In 2012, Florida’s Walt Disney World opened a major expansion that added new attractions, shops, and restaurants in the Magic Kingdom. One of four parks at the mega resort, the Magic Kingdom perennially draws more visitors than any other theme park, making it the most popular in the world. The expansion, which Disney dubbed “New Fantasyland,” provided more things to do and increased capacity at the busy park. Over time, Disney dropped the "New” designation and now considers the expanded area to be part of Fantasyland.
The entrance to the expansion, which is pictured here, is located where the original Dumbo ride used to spin. To build the area, 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. The additional acreage more than doubles the size of the Magic Kingdom’s iconic land.
The Seven Dwarfs Mine Train
The highlight of the expansion and the centerpiece of the land’s Fantasyland Forest is the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. The ride is a combination family roller coaster and cute dark ride. Unlike the Snow White attraction that preceded the Mine Train ride, the emphasis is less on the heroine’s scary adventures and more on the heigh-hoing dwarfs and their work in the diamond mine. It begins in the dwarfs' cottage. From there, guests board “mine cars” for a rollicking ride.
For Disney World's seventh coaster, the prototype ride system sends the train's cars swinging to and fro as they navigate the track. Because they freely pivot perpendicular to the track, the unique cars, rather than the passengers, bear the brunt of the lateral g-forces. The forces aren’t all that intense. The coaster, which has a low height requirement of 38 inches, only accelerates to 34 mph. The swinging cars are among the unique features of Seven Dwarfs ride. Slight spoiler alert: Be on the lookout for the menacing witch, who has a cameo in the attraction.
Under the Sea- Journey of the Little Mermaid
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 Fantasyland version of the Under the Sea- Journey of the Little Mermaid 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, albeit in a greatly condensed, and somewhat abrupt, form.
The ride’s 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 signature song sets the stage for one of the attraction's scenes. Another scene 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.
Beauty and the Beast Land: Enchanted Tales with Belle
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 (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 have employed some industrial-strength smoke to go along with the mirror. The attraction’s The Wardrobe and Lumiere (the suave candlestick character from the film) are highly impressive animatronic characters.
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.
Beauty and the Beast Land: Be Our Guest Restaurant
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.
Beauty and the Beast Land: Gaston's Tavern
In addition to the Be Our Guest restaurant, the expanded Fantasyland offers the quick-service eatery, Gaston's Tavern, located in Belle'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 LeFou's Brew is tasty and considerably less sweet, it has not soared in popularity like the addictive Potter beverage. Gaston's also has a limited menu that includes a savory roasted pork shank dish and a sweet chocolate croissant.
Storybook Circus: Dumbo Rides
The area that used to host Mickey's Toontown Fair is now known as Storybook Circus. Its highlight is Dumbo the Flying Elephant, which may be Disney’s most iconic ride. To help accommodate the many guests who want to soar with Dumbo, Disney World added a second ride platform during the expansion, 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.
Storybook Circus: Casey Jr. Splash 'N' Soak Station
Every few minutes in Storybook Circus, a trainload of circus animals sends blasts of water to the delight of sun-parched visitors. The cool-down area is known as Casey Jr. Splash 'N' Soak Station. The area also includes Pete's Silly Sideshow. 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.
Storybook Circus: The Barnstormer
Storybook Circus also includes Fantasyland’s second roller coaster, The Barnstormer. The kiddie coaster has a height limit of 35 inches and hits a top speed of 25 mph. The whole experience is over in one minute flat. It’s a great gateway coaster for first-time riders. The Barnstormer is also a good ride for Disney World wimps who might be too afraid of the slightly more aggressive Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, but would want to test their mettle.