ORLANDO, FL — Dana and David Curtis have the right idea when it comes to doing Disney World.
Even though it was near dusk when they got to Orlando, the Birmingham couple headed straight for the Magic Kingdom with their two young sons and found smaller than expected crowds.
“We checked in and came right over. We got here after dark and haven’t waited in a single line,” crows Curtis as he exits the newly-rethemed Great Goofini Barnstormer ride with 3-year-old Christian. ”This is his first roller coaster and he did it three times — it’s awesome! I had to take a break before he did.”
Before leaving the park’s new Storybook Circus section, the Curtises regrouped under a big-top tent at Pete’s Silly Sideshow where they posed for photos, no wait at all, with Disney characters including stunt pilot Goofy, snake-charmer Donald Duck and circus star Minnie Mouse. The family also whirled through the sky in elephant-shaped cars on the newly-redone Dumbo, the Flying Elephant attraction that now boasts two side-by-side Dumbo rides.
It’s all part of the “New Fantasyland,” a multi-million dollar, multi-year project that’s the largest expansion in the Magic Kingdom’s 41-year history. Located just beyond the original Fantasyland, in the shadow of Cinderella’s Castle, it’s generating plenty of buzz, along with surging crowds, at the perenially-popular Orlando theme park.
In addition to Storybook Circus, New Fantasyland features an Enchanted Forest with waterfalls, grottoes, arched bridges and two new movie-inspired castles inhabited by the Beast from “Beauty and the Beast” and Eric from “The Little Mermaid.” They’re designed to bring the two Disney classics to life by taking parkgoers beyond castle walls and inside their favorite stories.
To experience ”Under the Sea — Journey of the Little Mermaid,” an ”E”-ticket attraction, we boarded an oversized clamshell for a five-minute extravaganza of songs from the film, performed by crabs, starfish and 180 other colorful audio-animatronics characters, including the 7 1/2-foot-tall Ursula and her steaming cauldron and crystal ball. Disney’s trademark special effects make it feel almost as if you’re descending below the ocean surface.
Afterward, it’s fun to follow the twists and turns of Ariel’s Grotto and pose for photos with a live version of the famous mermaid. But guys, don’t be so dazzled by her flowing red hair and clam shell-topped bosom that you trip over her sparkly, green-sequinned tail.
Another interactive experience, ”Enchanted Tales with Belle,” takes park-goers through Belle’s father’s cottage and the Beast’s library and taps participants to interact with a live Belle and animatronic Lumiere. Props and costumes are dispensed by an oversize, talking Madame Wardrobe. Bottom line: corny but cute, thanks to endearing little kids from the audience and their frantically photo-taking parents.
Perhaps the most buzzworthy New Fantasyland attraction is the “Be Our Guest Restaurant,” an enchanted dining experience that’s so popular in the early going that, without advance reservations, you can’t get anywhere near it for dinner — even after dark.
I’ll tell how to best see it in my next blog. Stay tuned.