Since even before its announcement back in 2009 at the D23 Expo, New Fantasyland has been a divisive subject for the Disney fan community. (Then again, everything from refillable mugs to pool-hopping are divisive subjects, so that’s not saying a whole lot. Disney fans love to bicker!) Some have lamented its lack of a substantive “wow” addition, and have complained that it’s too female-centric. Others have praised the scope and scale of the expansion, sitting on pins and needles as each new detail is announced by the Disney Parks Blog.
Yesterday we saw some extensive footage from the Parks Blog of Enchanted Tales with Belle. This footage was met with a decidedly mixed reaction online. Taking the pulse of those whom I follow on Twitter, I’d say the reaction was 45% “what a pathetic waste of technology on a meet and greet” and 45% “what an incredible way to take meet and greets to the next level.” Around 10% fell somewhere in the middle of these two incredibly polarized positions.
This reaction typifies the reaction to a lot of New Fantasyland announcements and plans. Storybook Circus has (mostly) already opened, so we mostly know what it contains. Substantively, Under the Sea~Journey of the Little Mermaid is purportedly a carbon copy of the Little Mermaid dark ride that opened in 2011 to mixed reviews. I happened to enjoy the attraction as the next generation of Fantasyland dark rides, but it’s definitely not an E-Ticket attraction. There’s no doubt about that. Ariel’s Grotto will probably garner similar reactions to those voiced about Enchanted Tales with Belle. Same goes for Princess Fairytale Hall. Be Our Guest Restaurant and Gaston’s Tavern look to be incredibly impressive and will likely be amazing dining experiences, especially for families, but many write them off as “simply dining.” They aren’t attractions in the traditional sense of the term.
That leaves the big wild card in the expansion, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. Walt Disney Imagineering has teased information about this attraction, such as the ride system that will be used and its status as a hybrid dark ride and rollercoaster, but not much is known beyond that. Skeptics are proclaiming that it will be little more than a dressed up Barnstormer and optimists are claiming that it will be a huge E-Ticket. There’s no telling who is right at this point, but I’m inclined to bet it’ll be somewhere between the two predictions.
I think it is safe to say that New Fantasyland won’t include any attractions on par with Radiator Springs Racers in Disney California Adventure or even Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey at Universal Orlando’s Islands of Adventure. New Fantasyland’s lack of this tentpole attraction that pushes the technological envelope and will become an instant Magic Kingdom classic is very troubling for a many individuals, especially those who expected New Fantasyland to be Disney’s answer to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
I think this is a mistake. I think New Fantasyland has the potential to be a park-changing addition for the Magic Kingdom. As a preliminary matter, I’m not quite ready to cast final judgment on the expansion one way or another. I like to review things after I’ve experienced them, rather than critique and criticize based on hearsay and vague speculation. However, I am willing to offer some preliminary opinions based upon what we do know so far, and based upon what is likely. Once the land opens, we’ll see just how accurate these preliminary opinions turn out to be.
Overcoming the expectations set by Cars Land and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is New Fantasyland’s greatest challenge when it comes to Disney fans. Many fans are judging (or will judge) New Fantasyland against those lands, which I think is a mistake. I have fallen into the trap myself, questioning whether New Fantasyland is offering “enough.” To be sure, I wish New Fantasyland included a bar-raising, knock-your-socks-off attraction. I’m always hoping for that. I’d love if 46 new E-Ticket attractions were announced tomorrow for Walt Disney World. Who wouldn’t?
However, just because that’s what I’d like in an ideal world does not mean that’s what I think is necessary or appropriate in a real world that includes real world constraints. In such a real world setting, I think the finite resources that have been allocated to New Fantasyland are going exactly where they should go: toward creating a lavish and detail rich environment.
If you compare the Magic Kingdom to the other three Walt Disney World parks, it’s easy to notice that the Magic Kingdom has more to do. It has more substantive attractions. Part of this is out of necessity since it’s the most-attended park of the four. It’s also the most crowded of the four parks, with huge crowds often forming even despite its exceptional layout. Most importantly, in my opinion, it offers the least immersion and escapism of any park. While Epcot has lavish environments that you can spend hours exploring in World Showcase and Animal Kingdom has rich theming in, well, every land, Magic Kingdom seems a bit lacking in this regard. Its lands are incredibly well-themed, but this theming is mostly just apparent as you bounce from attraction to attraction with short stops in between to check out the details. There’s a lot of history, details, and references crammed into the Magic Kingdom, but there’s not as much to spend hours exploring (with the exception of the under-appreciated Tom Sawyer Island).
