Construction tour of New Fantasyland with Imagineer Chris Beatty, dishing new details on Walt Disney World expansion

in Disney, Entertainment, Walt Disney World

Walt Disney World is currently in the midst of the biggest-ever expansion of the Magic Kingdom theme park, doubling the size of Fantasyland in what’s being referred to as New Fantasyland. Though guests in the park can’t help but see the peaks of the new Beast’s Castle and The Little Mermaid ride peeking out over construction walls, the vast majority of the massive project remains hidden from public eyes – until today.

This morning, I had the opportunity to step through a door in one of those construction walls and marvel at the impressive vista that is New Fantasyland. Granted it’s currently filled with hard hat-wearing workers (I had to don one too – and a bright orange vest) as well as plenty of equipment and dust. But with the aid of concept art and Walt Disney Imagineer Chris Beatty leading the tour, I was able to visualize what’s to come. And it’s stunning.

Unfortunately I was not allowed to use a camera behind the wall. Fortunately, Disney has provided me with video of the area to accompany the descriptions and details Beatty shared. The video below features a combination of concept artwork, Disney’s video, and Beatty’s narration virtually “walking” you through the area.

Video: Imagineer Chris Beatty leads a construction tour of New Fantasyland

(YouTube cut off the last 2 minutes of the video above, so I’ve uploaded the rest in a separate video below.)

One of the most important design elements Beatty emphasized was that New Fantasyland is intended to be a place for guests to enjoy, even when they’re not riding a ride, seeing a show, or meeting a character. A forest of trees will be brought into the area and will bloom throughout the year, adding lots of shade and comfortable areas notably absent from the existing Fantasyland.

Long winding waterways will pass under accessible bridges and be fueled by water falls, 5 cascading down the facade of The Little Mermaid ride and one originating high atop the rocky mountains that surround Beast’s Castle, up to 30 feet high. These aesthetic elements are what will clearly mark New Fantasyland as a new generation of theme park lands, immersing guests in a relaxing environment that also features plenty of new attractions.

The centerpiece of New Fantasyland will be the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train coaster, still very much under construction, only showing recently-added steel beams. For those observing them in the park today, Beatty noted that grey beams mark the highest points of the terrain that will be built up for the new ride and brown beams are intended for the ride track itself. Ultimately, the metal will be hidden, leaving only a towering hillside with a runaway mine train twisting over its curves.

And this hillside will act as a curtain of sorts, preventing guests walking from Cinderella Castle from seeing Prince Eric’s Castle, the home of The Little Mermaid ride. It won’t be until crossing a bridge and rounding the corner past the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train that guests will first catch a glimpse of The Little Mermaid. I wasn’t allowed to walk that far into the area idea, but Beatty assured that the ride’s “grotto” queue is gorgeous inside.

To the left of all of the above-described items is the “Beauty and the Beast” themed area, future home of Gaston’s Tavern, Maurice’s Cottage – which will house an elaborate meet and greet with Belle – and Beast’s Castle, home to the Be Our Guest restaurant. Today’s tour unfortunately didn’t involve walking that far into the construction site, but Beatty once again said that it’s shaping up nicely inside. We’ll have to take his word for it for now.

And to link it all to the existing Fantasyland, new Cinderella Castle walls will enclose the “castle courtyard,” including the existing carousel. The side of these walls facing Cinderella Castle will match perfectly. Beatty said it will be “just like it was built day one with Cinderella’s Castle, like it’s always been here.” The reverse side, facing New Fantasyland, will feature a more weathered look to tie in with the forest theme there.

What struck me most when finally stepping behind those construction walls was the wide expanse of New Fantasyland, both horizontally and vertically. There are many levels to the new area, unlike the rest of the Magic Kingdom theme park which is largely flat. New Fantasyland features waterways underneath guests and rocky areas rising high above guests, with many different terrain levels in between. It’s going to be a very natural landscape that should prove to be both inviting and quite pleasing to the eye. And it’s certainly an expansion on a massive scale, unlike no other the park has ever seen.

Disney hasn’t yet revealed the dates on which various parts of New Fantasyland will open, though the timeline I was told at the 2011 D23 Expo does still seem to be holding up. It should all be completed by 2014. Until then, guests will continue to watch with wonder as Disney magic is worked behind those construction walls.

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