and the Imagineers. I wrote something similar about the Storybook Circus area in the spring.

We’ve been waiting to visit New Fantasyland since 2009. When the initial plans were first leaked before the D23 Fan Expo, the Disney community was split in two.

Was it real? What’s with all the Princess stuff?

When the final details were released, it angered a lot of the enthusiasts to the point that they lost hope. Anyone that suffered through the strange attractions and imagineering of the late-1990s can attest that major changes can go horribly wrong (Under What Kind of Management–Journey Into Who’s Imagination?!?!?). So, what was going to happen with the largest expansion in Magic Kingdom history?

You mean thousands of people have walked over this and not even seen it?!?!

When Jeff (my co-host on Communicore Weekly) and I had the chance to spend a few days in New Fantasyland, we jumped. Right off the bat, we knew that Imagineering had knocked it out of the park. The details are astounding and the area is finally able to stand head and shoulders with Adventureland and Frontierland in terms of theming and future growth potential. Within the next ten years, Fantasyland is going to grow into one of the most amazing places in Walt Disney World.

And yeah, that IS a hidden Oswald on the pathway!

This is part of the reason my faith in Imagineering has been restored. Imagineering is at its best when they are doing one of two things: recreating an environment with strong ties to the past (like Buena Vista Street at DCA) or creating completely immersive and fantastical environments (like Cars Land and New Fantasyland). Especially when all of the details come together and you forget you’re in a theme park.

But seriously, how cool is it that there is a Hidden Oswald in the park?

Under the Sea

Most people are talking about two things with New Fantasyland. Let’s take a look at Under the Sea: journey of the Little Mermaid.

The exterior to the attraction is phenomenal. It’s amazing to see how photogenic an area Imagineering can create. No matter where you take a photo, you’re going to be happy with the results. Prince Eric’s Castle is a fitting tribute to the film and really looks like it belongs here.

I love the crest. Such a great detail.

The queue is another area where the Florida version of the Little Mermaid is set apart from its California sister. My first thought was that the queue was very similar to the one for the Florida Pirates. It does a lot of winding, but it transports you to another place and time. Did you see the interactive crabs in the first part of the indoor segment? Make sure you pay attention to them.

The nerdy details in the queue are fantastic. It is a fairly extensive queue that takes a good 10 minutes to walk through even without a line. Once the area is fully open to guests, you can expect this queue to be one of the longer ones (besides Peter Pan, of course). As I mentioned, the queue has the same feel as Pirates. It’s broken down into three main sections: outside, a grotto-like area and under the castle. Each area transitions very smoothly and gets you into that Mermaid frame of mind. There’s a great waiting area with a fantastic Scuttle animatronic. His humor will play well on those days when the line stretches. My favorite part, by far, was the older part of the castle with several barrel vaults. Along the vaulted ceilings are several depictions of the Little Mermaid story that was developed years ago by the Studio.

The attraction is a solid D-Ticket; that’s not knocking anything. The park can’t be all E-Ticket attractions there needs to be a balance of attraction types for all ages and thrill levels. Also, Fantasyland attractions need to be geared towards their intended audience. I’ll be the first to admit that I rode it six to seven times. The ride totally captivated me with its charm. The initial underwater effect was very well done and all of the show scenes really came to life. Now, I just think that Fantasyland needs a few more classic dark rides.

Make sure you ask about the Hidden Steamboat Willie in the Exit area.

The show building is even more beautiful at night.

Be Our Guest Restaurant

The other area that has been grabbing all the attention is the Be Our Guest Restaurant, located in the Beast’s Castle.

There is really a sense of royalty in this area. Whereas the majority of Fantasyland has always had a medieval fair sensibility, New Fantasyland has separate boroughs or neighborhoods. Within the Beast/Belle area, we see the charming Maurice’s Cottage and the heavy and foreboding area of Beast’s Castle. The transition point between Beast’s area and the Little Mermaid is Gaston’s Tavern. it’s a great segueway between the seriousness of the Beast area and the charm of the Prince Eric’s Castle. This does beg the question of how Storybook Circus neighborhood will fit the transition from the Little Mermaid/Seven Dwarfs’ Coaster. I can’t wait to see it.

The area for Beast’s Castle is dominated by heavy and well-sculpted figures of powerful and mythical animals. The size of the figures are quite large and lend to the intimidating factor of the Castle. It really looks like the ornamentation has been here for years.

The stained glass window with Belle and her Prince could be a PhotoPass spot.

There is quite a seriousness to the poses of the two guardians of the Ballroom (and some serious abs).

