Post by Dustin West
When I was first invited to preview the New Fantasyland at the Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World, I felt honored and privileged to do so amongst annual pass holder and cast member previews. Until recently, I never had the kind of access that comes along with being part of Disney-related media and social media. I was even saddened earlier in the day of our preview event when I walked up to the New Fantasyland entrance point. Access was denied to me as it was a cast member preview day. Suddenly I remembered that I would be going through that portal later in the day. I never could have even imagined what was in store for me as the evening progressed.
Just as an interesting side note, I was part of a special group selected among all of the Disney bloggers to participate in this preview of the New Fantasyland. This group is known in the Disney universe as “Mom Bloggers.” However, you’ll notice that I am neither a mom nor a woman for that matter. I’ll just leave that as an unusual fluke in group selection process. Needless to say, I stuck out like a sore thumb. The way the event was structured, our group moved around in a very tight pack. Some of my colleagues refer to that as the “Borg.” The innumerable amount of times I had to respond to the phrase “ladies, let’s start moving” went from embarrassing to comical very quickly. I will say that both the Disney cast members and the other bloggers made me feel right at home. I met some wonderful people that evening.
On to the New Fantasyland! After we passed through the virtual blockade of Disney cast members securing the entry point for the new land, we set off for our first attraction. We were joined by two Imagineers, Diego Parras and Chris Kelly, who gave little tid-bits of insight as we made our way through the land. Enchanted Tales with Belle is nestled away in Maurice’s Cottage, located just near the entrance closest to the new castle walls. This entire cottage area is beautifully landscaped and makes you feel like you are entering the aptly named Enchanted Forest area. We wound through a beautiful maze of fir trees and gardens until we reached Maurice’s Cottage. The entrance to Enchanted Tales with Belle is located under the lean-to attached to the cottage. We were quickly greeted with a “Bonjour” from an attractions host.
We entered Maurice’s Cottage and arrived in our first room, a sort of den that Maurice has created to house some of his personal artifacts and smaller inventions. The focal point in this room is a painting that hangs in an area of the room set up much like a fireplace. I don’t want to spoil too much of the surprise here. But, in one of Disney’s greatest parlor tricks, our entire group walked through that painting into the Wardrobe room.
This room is very reminiscent of Belle’s bedroom in the film Beauty and the Beast. We were greeted by a lovely audio-animatronic Wardrobe and a cast member who searched within the group for volunteers. In Enchanted Tales with Belle, guests are transformed into the various characters from the film. The cast member gave out the parts of Suits of Armor, Dinner Plates, Maurice, Philippe, and of course, the Beast. Each chosen guest is given a colorful prop to represent the different characters.
From the Wardrobe room we moved as the “Borg” into the Library. Disney Imagineers absolutely got it right with this room. This is a stunning space – bookshelves from floor to ceiling, beautiful lighting, and a roaring fireplace. Gracing the top of the mantle is probably the best audio-animatronic character I’ve ever seen in my life. Lumière greeted us and hosted this show. His movements are precision perfect. His facial expressions are eerily real. This shouldn’t be considered an audio-animatronic. This was Lumière in the flesh (or bronze or gold?) After our greeting, it was the time we were all waiting for. Belle emerged from a little door in the corner. You’d think she was on the red carpet, because the paparazzi known as mom bloggers lit that room up like it was on fire. I don’t want to give too much of this experience away. But, our chosen cast then proceeded to act out parts of the film with Belle. It was absolutely adorable. I can only imagine what this experience would be like with children acting out the parts.
Though the actual interaction with Belle is quite short, there’s plenty of time afterwards (for those who participated) to take photos with the princess. There was even a Disney PhotoPass cast member handy.
I imagine that because of the length of this process and the limited capacity, Enchanted Tales with Belle will have long wait times when the New Fantasyland is finally opened to the public. It’s a wonderful interactive experience. My opinion is that is worth the wait just to see the beautiful exteriors and interiors of Maurice’s Cottage.
We finished up at Enchanted Tales with Belle and headed across to Under the Sea: Journey of the Little Mermaid. One of my favorite things that Disney Imagineering does is pay homage in new attractions to the attraction that was there before. When I mentioned earlier that I had no idea how special this evening would be, this is what I meant. Our group was chosen to take water that once was in the 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea attraction and pour it into the water surrounding the new Little Mermaid attraction. I was beside myself. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea was one of my favorite attractions. It was always unfair to me that it was closed and replaced by a Winnie the Pooh meet and greet.
They gave our group glasses with the water from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. The first thing the Disney cast member said to us when we received the water was, “Don’t drink it.” I thought that was pretty funny. And just food for thought, who kept this water for 18 years? Who had the foresight to think that having water from a rusty old Florida sinkhole would pay off one day? I don’t know, but I’m glad they did. We ceremoniously poured the water into the new lagoon and effectively linked Old Fantasyland with New Fantasyland. I’m proud to say that I was part of that experience.
The water from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is not the only tie to the older attraction. As we wove through the queue in Under the Sea: Journey of the Little Mermaid, our Imagineer guides pointed out to us a hidden Nautilus submarine among the rockwork. To put it simply, this queue is absolutely amazing. From Prince Eric’s awe-inspiring castle to the beautifully handcrafted rock faces to the incredibly detailed interiors of the castle, the queue is breath taking. Among some of Scuttle’s trinkets and gadgets you’ll see little projections of blue crabs trying to make sense of all the human artifacts. They blend in seamlessly with their environments. For those of you who have ridden the same attraction at Disney California Adventure, there is no comparison between the two queues. Under the Sea: Journey of the Little Mermaid in the New Fantasyland transports you under the sea in a much more realistic and immersive way. And that’s just the queue.
