Travel

Seven Dwarfs-themed coaster caps New Fantasyland expansion at Disney World

ORLANDO, FL — You don’t have to be happy, sleepy, grumpy or bashful to board Disney World’s new family-friendly Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. Whatever your mood, you’re guaranteed to meet these classic characters and their beloved pal, Snow White, during the rollicking roller coaster ride.

Scheduled to open on Wednesday (May 28), the long-awaited steel coaster is the final piece – and centerpiece — of Disney World’s $425-million New Fantasyland, the largest expansion in the Magic Kingdom’s 43-year history. The sprawling new play-land, located in the shadow of the original Cinderella’s Castle, is generating plenty of buzz at the popular Orlando theme park.

And, good news, coaster fans: the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train was worth the wait. I emerged from a recent test-ride, without shaky knees or tight gut, but still thrilled by its fast turns, scream-worthy drops and impressive visual effects. Accessible for anyone at least 38 inches tall, the mine-train cars are specially designed to sway smoothly during the 2 ½-minute ride around and through the mountain.

Inside the mine cave, the action slows, letting riders catch their breaths and watch Happy, Sleepy, Grumpy and their audio-animatronic sidekicks dig for sparkling gems as they sing the iconic “Heigh-Ho” anthem from Disney’s 1937 classic film. In true Disney style, the experience starts in the queue with interactive elements setting the stage for the story. Playing with a musical fountain, matching gems on a touch-screen video game and spinning barrels of jewels helps mitigate the pain of waiting in line.

The Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, a family-friendly coaster ride, is scheduled to open Wednesday at Disney World, Orlando. (Photo credit: Walt Disney World)

Coinciding with the coaster launch, Disney World introduced My Magic+, a collection of high-tech innovations designed to help smooth park-goers’ experience. The MagicBand, an all-in-one wristband, is my favorite.  It not only gets you into the theme parks and your Disney World resort hotel room without having to fumble around for a key but permits food and souvenir purchases with no on-site transactions.

Included in Disney resort hotel packages and available for $12.95 plus tax to day-trippers, the customizable bracelet also lets park-goers reserve times in advance under Disney’s FastPass+ system for popular attractions. And it provides a collection space for photos taken by park photographers.

The optional system links to a free mobile app and website, My Disney Experience.com, and may be used with smart phones and other devices to quickly access maps, restaurant reservations and details about attractions and events.

Also making headlines – and drawing rave reviews – is Disney World’s new Festival of Fantasy Parade, a high-energy spectacle with nearly 100 performers on stilts, swings and flying rigs. The daytime extravaganza showcases more than a dozen Disney fairy tales; floats include a fire-breathing dragon that towers 26 feet above the crowd and a pirate ship with smoking cannons.

A fire-breathing dragon in the new Festival of Fantasy Parade towers 26 feet above the crowd at Disney World's Magic Kingdom. (Photo credit: Walt Disney World)

A fire-breathing dragon in the new Festival of Fantasy Parade towers 26 feet above the crowd at Disney World’s Magic Kingdom. (Photo credit: Walt Disney World)

Despite all the New Fantasyland fanfare, however, the real frenzy these days surrounds the princess stars of “Frozen,” the popular Disney movie. Little girls are fairly stampeding the Princess Fairytale Hall attraction to get their photos taken with Anna and Elsa – and to buy versions of the princess-sisters’ gowns and accessories.

Wait-time for the “Frozen” stars’ “meet and greet” photo sessions stretched to four hours during my recent visit. Yet I slipped right into an adjoining gallery where, during quick photo sessions, I talked hair-care with Rapunzel and shoes with Cinderella.

For more information on what’s new, check www.disneyworld.com

For more information on what’s new, Ana and Elsa, princess-sisters and stars of the hit Disney movie, "Frozen," are igniting a fan frenzy among little girls visiting Disney World in Orlando. (Photo credit: Walt Disney World)

Ana and Elsa, princess-sisters and stars of the hit Disney movie, “Frozen,” are igniting a fan frenzy among little girls visiting Disney World in Orlando. (Photo credit: Walt Disney World)

Note: I’m happy to report that my two previous blogs about Disney World’s New Fantasyland won a second place in the Midwest Travel Writers Association (MTWA) annual Mark Twain Awards writing  contest. Read them at http://blogs.detroitnews.com/thegoodlife/2013/01/31/doing-disney-world-after-dark-a-great-way-to-explore-the-parks-new-fantasyland/ and http://blogs.detroitnews.com/thegoodlife/2013/02/12/disney-worlds-new-fantasyland-attraction-inspires-romance-a-la-beauty-and-the-beast/

My blog about Traverse City’s National Writers Series, http://blogs.detroitnews.com/thegoodlife/2013/02/28/writers-festival-brings-top-books-and-authors-to-traverse-city, won honorable mention in the MTWA contest and in another sponsored by the Central States Chapter of the Society of American Travel Writers (SATW).

I also won two additional MTWA awards in other publications, a first place for a Detroit Jewish News story about Charleston and a second place for my nutcrackers in Germany story published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

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, 49 states, six Canadian provinces and hundreds of cities, islands and outposts along the way. From Alaska, the Galapagos and New Zealand to South Africa, Thailand and Wales, she has suffered the occasional lost luggage, jetlag and Montezuma’s revenge but still delights in sharing travel adventures with readers. In addition to The Detroit News, her award-winning stories and photos have appeared in major newspapers including the Dallas News, Toronto Star, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and Chicago Sun Times; and magazines including Delta Sky, Midwest Living, Long Weekends, Experience Michigan, Jetsetter, Home & Away, Lakeland Boating, Hour Detroit, Prevue Meetings and Group Tour. She has contributed to several books including "Rand McNally 2008 Ultimate NASCAR Road Trip Guide." She also writes for websites including cruisecritic.com, gardendestinations.com and travelingmom.com.