The next milestone of the big Magic Kingdom expansion is approaching. The grand opening of major sections of the "new" Fantasyland is set for Thursday. You can brave the year-end crowds at Walt Disney World to check out the area, which basically sits atop the site of old 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea attraction.
Or, you can read this primer and impress folks at holiday parties with your knowledge of all things princess, dwarf, beast, flying elephant, French cuisine — and if alcohol can be purchased in the Magic Kingdom.
The additions basically are divided into two areas. Storybook Circus has a distinctive big-top theme. The remainder of the expansion — the largest in Magic Kingdom's 41-year history — has ties to princesses, particularly Belle from "Beauty and the Beast" and Ariel from "The Little Mermaid." Eventually, Snow White's little friends will be seen in a roller coaster.
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Here's our guide to what's new, what's next and what's not going anywhere.
Under the Sea – Journey of the Little Mermaid
This dark — but mild — ride retells Ariel's story through animation and animatronics. It could be called a cross between the Magic Kingdom's Haunted Mansion (conveyor-belt vehicles, merry robotics performing to peppy beat, disembodied eyeballs) and Epcot's The Seas With Nemo and Friends (funny fish, underwater setting, guests on clam shells). Don't worry, our princess lives happily ever after.
Enchanted Tales With Belle
It's a surprise party for bookish Belle, who's decked out in her finest golden gown when we meet her. Guests put on a little play for her and are rewarded with photo ops. Appearances by Lumiere (the talking candelabra), Madame Wardrobe and a magic mirror are special-effects highlights.
During previews, this small eatery quickly gained a reputation for its pork shank and LeFou's Brew, a frozen apple juice concoction with marshmallow foam. (Note: There's no alcohol in this tavern.) The dining areas are decorated with creative uses of antlers and a portrait of Gaston, Belle's self-centered suitor in "Beauty and the Beast." Out front is a larger-than-life Gaston fountain with this plaque: "Tribute to Gaston. An extravagantly generous gift to the humble people of my village. From me, Gaston."
Be Our Guest Restaurant
French cuisine is the mainstay of the eatery, which, in a first for Disney World, will be counter service for lunch and table service at dinnertime. Seating areas include an elaborate ballroom, gallery and the darkened west wing. In a break with Magic Kingdom, Be Our Guest will serve wine and beer with dinner — not with lunch — and it will not be allowed outside the restaurant.
Bonjour Village Gift Shop
Cozy retail outlet with merchandise ranging from china to T-shirts and other Belle paraphernalia.
Pete's Silly Sideshow
The Storybook Circus meet-and-greet area that puts four characters under the big top. Ready to be photographed are the Great Goofini, the Astounding Donaldo (as in duck-o), Madame Daisy Fortuna and Minnie Magnifique.
Big Top Souvenirs
Store surrounds circus foods (candied apples, cotton candy, etc.) with Disney merchandise.
Casey Jr. Splash 'n' Soak Station
The little train that hauled Dumbo around in the 1941 film is the inspiration for a water attraction that's a magnet for dry kids.
NEW AND IMPROVED
Dumbo the Flying Elephant
It's been a strange trip for the Dumbo ride, which was transplanted from its spot near Cinderella Castle and given a fraternal twin. Yep, it's Double Dumbo, both more gussied up than the previous incarnation. Also new: water beneath the flying elephants and an indoor queue that doubles as a circus-themed playground.
Remodeled roller coaster now features Goofy as a stuntman known as "The Great Goofini" and other circus touches. Watch out for Goofy's monkey sidekick.
The mermaid has moved to a new bedazzled meet-and-greet area in the same building as the Under the Sea ride.
Disney replaced and rethemed the area's train station to match the circus motif. Bathrooms are incorporated into the structure as well.
Princess Fairytale Hall
Still behind construction walls is a regal meet-and-greet area where Cinderella will hang with her princess pals and theme-park guests near Cindy's castle. It's scheduled to open next year.
Seven Dwarfs Mine Train
The final piece of new Fantasyland will be a roller coaster, the intensity of which is said to be between the low-key Barnstormer and the more rollicking Big Thunder Mountain in Frontierland. Notable will be its ride vehicles, which will swerve left and right while riding the rail. Disney says it will be ready in 2014.
Never fear, the majority of "old" Fantasyland is still operating, including Cinderella Castle, it's a small world, Peter Pan's Flight, Mickey's PhilharMagic, Prince Charming Regal Carrousel, the Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, Mad Tea Party and several shops and restaurants.
REST IN PEACE
To make room for the princess meet-and-greet, Disney pulled the plug on Snow White's Scary Adventures, one of the original Magic Kingdom attractions.
Storybook Circus stands where Mickey's Toontown Fair was until early 2011. It had a nice run considering it was considered "temporary" when built as a tribute to Mickey's 60th birthday in 1988 — its original name was Mickey's Birthdayland. Although the Barnstormer coaster survived the transition, the walk-through country houses of Mickey and Minnie were casualties. (You can now meet Mickey any time at a location in the front of the park.) Also gone: Donald's boat and Pixie Hollow.
One of the first attractions to be removed during the Fantasyland project was a playground called Pooh's Playful Spot. Its big tree was "replanted" and lives on in front of the Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. The Seven Dwarfs coaster is being built on the site of the playground, which was built on the site of the old 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea attraction. It's the circle of life, kids.
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