Travel

Disney World's 'New Fantasyland' attraction inspires romance, a la Beauty and the Beast

Just in time for Valentine’s Day, we witnessed a romantic moment at Be My Guest, the hot new  castle restaurant in New Fantasyland, a major Magic Kingdom expansion at Disney World, Orlando.

During lunch in the moodily darkened West Wing of the Beauty and the Beast-themed restaurant, an Illinois man dropped to one knee and popped the question to his unsuspecting girlfriend. They were standing before the dining room’s main attraction, a holographic rose slowly rotating under a glass bell jar, just like in the movie fairy tale.

Diners paused in mid-bite (lunch fare includes French onion soup, ahi tuna salad, vegetable quiche and Mickey Mouse-shaped turkey meatloaf) and broke into applause. Cameras flashed even more than usual.

“We’ve been dating for 18 months, I finally found my little princess,” Josh Phillips, 27, a graphic designer from Homer Glen, IL, told me when I caught up with the couple afterward. “‘Beauty and the Beast’ is her favorite movie. I didn’t want the last rose petal to fall before I had a chance to tell her I love her.”

Clutching his hand and wiping tears from her eyes, Angelica Smith, 24, said she was blown away by the surprise proposal. “Every little girl dreams about where she gets proposed to and there’s no better place than this castle,” she said.

The scene was touching and unexpected — not contrived or scripted by Disney Imagineers but a genuine expression of love inspired by a magical place.

The new spot is so magical that reservations are hard to get for the French-inspired  dinner fare,  table service and beverages. So we opted instead for Be Our Guest’s quick-service lunch. The secret is to arrive early, cross the stone bridge past fierce-looking gargoyles and line up outside the Beast’s Castle before it opens at 10:30 a.m. daily.

When the velvet rope dropped, we filed through the Armor Hallway into the Beast’s parlor and placed our order on high-tech touch screens. Thanks to radio-frequency devices stamped with a rose, our food arrived fast on glass-encased carts served by “cast members” wearing purple doublets over white shirts and knickers.

We chose to eat in the dramatic West Wing, so dark you can barely see your food. In addition to the iconic rose, from which a petal falls once every 15 minutes, special effects include a portrait of the prince over the fireplace, with claw marks on his face. When thunder cracks, lightning flashes and the petal drops, the portrait turns for an instant into a picture of the beast, but it happens so fast we had to sit through two cycles to catch it.

The castle features two other, larger dining rooms: a ballroom with three crystal chandeliers and a ceiling fresco, and the tapestry-draped Rose Gallery, whose centerpiece is a nearly 7-foot music box topped by twirling statues of Belle and the Beast dancing together.

Josh Phillips and Angelica Smith pose under the portrait of the prince moments after getting engaged in Be Our Guest, the new Beauty and the Beast-themed restaurant in New Fantasyland, the big new expansion of the Magic Kingdom at Disney World, Orlando. (Susan R. Pollack)

Josh Phillips and Angelica Smith pose under the portrait of the prince moments after getting engaged in Be Our Guest, the new Beauty and the Beast-themed restaurant in New Fantasyland, the big new expansion of the Magic Kingdom at Disney World, Orlando. (Susan R. Pollack)

It’s so romantic the Illinois lovebirds plan to return next year for their fairy tale-inspired honeymoon.For information, check www.disneyworld.com.

 

Susan R. Pollack
Globetrotting journalist and former Detroit News staff writer Susan R. Pollack has covered travel since 1985, visiting scores of countries on five continents, 47 states, six Canadian provinces and hundreds of cities, islands and outposts along the way. From Alaska, the Galapagos and New Zealand to Tasmania, Thailand and Wales, she has suffered the occasional lost luggage, jetlag and Montezuma’s revenge but still delights in sharing travel news and adventures with readers. In addition to The Detroit News, her award-winning stories have appeared in major newspapers including the Dallas Morning News, Toronto Star, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and Chicago Sun Times; Midwest Living, Long Weekends, Hour Detroit, Michigan Meetings + Events and X-ology magazines, travelingmom.com and in several books, including "Rand McNally 2008 Ultimate NASCAR Road Trip Guide."