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Fantasyland Expansion Concept Art

This is it! The “final” version of the Fantasyland expansion. Can you spot what’s changed from the original version?

What you are looking at is the finished concept art for the Fantasyland Expansion currently under construction at the Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World.  Pretty cool, huh?

Apparently a lot of you think so.  The #1 article posted to this blog so far was the one in which I posted concept art that was released back in 2009 for the Fantasyland expansion project.  Based on the search terms that have been driving traffic to that article, people are looking for this art.  So I decided to put it all together in one place.

(Am I a nice guy or what?)

The focus of the original article was on my decision to return to Walt Disney World in 2014 when the kids were a little older and all of Disney’s recently announced long-term projects were completed.  From that point, I ran through a quick laundry list of what was in the works and hit the high lights of each one.

But a lot has changed since that article was written.  So this article (and several follow-ups I’m sure) will focus on what changed and why.

First, let’s look at what’s been cut from the project.  The first casualty was Pixie Hollow:

Got a Tinkerbell fan who would just love to visit Pixie Hollow? Better go to Disneyland, because Disney World is not getting this.

Why did Pixie Hollow get cut?  To really answer that, you have to go waaaay back to 2009 when the Fantasyland expansion was first announced.  The word from Disney insiders is that Disney did not plan to announce the Fantasyland expansion at D23.  The focus regarding the theme parks was supposed to be on the make-over of Disney’s California Adventure (or DCA).  The only major announcement for Florida would have been the unveiling of Star Tours 2.0 at Hollywood Studios (opening this May).

The original Star Tours is getting a much-needed upgrade including 3-D and (rumor has it) multiple destinations.

What changed their minds?  Just before D23, a version of the Fantasyland Expansion blueprints leaked to the internet.  While few insiders would confirm the blueprints were the real deal, no one was denying it either.  Fake Walt Disney World rumors get shot down by insiders pretty quickly.  So the fact that no one denied the Fantasyland expansion gave a lot of credence to the rumors.

Supposedly, Disney was furious about the leak.  Here they were about to announce Star Tours 2.0 which was about the worst-kept secret in theme parks since Harry Potter at Universal.  And their thunder had been stolen by a juicy internet rumor.  Disney decided the best way to handle the situation was to go ahead and announce the Fantasyland expansion themselves at D23.

Seems like a reasonable reaction except for one thing: Disney wasn’t done planning the expansion yet.  With so little time to tweak the plans, Disney Parks and Resorts Chairman Jay Rasulo just went ahead and announced what was currently on the drawing board knowing that changes could happen along the way.

The original focus of the Fantasyland expansion at the time of the announcements was squarely on two popular Disney franchises aimed at little girls.  Namely, the axed Pixie Hollow project and the Disney Fairies franchise.

If you wanted to celebrate Aurora’s Birthday, you’re out of luck. You can still line up to meet the princess, but without the expensive bells and whistles.

A big chunk of real estate in the announced expansion was dedicated to fancy “meet-and-greets” with various Disney princesses.  Disney currently has several “meet-and-greets” in which you and your family can interact with Disney characters for a short time.  Usually, this amounts to a quick picture, a hug and maybe an autograph.  Time permitting, the character will have a quick chat with your kids before moving on to the next family.

The announced princess meet and greets featured highly themed (and expensive) settings like Aurora’s cottage.

Meet and greets have grown in popularity over the years.   The lines for the princesses and fairies are frequently longer than the lines for the rides.  Given the popularity of these experiences, it makes sense that Disney wanted to expand on the meet-and-greet concept.

The idea at the time was that kids would meet the princesses in highly themed environments like Aurora’s cottage or Cinderella’s Chateau.  Rather than just posing for a picture and getting a hug, the enhanced meet-and-greet would feature some kind of activity or show element.

Originally, Cinderella was going to transform from her peasant rags into her ball gown right before your eyes. Now, not so much.

For example, the Aurora  meet and greet would celebrate Sleeping Beauty’s birthday.  In Cinderella’s Chateau, Cinderella would change from her peasant rags into her ball gown right before your eyes.

