Magic Kingdom Character Experiences Returning

There’s good news about Walt Disney World character experiences, as more are returning to Magic Kingdom this month and in February 2023. Here we’ll cover what’s coming back, Genie+ Lightning Lane additions, plus commentary about causes, implications and what’s still missing.

Let’s start with the good news, as a couple of meet & greets quietly returned to Magic Kingdom over the weekend. Back in Storybook Circus, the Meet Daring Disney Pals as Circus Stars at Pete’s Silly Side Show is now back. That means the meet & greets for Daisy Fortuna and Minnie Magnifique (on one side) and the Astounding Donaldo and his daring stuntman pal the Great Goofini (on the other side) have reopened. These are excellent, under-the-radar meet & greets, with fun Easter Eggs in the queue and cool costumes–glad they’re finally back!

The indirect cause of this is likely the conclusion of party season at Magic Kingdom. Since August 12 of last year, Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party and Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party pulled a lot of performers to those hard ticket events. That was a big part of why Town Square Theater and Princess Fairytale Hall saw wait times spike and Lightning Lane inventory decrease–those parties had significant staffing requirements, and resource reallocation as a result.

Keeping the momentum going, Walt Disney World has announced that the last two major character experiences will return in the next month.

First, Ariel’s Grotto will reopen January 22, 2023. This is the Little Mermaid meet & greet, with a location carved out near the exit of the Under The Sea ~ Journey of the Little Mermaid attraction in Fantasyland.

Following that, the Enchanted Tales with Belle will reopen February 19, 2023.

For those who are unfamiliar with it, Enchanted Tales with Belle is an elaborate character experience (for lack of a better term) in New Fantasyland. When this attraction debuted about a decade ago, it was much-maligned by Walt Disney World fans, many of whom criticized it as a waste of space or were disappointed that it wasn’t a dark ride.

It’s safe to assume many of those critics do not have small children. For our part, we’ve been big fans of Enchanted Tales with Belle since day one. While only kids and their parents are likely to love the substance of the experience, everyone will be impressed by the technology utilized and portions of the storytelling.

Personally, I think Enchanted Tales with Belle is a great evolution of meet & greets–I just wish it better blended the character component and storytelling with a bit of humor. (Similar to the Frozen Sing-Along, which works on different levels.) Enchanted Tales with Belle is great for its target audience, but not quite as good for all ages as it could be. (And adults necessarily will be in the audience, since kids don’t visit Walt Disney World sans parents.)

The Ariel’s Grotto meet & greet and Enchanted Tales with Belle will both be added as Lightning Lane selections to the Genie+ service on their respective reopening dates. This will be in addition to the standby lines, which both character experiences will also offer.

This makes the already loaded Lightning Lane lineup at Magic Kingdom even better. It’s already far and away the best park for the paid FastPass service at Walt Disney World, which is owing to better capacity than any other park–and at a wider variety of attractions. (Still not as good as Disneyland, but the only Walt Disney World park that’s even remotely close.)

It has been a while since the FastPass+ days and a lot has obviously changed since. To the best of my recollection, both Ariel’s Grotto and Enchanted Tales with Belle were medium-priority FP+ selections. My preliminary guess is that the same will hold true for Lightning Lanes.

We’ll update our Magic Kingdom Genie+ Lightning Lane Rankings shortly after Ariel’s Grotto and Enchanted Tales with Belle return, but my gut reaction is that both of these should be slotted above Princess Fairytale Hall. These are both lower capacity and higher demand than those dedicated princess meet & greets. (Town Square Theater also needs a downgrade in those rankings–that has fallen in priority since party season ended.)

All of these are relatively significant developments that could bode well for both other meet & greets and character dining experiences. As has been noted in other posts on a few occasions, Walt Disney World has been experiencing a ‘princess shortage.’ This is one big reason why meals with face characters–Akershus, 1900 Park Fare, Bon Voyage Breakfast, and even the normal Cinderella’s Royal Table–have been slow to return.

