I missed the boat. Actually, it was a flying elephant.
Dumbo, the flying elephant attraction at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, is that iconic attraction that so many of us have pictures of our families riding at Disney World and Disneyland. Dumbo, of course, was an original Disneyland (www.disneyland.com) attraction when the park opened in 1955 and has always been one of the most popular rides there, as well as in Orlando (www.disneyworld.com). A car from the Dumbo the Flying Elephant ride is at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.
Waving from the giant flying elephant, Disney Imagineers say, is a bona fide rite of passage, for kids – perhaps their first theme park ride. But despite all the times I visited with my kids, we never took that iconic photo. My husband reminded me that when my son Matt was small, he was too scared of Dumbo to ride. Probably other times, the lines were too long for three impatient kids.
That’s why the Dumbo attraction has now doubled in size – part of the New Fantasyland expansion that was officially unveiled with great fanfare at Walt Disney World this month. There’s a really cool opportunity to step through the Enchanted Mirror in Belle’s cottage to the Beast’s castle where you not only get a hug from Belle but also have Lumiere the Candelabra and Madame Wardrobe talk to you (immersive storytelling is the new buzzword here, as Disney now puts you in the middle of your favorite tales).
“I know how it is all done and I’m bowled over,” said Bruce Vaughn, Walt Disney Imagineering’s chief creative executive. Your immersion in the story continues when you eat dinner inside the Beast’s castle, complete with windows that look out onto the French countryside where “snow” is falling. (And for the first time since the Magic Kingdom opened, you can have a beer or order a glass of wine at dinner.)
Board a clamshell and travel Under the Sea with Ariel in the Journey of the Little Mermaid, with 180 Audio-Animatronics set to the 1989 movie’s music. (I love the games you play with the tiny “crab” as you wait in line – all part of Disney’s efforts to make the queue part of the fun.)
You’ll find New Fantasyland just past the existing Fantasyland, beyond Cinderella’s castle. There are now three castles here for all those princess lovers.
The holiday season in Orlando is one of the busiest of the year with special attractions at every park. (For discounted park tickets, check out Undercover Tourist, www.undercovertourist.com, which can save you money on 49 Orlando area attractions, including Disney World.)
Jon Georges, the Walt Disney Imagineering director of Creative Development, said New Fantasyland “doubles the size of the most popular land in the most popular theme park in the world.” And there is more to come in 2013 (a Princess Fairytale Hall) and 2014 (the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train coaster).
Tom Staggs, the chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, himself the father of sons and here for the opening, told me great care was taken so that even with all of the Princess Power unleashed here, there would be as much to appeal to boys as girls.
But what I like best is how New Fantasyland has been designed to de-stress a visit. You no longer have to wait in the hot sun to ride Dumbo or grab a FASTPASS that gives you a specific time to return to the ride. Now, kids can play in a new air-conditioned “big-top” while you wait for your pager to tell you when it’s your turn.
Come for lunch at the Be Our Guest Restaurant and after you order on a touch-screen you are handed a magic rosebud so your food can be delivered to the table you choose. No standing with a tray looking for a place to sit. I also love that at night, the kids’ menu includes choices like turkey meatloaf made in the shape of Mickey Mouse Ears served with orange carrot sauce.
You’ll love the attention to detail – the book with its page partially eaten by a sheep at Belle’s cottage, the peanuts in the cement at Dumbo; the chalk marks in the ceiling of Big Top Souvenirs, as if acrobats had just left; the hidden Mickey at the Little Mermaid attraction that you can only see on Mickey’s birthday, Nov. 18.
No worries if you miss some of them – all the more to discover your next visit.
New Fantasyland has been designed to de-stress a visit to Disney World.