Before I talk about dinner service, I have to share the following photo:

Yes, ladies, these two handsome devils are drinking beer in the Magic Kingdom.

The main dining area, the Ballroom, is as beautiful as you expect. You really do feel like you’ve walked into the film. The chandeliers are the first thing you notice, and they are opulent. Pay close attention to the cherubs in he ceiling, too. They are the Imagineers as babies (or their own children). The snow through the ballroom doors was digitally recreated from the actual film. Make sure to spend a few moments taking it all in.

The West Wing is the most striking and provides a lot of great detailing. One of the first things that I noticed is that it feels like you are in an extension of the Haunted Mansion. It has an amazing vibe.

Part of the charm of the West Wing is in the Enchanted Rose. On a ten minute cycle, you can watch it slowly wilt and a petal will fall. When the petal falls and the lightning flashes, you will see a surprise in the portrait of the Beast.

As far as the meal, I will say that it was the best food and the best service that I’ve experienced at Walt Disney World. Maybe it was because it was still under limited preview, but I also tend to think that Disney was able to move their very best servers into this almost signature dining experience.

I had the Grilled Strip Steak with Garlic-Herb Butter and it was an absolute treat. The steak was seared on the outside and prepared exactly to my order. It was juicy and paired very well with the Blue Chimay beer. And it never felt like we were in a Magic Kingdom restaurant. The dining options feel limited and rather highfaluting until the meal arrives. There is something for everyone, though.

How can I not comment on the Grey Stuff? It really was delicious. You can also lick the plate…not that I did…

Adding The Grey Stuff to the experience was an incredible stroke of genius. It fits the theme of the restaurant and ties squarely into the film. It will also make you hum Be Our Guest for the rest of your trip!

Gaston’s Tavern

One of the more popular areas of New Fantasyland is Gaston’s Tavern with LeFou’s Brew. Jeff and I both had a goblet of it and we thought it was fairly good. Although, neither one of us wanted to finish our drinks since it seemed to get rather thick after a while.

One of the first things you notice is the inspiring statue of Gaston in the Town Square.

One of the fantastic details is the dedication plaque on the fountain. It makes perfect sense and ties the area neatly together. This has already been pointed out, but there is a very odd angle on the fountain. The end.

The fountain takes on a particularly ghastly view in the evening. Can you say maniacal?

We also tried the Pork Shank, which was surprisingly easy to manage compared to the Turkey Leg. The Shank was very moist and had a slight barbecue flavor to it. It was oddly compelling to eat the Pork Shank in Gaston’s Tavern. I felt even more like Gaston!

You know, we use antlers in all of our decorating at Communicore Weekly (the Greatest Online Show™). This is going to be another very popular photo spot even without Jeff and I there.

The Tavern is very well appointed with more antlers than you can possibly imagine. Don’t forget to check out the game room with the game of darts in progress. Notice the score and the random dart toss?

My favorite land in all of the Magic Kingdom, if not Walt Disney World has been Adventureland. The tree growth is spectacular and I’ve always felt like I’m in another place altogether. The area surrounding Gaston’s Tavern gives off the same vibe. It is another great mark that the Imagineers were given the time and resources to do the expansion right.

There are a lot of other details and signs that help create the atmosphere. When you head into Maurice’s Cottage for Enchanted Tales with Belle, make sure to pay attention to the area. I took several photos of the Stroller Parking sign and this was the one that showed the wheels the best. Yes, they are gears instead of wheels. I also noticed the sound of birds chirping while waiting to enter the cottage and it was 10:00 at night!

Maurice has also ventured out a bit further with his inventions and machinery. Who can resist Maurice’s Amazing Popping Machine?

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention one of the most goose-bump inducing and underrated attractions in New Fantasyland. Enchanted Tales with Belle is a lot more than a simple storytime with Belle. There are some mind-boggling special effects and state of the art animatronics.

But the real draw is the interaction with Belle and your fellow guests. Each person that is interested is given a role. Jeff and I both were chosen as suits of armor. You’re taken into the library and become part of the story. In our story, a handsome, toe-headed little boy was Beast and was able to dance with Belle. An adorable two year-old playing Chip completely stole the show. It’s a dream-come-true for parents that want their children to have a magical experience. Of course, there was a PhotoPass photographer getting shots of everyone and everything. Disney will make a lot of money off of this.

But the best part was getting our photos taken with Belle at the end.

She was so pretty.