Concept Art for the axed Cinderella Chateau

Reactions to the meet-and-greets were divided.  Families with little girls were generally excited.  Disney World has surprisingly little that is aimed at the princess crowd beyond expensive meals and make-overs and meet-and-greets with long lines.  Clearly, the needs of the princess crowd were not currently being met.

However, families without little girls weren’t very enthusiastic.  In fact, they were bored.  And families with little boys were upset.  The Magic Kingdom doesn’t get updates very often.  Here was the biggest thing to come to Walt Disney World’s flagship park since Space Mountain and it was covered in girl cooties!

Then something happened behind the scenes.  Jay Rasulo, who had made the announcement, was replaced by Tom Staggs (who not coincidentally is the father of sons).  Staggs was a finance guy at Disney.  He looked at the princess-heavy Fantasyland expansion plans and wondered whether or not they were getting the best bang for their buck.

The end result was the revised plans for the expansion featured at the top of the article.  The princess meet-and-greets and Pixie Hollow were deemed too expensive for their limited appeal.  Instead, Disney announced replacements that they thought would have broader appeal (to boys and girls).

As I mentioned before, the princess and fairy meet-and-greets are insanely popular.  So they are still in the plans.  They have just been scaled back.  The enhanced meet-and-greets with show elements and cottages have been cut.  Instead, all the princesses will convene in one place, the Princess Fairytale Hall.

The Princess Fairytale Hall will provide one-stop shopping for all your princess meet and greet needs (and long lines too)!

Meanwhile, Tinkerbell and her fairy friends got booted out of the Magic Kingdom altogether.  Instead, they have set-up shop at Epcot as part of the Flower and Garden Festival.  But don’t worry.  There’s still plenty of new stuff for the “princess and fairy” crowd in the plans.

The biggest addition to the Fantasyland expansion is likely to be the Journey of the Little Mermaid.  This is a “dark ride” (meaning it is indoors) which will recreate scenes from one of Disney’s animated classics.  Riders will board clamshells similar to the doom buggies in the Haunted Mansion.  The omni-mover system is highly efficient which allows for a lot of riders per hour.

This may seem like a random detail to focus on.  But it gets to the heart of what the Fantasyland expansion is all about.  Of the 4 parks at Walt Disney World, the only one that closes its gates due to capacity on a regular basis is the Magic Kingdom.  Given that it is the most attended park, you may ask yourself, “Why does the Magic Kingdom need an expansion when other parks are in greater need of an attendance boost?”

As an Omnimover, the Journey of the Little Mermaid will give the Magic Kingdom some much needed capacity.

Okay, maybe you didn’t ask yourself that question.  But it’s an important question nonetheless.  The answer lies in the types of things that are being included in the expansion.  There are no e-tickets here.    Everything in the expansion is designed to increase the park’s capacity without necessarily creating a boost in attendance.  That way, the Magic Kingdom can admit more guests without having to turn them away due to limited capacity.

The above video shows the Ursula animatronic being installed in the version of the ride which is currently underway at Disney’s California Adventure.  The animatronic is pretty darn incredible if you ask me.  Very lifelike.  And I should know.  I have an aunt who looks just like Ursula…

A construction wall depicting what the exterior of the ride will look like.

This brings up another important point.  The fact that the ride is being built at DCA is another part of its appeal to Orlando.  By building more or less the same ride on both costs, Disney can split the cost of R&D – which is a big expense on any new attraction.  It’s like a “buy one, get one half off” offer on a major attraction.

 

While the DCA version of the ride will be opening this summer, the Walt Disney World version at the Magic Kingdom won’t be opening untl 2012 along with the first wave of the Fantasyland Expansion.

If you’ve been to Disney World with little girls, you may know how hard it is to get a reservation for the princess character meals in Cinderella’s Castle.  On our last trip, we scored the holy grail – breakfast in the castle.

I am not just bringing this up to brag about my reservation-nabbing skills (although that’s a big part of it).  I bring up the castle because it segues into the next topic.

This goes back to capacity as well.  That princess meal isn’t cheap.  Breakfast, which is the cheapest meal of the day, will run you about $45/adult and $30/child!  In spite of the price, Disney has people lining up reservations 180 days in advance.