As we approached the loading area, we walked through underground colonnades and painstakingly detailed dungeon-like corridors. We boarded our “Clam-Mobile” and set off.
Let there be no mistake, this is the exact same attraction that’s in Disney California Adventure. It’s a wonderful addition to the New Fantasyland and fits right in amongst the other dark rides in Old Fantasyland. The Audio Animatronics are superb and the environments are immersive. You really feel like you’re going under the sea. Just like with Enchanted Tales with Belle, I feel that this best part of this attraction is the highly detailed queue area. The ride itself is absolutely marvelous, but to me it’s a nice ending to walking through Eric’s Castle.
The “Mom Bloggers” and their token male set off for Gaston’s Tavern. I was looking forward to this more than any other part of the New Fantasyland. As we approached this little nook of Fantasyland, there was no question that Gaston had left his mark. The statue that resides in front of the tavern is one of Gaston triumphantly resting his leg on top of his counterpart Le Feu. It’s quite comical. At least for now, Gaston is making personal appearances next to the statue. It’s quite funny to see Gaston next to the bronze version of himself, gloating as both versions.
Again, Disney Imagineers have knocked it out of the ballpark. The interior of Gaston’s Tavern is almost exactly as you remember it from the film Beauty and the Beast. Animal heads on the wall, a dartboard with a questionable score favoring Gaston, and painting of Gaston hung above the fireplace. Most impressive, however, is the chandelier made entirely out of antlers.
We even tried the “Le Feu’s Brew,” a frozen apple cider drink that’s really quite tasty. Our little group really had the feeling that Gaston could walk in at any minute.
Instead, it was Chairman of Disney Parks and Resorts Tom Staggs that walked in. Yet another surprise for our group of “Mom Bloggers.” He chats with us privately for almost twenty minutes. You could tell that he and his entire team were very excited and proud of the New Fantasyland. He asked us what our favorite part of the New Fantasyland was. Answers were varied from “everything” to “the details.” I recently returned from Disneyland Paris. The Magic Kingdom park there is so spacious given that there are only five themed lands. Thinking of that experience, I answered “space” – the feeling of walking into a large world that has existed for years before you arrived. Fantasyland in Walt Disney World has always been sort of a bottleneck. This will be alleviated when the walls are finally down. When the question was redirected to him, Tom Staggs replied with “Seven Dwarfs Mine Train.” The fact that the areas we’ve seen so far are as great as they are, leads me to believe that the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train opening in 2014 will be just plain fabulous.
We said goodbye to Tom Staggs and his entourage, which included a virtually silent Meg Crofton, and walked toward Be Our Guest Restaurant. Located just between Gaston’s Tavern and Maurice’s Cottage, Be Our Guest Restaurant sits under the mountain range that holds the Beast’s Castle.
We walked through the gates, across the bridge and stopped at the entrance. The doorway is surrounded by statues of jumbled up animals. Giant lions with rams’ horns and primate hands, griffins perched above the door, all paying tribute to the fact that the Beast is also an unidentifiable creature.
It’s hard to imagine that a group of humans designed, constructed, and decorated this outstanding space. But Disney Imagineering did just that. We walked through room after room. We were just trying to take in the sheer amount of detail in Be Our Guest Restaurant. The foyer leads to a corridor with several suits of armor. That room leads to the quick service kiosks in a room covered in tapestries. Statues, chandeliers, paintings, and more details around every corner sum up the first couple of rooms you encounter in this restaurant.
We walked through the main dining room to the two side rooms. One of these is the Rose Gallery. In the center is a very large, rotating music box. Spinning round is Belle and Beast from the Ballroom scene in the film. The Rose Gallery is bright and filled with paintings of characters you’ll remember from the film. It is a lovely space.
Opposite the main dining room is the forbidden West Wing of the castle. Torn drapery, ripped paintings, and claw marks all accentuated the focal point of this room.
The rose that gives Beast his life force sits framed in a windowsill, petals slowly falling from its stem.
But the main focus in this restaurant is the Ballroom. Everyone in the group literally dropped their jaw when seeing this cavernous hall. It is exactly how you remember it from the film. Beautiful golden chandeliers, white columns surrounding the hall and countless other details tie this room to the film.
At the end of the room is an entire wall of windows looking out to the mountains. Snow is falling and it is winter at Beast’s castle. Truly this is a grand and breathtaking restaurant.
The “Mom Bloggers” and I ended our night after a wonderful meal in the West Wing. Pork rack chop, scallops and shrimp, and many other fine French dishes were served. It was a delicious meal in a gorgeous restaurant. My entire Preview of the New Fantasyland went flawlessly. I’m so excited that I had this opportunity. But it was time to say goodnight to the New Fantasyland. We walked across the bridge. In that moment I could see both Cinderella Castle and Beast’s castle on either side of me, lit in the night sky. It was the perfect way to end my evening in the wonderful and spectacular New Fantasyland.
For more photos of the New Fantasyland, click here.
Category: Disney World