Disney World played host to an international throng of media members in town for the grand reopening of Star Tours at Disney's Hollywood Studios, and it took the opportunity to give them a dog-and-pony show of new and newish elements in the theme parks and resorts.
But can we ever get too much Fantasyland news? (Alas, there was a strict no-photos policy during our visit.)
Progress is obvious from outside the construction wall, with castle tops and cranes in the air, visible from "old" Fantasyland, especially while aboard the Dumbo ride. We were escorted through the gates near the former entrance to Mickey's Toontown Fair. Once inside, our movement was restricted to a small spot in the corner of the site, but we could see where all the new attractions eventually will be.
Eric Jacobson, senior vice president of creative development for Walt Disney Imagineering, talked us through the future Fantasyland, which guests will see rolled out in phases beginning next year, with a completion date in 2013.
-- Furthest along in construction is the "Beast" area, where rock work was being finished and a castle already was reaching skyward. Through the architectural magic of forced perspective, a Disney staple, it won't overshadow the park's iconic Cinderella Castle. Gaston's statue, which will stand outside Gaston's Tavern, is being sculpted elsewhere.
-- The exterior of Under the Sea: Journey of the Little Mermaid is taking shape. The dark ride is scheduled to open at Disney California Adventure theme park on June 3. "The content of the ride is very much the same" at the two locations, Jacobson said, though the outside design will differ. Disney World's version will feature Prince Eric's castle, which prompted someone in our group to ask if Disney was trying to corner the market on castles. When Fantasyland is done, Magic Kingdom will have three castles, deed holders being Cinderella, Beast and Eric, matching the number of mountains (Splash, Space, Big Thunder).
-- The new part of Fantasyland should be shadier than the original part. This will be aided by increased landscaping, made possible because the expansion is not atop the Magic Kingdom service tunnels, giving trees somewhere to root. Jacobson says to expect more contouring and levels.
-- The doubled Dumbo ride will have an air-conditioned waiting area, where families will cool their heels until their turn to ride, "much like a restaurant with reservations," Jacobson says.
-- The train station, built to serve Mickey's Birthdayland -- what was intended to be a temporary feature -- will be rethemed to fit the Storybook Circus area. "It will feel like it's meant to be there," Jacobson says.
-- Disney's renderings for the area show three tents, which will be used as merchandise outlets. Plans have changed, and there will only be two, Jacobson says.
-- Less obvious was work on the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train roller coaster. The tilting, swerving ride vehicles will pop in and out of the structure, making it an attention-getter. "It's going to activate the entire land," Jacobson says.
It will feature music from "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" and end with "The Silly Song."
-- Between 70 and 100 Imagineers are working on the Fantasyland expansion, says project manager Mark Hall. "I would say this is a global project," he says.