Part of the reason these seats are so hard to get is that the interior of the castle is actually fairly small.  High demand + limited supply means a windfall for Disney.  But what if Disney could increase the supply to meet demand?

Beast’s Castle

That question will be answered when Disney opens the Be Our Guest Restaurant inside the Beasts’s castle.  The idea is that Disney can take some of the heat off reservations at Cinderella’s castle with this fancy new castle-themed restaurant.

Disney hopes you’ll find the expansion so magical that you will buy your kid a stuffed Beast too big for him to carry.

But the Be Our Guest Restaurant won’t just be Cinderella’s pt. 2.  It will actually be a fairly unique concept.  During the day, it will function as a counter-service restaurant.  At night, it will be converted to table service.  The restaurant will include 3 different dining experiences; the elegant ballroom, gallery, and mysterious “West Wing” of the castle.

In addition to the castle, the expansion will include Belle’s village.  Inside the village, guests will visit Belle’s cottage.  From there, they will travel through a magic mirror to visit will Belle and Lumiere in the Beast’s library.  Yes, some princess meet-and-greets are still in the plans.

One area in which the Magic Kingdom is sorely lacking is in food service.  The addition of the Be Our Guest Restaurant will help alleviate that, but more help is on the way in the form of Gaston’s Tavern.  Like any tavern in the Magic Kingdom, Gaston’s will be dry.  But it will offer more counter service dining options to guests in Fantasyland.

And more importantly, there will be antlers…

Hopefully the attention to details will go down to the spittoon!

The next area to cover is the new Dumbo-themed Circusland.  But first, let’s look at the section of the park that was previously known as Mickey’s Toontown Fair.

The area originally opened in 1988 as Mickey’s Birthdayland.  It was supposed to be a temporary addition to celebrate the birthday of the park’s icon.  But Disney’s definition of “temporary” is about 22 years.

Mickey’s Country House is no more.

A lot of people cheered when it was announced that Mickey’s Toontown Fair would close as part of the Fantasyland expansion.  There was never much to do there for grown-ups.  It was primarily a place to meet the characters.  Aside from that, there were a couple of playgrounds and a kiddie-coaster.

However, what was there was very well-themed.  For example, in Minnie Mouse’s house, you could see her painting of a nearby barn.  If you looked out the window, you could see that same barn (which Goofy had crashed a plane into) as party of Goofy’s Barnstormer.

While I will be the first to admit that Mickey’s Toontown Fair was in need of some kind of upgrade, I was still a little sad to hear it was going away forever.  On our last trip, we spent a little extra time in Minnie’s house exploring all the interactive gizmos in her kitchen.

In the plans which were originally announced, Toontown was going to be replaced by Pixie Hollow.  But you didn’t need to be a Disney expert to know that the odds of that ever happening were pretty slim.  For one, Pixie Hollow was labelled as Phase 2 of the expansion.  Disney has a lousy track record with Phase 2s.  Phase 2 is Disney’s way of saying “if we ever get around to it.”

When Tom Staggs came on board, he balked at the girl-centric nature of the original announcement.  Seeing as Pixie Hollow already had the Phase 2 kiss of death, it was an easy cut to make.

More importantly, Toon Town’s County Bounty was one of the highest volume stores on property.  And Pixie Hollow didn’t include a replacement.  Disney could ill-afford to lose this stream of revenue, so plans needed to change.

The plans always included a circus-themed area.  So the solution was to expand the circus overlay to include the former Toon Town.  A lot of the buildings (most notably the County Bounty) will remain more or less the same.  But the area will be rethemed as the Storybook Circus.

Construction Walls feature posters that give some hints as to what will be included in the circus.

Not a lot is known about the Storybook Circus at this point aside from the theme.  If there are any new attractions included in this part of the expansion, they have yet to be announced.

What we know so far is that the kiddie-coaster formerly known as Goofy’s Barnstormer will be rethemed as The Great Goofini.

The ride will remain the same.  Only the theme will change to match the surroundings.  County fair = out.  Circus = in.  The tents remain.

The big news regarding the Storybook Circus is the changes that are being made to the Dumbo ride.

