Today's column about enhancements at the Magic Kingdom in Disney World may not be “breaking news” (you may have read about much of this elsewhere online), but the fact that Team Disney Orlando is actually going ahead with these along with quite a few other rehabs and upgrades, is worth taking note of and discussing.
Town Square Theater and Meet Mickey
A couple of weeks ago, they threw open the doors at the Town Square Theater, Mickey’s new home. My verdict? Two big thumbs up. There are tributes galore in this place! The designers were definitely people after my own heart. It’s delightful when Disney pours on the details and spends the money to put out quality experiences.
I guess Mickey was always kind of a magician.
When you enter the building, you’ll step into a domed area with new tile flooring.
Walt was born in 1901.
Most of the store that was here is gone, shrunk to the side only (in fact, most of it is for PhotoPass). The left side is still for accessing Tony’s restaurant. Straight ahead is the character area, and you have to choose immediately from four possible lines: Mickey FastPass, Mickey Standby, Princess FastPass, or Princess Standby. That’s right. The characters have FastPass.
Pick your poison.
The FastPass machines are back outside, tucked away in a corner by the hat shop. In my limited experience with this so far, it seemed like Mickey had very little standby lines (especially during parades – and yes he does stay open). The princesses, though, had longer lines. Unless something changes, I plan to only grab FP for the princesses.
On the first weekend, the FastPass tickets were somewhat generic.
The first queue room is a mess of velvet ropes and red carpeting. A friend commented that it looked like a line for a buffet at a Las Vegas casino, and darned if he isn’t right. I had to laugh at that one, but kept an eye out for displays of Keno numbers.
It’s a nice lobby. Especially when you can breeze right through it!
The room does have some theming, courtesy of some paintings on the walls. These establish Mickey as a magician (headlining a casino showroom?) – it’s the theme of this new meet and greet – and the specific tricks and escapes mentioned in these posters crop up again in the shop at the exit, so it’s a tidy little package. As a bonus, some of these paintings come to life—was this meant as a direct response to such living paintings in Harry Potter’s Hogwarts, up the Interstate in the Universal park?
There are four Mickey rooms. The conceit here is that we are “going backstage” with Mickey as he prepares to go on some other (unseen) stage as a magician. When we visited, Minnie was there, too, but we heard that this may not always be the case going forward.
Blurry faces are a byproduct of my camera.
The inside jokes and references come fast and furious in this room. You could spend five minutes here ignoring the famous rodent and discovering the inside jokes and still not get all of them. Start with the stickers on the “trunks”. You’ll find Castaway Cay (DCL), Hong Kong DL, the Grand Floridian, Disneyland Paris, TDL’s hotel Mira Costa, and a reference to Colonel Haithi from the Jungle Book.
Tuppence a bag!
Opposite the photo backdrop is a mirror and table. On the corkboard, look for a hidden Oswald (Mickey’s predecessor). A bag of birdseed carries the name “Tuppence”—a reference to Mary Poppins. There’s also a further Mary Poppins reference in the form of the parrot umbrella, visible on the flipped-open magician’s trunk. (While we’re at this trunk, look for a bunny from Merlin and colored powder from Madam Mim, two wizards from Sword and the Stone).
More movie references.
Back on the table, look for one of the coolest tributes I’ve ever seen at a Disney park: it’s not a remnant (like the skyway building) or an intentional tribute (like labeling a crate after an Imagineer). It’s something more second-level than that. It’s a tribute of a remnant! I’m talking about the letter referencing a Mr. Toad car. This only makes sense if you remember that this building was once home to an orphaned Toad car. Before this refurb, it was the Exposition Hall theater, and an old Toad car sat off to the side (though it was sometimes hidden behind curtains).
I’m delighted by this geeky tribute.
Mickey Mouse shorts are honored on images around the room, but make sure you make time to look at the blueprint for the Saw of Dread… it’s made by “WED Illusioneering.”
The Saw of Dread.
That bird cooing in the birdcage reproduces the “disappearing butterfly” trick you may have seen at Epcot’s Imagination ride, but its name – Joyce – is yet another tribute, this time to Imagineer Joyce Carlson, who helped make quite a few of the rides in the Magic Kingdom.
Joyce coos so much, it’s almost non-stop.
Lastly, glance up at the shelf above the table. Look twice if you have to. See the tributes yet? Those objects are meant to be the park “icons”: the Spaceship Earth globe (this crystal ball has “Leota – 1969” inscribed on it, two further tributes), the Tree of Life, the Studios, if you consider the battlements and crenellations on the spines of the books).
Four parks… one world, the books are grouped in a castle shape, if you squint.
Dazzled by all the tributes, you stumble out of Mickey’s presence to the gift shop… where there is a remnant from Mickey’s Toontown Fair in the form of a birdhouse. This was once found in the garage at Mickey’s House.
While the Mickey side of the theater is rich with tributes, the princess side is a whole lot plainer. In fact, there’s a plain blue waiting room that defies expectation. After that kitschy lobby with velvet ropes, couldn’t they choose a better paint scheme for the middle room? We know this is just a temporary stop until their new Fantasyland setup is finished, but...
As our friend Gene says, “They ‘blue’ it” with this room!
The princesses themselves is a fairly straightforward affair. Every visitor gets to see the entire series of princesses (you don’t choose just one). They have pleasant but uninspired backdrops. (Editor's Note: Goodness, your local Sears store has nicer kid portrait setups than this! - Al)
Simple? Yes. Good enough? Well...
What I liked best about the experience was how much time the princesses spend with each child—they really lavish the attention on the kids!
Next time we'll detail all the tributes in the newly interactive Haunted Mansion queue.