New Fantasyland will change this, and in the land most devoid of this richness. It’s abundantly clear from the construction photos and from videos and photos shared by the Disney Parks Blog that New Fantasyland will have plenty of nooks and crannies to explore, and a lot that will allow guests to immerse themselves in the experience and let their imaginations go to town while they explore the land and enjoy its attractions.
Whereas the current Fantasyland is a sea of concrete, strollers, and plenty of attractions, New Fantasyland seems like it ventures off into an uncharted forest (in fact, Disney is referring to the largest section of New Fantasyland as the “Enchanted Forest”) that will include bridges, waterfalls, castles, trees, rockwork, and a quaint village. This large new footprint of land with its lushness and detail will not only provide a stark contrast to the rest of Fantasyland, which is short on detail but strong on substance, but will also do a good job “eating” crowds due to its size and the capacity of the Little Mermaid dark ride. This will, hopefully, make the Magic Kingdom feel less crowded when even slightly high crowds descend upon the park, and help even out the crowds in Fantasyland, which is presently pretty much intolerable during the middle of the day.
The biggest plus, though, is the richly themed environment and kinetic energy that New Fantasyland will bring to the Magic Kingdom. I’ve stated several times that my favorite aspect of Cars Land is not the amazing Radiator Springs Racers or the dining, but the incredible environment that puts you right in the heart of Radiator Springs. This environment is what makes Cars Land as special as it is, and is what makes Cars Land distinctly Disney. It goes that extra mile to create an incredible experience throughout, rather than just a fun attraction next to another fun attraction.
New Fantasyland will have a difficult time matching Cars Land in this regard. It doesn’t have the same level of amazing rockwork, which is a big draw in Cars Land. Ornament Valley absolutely encapsulates the guest, which is an incredible experience. New Fantasyland does have the benefit of being a timeless and varied environment. While it is based on various movie-based Disney properties, the environment itself is an amalgam of these environments, carefully created to house multiple (very different) locales. In that regard it’s uniquely “park-based” rather than a copy of something from a film, like Cars Land.
Like Cars Land, it looks to improve upon attraction experiences with excellent pre-shows, queues, and buildings. Based upon what we’ve already seen, I think it’s safe to say that the Little Mermaid dark ride in the Magic Kingdom will be much more impressive than the one in Disney California Adventure, even if the substance of the attractions is the same, if only because the building and queue for New Fantasyland’s Little Mermaid dark ride look incredible. I suspect these little experience-enhancing details will be prevalent throughout New Fantasyland, and will compensate for a lot of the complaints concerning substance.
Even if, at the end of the day, the environment doesn’t quite stack up to Cars Land, I suspect it will be close, and will raise the bar on environments in the Magic Kingdom, giving the Magic Kingdom its only World Showcase-type environment. This is something that the Magic Kingdom does not presently have, and the addition of New Fantasyland should do a great job filling this void. As is evident from the World Showcase, it doesn’t always take an attracti0n-packed lineup to make a land interesting. I think that will prove to be the case in New Fantasyland, as this park-changing, different style of land will round-out the Magic Kingdom very well, and it will absorb crowds.
New Fantasyland may not be the sexy, bar-raising substantive answer to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter that many hoped it would be, but I think it’ll be exactly what the Magic Kingdom needs most: better environments, more capacity, and more space. That’s something I’ll gladly take, even if the resulting land has meet and greets that don’t really interest me and fewer attractions than I would have liked. (I realize that not everything in a Disney theme park needs to be catered towards my demographic, specifically.) I think there’s an excellent chance that New Fantasyland in the Magic Kingdom won’t be the “plan a trip to see this awesome new ride” addition many hoped it will be, but instead it will be the addition we needed to make the Magic Kingdom a better overall park that many of us didn’t even realize was necessary…but once it’s open we’ll wonder how we ever did without it.
What do you think is the key strength of New Fantasyland? Are you as excited about the environment as me, or are you disappointed by its lack of attractions? Share your thoughts in the comments!