It was also our first chance to visit the brand new Fantasyland expansion myself. What follows are my opinions, as well as my grades for each new attraction.
Overall look and "feel" of new Fantasyland
Disney absolutely nailed it on the overall look and feel of new Fantasyland. There are two separate sections - the Storybook Circus area (which has been open for a while and I visited in October), and the Fantasyland Forest area. Let's look at each of them:
Storybook Circus: There aren't any new attractions here - there are essentially just re-themed attractions (Dumbo, the Barnstormer, the train station, aa water play area, and a "meet 'n greet" with characters. But they made the place look great. It truly does evoke a circus of yesteryear. And Dumbo at night, with fountains and impressive lighting, looks gorgeous.
Fantasyland Forest: This consists of the Beauty and the Beast area (Beast's castle, and Belle's town), and the Little Mermaid area. It's gorgeous, with waterfalls, mountains, elevation changes, excellent detail in the buildings, and just a terrific feel.
Finally, the new castle walls (which separate "old" Fantasyland with the forest area) even improve the feel of old Fantasyland - the generic look without trees or landscaping fits better, as it's supposed to be inside the main castle walls.
So overall, Disney hit a home run in the look of the area. The only major quibble in the look is the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train construction area - a huge construction site in the middle of the Forest takes away from the theming and the magic. However, this is a temporary situation - once the train is finished I am confident the area will look terrific.
Attractions, shops, and the like:
So let's look at the individual attractions in new Fantasyland. I'll start with the Storybook Circus area:
Review of Storybook Circus Attractions
Grade: A (for what it is)
As anyone who has ever visited a Disney park can tell you, Dumbo is a simple spinning ride where you can control how high your elephant goes. Nothing too extravagant. However, Disney has turned this simple carnival ride into the best possible experience by making the ride and its surrounding gorgeous.
First off, if there's a wait (there wasn't when we visited), they have an indoor, air-conditioned, circus-themed waiting area. You get a pager (like at a restaurant), and your kids can run around in this play area while you wait. Brilliant idea for an attraction that often has long waits.
Speaking of long waits, the second brilliant thing Disney did was add a second Dumbo ride. So capacity has been doubled! Great news.
None of this makes Dumbo a "must-do" for all people. If you have a couple of teenagers, it's completely skippable. But for kids (and kids at heart) ages 2-92, it's a real winner!
The Barnstormer is the same thing it has always been - a simple, extremely short kiddie coaster. It's been gussied up a little bit to fit the circus theme, but it's still a super-short coaster. It's worth doing in the morning before the line builds up if you have kids that are big enough to ride but not ready for the "bigger" coasters, but it's nothing too special. It is a great "tester" coaster though, because if your child doesn't like it, it'll be over in 15 seconds anyway!
I think when the Seven Dwarfs Mine Coaster opens, and takes the role of "first coaster", the Barnstormer will be pretty much obsolete.
This is simply a character meeting area. Several of the "classic" Disney characters (Donald, Minnie, Goofy, Daisy) are there. It's nicely themed to the circus surroundings, but other than that, it's just another way to meet the characters. If you have kids who are huge fans of the "classic" Disney characters it's worth a look.
I don't usually review shops at the Magic Kingdom, but I thought I'd make an exception here. The new Big Top Souvenirs is a nice shopping area - the highlight is the candy shop in the middle (with some high-quality chocolates and caramel apples, which were a hit with the family).
Review of Fantasyland Forest attractions
I had been hearing mixed reviews on this attraction. Some people think it's not complete or has lulls in it.
I disagree. I think the attraction, when compared to other "dark rides" like Winnie the Pooh, is an excellent effort. The queue is beautiful, going by a waterfall and through gorgeous rockwork. And the ride is a fun ride through the Little Mermaid story. Is it groundbreaking? No, it isn't. But neither is Peter Pan, and that ride is still beloved. It's a great addition to the park.
That being said, the wait times of 60+ minutes have been ridiculous. With the right strategies, though, you won't wait for Little Mermaid (our waits for every Fantasyland attraction we visited were under a minute each, on a busy day!) Note that Fastpasses are currently available near Philharmagic (nowhere near the ride itself) - the unusual location of the Fastpass machines means that fewer people are getting Fastpasses, so it's often a good option.
Enchanted Tales with Belle
This elaborate "meet Belle and act in a mini-play with her" attraction has been a big hit, with extremely long lines (partly due to the low capacity of the attraction). It's aimed towards younger kids.
Unfortunately, I couldn't convince my older kids (ages 8-14 and not into princesses) to go anywhere near this attraction, so I didn't get to visit it.
That being said, from what I hear, kids who love princesses love this attraction. However, it has extremely long lines, unless you visit it first thing when the park opens. However, since the attraction lasts 20 minutes, this strategy leads to long waits for the rest of Fantasyland.
