The recent 2011 D23 Expo offered attending Disney fans a chance to get updated on all ongoing Disney projects by getting up-close views of concept artwork, scale models, and even face-to-face conversations with Walt Disney Imagineers.
Inside the Walt Disney Parks and Resorts pavilion, one of the most impressive features was the large model of the New Fantasyland expansion for Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom theme park. This model, coupled with insight from lead Imagineers on the project standing nearby, offered new details on what can be expected when the new park areas open.
Standing next to the massive 1/4 scale model of the New Fantasyland expansion, I spoke at length with Walt Disney Imagineer Scott Mallwitz, concept architect on the project. In our chat, Mallwitz detailed all that’s coming to the Magic Kingdom as part of this largest-ever expansion for the park, including new details about Storybook Circus and when guests can expect each area of the expansion to open:
Video Interview: Imagineer Scott Mallwitz about the New Fantasyland expansion at the Magic Kingdom
The most important detail to come out of this interview is an idea for when each of the phases of the expansion will open.
New Fantasyland expansion opening timeline
(Note: This timeline was updated on 8/7/12)
- Complete – Hundred Acre Wood facade for The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh</li
- Complete – Half of Storybook Circus with double Dumbo, Great Goofini coaster, Fantasyland Train Station
- Closed – June 1, 2012 – Snow White’s Scary Adventures closes permanently to make way for Princess Fairytale Hall (last day of operation will be May 31)
- Complete – Casey Jr. Splash and Soak Play Area, the second half of Dumbo
- December 6, 2012 – Official Grand Opening (Previews begin November 19) – Under the Sea ~ Journey of the Little Mermaid ride, Be Our Guest restaurant, Beauty and the Beast village, Belle meet-and-greet, Castle wall
- Early 2013 – Princess Fairytale Hall, Remaining pieces of Storybook Circus with Pete’s Silly Sideshow
- Late 2013 – Seven Dwarfs Mine Train roller coaster
Being in mid-2011 now, by the currently projected timeframe, all phases of the New Fantasyland expansion won’t be completely open for roughly 2.5 years. Mallwitz did emphasize there will be “micro-phases” within each of these timelines, so not all attractions grouped together above will necessarily open at exactly the same time. With so many new attractions coming to the Magic Kingdom, it’s likely each major addition, such as The Little Mermaid ride and Be Our Guest restaurant, will open on the same day, but rather within a few weeks of each other.
Beyond the phased opening timeline, here are a few highlights and new details that came out of the interview surrounding specifics of New Fantasyland and Storybook Circus…
Storybook Circus attractions
Since the first New Fantasyland announcement back at the 2009 D23 Expo, we’ve known about the double-carousel Dumbo with air-conditioned “Big Top” interactive queue area that’s on the way for Storybook Circus:
And we know about the Great Goofini roller coaster, which is a re-themed version of the classic Barnstormer attraction:
But what exactly is the story of Storybook Circus and what other attractions will be found within? Mallwitz was kind enough to finally answer these questions, at least in part.
As the story goes, a spur track has been “added” to the Fantasyland Railroad and the famous Casey Jr. train from “Dumbo” has come down that new track to unload the 1930s/40s circus in Fantasyland.
Not only is Dumbo part of the circus, but also a few additional acts as well. Pete’s Silly Sideshow will be a meet-and-greet featuring characters from “all over the world” – all familiar faces with circus-themed appearances. As an example, Mallwitz offers The Great Donaldo, a new role for Donald Duck to play as a “very famous snake charmer from the Far East.”
Beyond the sideshow, Big Top Souvenirs will offer the obligatory shop for Storybook Circus, in the same location as the former store for Mickey’s Toontown Fair.
We can expect to see half of Storybook Circus open in 2012, with the rest making its debut in 2013.
New Fantasyland entrance, castle wall, and forest
A new Cinderella Castle wall erected near the existing carousel will serve as the transition between the castle courtyard and the new Fantasyland forest. The “tournament look” of the castle area will disappear beyond the wall into lush landscaping with plenty of trees, waterways, and winding paths immersing guests into an environment unlike anything seen before at the Magic Kingdom’s Fantasyland.
It is within this new forest that stories live, including “The Little Mermaid,” “Beauty and the Beast,” “Winnie the Pooh,” and “Snow White.”
Here guests will find the new ride based on The Little Mermaid, a version of which recently opened at the Disney California Adventure theme park. According to Mallwitz, guests will be able to approach Prince Eric’s castle because “the tide has gone out”, though some “tide pools” will linger amidst “castle caverns” that form the “underside” or “foundation” of the castle, where the ride’s interactive queue will reside.
And the recently-removed Ariel’s Grotto will return beside her attraction, with a chance to meet The Little Mermaid herself in a natural setting surrounded by rocks and waterfalls.
Nearby, the Be Our Guest restaurant in Beast’s castle, and an elaborate meet-and-greet with Belle, featuring an advanced Audio-Animatronics version of Lumiere, along with a few other magical Disney touches.
Seven Dwarfs Mine Train coaster
The final phase of the New Fantasyland expansion will see the addition of the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train roller coaster. With the Snow White’s Scary Adventure dark ride closing to make way for a new Princess meet-and-greet area, this all-new ride will be a combination of a dark ride and roller coaster, thrilling enough to offer excitement, but not enough to scare away anyone. It’s said to be on a thrill level just above the Barnstormer (soon to be The Great Goofini), but below Big Thunder Mountain.
Imagineers revealed a virtual ride through of a portion of the attraction during the Walt Disney Parks and Resorts presentation at the 2011 D23 Expo:
Beyond the combination of coaster and dark ride, the most unique element of the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train coaster will be the ride vehicles themselves. Imagineering has developed cars that swing left and right, independently from the ride track’s direction. And as such, the ride will never be exactly the same twice. Mallwitz explained, “Each car is going to rock differently because each car is slightly loaded differently.” So loading up one side of the car with heavier riders will surely offer a swinging experience.
Also at the Expo, Imagineers showed off recent ride car tests for this coaster, including one swinging on the back of a pickup truck:
Mallwitz also emphasized that this new coaster will add energy to the Fantasyland forest, offering a thrill for those riding it but also something entertaining to watch for those walking around nearby.
Overview of the New Fantasyland expansion
The details revealed above are just some of the newest specifics to get excited about as the New Fantasyland expansion takes shape around the Magic Kingdom. Construction walls currently run from the former home of Ariel’s Grotto all the way past the Mad Tea Party to the former home of Mickey’s Toontown Fair. These walls will move around as phases are completed and new ones began between now and the final unveiling of the last piece of this Fantasyland puzzle.
Until then, the best way to get a sense of the entire project is to take another look at the scale model presented at the 2011 D23 Expo, as it will be the only “complete” version of New Fantasyland available until late 2013:
(Photos and Fantasyland model video by Josh Daws)