Some of you readers might know - particularly those with small children, or if you're just a big kid like me - that Disney World's Magic Kingdom opened a new section of its park this past December titled, aptly, New Fantasyland. This expansion allowed for the introduction of rides and attractions centered around Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, Snow White (a dwarves' mine ride is still in the works), a "Princess Fairytale Hall" (due to open in 2013 - a way to meet all the princesses in one place) and Tangled's Rapunzel tower (also still in progress), as well as a revamping of Dumbo the Flying Elephant and a circus-themed area to replace Toon Town.
When we signed up for the Disney World Half Marathon last summer, I was pretty excited when I realized I'd get to see New Fantasyland so soon after its grand opening (again, I act like a child where Disney is concerned. Let's agree to accept this fact!). For those less whimsy-inclined, well, what are you doing here?! juuuuust kidding. But my apologies for the Disney-centric theme today, as I introduce New Fantasyland and give a couple of tips for those planning a Disney trip soon.
New Fantasyland is divided into 2 sections: the Enchanted Forest and Storybook Circus. First of all, go to the Enchanted Forest first. As the shiny new toy in the Magic Kingdom, it will likely be the most prone to crowds throughout the day. Marathon weekend actually had emptier parks than we expected, but Enchanted Tales with Belle (see below) was easily our longest wait of the day. So what's in the Enchanted Forest?
Beauty and the Beast Castle
Note: The castle is actually not full-sized. It sits up high to make you feel like it is, and the Be Our Guest Restaurant is housed below it.
Enchanted Tales with Belle at Belle and Maurice's Cottage
Well this was a delight! We didn't know what to expect when we got in the line outside of Belle and Maurice's cottage, but it's an interactive group attraction - about 30 people go in at a time for a 10-minute "play," in which the children (and some adults!) in the audience are chosen to play characters in the tale of Beauty and the Beast. The hook is that we are preparing to share this "story" with Belle before her big dinner with Beast. Once everyone has their parts, we are ushered into the "library" and Belle appears in the flesh. Lumiere is our narrator, and the kids chosen are unintentionally hilarious as they make their way through the story. If you have a small child, make sure they speak up to get a part - they include as many people as volunteer! They'll get to take a picture with Belle and will receive a bookmark as a souvenir. As it's sometimes hard to nab a picture with the princesses, this is a great way to squeeze that in.
Absolutely have a meal here - but plan to do so at odd hours or you will be in for a mega-line! We ate at 10:45 a.m. and waited about 10 minutes. When we passed by again closer to 12, it was easily an hour wait, if not more. Lunch was also quite delicious - it's a French-inspired menu (I had a croque monsieur and the french onion soup). Dinner is a more formal menu, and they highly recommend reservations. But fair warning: C tried almost daily for several months to try to surprise me with a reservation there to no avail. You get the full experience with lunch, however, so don't be too disappointed. Afer ordering, you take your pick on where to sit: the 2-story ballroom, the West Wing, and the library. Each room has very-specific Beauty and the Beast touches (you'll see some in the pictures below) that I just adored. After all, this is my favorite Disney fairy tale :)
Not having tried it, I can't vouch for the food here (and sorry Disney, but Lefou's Brew sounds disgusting), but the decor inside is a great replica of Gaston's hunting-inspired lodge. The shops in this part of New Fantasyland also boast new princess-inspired gifts I didn't see anywhere else in the park, so keep that in mind if you're shopping.
Like the Beast's castle, Prince Eric's is not full-size and you cannot go in: the Journey of the Little Mermaid is housed underneath it. The ride itself is low-key but cute, similar to the Finding Nemo ride at Epcot or even the Haunted Mansion, and you're taken through the Little Mermaid's story, songs and all.
This is Ariel's designated character spot for pictures and hugs - another great opportunity with a princess.
We didn't do a lot of exploring in Storybook Circus other than Dumbo (which has an interesting new indoor waiting/playground area where, rather than waiting in line, your kids can play until your family's number is called; genius!). The whole circus area definitely skews to the youngest of Disney visitors (yes, even too young for my sensibilities!), but it seems really cute.
And they lived happily ever after. Have a question about Fantasyland or the Disney parks in general? Let me know in the comments and I'll try to answer!
*images property of Diane Crary