|Interactive fun with “Belle” at the Beast’s Castle.|
Strolling Through Orlando’s Walt Disney World again after several years is not unlike returning to a favorite neighborhood to discover that several old friends have graduated to bigger, newly built or renovated homes. Disney’s famed Imagineers, perpetually scheming to make things better for first-time or returning Walt Disney World visitors, have tapped creative and sometimes mysterious technology to transform even waiting time into part of the family entertainment value in some of the most popular attractions.
Two key impressions became top-of-mind in recalling a recent tour of the new Fantasyland at the Magic Kingdom. One was that Disney Storytelling, visible in the tireless attention to physical details in the reimagined attractions, is central to each new guest experience. The second was that the “immersion” of the guest in each attraction, often via live and unexpected star character encounters, has taken the traditional concept of interaction between Disney guests and cast members to an all-new level. Live characters can now be seen everywhere in the Walt Disney World parks, apart from and well beyond the traditional spots opposite the Magic Kingdom entrance on Main Street USA and in the shadows or confines of Cinderella’s castle.
|Disney Imagineer Dave Minichiello in Gaston’s chair at Gaston’s Tavern.|
Be Our Guest Restaurant
The visual Disney stratagem became clear during a recent media group visit to the new Fantasyland, the largest expansion of the Magic Kingdom in its 41-year history. During each stage of the tour, Disney Imagineering Communications Manager Diego Parras pointed out to the participants the Disney story that is in the details of every reimagined or new attraction. Visitors arriving at the new Be Our Guest Restaurant in Fantasyland’s imposing Beast’s Castle walk the same entry hall of armored knights that Belle encountered in the film. The restaurant’s Rose Gallery room features a centerpiece music box, said to have been carved by Belle’s carpenter father Maurice, complete with life-size figurines of a dancing Belle and the Beast.
The Be Our Guest ballroom dining area, replicating the space where Belle and the Beast danced in the film, is adorned with French chandeliers, Belgian-style tapestries in the foyer, cherubs cavorting on a fresco ceiling, and a perpetual light snowfall beyond the wall of windows at the rear of the space. An adjacent, slightly eerie West Wing dining room has the rose that reduces the remaining life of the beast with each falling petal.
A time-saving application of Disney technical stagecraft is the procedure for arriving diners to pre-order their menu selections from computer monitors. Guests are handed mobile devices for each table that guide servers in authentic European period costumes to efficiently deliver course selections. Despite a capacity of 340 for dinner and 546 for lunch, table reservations at Be Our Guest were hard to obtain at this writing, except for early lunch, so advise clients to plan well ahead.
Enchanted by Belle and Ariel
A prime Disney character in the new Enchanted Forest is found in the new Enchanted Tales with Belle attraction set in Maurice’s cottage inside Belle’s village. Here guests step into Maurice’s workshop and then through his enchanted mirror into Beast’s castle. As described by Imagineer Parras and experienced by our group, no two interactions with Belle here are alike.
Audience members receive props to become story characters, including Maurice, the horse Phillipe, Mrs. Potts, Chip the teacup and two knights. The group, directed by the talking candelabra Lumiere, surprises the live Belle arriving in the library before her evening dinner with the Beast. Audience characters meet and greet Belle and join her in a march to the tune of the song Be Our Guest, an activity particularly exciting for young members of the audience and their parents, most sporting their own cameras to record the episode.
Nearby Belle’s village in the new Enchanted Forest is a second new Fantasyland Castle, this one the home of Prince Eric, the romantic interest of Ariel the Little Mermaid. Visitors queue along the babbling streams leading into Eric’s Castle for the new Under the Sea - Journey of the Little Mermaid attraction. Dave Minichiello, Imagineer and creative director of the Little Mermaid experience, noted that “we are working on more and more immersive guest experiences.”
Minichiello’s creative teamwork is evident to guests who, after riding the Ariel adventure re-created in the space of the former 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea attraction, can immediately queue up to meet the star of the show. Next door, in Ariel’s Grotto, the live Little Mermaid, fresh from her escape from Ursula the Sea Witch, displays impressive swimming fins and a sunny personality in welcoming each guest individually to a get-together with her colorful friends under the sea.
|Entering “Under the Sea: Journey of the Little Mermaid”|
Innovation Under the Big Top
The centerpiece of Storybook Circus, the second new Fantasyland area, is Dumbo the Flying Elephant, a classic ride that has been doubled in size. The reimagined ride features 32 flying Dumbos, one set of the elephants circling clockwise and the other counterclockwise.
Before or after the Dumbo ride, guests can enter Pete’s Silly Sideshow under a circus tent for more live character encounters, including visits with Minnie Mouse as the circus star Minnie Magnifique; Daisy Duck as fortune-teller Daisy Fortuna; Goofy as the Great Goofini stunt pilot, who is also star of the Barnstormer family roller coaster opposite the Dumbo pre-ride playroom; and Donald Duck as the snake-charming Astounding Donaldo.
Magic Kingdom 2013-14 Events
Media members were given a sneak peak of the construction in progress on Fantasyland’s new 7 Dwarfs Mine Train, scheduled to open in 2014. Imagineer Parras said his creative team is striving to incorporate pre-ride guest experiences and character meets in surprising new ways in the 7 Dwarfs attraction. Guests will queue up for the ride in shady areas, with separate Fastpass lines available for skipping longer waits.
During the recent Magic Kingdom visit, we noted that the new Princess Fairytale Hall, now under construction near Cinderella’s castle and opening later this year, holds the potential to be the biggest Disney hit among the park’s new attractions. It will let little girls (we saw many dressed as Disney princesses) have live individual “audiences” with various Disney royalty.
There were hints that more boys’ attractions may factor into Disney’s future plans to help equalize the new guest excitement that Belle, Ariel, and the Disney princesses have generated.