Disney World’s New Fantasyland: A Dream Come True!

(Originally published in the Denver Post’s Hub. More pictures and commentary added here!)

“Wake up! You’re not going to school today. Mommy and Daddy are taking you on a special trip!”

For most of us, we only visit Fantasyland in our dreams but last week, it was my kids’ dreams come true. Not only were we pulling them out of school but we were going to Disney World for the first time.

Our surprise was over a month in the making. When my husband I heard about New Fantasyland’s multiyear expansion—the biggest in the Magic Kingdom’s history that nearly doubles its former size—we slapped down our credit card and bought our flights. We decided to make our trip extra-special by keeping it a secret from our kids.

No small feat for a woman who hasn’t been able to keep a secret since 1980.

It was love at first sight. Though Cinderella Castle still remains the park’s most iconic symbol, the New Fantasyland offers two more fortresses, making it a trip threat. Comprised of the Enchanted Forest and Storybook areas, Walt Disney’s Imagineers have taken storytelling of beloved stories to a whole new level.

Enchanted Forest

Once upon a time, I lived en France for 18 months. At New Fantasyland I was transported back to those pastoral French villages in this recreation of Beauty and the Beast—from the Beast’s foreboding castle to Maurice’s provincial cottage to the smattering of buildings in Belle’s Village with a conspicuous bronze statue of Gaston in front of his namesake, Gaston’s Tavern.

Chandelier at Gaston’s Tavern

The egocentric dude’s sidekick LeFou even has his own “brew”—a frozen apple juice concoction with a hint of toasted marshmallow, topped with passion-fruit-mango foam.

The Beast’s Castle is easily the highlight of New Fantasyland. Be Our Guest restaurant offers French-inspired quick-service dining by day and fine dining by night in an elegant ballroom, the mysterious West Wing or the delicate Rose Gallery where you can watch as the enchanted rose slowly drops petals as time runs out for the Beast.

Snow falls on the French countryside and special touches include wrought-iron gates, menacing gargoyles and an Armor Hallway where an occasional whisper can be heard from the six metal figures. Sounds enchanting? You’re not alone because Be Our Guest is booking out six months in advance for dinner so lunch may be your best bet.

My Foray as Madame Wardrobe

If Walt Disney Parks and Resorts Chairman Tom Staggs is most excited about New Fantasyland’s attraction Enchanted Tales with Belle, you know it has got to be good.

“This interaction with a classic fairy tale is how it should be,” he said. “Couple it with the Beast’s Castle and it is a totally different level of immersion. Now we have the tools and technology to do it.”

No detail remains undone in Maurice’s cottage, which is where the adventure starts. A painting of Belle with her maman. Maurice’s blueprints for his inventions. A smattering of Belle’s beloved books with one of them open to “Le Prince Charmant” (The Prince Charming.)

Kids can even measure themselves against the notches on the wall that chart Belle’s growth over the years—from 12 mois (months) to 18 ans (years).

A winding stone pathway led us to Maurice’s workshop where our group of about 30 encountered the Enchanted Mirror. We answered questions about the tale from our guide and then were invited to say in unison: “Take me back to the day when Belle and the Beast fell in love.”

All eyes widened as Maurice’s most treasured possession magically transformed from a mirror into a secret doorway to the Beast’s castle. And that is when the real magic began. Through props and costumes, we stepped right into the story as several kids were selected to help plan a surprise for Belle.

My daughter Hadley was delighted to be Phillipe the horse and Bode proudly grinned within a picture frame.

As I ardently snapped pictures of my burgeoning stars, I was plucked from the audience to play none other than party organizer Madame Wardrobe.

It was the role of a lifetime.

I fulfilled my dream of singing a few notes in my best operatic voice and Hadley was a show-stopper with her impassioned “neigh.” (I had to ensure her the audience was laughing because she was just that good).

Racing around the room living it up as Madame Wardrobe

But it was an adorable 3-year-old boy cast as the Beast who stole the show with his timid “roar” as he tried to woo the glamorous cast member who played Belle.

When our play wrapped up, we bid Belle adieu as Bode raved, “That was awesome!” and Hadley squealed “I loved it!” As for me? Well, I plan to audition for Madame Butterfly.

According to Staggs, “We hope New Fantasyland gives people time to slow down and be present in these stories. To take stock, look around and as soon as you walk in, you’re transported to new places.”

And what a fantastical world it is.

Other New Fantasyland Additions

Storybook Circus—This throwback to circuses of yesteryear features fun under the Big Top with Dumbo, the Flying Elephant, a ride that has doubled in size. It also features a very welcomed indoor air-conditioned, interactive waiting area to keep the kids entertained until your pager goes off.

The Barnstormer—This family-friendly rollercoaster features the Great Goofini while Pete’s Silly Sideshow round out the offerings.

Seven Dwarfs Mine Train—Coming in 2014, this descent into a glistening diamond mine will feature a first-of-its kind ride system with a train of vehicles that swing back and forth as they respond to the twists and turns of the track. Heigh-Ho, indeed.

Under the Sea—Journey of the Little Mermaid. Fans of this Disney classic will love this musical journey as they begin at the shoreline of Prince Eric’s castle and plunge through the grottos in clamshells below the ocean’s surface where an iridescent sea world comes to life.

Side note: The kids aren’t interested in meeting the characters, which is huge time-saver. However, on the night of New Fantasyland’s opening, we accidentally stood in line for Ariel’s Grotto where you take photos and get autographs with the undersea’s favorite princess.

When we rounded the corner, Bode was instantly wowed by the hot red-headed mermaid. He shyly took his seat as she asked what rides they’d been on. “My favorite is Space Mountain,” he haltingly said. “No wait…” Flustered, he remembered he hadn’t been on in yet while he slyly scooted closer until eventually he put his hand across her lap. Prince Eric has some serious competition.


My Disney World coverage:

Disney World’s New Fantasyland: A Dream Come True!

New Fantasyland’s Fire-breathing Dragon, our Orlando TV Debut and Jamie’s Famous Body Part

Disney World’s Epcot: The Amazing Race Gone Bad..and Then Good

Epcot’s Newly Revamped Test Track Quenches the Need for Speed

Disney World’s Animal Kingdom: Hear Me Roar!

The day We Lost Our Daughter at the Airport

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