The loudest detractors of New Fantasyland cry foul that the land is only for the Princess set; that  there’s nothing to do for the grown ups. We’ve seen the Expansion go through several iterations and lose a lot of the princess focus it was once planned to have, but we still have to remember the intent behind Fantasyland.

Fantasyland is dedicated to the young, and the young at heart and to all those who believe that when you wish upon a star, your dreams do come true.

The Expansion isn’t finished and we’ve yet to see the physical connection to the Storybook Circus neighborhood. I always counter with the argument about Adventurleland and the dearth of attractions there. It’s one of the more enjoyable parts of the Magic Kingdom simply because it works so well. I think this is the same thing we’re going to see with Fantasyland as it is completed and ages. It will be a place where people gravitate simply because it feels good; simply because it is so well designed.

So, ears off to the Imagineers for creating a masterpiece of themed design. There’s been a lot of unadulterated praise and condemnation. If you look closely and enjoy the feel of the varied neighborhoods, then you’re sure to find something that will invite your praise and provide a smile.

All this great new detail has me wondering what’s next? A Frontierland reboot perhaps? That would be amazing!

What do you think of the Fantasyland Expansion? Is it for the birds or for the theme park Nerds?

ImagiNERDing is written and edited by George Taylor

If you have any questions or comments, feel free to email me at [email protected].

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I am one half of the incredibly talented, handsome, charming, sanguine, lucent, refulgent, beguiling, hilarious, perturbable, welcoming, sentient, loquacious, side-splitting, mesmerizing, scintillating, lustrous, invigorating, incandescent, inescapable, rollicking, perceiving, wayfaring, devastating, steadfast, cinematic, whelming, imposing, irrefutable, breathtaking, carefree, witty, sparkling, joyful, indulgent and intelligent duo behind Communicore Weekly. You can find them on the Mice Chat Youtube Channel.

About George Taylor

George has been obsessed with Disney theme parks since the first time he saw a photo of the Haunted Mansion in the early 70s. He started writing about Disney in 2007 and has amassed one of the world's largest Disney-related libraries.

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  • mratigan

    The detail is crazy!(from the photos I’ve seen)
    It’s for the CW cadets!!!

    • George Taylor

      Thanks, MRATIGAN!

      I was totally blown away by the level of detail in the new expansion areas (including Storybook Circus). I think this is when the Imagineers shine and take things to another level.

  • Dusty Sage

    It’s certainly beautiful! . . . But when your top attractions are a restaurant, meet and greet and clone of an only moderately well received attraction at DCA, you’ve got a problem.

    For all the money they spent, they didn’t give guests a real reason to visit. Where’s the big draw? All I see is the filler.

    Thankfully, what they did build is of the highest quality and level of detail. I think you are correct when you say this area is well positioned for growth. And it certainly makes other areas of the park look inadequate in comparison.

    The New Fantasyland is a prime example of what Imagineering can accomish. Sadly, they weren’t given a major attraction to deliver, and that means that the new expansion likely wont do much for attendance (which WDW desperately needs).

    • jcruise86

      Isn’t the Magic Kingdom currently the most visited theme park in the history of the world? The fact that it doesn’t desperately need attendance is why there are no new E-tickets there and none in the works for this park. On the other hand, Universal Orlando has the momentum of increasing attendance while the MK is stagnant. And praise be to Universal for building on this momentum with new Es being built NOW. Disney just has plans and promises, and that doesn’t make me make plans and reservations YET.

      • George Taylor

        Resting on their laurels? Agreed. It’s like Soarin’. Why change it if it’s still pulling in two hour waits.

        I agree with you…I think that they need more rides. Also, the expansion was planned at a time when dining was in desperate need at WDW to to the dining plan. So, a restaurant is always good, but two more dark rides would have been spectacular!

    • George Taylor

      Dusty–it’s well known that WDW makes its money off of the people that come down every couple of years. The Fantasyland Expansion is enough to bring the parents with small kids (especially the Bippity Boppity Boutique crowd) and that will make some of the bean counters happy. I agree with you that there is nothing there to draw in the mega crowds. Maybe it would have been a better expansion if TDO and the Imagineers had seen the Cars Land changes.

      But I agree with the need for several solid attractions. You’d be hard-pressed to create an “E” Ticket for the Fantasyland crowd. It has to be something that everyone in the family can enjoy without trepidation.

  • jcruise86

    Good comment, Dusty!

    This part of the new Fantasyland looks great, and that’s as important as having great attractions. (To quote Billy Crystal, “It’s more important to look marvelous than to feel marvelous.”) From what I read, Tokyo Disney Sea is a park that one can happily spend two or three days in despite that it is NOT filled with numerous great attractions. (Some say that there are three very good ones, but they still love being there.)

