As each day goes by, the new Fantasyland Expansion is getting closer and closer to completion. Starting out with the soft opening of Storybook Circus, the next phase that guests have been seeing in dribs and drabs is the amazing “Enchanted Tales with Belle” located in her father Maurice’s detail-rich cottage. But is it a show or an attraction? Until Disney gives it a final moniker, I can personally say it is a showcase for the most amazing audio-animatronics and special effects Disney has produced so far. For the last two weeks, Disney has been giving guests a soft-opening preview of the new land. With unscheduled openings and several announced previews, we got a sneak peak of things to come. My wife and I attended a Cast-only preview of Enchanted Tales with Belle, Gaston’s Tavern, and the “Under the Sea Journey of the Little Mermaid” attraction. Since there have been reports all over for the last months, I will just mention our observations and post some of the pics we took.
First, the detail and theming is just astounding! The Imagineers of course have this down to a science. The first building you encounter is Maurices’ Cottage, home of Enchanted Tales with Belle. As in the movie, Maurice is an inventor and the interior apes a workshop, including an extraordinary wall mirror. After guests enter the shop, this amazing piece of Imagineering starts to glow inside and right before your eyes expands into a full sized portal which leads into the small ante-room of the Beasts’ Castle where the talking Wardrobe sits. This is the first stunning audio-animatronic figure you encounter. The wardrobe comes to life and speaks to the guests; so what’s amazing about that? Well, it’s the complete life-like way her mouth and face moves. The smooth movements and natural motion of the face is miles ahead of anything Disney has. It just has to be seen to be appreciated. The wardrobe then opens up and a Cast Member hands out cardboard cutouts of Castle members and guests are asked to help tell the story of the Beauty and the Beast. You then enter a beautifully detailed Library with a grand fireplace. The walls are filled with books and ornate columns, statues and a French inspired chandelier. Guests hear the story of Belle and the Beast and await Belle to enter the room. But like in the ante-room where the talking wardrobe shines, the center piece attraction is Lumiere sitting on the fireplace mantel. It is like nothing you have seen before. Lumiere’s movements are so natural and fluid, it’s actually a bit eerie. Just an amazing piece of technology!
The next stop is the “Be our Guest Restaurant” in the Castle. You enter over a moat with a cascading waterfall on the right and a stream flowing underneath. Take note again of the attention to detail. The Gargoyle lampposts are beautiful and as you near the huge door to the eatery, two enormous stone lions and two Griffins greet you on each side. As you know, during the day it is a counter-service restaurant, and you will order your choices (French inspired) through kiosks like in the Contempo Café. But at dinner time, the eatery becomes a table service affair. The restaurant has three dining rooms…West Wing, The Rose Gallery (Only for Lunch) and the Ballroom. The fare is French-inspired (Of Course). The “Be our Guest restaurant” is not yet officially opened, but as of this writing, you can walk in for lunch and although it is not posted, dinner also. We decided to sample the French onion soup. My wife and I are big fans of this and we both agree, it’s one of the best offerings we have had. The cheese was done just perfectly with a bit of crispiness on the edges, but not burnt. The soup itself was very flavorful, so I asked about the recipe. The secret I am told is the broth used is vegetable, not beef. It works! The Ballroom is a domed affair with ornate chandeliers, snow falling outside and just elegant. The West Wing has the Rose under glass that was given to the prince by the beggar woman. Over the fireplace is a picture of the prince, but has slash marks across it and for a split second during the lighting, it changes into the beast. In the Rose Gallery, you will find paintings all around and a magnificent revolving statue of the Belle and the Beast Dancing in the middle of the room.
The next attraction is Gaston’s Tavern. Gaston, the self-important hunter who desires Belle has his “Statue” in front of the tavern, as a “Gift” to the townspeople. Again, the theming and attention to detail has to be seen for yourself. The exterior and interior is what you would expect from a Hunter’s Tavern, stag horns mounted inside and out and hunting gears adorn the walls. It is very rustic and quite cozy! Here you can grab a quick bite to eat, such as pastries, snacks, roasted pork shanks and a concoction of frozen apple juice with a hint of toasted marshmallow, called “LeFou’s Brew “, which is served in a souvenir goblet or stein. From what I have heard, it’s quite good. Please note all the details around and in the tavern, such as the outside water fountain shaped like a pump, the stag horn chandelier, animal heads on the walls, and the large portrait of Gaston over the fireplace.
Next to Gaston’s is the Bonjour Village Gift shop. Here you can find all things related to the story of the Beast and Belle. Dinnerware, steins, goblets and more can be purchased.
The next and last in this soft opening is the Under the Sea: Journey of the Little Mermaid dark ride. Prince Eric’s Castle is a tad smaller than the Beasts’ but is no less grand. Beautiful ornate stonework and tiles comprise the circular towers and the queue line has rock outcroppings and waterfalls, plus all kinds of artifacts lining the way to the attraction. Just take the time to really scrutinize the detail, it’s an amazing job. Inside you’ll board a similar “Clam Mobile” vehicle as in The Seas with Nemo and Friends and join Ariel and her friends, and with the songs from the animated feature pass beautiful scenes from her underwater realm. The music, detail and stunning audio-animatronics will delight all ages, and like Lumiere and the Wardrobe, the new Ursula audio-animatronic will astound you. All in all, it’s entertaining and beautifully done.
All that is left to open in the Seven Dwarf’s Mine Train attraction, slated for some time in 2013. This I cannot wait to see. Our overall impression of the new Fantasyland Expansion is that it is another winner for Disney. The whole area is so well detailed and themed that it is hard not to believe you are immersed in the stories of Belle and Ariel. This is a definite breath of fresh air for Fantasyland, after all Walt did not believe in resting on his laurels and was always looking for new and better attractions for his guests. The one observation is that Enchanted Tales with Belle; beautifully done as it is, will mainly appeal to the younger guests, chiefly the little princesses, after all who would pass a chance to get their picture taken with a Princess! But it is a Meet and Greet like nothing else; again Disney has set the standards higher still. With Storybook Circus in full gear, and when final completion in 2013, the Magic Kingdom will remain the busiest park in the world.