Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Fantasyland Expansion: Meet the new plans, much like the old plans

In the fall of 2009, plans leaked online that showed Walt Disney World was considering a huge expansion of the Fantasyland portion of the park, spreading out into previously unused areas and supplanting the always-intended-to-be-temporary Mickey's Toontown fair. Within weeks came official confirmation, press releases, and concept art.

In the changes announced at that time, the only thing leaving Fantasyland itself would be a Winnie the Pooh themed playground. The headlining addition would be a large dark ride themed to The Little Mermaid. A new restaurant with a dinner show called Be Our Guest would anchor a Beauty and the Beast area which would also include Belle's storytime in her father's cottage and Gaston's tavern, purported to be a counter-service dining location. The famous Dumbo attraction would be moved into the former Toontown area and given a twin to double capacity. Goofy's Barnstormer would be the sole survivor of Toontown, but given a new theme.

The rest of Fantasyland was to be given over to elaborate, immersive areas for kids to meet and interact with Princesses Aurora and Cinderella, and a Pixie Hollow area that appeared to also be mostly or only a meet-and-greet location for Tinkerbell and her less popular fairy friends.

Fans were not thrilled. While the Little Mermaid attraction and Beauty and the Beast restaurant announcements were well-received, two major complaints were heard over and over again: 1) With so much emphasis on Princesses, the additions were way too girl-centric. 2) Lots of land was being given over to the expansion, but we'd only be getting one new ride. So much valuable real-estate being given over to meet-and-greets seemed like a real waste.

Word eventually got out that Disney, and its new Chairman of Parks and Resorts Tom Staggs, was listening. Plans were being reshuffled. Imagineers were returning to the drawing board.

Today, we got a look at the new New Fantasyland plans. Were the complaints met?

The new overview

The most warmly-regarded portions of the previously-announced plans remain: The Little Mermaid and the Be Our Guest restaurants are still coming. In fact, both are already being built. Dumbo will still be doubled. I'm very relieved to see Gaston's Tavern is still in the new plans, as I've got a soft spot for the big lug.

The biggest news of today is that a new coaster is coming to Fantasyland, themed to the Seven Dwarf's mine. The existing Snow White attraction, Snow White's Scary Adventures will be closed and become the new meet-and-greet location of all the princesses. Goofy's Barnstormer will become The Great Goofini, and the area that was Toontown will be the Fantasyland Storybook Circus.

Dwarfs' mine, coaster style.

Now, on the whole this is mostly good news. Fantasyland is going to be a bigger and prettier place as a result of this expansion, but I am left scratching my head a little about some of these new announcements.

Remember the two biggest complaints that seemed to cause this rethinking? Too much princess emphasis and not enough attractions. Well... none of these changes really address that. Everything we're getting that's truly new is still themed to a princess movie, and while we are getting one more new attraction, we're also now losing an old attraction, meaning a net gain of ZERO attractions over the previous announcement and a net gain of only ONE new attraction for the park as a whole.

I'll be sad to see Snow White's Scary Adventures go away. I'm not surprised, and I can't say I disagree with the decision, but I can also not be happy about it. It's old, it's old-fashioned, and there is never a line for it. All negatives to the people making the decisions, I'm sure, but all positives to me. Here's hoping the replacement still finds a place for a couple of creepy appearances by the Old Hag, because I'll really miss the old bat otherwise.

The princesses will take over Snow White's Scary Adventures

Putting the princesses all together into the old Snow White spot makes sense. It's connected to the castle itself, and the previous plans would've limited logical appearances to just Belle, Cinderella, Ariel, and Aurora. The new location allows for appearances by Tiana, Rapunzel, Snow White, and really anyone they feel like adding.

The Barnstormer becoming the Great Goofini makes no difference to me. It was a kiddie coaster starring Goofy and airplanes before and it's a kiddie coaster starring Goofy and airplanes now. Either way it's not on my list of things to care about.


Questions that remain: Is that it for the Circus land? Concept art features some unexplained tents. I'm guessing those are just gift shops maybe? The new plans seem to leave room for possible additional attractions alongside of the new Dwarf coaster and in the Circusland. Is that being done for future development or will these additions really fill the area?

This, I can't wait for.

I don't mean to be too much of a curmudgeon about all this. I'm still glad Fantasyland is getting some much-needed TLC and beautification. I'm still really looking forward to riding The Little Mermaid attraction and making my reservations for Be Our Guest, but I was still hoping for a little more. And of course I'll reserve my true final judgment for when I'm actually able to experience New Fantasyland in 2012 (or whenever I'm able to make it there).

Word is there are still some details coming at tonight's press conference. Here's hoping they've held back that one little piece that feels like it's missing.

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