The next milestone of the big Magic Kingdom expansion is approaching. The grand opening of major sections of the "new" Fantasyland is set for Thursday. You can brave the year-end crowds at Walt Disney World to check out the area, which basically sits atop the site of old 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea attraction.
Or, you can read this primer and impress folks at holiday parties with your knowledge of all things princess, dwarf, beast, flying elephant, French cuisine — and if alcohol can be purchased in the Magic Kingdom.
The additions basically are divided into two areas. Storybook Circus has a distinctive big-top theme. The remainder of the expansion — the largest in Magic Kingdom's 41-year history — has ties to princesses, particularly Belle from "Beauty and the Beast" and Ariel from "The Little Mermaid." Eventually, Snow White's little friends will be seen in a roller coaster.
Here's our guide to what's new, what's next and what's not going anywhere.
Under the Sea – Journey of the Little Mermaid
This dark — but mild — ride retells Ariel's story through animation and animatronics. It could be called a cross between the Magic Kingdom's Haunted Mansion (conveyor-belt vehicles, merry robotics performing to peppy beat, disembodied eyeballs) and Epcot's The Seas With Nemo and Friends (funny fish, underwater setting, guests on clam shells). Don't worry, our princess lives happily ever after.
Enchanted Tales With Belle
It's a surprise party for bookish Belle, who's decked out in her finest golden gown when we meet her. Guests put on a little play for her and are rewarded with photo ops. Appearances by Lumiere (the talking candelabra), Madame Wardrobe and a magic mirror are special-effects highlights.
During previews, this small eatery quickly gained a reputation for its pork shank and LeFou's Brew, a frozen apple juice concoction with marshmallow foam. (Note: There's no alcohol in this tavern.) The dining areas are decorated with creative uses of antlers and a portrait of Gaston, Belle's self-centered suitor in "Beauty and the Beast." Out front is a larger-than-life Gaston fountain with this plaque: "Tribute to Gaston. An extravagantly generous gift to the humble people of my village. From me, Gaston."
Be Our Guest Restaurant
French cuisine is the mainstay of the eatery, which, in a first for Disney World, will be counter service for lunch and table service at dinnertime. Seating areas include an elaborate ballroom, gallery and the darkened west wing. In a break with Magic Kingdom, Be Our Guest will serve wine and beer with dinner — not with lunch — and it will not be allowed outside the restaurant.
Bonjour Village Gift Shop
Cozy retail outlet with merchandise ranging from china to T-shirts and other Belle paraphernalia.
Pete's Silly Sideshow
The Storybook Circus meet-and-greet area that puts four characters under the big top. Ready to be photographed are the Great Goofini, the Astounding Donaldo (as in duck-o), Madame Daisy Fortuna and Minnie Magnifique.
Big Top Souvenirs
Store surrounds circus foods (candied apples, cotton candy, etc.) with Disney merchandise.
Casey Jr. Splash 'n' Soak Station