Disney World's Fantasyland becomes reality

The Beast welcomes guests to his castle in the Magic Kingdom's New Fantasyland, where Be Our Guest...

The Beast welcomes guests to his castle in the Magic Kingdom's New Fantasyland, where Be Our Guest Restaurant serves French-inspired cuisine for quick-service lunch and table-service dinner. PHOTO COURTESY WALT DISNEY CO.

ROBIN ROBINSON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:28 AM ET

Who can resist a fairytale?

Even in an age when kids cut their teeth on iPods, iPads and iPhones, the princess myth -- from Cinderella to Kate Middleton -- has never been stronger, and fantasy shows, such as Once Upon A Time, find huge adult prime-time audiences.

Somehow the folks at Disney have always understood this. The world's biggest creators of fantasy seem to know that no matter how sophisticated society becomes, there will always be a need for children -- and grownups -- to embrace a realm where dreams come true, where magic is real and where good triumphs over evil.

Cynics might attribute Disney's success to extremely savvy marketing that taps into deep psychological human needs. And it's probably true that the mega-media company -- with its theme parks and resorts, cruise line, TV stations, film companies, merchandising and more -- is the savviest marketer of all time. How else to explain polka-dot mouse ears atop adult heads, or how my 8-year-old niece AND her 42-year-old dad can BOTH become hooked on pin trading?

But anyone who has passed through the gates of the Magic Kingdom at Florida's Walt Disney World knows there is something more, something intangible, something -- dare I say ... magic -- that allows visitors to suspend disbelief and be immersed in make-believe.

And there is no better place to give into whimsy than the recently opened New Fantasyland populated by beauties and beasts, mermaids and monsters, flying elephants, gentle roller-coasters and more.

Fantasyland has always been the most popular "land" in the Magic Kingdom. And a five-year project to not just refresh the area but create a whole New Fantasyland is almost complete. The largest expansion in the park's 41-year history, New Fantasyland has been developed in phases with the Storybook Circus and Enchanted Forest areas and their attractions now officially open. Half of the attractions are new, others have been revamped, and a few additional attractions will open this year and next, by which time New Fantasyland will have doubled in size to 8.5-hectares.

Disney royalty came out in force in December for a gala launch of the new land. Mickey, Minnie, Donald, a legion of princes and princesses, and the rest of the gang gathered at Cinderella's Castle with Tom Staggs, chairman of Disney Parks and Resorts. Ginnifer Goowin -- Snow White in Disney-owned ABC's Once Upon A Time -- was mistress of ceremonies, and Jordin Sparks -- whose career was launched on dream-come-true reality show American Idol -- belted out a medley of classic Disney tunes.

Many of New Fantastyland attractions have been designed with features that make children part of the story, and make wait-times part of the fun.

"You're not just watching the experience, you're living it," said Chris Beatty, creative director of New Fantasyland and part of Walt Disney Imagineering, the uber-creative folks who take concepts from the "blue sky" stage and make them real. "The storytelling starts when you enter the queue," he added.

Highlights include:

-- Belle's Cottage and Enchanted Tales With Belle. Fans of Beauty and the Beast will find it all here: Maurice's workshop, the Enchanted Mirror, Lumiere the talking candelabra with the French accent, the cursed prince-turned-Beast, and a perpetually sweet Belle in her golden ball gown. After stepping through the Enchanted Mirror, each child assumes a role in this fun storytelling experience. After, there is time for photos with the princess.

-- Under the Sea: Journey of the Little Mermaid. Guests arrive at Prince Eric's Castle and explore a series of caverns before boarding clamshells for a ride through Ariel's undersea world. With tunes from The Little Mermaid, of course. Next door, in Ariel's Grotto, fans can get photos with the world's most popular mermaid.

-- The hilltop Beast's Castle is home to the Be Our Guest Restaurant, which features "good food fast"during the day and French-inspired dining at night in three full-service dining rooms -- the elegant Ballroom with its soaring coffered ceiling and sparkling chandeliers, the mysterious West Wing, and the pretty Rose Gallery. Beer and wine are served with dinner -- a Magic Kingdom first.

-- Storybook Circus is home to some revamped classics. Where there was one mega-popular Dumbo the Flying Elephant, now there are two spinning in opposite directions. These are joined by a Big Top, where families play games while waiting for their pagers to beep when it's their turn to "fly." And the Barnstormer roller coaster has been given a facelift but is still suitable for little riders.

-- A water play area, the Casey Jr. Splash 'N' Soak Station, has clouds of cool mist and water-squirting animals. It's a fun place for little ones to cool off on hot days.

-- Later this year, the Disney princesses will move into a fancy new castle befitting of their royal pedigrees. Aurora, Cinderella, Tiana, Rapunzel and the other royal gals will hold court with fans in the elegant Princess Fairytale Hall.

-- When the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train starts rolling in 2014, New Fantasyland will be complete. Cars on the hi-tech musical roller coaster will swing back and forth along a track as it takes riders on a rollicking ride accompanied by characters and tunes from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Heigh ho, heigh ho.

-- When it comes to theme parks, Disney World is the undisputed leader. And while all the parks that make up the resort contain Disney classics, new attractions are always being added. In the coming weeks, I will look at some of what else is new and what else is planned for the Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, Epcot and Downtown Disney.

SLEEPOVER

-- Disney World has a special offer for Canadians. Available at a variety of Disney Resort Hotels, the deal must be booked by May 23 for stays (most nights) from Feb. 18 through March 23, and April 2 through June 14. For example, a five-night/six-day Magic Your Way package goes for as little as $67 US per person, per day for a family of four at Disney's All-Star Sports Resort in a standard room. Total package price is $1,593 US. For details, see disneyworld.ca/offer.

GETTING THERE

WestJet offers competitive rates on flights to Orlando. Prices vary depending on travel dates. WestJet Vacations also has packages for Disney World. See westjet.com.


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