So what to do? The solution is actually pretty simple for most people. If you have kids young enough to be interested in this attraction, you really should plan on two mornings at the Magic Kingdom anyway. If you have two mornings, then it's easy - skip this attraction morning one and do the rest of Fantasyland (then head to the rest of the park). On morning two, make a beeline to Enchanted Tales with Belle and visit it first. The 20 minutes spent is no big deal on morning two, because you've already visited Peter Pan and the other "big line" Fantasyland attractions morning one.
I hope to visit this attraction at a later date to give my own review.
This is a slightly more elaborate meet-up with Ariel from the Little Mermaid. Is it worth the wait? If your kids are huge Ariel fans, then yes. Otherwise, no.
This isn't really an attraction, per se, but Gaston from Beauty and the Beast has been meeting guests in Belle's Village, near the fountain. And let me tell you, he's hilarious. Just an absolute riot. Definitely go say hello to him!
Gaston's Tavern is fun to look at - he uses "antlers in all of his decorating" and the themeing is hilarious.
As for the food - it's simple fare, and I can't comment - we didn't eat here, because we had reservations at Be Our Guest restaurant
Grade: C+ (but could improve)
The new Be Our Guest Restaurant is in some ways considered the crown jewel of New Fantasyland. Themed to look like the interior of the Beast's Castle, with the ballroom and the west wing featured as places to eat. This is a quick-service restaurant during the day, and transforms into a sit-down restaurant for dinner. We had a reservation for dinner. What follows is a full review of our dinner experience, which, unfortunately, wasn't all we were expecting.
We had a 7:20 pm reservation. When we arrived, to our dismay, we saw a lot of people milling about in front of the restaurant (on the bridge to the Beast's castle). We spoke to a host, and got a pager. Then we proceeded to wait. And wait. And wait.
In all, we waited over FORTY minutes beyond our reservation time. Outside. With no place to sit. That's right - they had us standing on the bridge, waiting outside. And we got lucky - there were thunderstorms in the area, but they (barely) missed the Magic Kingdom - I don't know what they would have done with the 50+ people waiting in an uncovered area if it started to pour.
This, simply enough, is unacceptable. I understand that "things happen" and you may have a short wait after your reservation time. But FORTY minutes waiting in a place with no cover and no place to sit is ridiculous.
I understand that Disney miscalculated the number of people it could serve per hour, so this is a regular occurrence until they burn through their current reservation list and can cut down the number of people they serve per night. It's a major, major problem.
We finally were called for our table and were seated in the ballroom. The ballroom is beautiful - it looks very much like the ballroom in the movie. And there is "snow" falling outside a large window that overlooks the French countryside. It looks very nice.
The attention to detail, too, is very nice. Stained glass windows that tell the story of Beauty and the Beast. Gorgeous chandeliers overhead.
However, there was a major problem - it is NOISY. With all the tables, and lots of hard spaces (no sound muffling), it didn't feel "romantic" at all. I'm not sure how they can address this problem, to tell the truth.
In all, however, even with the noise, the look of the room was magnificent, and I give Disney high marks on it.
I applaud Disney for what they're trying to do here - they've tried to make a "fine dining" meal for a reasonable (for Disney) price. And the kid's meals are much more interesting than the usual burgers and chicken nuggets. So they get an A for effort.
However, Disney is trying to serve a "fine dining" meal to a lot of people at once. And it's trying to get them in and out quickly. What this meant is the food was, in the words of my wife Susan, "banquet food." Think of the last time you went to a wedding where 200 people were served steak, chicken, or a vegetarian meal at once. The food is often "fancy" but not great. That's how I would describe the food at Be Our Guest. There is so much potential here, but the quality and care just isn't there.
One last thing - Disney is offering wine and beer with dinner - first time alcohol has been served in the Magic Kingdom. I had a beer, so that was unique!
I think Be Our Guest is worth trying in the right circumstances. It's definitely better food than most offerings at the Magic Kingdom (but worse than most other "nice" restaurants at Disney World). The setting is quite nice. But if you're going to go, I suggest one of two strategies:
- Go for lunch: Lunch is "quick service" and cheaper, and "banquet" food for a quick service lunch isn't as much of an issue. You'll wait in line a bit (less if you go around 11:00am), but since you're waiting for dinner anyway with the reservation fiasco, it's not like you're saving a wait with dinner, so just go for lunch.
- Make an early dinner reservation: If you're going for dinner, make a reservation for as early in the night as possible. Also, keep in mind you need to make your reservations exactly 180 days in advance - this restaurant is popular!
In addition, the attractions are a nice compilation of C-Ticket and D-Ticket - level attractions (in other words, not super-duper big "must-see" attractions, but well done smaller attractions).
The one big miss for us was the Be Our Guest restaurant. But even that can (and I suspect will) be improved. Now that the restaurant has been open for a while, I am sure that Disney has cut down on future reservations so they better match the capacity of the restaurant - that should minimize or eliminate the absurd 40 minute wait beyond our reservation time. And I can only hope they make the waiting area more comfortable (benches alone would help). And as the restaurant gets its legs I would expect the food to improve a bit as well.