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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  • animatronic

    Thanks for your review. Looks like you guys enjoyed yourselves! The hidden Oswald is so cool. It’s good to see him get the respect that his cult following deserves. My niece was so upset last summer when she couldn’t get her Oswald ears at Oswald’s filling station in DCA (I found some this fall when they finally introduced them).

    Love all the details in Fanasyland. It looks much more immersive that previous Fantasyland in WDW. It competes much more with Harry Potter at Universal with a more realistic design approach. It also shows that investing more in details will help stand the test of time. Can’t wait to get down there.

    • George Taylor

      I wore the ears during Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party at WDW last month. We had so many people asking us where we got them. When I was there lat week, I saw a lot of people wearing them. I’m so glad to see lots of people giving Oswald love.

      Thanks for the comment!

  • waymire01

    I think it’s important to remember that it isn’t done yet… we still have the potential for a major E ticket ride coming. Even partially completed it’s been a huge update/expansion. Two major thumbs up for the theming and atmosphere!

    Be Our Guest was needed.. terribly… but I still feel a pang of regret for the major dining experience/show it could have been if they had utilized all of the potential in the theme. I want dancing and singing furniture and a showcase dance from Beauty and the Beast!

    I do agree about the need for more dark rides.. they have long been my favorite part of the Disney experience, and we have lost so many favorites over the years or they have been ignored and allowed to deteriorate. Bring them back and “plus” those babies! Bring back Toad, give us Alice and Pinocchio, major overhaul for Peter Pan.. the works. While we are making a wish list.. more characters and more access to them would be fantastic. How much does it take to make sure the park is filled with them? Getting a hug from Mickey should not require standing in line for an hour, they should be wandering around interacting with the guests like in the old days.

    • George Taylor

      Thanks for the comment!

      I agree that adding some animatronics to BoG would have been great, but it hearkens back to the idea the Enchanted Tiki Room restaurant…our server was honest and said that people were taking a long time to finish their meals since they wanted to investigate the entire restaurant. I can’t think of another restaurant where the guests were so enamored with the details of the restaurant.

      I would love more dark rides!!!