In order to appreciate the brilliance of these changes, it helps to have stood in line for the current incarnation of Dumbo.  There’s nothing especially unique about the ride itself.  It’s what enthusiasts call a “spinner” ride meaning that riders spin around a central hub in ride vehicles that go up and down.

Odds are you have a spinner ride at an amusement park near you.  Disney World has several spinners on property.  But Dumbo is iconic.  When people think of Walt Disney World, they think of Dumbo.  Everyone has to ride it.

The problem is, spinner rides have relatively low capacity.  And since every family in the park wants to get a picture of the kids riding Dumbo, demand tend to exceed capacity.  Lines get very long for Dumbo very early in the day.  And they never really get any shorter.

To make matters worse, the line for Dumbo offers no shade.  Tourists wait in the baking sun for an hour or more to ride what amounts to a couple of minutes on a flying elephant.  As you can imagine, complaints about the wait for Dumbo are very common.

(My dad still complains about his Dumbo experience more than 20 year laster.  But he complains about a lot of things.)

Disney’s solution is so simple, you have to wonder why they didn’t do it years ago.  They are going to build a second Dumbo ride thus doubling capacity.  Brilliant!

In addition, the new “Dueling Dumbos” (not an official name) will include an “interactive queue”.  What exactly this means is unkown.  But it is expected to work much like a deli counter.  You won’t wait in a hot, humid line any more.  Instead, you will be assiged a number (or some other designation).  Then you will be able to explore a circus-themed environment while you wait for your turn to ride.

No more lines.  No more heat.  And while there will likely still be a wait, it should be cut in half and not nearly as painful.

While it’s nothing new like the Little Mermaid ride, I’m very excited for the newish Dumbo.  It is bound to make for a much more enjoyable experience for countless tourists with young kids.

Lastly, let’s look at the replacement for the Pixie Hollow area which was included in the original plans.

The mine coaster is themed to the Seven Dwarfs from Disney’s first animated feature, Snow White.  It is NOT themed to Snow White, boys.  It’s themed to the dwarfs so you don’t have to worry about cooties.  Oh and girls, you loved those little dwarfs in Snow White, didn’t you?  In thoery, the dwarfs should appeal to a wider demographic than just princess fans.

The Seven Dwarfs mine train has been described as Big Thunder Mountain for the whole family.  There’s been some on-line debate regarding the size of the thrills and whether or not a height requirement will be in order.  But it has been confirmed that the mine cars will swing and rock providing added excitement.

The ride is rumored to be highly themed.  Riders will enter through the seven dwarfs’ mine and exit through a cottage.  Animatronic figures will be included in the ride.  It will also include both indoor and outdoor ride experiences.

There is one more casualty in the expansion.  As mentioned in a previous installment, the old Snow White dark ride, Snow White’s Scary Adventures, will be closing down.  The new mine ride will likely reuse some of the figures from the old ride.  And since it will include dark ride experiences and a Snow White theme, Scary Adventures was deemed to be redundant.

More importantly, the building that currently houses Snow White’s Scary Adventures will become the permanent home of the princess meet and greets now that the cottages from the original plans have been scrapped and Toon Town has been closed.

This seems like an excellent time for a recap.  What can you expect from the new Fantasyland?  Glad you asked:

  • Mickey’s Toon Town Fair has already closed.  It will re-open with a Storybook Circus theme.  Expect to see the Great Goofini open first followed by the new and improved Dumbo in summer 2012.
  • The rest of the Storybook circus experience and the Princess Fiarytale Hall should open in the late summer 2012.
  • A Little Mermaid dark ride almost identical to the one opening in Disney’s California Adventure will open in late 2012.
  • Beast’s castle, Belle’s village, Gaston’s Tavern and the Be Our Guest Restaurant will also open in late 2012.
  • The Seven Dwarfs Mine Train Roller Coaster will complete the expansion some time in early 2014.

That’s everything we currently know about the Fantasyland Expansion project.  Check back for updates on construction as well as other projects going on in Walt Disney World.

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Posted on March 15, 2011, in theme parks, Walt Disney World and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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