    Still, if Imagineers or John Lasseter, Meg Croften & Thomas Staggs see this article, I hope they don’t gloss over this sentence: “Fantasyland needs a few more classic dark rides.” I love eating on the south patio of Flo’s V8 in DCA, but it’s made even better by it’s proximity to a spectacular, new, unique E-ticket, RSR. Ditto for Universal Orlando’s WWoHP and it’s atmosphere coupled with an E.

    BTW, every Micechatter would probably enjoy George & Jeff’s funny, energetic, & well produced Communicore Weekly, so check it out!

    • jcruise86

      Public self-humiliation: its not it’s.

    • George Taylor

      Thanks for the comments about the show!

      I love the idea of another dark ride and another theater show. Maybe we can make enough noise… ;)

      • Kandace Sparkles

        Have you been inside Pete’s Side Show where Minnie, Daisy, Donald, and Goofy meet their adoring fans? The lighting inside is spectacular and there are TWO exit doors — which are very similar to a theater. I say, it could easily happen there but the general space is quite limited. Plus they would have to find another place to meet some of the guest’s favorite characters.

  • Jeff Heimbuch

    While it may not have the advantage of a big, E-Ticket attraction, New Fantasyland really did impress me when we saw it. We spent a fair amount of time in there, on every day we visited, to really check out all the details.

    I did find myself enjoying the things I didn’t think I’d like as much: Enchanted Tales, Gaston’s Tavern, etc. They really did an excellent job with this one.

    I’m curious to see how it goes when they add their dragons into the mix, along with the opening of the Seven Dwarves coaster in 2014. That may add the extra oomph they need to bring in more crowds with a thrilling new attraction!

    Plus, HIDDEN OSWALD! Come on, now!

    Also, the craziest Hidden Mickey I’ve ever seen. Well, the TWO craziest.

    • George Taylor

      I didn’t see the Hidden Steamboat Willie until I saw a photo on FB. I was just trying to act cool.

      I do agree–I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the general setting and the Enchanted Tales with Belle.

      • Jeff Heimbuch

        And how much Belle adored us. Because, come on, she loved us.

      • George Taylor

        She loved me. She realized she had to have you in the picture if she wanted me in the picture…


  • Skimbob

    Thank you for the update. I am so excited about seeing the new Fantasyland in January and eating at Be Our Guest. I already have my reservation. I think it is magnificent even without an Eticket ride. Why does everything have to be a ride. The imagineers worked hard on this project and I couldn’t be prouder of them. I am from California and I love all the changes at DCA as well I just don’t think you need to have a ton of rides to make an awesome experience. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion but for me I couldn’t be happier. I look forward to seeing the mine train once it is done.

    • George Taylor

      When I saw the soft opening for Storybook Circus in the Spring, I was blown away. The Belle/Beast/Gaston theming really took it up a notch or two.

      That’s my point about Adventureland–you only have the Jungle Cruise, the Flying Carpets, the (AWESOME) Tiki Room and two ice cream places–and it still is an amazing place to be!

  • Amy VandenBoogert

    I totally love New Fantasyland and all its little details. And don’t forget there’s also a hidden Nautilus in the Mermaid queue since Mermaid is where 20k used to be. Took me awhile to find it but when I did, I got some strange looks from people waiting in line when I squeaked “I FOUND IT!” and started taking photos of the rocks. LOL! But that hidden Oswald is the best. I was showing that to so many people a couple weeks ago (after you and Jeff showed it to me).

    • George Taylor

      I hope you are giving me and Jeff a nickel every time you show someone the Hidden Oswald!

      But that is the curse of being a Disney nerd–taking photos of everything in the parks.

  • indianajack

    I agree with Dusty, the Imagineers set the table beautifully but were evidently not allowed (due to budget) to deliver the signature, crowning element in the middle of the table. It’s so obvious that a Beauty and the Beast uber dark ride needs to be put into the area. I imagine a lot of guests will ask where it is assuming it must be somewhere with all the other B&B trappings. Iger needs to open the wallet and make that B&B dark ride a reality.

    • George Taylor

      A Beauty and the Beast ride would be great!

      Are there any other classic animated films that would fit into the area?

  • Kandace Sparkles

    Great commentary. I think you highlighted the wonderful food & beverage offerings. It also sounds like you and Jeff had a splendid time playing in the park. This definitely links back to Walt’s original vision for Fantasyland — “Fantasyland is dedicated to the young, and the young at heart and to all those who believe that when you wish upon a star, your dreams do come true.”

