Doug Ingersoll, author of "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Walt Disney World," agreed with Beatty that Enchanted Tales with Belle takes character meet-and-greets to a new level. "What's exciting is that Disney is incorporating technology into the meet-and-greet experience." In the past, he said, they were simply played by characters. "Now it's a 3-D action scene that makes the experience come more to life."
New in the Magic Kingdom
Here's a rundown of the Fantasyland expansion and other attractions opening this past week:
Most of the new Fantasyland elements are already operating. The stars are two new castles.
In the Beast Castle is a 500-seat restaurant, Be Our Guest, with scenes, props and music from the 1991 film and French-inspired cuisine, since the tale is set in France. At lunch, guests order from touch-screen menus and get a rose that they take to their table; the rose tells the food cart where to find the table. At night, it becomes an upscale sit-down, table-service restaurant with wine and beer available -- the first time that alcohol will be served in the Magic Kingdom (although the other Disney World parks have been serving alcohol for years).
The Village at the base of Beast Castle has Gaston's Tavern, a snack bar that, despite its name, does not serve alcohol but an apple-juice-based 'brew.' The character of Gaston himself sometimes greets guests.
Enchanted Tales with Belle is also next to Beast Castle.
A second castle, that of Prince Eric, houses Under the Sea: Journey of the Little Mermaid, modeled after the Disneyland ride. Guests will go under an aqueduct and into the grottos -- "sort of like they're going under the sea," said Chris Beatty, an Imagineer. Clamshell-shaped cars similar to those in the Haunted Mansion take guests through scenes from the movie, accompanied by music from the film. Afterward, you can join the Little Mermaid in the Ariel's Grotto meet-and-greet.
Pete's Silly Sideshow, which opened in early October, is a meet-and-greet spot in Storybook Circus.
The first elements of the Fantasyland expansion opened this spring: the twin Dumbo rides -- one new, one newly renovated and both with lights and water features; Goofy's junior roller coaster, which was re-themed as the Barnstormer with the Great Goofini (Goofy as a stunt pilot); a new Fantasyland train station; and the Casey Jr. Splash 'N' Soak water play area.
Just opened elsewhere
Test Track, which has been closed since spring, has reopened at Epcot. The basic track and ride are still the same, with updated sound and visuals, but the attraction has expanded to include a design-your-own virtual concept car feature before the ride and a check on how your car would have performed against other riders' designs afterward.
In Downtown Disney, where Pleasure Island nightclubs that closed in 2008 are gradually being replaced by more family-oriented entertainment, the new Splitsville bowling alley is an anchor. Four cities, including South Miami, already have Splitsvilles, but the 30-lane Orlando one is the largest. It also features live entertainment, a menu that includes sushi, burgers, pizza, steaks and drinks in a bowl for groups and guzzlers.
Princess Fairytale Hall, in the courtyard of Cinderella Castle, will have stained-glass windows and decor that will give it the feel of a regal tournament, Beatty said. It will be the meet-and-greet home for Disney princesses who don't have their own spots.
The last element of the Fantasyland expansion will be the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, a steel roller coaster on which guests sit in swinging buckets. The coaster will dive underground and rumble through a mine in which gems sparkle from the walls. The tale of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, which was Disney's first full-length animated feature film, lost its home at Magic Kingdom when Snow White's Scary Adventures closed this spring to make room for Princess Fairytale Hall; the new coaster will give the tale a new home.