We’re strolling through Belle’s French-inspired village in the Enchanted Forest section of Walt Disney World’s New Fantasyland—the largest expansion to date at Magic Kingdom—and we can almost hear a chorus of villagers singing “Bonjour! Bonjour!” as we eye Gaston’s Tavern and a castle in the distance. It’s one of many fairytale moments we had during our visit to New Fantasyland, where guests are transported into the stories of Disney’s timeless characters through a series of attractions, dining venues and shops, all of which have doubled the size of the original Fantasyland.
“This expansion is the largest in our history and it certainly captures the excitement and enchantment of what we do best at Disney, which is tell stories,” says Pam Scott, regional sales director, Disney Destinations. “What is so cool is this new ‘land’ is home to so many attractions that it really goes beyond anything we’ve done before. The new area of Magic Kingdom has also provided an invigorating reason for guests to visit,” or, in the case of Disney fanatics, revisit again and again.
And although New Fantasyland is awaiting its final two elements—Princess Fairytale Hall, where guests meet both classic and contemporary princesses (as of press time, Princess Fairytale Hall was set to open this month), and the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train family-style rollercoaster (opening spring 2014)—parkgoers aren’t holding back from visiting this new section of the park.
“A lot of people are looking forward to seeing the entire vision unveiled, but I don’t think too many people are waiting to visit the park, since the majority of the attractions are complete,” Scott says. She adds that guests who have visited New Fantasyland are already looking forward to coming back and seeing the entire park come together.
Divided into two sections, Enchanted Forest and Storybook Circus, the land literally jumps off the movie screen and into the parks with the amount of detail and research the Imagineers (the design team, if you don’t speak Disney) put into the creation of New Fantasyland. The Storybook Circus section captures the golden era of the circus from the 1940s, and is inspired by the Circus World Museum in Wisconsin, where Imagineers climbed into all of the circus wagons to capture the right colors and details.
Mark Kohl, director, project management, Walt Disney Imagineering, points out that the thought process that surrounds the “what does it take to create a land or add on to Fantasyland over time?” is one that is really determined by studying the treasured stories that fit within Fantasyland “and really deciding not only what makes sense, but what is really compelling to our guest.”
Guests want to be truly immersed in these stories, and to attain that goal, Imagineers seamlessly blend technology into the rides and take classic meet-and-greets to the next level, such as in Enchanted Tales with Belle where guests spend time within Belle’s story in an interactive experience that makes use of costumes and props, or ride along in a clamshell with Ariel and her friends in Under the Sea-Journey of the Little Mermaid, which seems to be one of the hottest new rides if the long wait times are any indication. And what were once boring long wait times in lines, queus are now their own attractions with the use of interactive features, such as a scavenger hunt with digitally animated crabs.
Another example of a sought-after element of New Fantasyland that could rank as an attraction is the new Be Our Guest Restaurant located inside Beast’s Castle. The restaurant is divided into three dining rooms: the Ballroom, the West Wing and the Rose Gallery. The castle is plucked straight out of the film with everything from the rose losing its petals in the West Wing to “snow” falling outside of the ballroom behind the windows.
If you haven’t heard about this new dining hotspot at the Magic Kingdom, it offers a lot of firsts at the park, which is probably why it is about as hard to get dinner reservations here as it is at a top restaurant in New York City. The restaurant offers quick service for lunch and transforms into fine dining by night—complete with wine and beer.
“I think more than anything in New Fantasyland, Be Our Guest has been the most popular, and rightly so. It doesn’t hurt that it is the only place in the Magic Kingdom that serves alcohol,” says Cara Goldsbury, chief executive concierge, Glass Slipper Concierge (a Disney travel division for Sanborn’s Travel Service), and author of “The Luxury Guide to Walt Disney World Resort.”
The addition of beer and wine to the menu not only adds to the storybook setting, since the movie takes place in France, but also says something about what guests are expecting when it comes to dining, even in a theme park setting where turkey legs may be more the norm.
“It was a very French-inspired location and you can’t go somewhere in France without ordering a glass of wine or beer,” says Maribeth Bisienere, v.p., F&B and merchandise operations integration at Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, adding that “guests are more sophisticated than ever about dining.”
While lunch is more of a French bistro affair with croque monsieur sandwiches and Nicoise salad, dinner is more of a “castle feast” reminiscent of the 1400s with ratatouille, mussels provencal and thyme-scented pork rack chop.
“The Magic Kingdom has never really been known for fantastic food, and this is definitely a higher quality food experience… a step above the normal theme park fare at Magic Kingdom,” Goldsbury says.
Since dinner reservations can be difficult to obtain, Goldsbury recommends guests get in line for lunch to experience the cuisine. A perk about lunch in the Be Our Guest Restaurant? Unlike other quick-service restaurants in the park, guests can skip carrying trays and instead find a table where their food will be delivered.
Any child or adult with a fascination for animation will love the Art of Animation Resort at the Walt Disney World Resort, which brings to life classic and new Disney characters.
From the moment we walked into the lobby and spotted sketches of characters such as Ariel and Lightning McQueen, we were sold. While three of the wings offer family suites (320 in “Finding Nemo,” 480 in “Cars” and 320 in “The Lion King”), the latest wing to debut, “The Little Mermaid,” features 864 standard guestrooms.
We stayed in one of the “Cars” suites in the “Cozy Cone Motel” located behind the Cozy Cone pool, surrounded by large orange cone cabanas, all quite fitting for the “Cars” theme.
The suite’s design plays on a classic Americana motel throwing in elements from the Disney-Pixar film, such as pictures of the characters hanging on the walls. Divided into a bedroom with a queen bed and bathroom cleverly disguised as a “car wash”; a living room with a double sleeper sofa; and dining area with a table that transforms into a double bed, with a bathroom for the kids, the suite is the perfect size for a family, while still giving parents privacy. Rates start at $118 per night during the week for The Little Mermaid standard guestrooms, and $282 per night during the week for family suites.
“The family market is huge for us, no matter what your family consists of,” says Scott. “Families at Disney can be the traditional families, or multigenerational, or grandparents taking their grandchildren away as a rite of passage.”
A common trend is grandparents taking the entire family, which may seem like a lot of work dealing with a whole family, but Goldsbury says she typically finds that she works with one point person who makes the decisions for the entire family, and she then helps put together an itinerary.
Beyond traditional park hopping, agents looking to expand sales with their clients can also market special events taking place throughout the year, such as the Food & Wine Festival at Epcot, the Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival and the holiday celebrations.
Disney also provides a variety of tools and training that agents can use to learn more about New Fantasyland and the parks in general on disneytravelagents.com.
Art of Animation Resort: (407) W-DISNEY; disneyworld.disney.go.com/resorts/art-of-animation-resort
Disney Parks: disneyparks.com
Disney Travel Agents: disneytravelagents.com