    • George Taylor

      I should have put Walt’s quote earlier in my article since it is really the crux of what Imagineerining should be doing with the parks. Honestly, I think they achieved that goal perfectly. What I would like to see is more being offered. Of course, the Seven Dwarfs mine Train should be a lot of fun.

      And what’s this about dragons?

  • DisWedWay

    Love that Imagineering went after the PDL-TDS level and quality of detail in what they were able to do with their budget. I can get lost in either of those places for 3 days or more as was commented. It does for WDW what New Fantasyland did for Disneyland’s Fantasyland in 1983, only DL did have more attractions for it’s opening.

    • George Taylor

      The level of detail was fantastic. I knew they were on to something special when I saw the soft opening of Storybook Circus.

      People always forget about the history of Fantasyland. The 1971 FL really blew away the 1955 one. Of course, the 1983 FL has now become the default example of what it should look like, The TDL and PDL Fantasylands have their own majesty. I can’t wait to visit the PDL one!

  • Algernon

    It certainly looks amazing. As usual, really nice update.

    • George Taylor


      I was afraid I was geeking out a little too much about the area!

  • Ravjay12

    Fantastic article guys! Fantasyland looks incredible and I can’t wait to experience it with my kids. I’m really glad they decided not to do the excessive meet and greets and pixie hollow they had originally planned. Can’t wait for seven dwarves mine train to tie everything together.

    • George Taylor

      The evolution of the expansion has been very interesting. Changing Pixie Hollow to Storybook Circus was a great move and broadens the appeal of that area of the park. I know adults that insist on riding Dumbo during each visit!

      I agree that the Seven Dwarfs’ Mine Train is going to be an amazing experience that you will be able to see from all sides.

      Thanks for the comment.

  • themur

    I am with George; an E-Ticket isn’t really necessary. Solid D’s are great. Obviously it would have been nice to have the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train open now as well at least Staggs made the change and it wasn’t ALL princesses. That said I was back in FL about a month ago and unfortunately didn’t get in for any of sneak peeks but just seeing the detail from afar was alluring. This is a fantastic addition to the MK and will keep visitors in this park even longer.

    • George Taylor

      Thanks for the comment!

      There were still a of construction walls up but it was still evident how amazing the area is. Give the land about 5 years for the trees to grow in and it is going to be spectacular!

  • jbm500

    Great writing and photos. You’ve given everyone many reason to return to the Magic Kingdom real soon!

    • George Taylor


      I was so glad that the expansion was done so well. The big question is whether this is enough to out heads in beds. I hope so, but I also hope the execs can see the good in expanding the parks in bigger ways.

  • Aotphks

    This review of the new Fantasyland sounds like just about any other trip report from Tokyo Disney Sea…
    “Anywhere you point your camera, you are bound to get a great photo”..
    “best food I have had at a Disney park”..
    “Geek details everywhere”..

    Etc Etc.

    I am glad the stale Magic Kingdom park finally gets a little of that special Tokyo magic the japanese have enjoyed at Disney Sea for over 11 years. Too bad this is only a small corner of a park that now appears in need of emergency place making. How come no one praises the Storybook Circus area with the same feverish enthusiasm? Face it, the New Fantasyland makes the rest of the Magic Kingdom look tragic. This is a case of “too little, too late” in my opinion. While the new area has it’s merits, I can’t recommend the Magic Kingdom as a truly magical experience until Disney Company tackles the entire park and make improvements cosmetically and technologically. It will take more than hidden Oswalds to pull that task off.

    • George Taylor

      Thanks for the comment!

      I am a HUGE fan of Storybook Circus. I can’t wait to see how they integrate the neighborhoods.

      I’ve heard rumors of a Frontierland reboot but I wish that they could nail down a great Tomorrowland.

  • konekobus

    It looks great and all. But some things I find lacking. Like how Eric’s castle looks like it is too small to be real. Look at that bridge that people have to go under, the proportions are way off, no person could live in that castle.

    Same obviously goes for the beast’s castle, but at least there they tried to create an illusion of it being far away. But although they tried to make that castle seem far away, the entrance is right there at the base of the mountain, and you have to only take a few steps to be in that same castle that’s supposedly on top of a mountain. It just doesn’t make sense.

    People are comparing this to Paris’ Fantasyland, or Tokyo Disneysea, but nowhere in those places are these kinds of illogical and illusion ruining things going on.