Walt Disney World knows how to work the magic—there’s no doubt about that. As soon as you enter the Orlando theme park gates, especially if you have kids, it’s hard not to get swept up in the full-on fantasy and unbridled joy. Now, with the new Fantasyland section of the park, guests get transported through a multi-media, multi-sensory experience that makes the old Fantasyland look, well, quaint.
The new Fantasyland is a multi-year expansion project that doubles the size of the existing Fantasyland by incorporating the former Mickey’s Toontown section of the park, which is now barely recognizable as Storybook Circus, though some attractions remain. In recasting Fantasyland, Disney “imagineers” sought to hold onto some of the old-fashioned and beloved charm of the original Fantasyland, but have given it a decidedly 21st century edge.
My family and I started our journey in Storybook Circus. Although we’ve been to Disney theme parks before, my 5-year-old son is always a bit anxious about getting on rides. His fears were eased when he saw the Dumbo ride, his first amusement park attraction. That flying elephant seemed to give him a sense of comfort. Disney has doubled the size of the classic ride; now two Dumbos—one going clockwise and other counterclockwise—take guests on a high-flying adventure.
Surely the most loathsome part of a day at a theme park is waiting in line to get onto rides. Disney’s FastPass system reduced a lot of that wait time, and with the new Dumbo ride, they’ve taken it a step further. While we waited to ride Dumbo, the kids enjoyed circus-themed activities inside the Big Top that connects the two Dumbos. I received a pager that beeped when it was our turn to ride. My son had so much fun on the Dumbo ride that we rode it several times in a row. I literally had to drag him away in order for us to do something else.
My 11-year-old daughter, the daredevil of the bunch, spied her favorite amusement park attraction—a rollercoaster. The Barnstormer Featuring the Great Goofini is family-style coaster that isn’t too scary for the little ones. As I mentioned earlier, my 5-year-old son isn’t a huge fan of rides, but even he enjoyed this one. My daughter and I took several rides before we got hungry and decided to go for a bite to eat.
As we walked through the streets, we encountered clowns, circus performers, and got to sample some tasty circus fare (my favorite was the chocolate-covered pineapples). As we strolled, I noticed several people looking towards the sky. There was a dragon flying overhead. It looked so real that my 5-year-old son started crying because he was afraid of being eaten by it! I assured him that it was only a puppet, but the visual effect was stunning.
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We made our way to the Enchanted Forest and entered the new Beast’s Castle. It was dark, foreboding, and filled with precise details from the movie. We sat down to eat at Be Our Guest Restaurant, which features a lavish dining experience in the elegant ballroom of Beast’s Castle. We had a classic Croque Monsieur, braised pork coq au vin style, vegetable quiche, mussels Provençal, French onion soup and charcuterie, and thyme-scented pork rack chop. My kids weren’t really impressed by the French cuisine, but the desserts won them over. They feasted on a buffet of gourmet cupcakes and cream puffs.
The best part of the meal was a surprise visit from our host, The Beast. He stopped by to pose for photos and interact with the kids. My 9-year-old son got his autograph and told him how much he liked his castle.
With our bellies full, we decided to visit Enchanted Tales with Belle. This was a truly interactive attraction. The set literally comes to life around you as you interact with Belle and the other characters to recreate the story of Beauty and the Beast. The animatronics technology used to create this experience is simply amazing (you have to see Lumière in person to believe it).
Next, we journeyed to the ocean to visit Ariel on the Under the Sea Journey of the Little Mermaid ride. We boarded clamshells and took a musical trip through Ariel’s world. Although the ride is pretty tame, my 5-year son was frightened when we encountered the villain, Ursula. We had to take another ride on Dumbo to make him relax. At the end of the night we were treated to a spectacular light and fireworks show in front of Cinderella’s Castle.
A trip to Disney World, even for the day, is a costly outing for a family with kids. But there’s absolutely no question that Disney does it right—kids and adults alike get swept up in a complete entertainment experience that doesn’t miss a detail. There are more attractions in development at Fantasyland, and my family and I will be back to enjoy every one of them.
Disclosure: The writer was invited by New Fantasyland to experience the theme park. He did not receive financial compensation from New Fantasyland for this review. Opinions are his own.