When Disney announced a hefty expansion to Magic Kingdom’s Fantasyland, a ripple of excitement went through the fan community. It had been a very, very long time since Magic Kingdom had gotten any significant construction, and the very idea of modern technology integrated into the childhood dream of Fantasyland is a drool-worthy proposition.
Initial models for the expansion promised the integration of technology and live action, with princess meet and greets transformed into interactive shows. Disney’s successful fairies franchise would have its own space in Pixie Hollow, and, significantly, the new area would be carefully landscaped with water, shade, and green space for respite on hot days – something woefully missing in the current Fantasyland.
But those initial models changed. A lot. Internet pundits suggested that the radical makeover of New Fantasyland was due in part to Disney CEO Bob Iger’s concern that its princess and fairy focus was too “girly.” Iger, father of two sons, has consistently championed appealing to both boys and girls, and evidently princesses weren’t equal opportunity enough. The new model of Fantasyland dispensed with Pixie Hollow in favor of a circus area that would allow Disney to retain most of the existing buildings from Toontown Fair, and replaced Aurora and Cinderella’s space with a single attraction – the Dwarven Mine Train Coaster.
This new Fantasyland was planned to open in phases. Storybook Circus, targeted at younger guests, opened in March 2012 to a mild reception. The area was thoroughly charming, but it offered little cohesive theming or innovation beyond the exciting concept of the new Dumbo queue. The real excitement hinged around phase 2 – the fairytale expansion set to open at the end of 2012.
That expansion made its debut through a series of “dress rehearsals” open to park guests and a variety of passholder and D23 previews. Overall, the reaction has been justifiably positive – this is new material in a park that has been relatively consistent for four decades.
But what do you really need to know?
Over the next few days, we’ll take a closer look at phase 2 of the Fantasyland expansion, with an unbiased look at the new offering, but before zooming in, let’s look at the big picture. In the grand scheme of things, there are two things you should know:
1. It’s gorgeous.
2. It’s small.
First, the gorgeous factor. Magic Kingdom’s new Fantasyland is truly beautiful. In creating the new area, Disney Imagineers obviously dedicated themselves to using every opportunity to create the illusion that guests have really stepped into their favorite Disney films, and they have succeeded. The pine forest and bridge leading to the beast’s castle, the narrow alleys leading out of Gaston’s town square, the details of Prince Eric’s seaside castle are all absolutely perfect. Disney imagineering has outdone themselves.
The premise of the Fantasyland Expansion was the opportunity to venture into an “enchanted forest” outside the environs on Cinderella (and Prince Charming)’s castle keep, the area inhabited by the “old” Fantasyland. That premise is played out here, with a journey through the mountains of Beauty and the Beast to the seaside environs of the Little Mermaid (which are, evidently, adjacent to a 1930s American circus, but that’s another story). All of the details are lovely, and the transition of plants and architecture leads guests seamlessly from one area to the next. Instead of asking oneself “why isn’t the detail from the movie here…” the question is “was that detail in the movie?”
The two biggest problems right now are the fact that one side of the charming, carefully detailed walkway is occupied by a butt-ugly construction wall surrounding the in-progress Dwarven Mine Train and the fact that the beautiful new Fantasyland includes no shaded space to sit down out of the brutal Florida sun. All of the green space vaunted in the original presentation of New Fantasyland has either been scrapped or is awaiting the opening of Phase 3.
Second, the area is small. Disney is promoting the area as doubling the size of the “old” Fantasyland, and it no doubt will. But right now a massive portion of the area (and I mean that – look at the amount of space occupied by the Dwarven Mine Train in the artist rendering of Fantasyland) is blockaded, giving guests a single, curving path to walk. That area contains 2 attractions, 1 character meet, and 2 restaurants. That’s it. On two visits, our party thoroughly covered the area in about 45 minutes. Now, of course, those visits certainly do not compensate for peak crowds and wait times, but nonetheless, Phase 2 of Fantasyland is not, in my opinion, the basis for a vacation (although it may make a great excuse if you’re looking for one of those).
Magic Kingdom’s New Fantasyland is a beautiful addition to the park, showing off the fact that no one creates theming like Disney Imagineers, but it is currently a very small area, with charming, but extremely busy offerings.
We’ll take a look at some of those offerings, starting tomorrow with the Be Our Guest restaurant.