Have you heard about “New” Disney World Fantasyland at the Magic Kingdom? If you haven’t been to Walt Disney World in a while, it will knock you for a loop. It’s the largest expansion project in WDW history, actually doubling the size of Fantasyland. Gone (sadly) are Mickey and Minnie’s neighboring houses among other things (you can meet the mice in Town Square Theater near the park entrance now). What’s new? Two massive castles, one for Belle and one for Arielle, in an Enchanted Forest area, and expanded Dumbo and Goofy rides in a Storybook Circus setting. Although Disney fans have been visiting here in full force, I was there for a special sneak preview when the new “land” opened and found the best way to beat the crowds while seeing all the sights.
If your heading to Disney World for spring break or summer vacation, just use this easy step-by-step plan and you’ll experience it all, without wilting in the heat.
1. Start Early
Arrive at the Magic Kingdom at rope drop and head straight to Fantasyland, do not stop to say hi to Mickey, do NOT grab a churro. (Trust me, it’s worth the quick start off the gate.) With little ones who are past stroller age, take the Railroad from Main Street to the Fantasyland stop. And if you’re staying at a Disney property, take advantage of early opening hours and jump right in for the 7am opening.
2. Princess Power
Your goal: summon your inner princess and be among the first to reach the Enchanted Forest where both Belle (from Beauty and the Beast) and the Little Mermaid have permanent new homes in a fairy tale forest. If you haven’t prebooked a FastPass to ride Under The Sea — Journey of the Little Mermaid (a “dark” ride that re-enacts the Little Mermaid tale), get on line, and then proceed directly to Enchanted Tales with Belle (time is of the essence, lines build here quickly). This interactive storytelling attraction lets you talk to the “real” Belle and interact with an animated Lumiere and other characters from Beauty and the Beast. The technology is amazing, and so is getting to spend extended time with a Disney princess instead of the usual meet and greet.
Once you’re done meeting with Belle, head to Arielle’s Grotto for a more traditional princess photo op, albeit in a wonderfully underwater themed setting, then switch for to whichever Mermaid experience you haven’t done yet.
3. Snack Time
After the Little Mermaid, stop and catch your breath at Gaston’s Tavern. This new quick dining spot, right in front of a gleaming statue of Gaston, opens at 8am and has some innovative offerings including a roasted pork shank (a knife-and-fork update to the park’s ubiquitous turkey leg) and Le Frou’s Brew, a frozen apple juice concoction with a hint of toasted marshmallow. For breakfast, there are fruit cups and warm cinnamon rolls. Grab one before you follow the path to the second part of New Fantasyland, Storybook Circus.
4. Watch an Elephant Fly
One thing that hasn’t changed (thankfully) about Disney World Fantasyland is Dumbo The Flying Elephant. Not only are the flying elephants still here, there’s double the elephant flight power, with TWO rides side-by-side for twice the soaring fun. One great addition to the ride is an air-conditioned circus tent with a play area and pagers, so you can spend your time playing instead of waiting in line. The other updated ride here is the Great Goofini, Goofy’s Barnstormer, a gentle roller coaster. Both Dumbo and Goofy have FastPass options, so take a look at the lines and take a FastPass for the ride with the longer wait, then ride the other while you wait for your timed entrance to come up.
5. Lunch at the Castle
At this point, you’ve probably done more in one morning than a lot of late-rising folks will get to do all day. Reward yourself with lunch at Be Our Guest. A highlight of not only New Fantasyland, but of all of the Magic Kingdom, the French-inspired restaurant comprises three themed rooms in the Beast’s castle (my favorite: the chandeliered ballroom where snow falls outside the grand glass windows). In the evenings, this is a reservations only, sit-down dinner (booked solid for the next 6 months!), but at lunch it’s counter service with a twist: you order from a sophisticated menu and then are given a pager that alerts servers to where you are seated. (Note: you can also book a FastPass for lunch here AND preorder your meal before you arrive). Food is delivered directly to your seat. Put up your feet and congratulate yourself on acing your morning in the park.