by Paul Ruben
Early December saw half the world’s media, or so it seemed, descend on Florida’s Walt Disney World to chronicle the unveiling of ‘New Fantasyland’ at the world’s most popular theme park, the Magic Kingdom.
I can’t imagine anyone was disappointed. As I stood at the entrance to New Fantasyland, pictured here, I’m thinking that here is Disney doing what Disney does best. Its attractions tell stories, and they do it with detail unrivalled in other theme parks.
In building New Fantasyland, which lies just beyond the existing Fantasyland in the shadows of Cinderella Castle, Disney has clearly followed the wise advice of the inventor of the Polaroid instant camera, Edwin Land. During a 1977 Polaroid shareholders’ meeting he said: “There’s a rule they don’t teach you at the Harvard Business School. It is, if anything is worth doing, it’s worth doing to excess.” Disney has done that. It has built more castles. As well as the iconic Cinderella Castle, the Beast’s Castle from Beauty and the Beast, and Prince Eric’s Castle from The Little Mermaid now feature in New Fantasyland.
The theme park pioneer has also loaded up on princesses, each a beauty in her own right. They will soon be gathering for daily meet-and-greets in the Princess Fairytale Hall. If I remember correctly, they will include Snow White, Cinderella, Aurora, Ariel, Belle, Jasmine, Pocahontas, Mulan, Tiana, Rapunzel, Merida, Kate Middleton and Beyonce.
One thing has me puzzled, however. The Orlando Sentinel quoted Jay Rasulo, Disney’s chief financial officer who was parks and resorts chairman when the project was first approved, acknowledging “There are many days that Fantasyland was an uncomfortable place to be.” Added Disney parks chairman Tom Staggs: “We listened to our guests, and we heard that they adored Fantasyland. But they didn’t always enjoy the experience of experiencing Fantasyland.”
Both were referring to the crowding within the park, so a primary focus of the expansion is added capacity. For example, Disney has doubled the number of Dumbo rides (to two, or 32 elephants), and added soft play to the queue line area. Children love it. But won’t that draw even more guests? Here’s the conundrum. New Fantasyland is so beautiful and so magical that, while it will add capacity, it is sure to attract more visitors which will only add to the overcrowding. Disney can’t win for winning.
There is also a beverage battle going on in Orlando, and I’m not talking Coke versus Pepsi. In New Fantasyland, guests will be anxious to try LeFou’s Brew, a frozen apple juice with a hint of toasted marshmallow, topped with a passion fruit-mango foam Since it debuted in 2010 at Universal’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter have been lining up for Butterbeer, the sweet non-alcoholic butterscitch drink that has now sold over five million servings. I’ve tried both, and prefer Budweiser.
But the best part, the absolute heart of New Fantasyland, will be the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train ride, scheduled to open in 2014. Set on rolling countryside, it will take guests into the “mine where a million diamonds shine” while navigating 31ft and 41ft drops. Its patented train of vehicles mounted in cradle-like pivots allow them to sway independently as they swing around the track. It will be unique. Racing over the 1,900ft of track, it will even give visitors a glimpse inside the dwarfs’ cottage. It’s sure to be smooth and comfortable. I, for one, can’t wait to ride.