Saturday, December 9, 2023

New Fantasyland comes to life in Florida

Fantasyland opens. Photo by Paul Williams.

For a while, it seemed like this day would never arrive. At times, it felt like everyone was waiting for the Fantasyland expansion to be completed for longer than the original 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea attraction was operational! But, it’s here! New Fantasyland is open. Well, most of it is, anyway. The Seven Dwarfs Mine Train coaster still has over a year’s worth of work ahead of it, as it was a somewhat late addition to the area’s lineup, replacing Pixie Hollow and a variety of Princess dwellings that were moved to “old” Fantasyland in the space formerly occupied by Snow White’s Scary Adventures (opening 2013).

But despite the roller coaster crane sitting in the middle of New Fantasyland, the new area is breathtaking in theming and immersive details. Although officially there are only two areas to the expansion (Enchanted Forest and Storybrook Circus), it feels like three right now, possibly due to the Mine Train construction walls dividing things up.

A natural fit for the Enchanted Forest, the elements from Beauty and the Beast are represented through Enchanted Tales with Belle, Be Our Guest Restaurant and Gaston’s Tavern.

Editor Martin Palicki and freelance photographer Paul Williams sample The Grey Stuff.
Be Our Guest ballroom. Photo by Paul Williams
  • Enchanted Tales with Belle – Perhaps the most original element of the entire expansion, the adventure starts in Maurice’s workshop, where an enchanted mirror magically transforms into a doorway into the Beast’s library where guests meet Belle and Lumiere and participate in an interactive re-telling of the “tale as old as time.” Expect long lines here for quite some time.
  • Be Our Guest – Designed as a quick service restaurant during the day and a full service table dining restaurant in the evening, the restaurant is heavy in detailing. Walking into the ballroom doesn’t quite elicit the same awe as the one in the movie, but the snow falling outside the windows looks real, and the mysterious West Wing with the magical rose is dark and intimate. With the restaurant already booked far in advance, Be Our Guest looks to be the most profitable addition to Fantasyland. Oh, and incidentally, the Grey Stuff mentioned in the restaurant’s namesake song is a sweet mousse dessert worth a sampling.
  • Gaston’s Tavern – A small French lodge designed to appeal to traditional masculine sensibilities, Gaston’s Tavern is a part of Belle’s Village, which includes a gift shop and popcorn stand. Gaston’s trademark is LeFou’s Brew, a non-alcoholic frozen apple juice drink with a hint of toasted marshmallow, topped with a passion fruit-mango foam. It doesn’t have the cache of a certain branded beverage being sold down the road at a major competitor, but it’s tasty and likely to be a hit, even if it would be better with a shot of dark rum.
Ariel’s home. Photo by Paul Williams.

Also a part of the Enchanted Forest, although somewhat confusingly, Ariel makes her home in Ariel’s Grotto and in the attraction Under the Sea – Journey of the Little Mermaid. The dark ride mirrors the one opened at Disney’s California Adventure in Anaheim last year, although with a significantly more elaborate queue that includes a hidden Nautilus fossil in a nod to the original attraction that called this part of the park home: 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.

Ariel’s Grotto is home to a meet and greet with Ariel, and also houses the most elusive hidden Mickey ever created. Shafts in the rockwork at Ariel’s Grotto allow sunlight to filter down and create a perfect hidden Mickey shape…but only on Mickey’s birthday (November 18th) at high noon. Imagine what crowds will be like on November 18th!!

Storybrook Circus provides a completely different atmosphere from Enchanted Forest, and is packed with attractions for the little ones.

Storybook Circus. Photo by Paul Williams.
  • Dumbo, the Flying Elephant, a Fantasyland original, makes its new home here. The attraction has been doubled (literally) with two different rides (one turning clockwise, the other counterclockwise). The biggest change however, is in the queue, which has perpetually been plagued by long lines. A new air-conditioned big top tent serves as an indoor playground waiting area. Guests are given pagers and called to the ride when it is their turn to hop on Dumbo.   
  • The Barnstormer Featuring the Great Goofini is a renaming of an existing coaster. The family-style coaster follows a twisting, turning course.
  • Pete’s Silly Sideshow invites guests to meet and greet Disney characters: Minnie Magnifique (Minnie Mouse as a circus star), Madame Daisy Fortuna (Daisy Duck as a fortune teller), The Great Goofini (Goofy as a stunt pilot) and The Astounding Donaldo (Donald Duck as a snake charmer).
  • The Casey Jr. Splash ‘N’ Soak Station water play area brings a much needed splash zone to the Magic Kingdom. With temps in the 50’s and 60’s during our visit, for a detailed review, you’ll have to try it on your own!
Storybook Circus. Photo by Paul Williams.

The new Fantasyland offerings certainly live up to the Disney promise of quality and detail with careful attention to the timeless Disney narratives that millions flock to central Florida to experience. The addition of Princess Fairytale Hall (2013) and the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train Coaster (2014) will round out Fantasyland and easily make that section of the park the most popular land in the Kingdom. 


Martin Palicki
Martin Palicki
Martin Palicki owns and publishes InPark Magazine. Started in 2004, InPark Magazine provides owners and operators the perspective from "in"side the "park." Martin has also written for publications like Sound & Communications, Lighting & Sound America, Attractions Management and others. Martin has been featured in Time Magazine, and Folio. Martin lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA.

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