While casting requirements vary, we’re nevertheless a bit surprised that the above meet & greets would return before expanding meal services at the aforementioned restaurants. The latter directly generate revenue, whereas the former are more supporting players, for lack of a better term. They’re not dedicated meet & greet locations, just locations in Magic Kingdom where characters have historically appeared.

There’s more good news for those hoping to see the still-shuttered restaurants or missing meal services return. Disney Programs announced last week that the long-awaited return of character performer roles has returned to the Disney College Program.

Applications are now open for these character performer role auditions. However, Disney College Program participants won’t be in these positions until the Fall 2023 season. Obviously, that’s a long way off–meaning there’s no immediate relief from College Program participants. (In fairness, that’s probably about the time they’ll be urgently needed–right around the time MNSSHP and MVMCP return again.)

Finally, let’s take a look at the entertainment that was removed for the official Walt Disney World website a few months ago:

Animal Kingdom

  • Pandora Drummers – Swotu Wayä
  • Pandora Rangers

EPCOT

  • British Revolution
  • Jeweled Dragon Acrobats
  • Serveur Amusant

Hollywood Studios

  • Citizens of Hollywood
  • Jedi Training Academy
  • Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM!
  • Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular
  • Voyage of the Little Mermaid

Magic Kingdom

  • Citizens of Main Street
  • Main Street Trolley Show
  • Meet Alice in Wonderland at the Mad Tea Party
  • Meet Gaston at his Tavern
  • Meet Tinker Bell at Town Square Theater

Ultimately, it’s great news that more Magic Kingdom meet & greets are being restored. This will bring the park close to normal as compared to pre-closure, at least in terms of character experiences. Ariel’s Grotto and Enchanted Tales with Belle were two really big ones.

However, there’s still more to be restored to hit 100% at Walt Disney World. Based on credible rumors we’ve heard, some of this is never coming back. Some shows and entertainment acts will likely receive indirect replacements or reimagined successors. Others are likely just gone for good, with no replacements (direct or indirect) contemplated.

Our hope is that this is one thing that Walt Disney World management revisits in the months to come while evaluating ways to improve the guest experience. Reducing entertainment, characters, and streetmosphere is short-term thinking for a business unit that should be more fixated on long-term health. It’s as if Walt Disney World is teetering on the precipice of insolvency, even as the company boasts about how per-guest spending is hitting record highs.

Charging more and offering less might be one way to achieve short-term targets, but there are certainly long-term negative consequences to that approach. This has been our perspective each time entertainment has been cut for the last 5+ years, but it feels timely to reiterate even as characters are being restored, as the company is actively looking for ways to undo some of the past damage right now. Walt Disney World continuing to restore entertainment is a great fix that would boost goodwill and guest satisfaction, while demonstrating to fans that management “gets” what makes the parks special.

Planning a Walt Disney World trip? Learn about hotels on our Walt Disney World Hotels Reviews page. For where to eat, read our Walt Disney World Restaurant Reviews. To save money on tickets or determine which type to buy, read our Tips for Saving Money on Walt Disney World Tickets post. Our What to Pack for Disney Trips post takes a unique look at clever items to take. For what to do and when to do it, our Walt Disney World Ride Guides will help. For comprehensive advice, the best place to start is our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide for everything you need to know!

YOUR THOUGHTS

What do you think of these Enchanted Tales with Belle and Ariel’s Grotto reopening in Magic Kingdom? Are you optimistic or pessimistic about WDW restoring “temporarily unavailable” entertainment as performer availability improves, or think that’s irrelevant? Think the character performer roles returning to the College Program bodes well for more being restored (e.g. Seven Dwarfs) to Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party and Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party? Worried that Walt Disney World might never get back to 100% in terms of entertainment? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback–even when you disagree with us–is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!

15 Responses to “Magic Kingdom Character Experiences Returning”
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