New Fantasyland Forest at Disney World's Magic Kingdom

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    New Fantasyland

    The entrance to New Fantasyland at the Magic Kingdom.
    ••• © Arthur Levine, 2012. Licensed to About.com.
    The entrance to New Fantasyland is located where the Dumbo ride used to spin. Disney appropriated some of the area that once served as the lagoon for the defunct 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea submarine ride as well as Mickey's Toontown Fair to more than double the size of the iconic land.
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    The Seven Dwarfs Mine Train

    ••• © Arthur Levine.

    The highlight of the Fantasyland expansion and the centerpiece of Fantasyland Forest will be the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. There's no word whether the menacing witch and her poison apple will reappear in the new Snow White ride, but it seems that the emphasis will be less on scary adventures and more on the heigh-hoing dwarfs and their work in the diamond mine. The ride will begin at the dwarfs' cottage. (There sure are a lot of cottages and castles in these woods.) From there, guests will board mine cars for a site visit.

    For Disney World's seventh coaster, the prototype ride system will send the train's cars swinging to and fro as they navigate the track. Because they will freely pivot perpendicular to the track, the unique cars, rather than the passengers, will bear the brunt of the lateral g-forces. (There likely wouldn't be high g-forces regardless of the cars. Because this is Fantasyland, I'm guessing the...MORE coaster will be less a thrill ride like Big Thunder Mountain -- not that the Frontierland coaster is that thrilling -- and more a relatively gentle ride.) That will leave guests swinging in time to the music and focusing on the cute dwarfs, the mine sets, and Snow White.

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    Under the Sea- Journey of the Little Mermaid

    New Fantasyland's Little Mermaid ride.
    ••• © Arthur Levine, 2012. Licensed to About.com.

    Unlike its sister ride at Disney California Adventure (and not to be confused with the Voyage of The Little Mermaid stage show at Disney's Hollywood Studios), the New Fantasyland version of the attraction features a vastly different exterior featuring Prince Erik's castle and a lot of carved rock work. It also adds a cute interactive "scavenger hunt" experience in the queue. Guests can help crabs sort Ariel's underwater treasures by pointing at items on screens. An animatronic Scuttle the seagull shows off the booty in one of the pre-show scenes.

    The ride itself is essentially the same as its left coast counterpart. It uses an Omnimover system (in which the vehicles move through the scenes on a never-ending conveyor belt) and "clammobile" cars that are similar to the ones found at Epcot's charming The Seas with Nemo and Friends ride. The attraction retells the fairy tale as depicted in Disney's classic animated film,...MORE albeit in a greatly condensed -- and somewhat abrupt -- form.

    The dazzling animatronics include a diminutive Sebastian the Crab with tiny rear-projected eyes and an Ariel whose red 'do appears to bob and float under the sea. Speaking of "Under the Sea," the rollicking signature song sets the stage for one of the attraction's scenes. Another features an enormous Ursula the Sea Witch undulating to "Poor Unfortunate Souls."

    A large red tent behind the ride, which marks the transition between Fantasyland Forest and Storybook Circus, includes a meet and greet area with Ariel. Photos, autographs, and even brief hugs are fine; attempts to go ahead and kiss the girl, however, would likely be met with rebuke.

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    Beauty and the Beast Land: Enchanted Tales with Belle

    Maurice's cottage at Enchanted Tales with Belle.
    ••• © Arthur Levine, 2012. Licensed to About.com.

    When Disney first announced the Fantasyland expansion, it was almost entirely princess-focused and filled with girly-girl rides and shows. The Mouse later rethought its plans, ditched some of the little girl-centric features, and added some attractions into the mix that boys wouldn't be embarrassed to try. The decidedly girly-girl Beauty and the Beast land, however, remains.

    As guests make their way through the forest, they enter Belle's Village, the home of the "Beauty" and budding princess. The highlight of the village area is Enchanted Tales with Belle, which visitors access by entering Maurice's (that's Belle's father) cottage.

    They are led to a workshop where they encounter a magical mirror. Instead of telling guests who is the fairest of them all, this mirror transforms into a door that transports them to the Beast's castle. Imagineers appear to have employed some industrial-strength smoke to go along with...MORE the mirror. The attraction includes highly impressive animatronic characters, The Wardrobe and Lumiere (the suave candlestick character from the film).

    The Belle experience is part of an initiative by Disney to present attractions that are more immersive and interactive. Rather than passively watching a story unfold (like the more traditional Little Mermaid ride), some guests actively participate in the show and are featured characters in the story.

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    Enchanted Tales with Belle: Madame Wardrobe

    Jo Anne Worley, voice of The Wardrobe, at Enchanted Tales with Belle.
    ••• Jo Anne Worley (right) at Enchanted Tales with Belle. © Arthur Levine, 2012. Licensed to About.com.
    Once transported to the Beast's castle, guests encounter Madame Wardrobe. She helps choose members of the audience to play roles in a short presentation of the "Beauty and the Beast" story.

    When I experienced the attraction at a special event on the evening before it officially opened, I had the unique pleasure of seeing Jo Anne Worley, the actress who provided the voice of Madame Wardrobe in Disney's animated film (and one of the ensemble members from the 60s television show, "Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In"), interact with her character. Not surprisingly, Worley was chosen to portray Madame Wardrobe.

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    Enchanted Tales with Belle: Meeting Belle

    Jo Anne Worley meets Belle at Enchanted Tales show in New Fantasyland.
    ••• © Arthur Levine, 2012. Licensed to About.com.
    Lumiere (which is an astonishing animatronic character) and Belle guide audience members through a short production of "Beauty and the Beast." I saw Jo Anne Worley (center, embracing Belle), the actress who provided the voice of Madame Wardrobe in Disney's "Beauty" film, perform one of the roles.
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    Beauty and the Beast Land: Be Our Guest Restaurant

    Be Our Guest Restaurant
    ••• © Arthur Levine, 2012. Licensed to About.com.
    • Now open.

    Cinderella doesn't have the only castle in Fantasyland. The Beast takes up residence in the neighborhood and invites guests into his chateau and the elegant, 550-seat Be Our Guest Restaurant. During the day, it offers quick-service meals. At night, however, it transforms into a table service restaurant with a more refined menu (as well as more refined prices) and, in a first for the Magic Kingdom, wine and beer.

    Prominently featured in the movie, the grand ballroom has been meticulously re-created. It is perpetually nighttime, and the opulent chandeliers provide a warm glow. A steady "snow" falls over the moonlit mountains as seen in the large picture windows at the rear of the ballroom.

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    Be Our Guest Restaurant: Meet the Beast

    The Beast at the Be Our Guest Restaurant.
    ••• © Arthur Levine, 2012. Licensed to About.com.
    The Beast can often be found meeting guests at his castle, which also serves as the Be Our Guest Restaurant.
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  • 09 of 14

    Be Our Guest Restaurant: Knights in the Hallway

    Knights in the hallway at Disney World's Be Our Guest Restaurant.
    ••• © Arthur Levine, 2012. Licensed to About.com.
    Knights in shining armor line the hallway as guests make their way into the Be Our Guest Restaurant.

    During the day, patrons order quick-service meals at interactive kiosks in the lobby of the castle. Guests receive a "magic rose" transponder that stores their order and alerts servers of their whereabouts inside the restaurant so they can deliver the meals. It's a clever concept that allows parties to stay together and eliminates the need for guests to cart trays of food and hunt down a table.

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    Beauty and the Beast Land: Gaston's Tavern

    Gaston's Tavern at the Magic Kingdom.
    ••• © Arthur Levine, 2012. Licensed to About.com.
    • Now open.

    In addition to the Be Our Guest restaurant, New Fantasyland offers the quick-service eatery Gaston's Tavern, located inBelle's Village. Despite its name, no alcohol is served, although the "pub" does offer LeFou's Brew, a frozen concoction made of apple juice with hints of toasted marshmallow and a light mango foam. It's likely meant as Disney's answer to Universal's Butterbeer phenomenon. While it is tasty and considerably less sweet, I much prefer the addictive Potter beverage. Gaston's also has a limited menu that includes a roasted pork shank and a chocolate croissant.

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    New Fantasyland: Dumbo Rides

    Dumbo Rides at New Fantasyland.
    ••• © Arthur Levine, 2012. Licensed to About.com.
    • Now open.

    To help accommodate the many guests who want to soar with Dumbo, Disney World added a second ride platform, thereby doubling the capacity. Also, instead of waiting in a long line in the Florida sun, passengers can now play games inside an air conditioned tent until it is time for their ride. They are given a restaurant-style pager to alert them.

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    New Fantasyland: Casey Jr. Splash 'N' Soak Station

    Casey Jr. Splash 'N' Soak Station at New Fantasyland.
    ••• © Arthur Levine, 2012. Licensed to About.com.
    • Now open.

    Every few minutes, the trainload of circus animals sends blasts of water to the delight of sun-parched visitors.

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    New Fantasyland: Pete's Silly Sideshow

    Pete's Silly Sideshow at New Fantasyland.
    ••• © Arthur Levine, 2012. Licensed to About.com.
    • Now open.

    Disguised as a circus sideshow, the tent is actually a meet-and-greet area with Goofy, Donald Duck, Minnie Mouse, and Daisy Duck. Families can get one-on-one time with the Disney characters and have their pictures taken.

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    Princess Fairytale Hall

    ••• Disney. Used with permission.
    • Now open.
    The building that houses the Snow White's Scary Adventures ride (which is being retired) will be transformed into Princess Fairytale Hall. Children, especially little girls, just can't get enough face time with Disney's princesses. So, the Mouse is going to create an entire hall filled with them. Cinderella will leave her McMansion castle around the corner and take up residence along with other heroines such as Aurora, Tiana, and Rapunzel in the new meet-and-greet area.

    I'm not sure how Disney will conjure a backstory to justify why and how the bevy of beauties will be gathering in one place. Expect aspiring princesses to go bonkers at the sight of so much royalty. And expect sales of glass slippers to go through the roof at the Magic Kingdom.

    Find out more about another one of the latest developments at Walt Disney World, the new Disney's Art of Animation Resort.

    The Fantasyland Expansion begins with an overview of Storybook Circus, including the new dueling Dumbos, the...MORE Barnstormer coaster featuring the Great Goofini, and the Casey Jr. Splash 'N' Soak Station.