Opening in phases, New Fantasyland was touted as the largest single expansion to the Magic Kingdom since it opened in 1971. The expansion added a few new areas to the land, along with several new rides, attractions, and dining options. It was also a good use of empty spaces created by not replacing previously closed attractions around the area. But what we got wasn’t exactly what was first announced a few years earlier.
Let’s look back at how a princess-centric expansion was reevaluated, and actually improved, at Magic Kingdom’s New Fantasyland. Be sure to check out the video version for additional visuals below.
Part 1 — The “Old” Fantasyland
The story of New Fantasyland starts way back when things that were originally part of old Fantasyland started to close. In 1999 the Skyway between Tomorrowland and Fantasyland, one of the park’s original opening day attractions, closed. The Fantasyland station itself was left mostly abandoned for a decade, usually being utilized as stroller parking.
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea: Submarine Voyage had closed in 1994, but the lagoon and rockwork facade for the attraction remained practically untouched for a decade as well. To utilize the area for more than just its scenic value, a character meet and greet named “Ariel’s Grotto” was set up nearby. A King Triton statue was added to the lagoon as well.
In 2004, the former submarine attraction’s lagoon was finally drained and covered over. In its place was built… a small Winnie the Pooh play area and character meet and greet named Pooh’s Playful Spot, since it was located across from The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh ride. If you looked inside the tree you could spot a little nod to the area’s former tenant, as there was a Nautilus submarine carved above the door inside.
Part 2 — Introducing New Fantasyland
“New Fantasyland” was first announced at the 2009 D23 Expo. The expansion would bring with it several minilands, or neighborhoods as Disney called them. The original Fantasyland area would be named the Castle Courtyard containing original attractions like Prince Charming Regal Carrousel and Peter Pan’s Flight, while beyond the castle’s gates would be a massive new area named the Enchanted Forest.
The Enchanted forest’s key attraction would be Under the Sea ~ Journey of the Little Mermaid, a classic style omnimover dark ride that would be a clone of The Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Undersea Adventure, which wouldn’t open itself until the year prior at Disney California Adventure. The Enchanted Forest would also feature a Beauty and the Beast area with an enhanced meet and greet, the Be Our Guest restaurant, and Gaston’s Tavern.
In the center of the forest was to be a massive area where guests would be able to meet more princesses, each with their own specially themed homes and settings. Other improvements to the area were also planned, like a Tangled area to replace the defunct Skyway station, featuring beautifully decorated… bathrooms.
Part 3 — Too Many Princesses
The Enchanted Forest area, located “just outside of the castle walls,” was to feature what Disney was calling “interactive Storybook adventures with your favorite Disney princesses.” In addition to the Enchanted Tales with Belle experience that we did get, guests would also get to meet Cinderella in her chateau where you’d get to see her dress change from rags to a ballgown and then help her prepare for the royal ball. You would also be able to meet Sleeping Beauty in her home too, and help her celebrate her belated sweet 16 birthday by making her a card.
Reaction to the announcement from parents was mixed, with many claiming the new expansion didn’t seem to offer much for boys. Others were less than enthused about the central focus of the land being put on meet and greets over rides, even if they were “enhanced’ experiences. These initial plans also kept Pooh’s Playful Spot meet and greet area, nestled between what was planned to become two of the princess meet and greet areas.
As if those weren’t enough meet and greets already, another Disney franchise that was hot at the time was also originally slated to receive a land in this new expansion. Guests were going to have the opportunity to meet Tinkerbell and her fairy friends in “Pixie Hollow.” This miniland would have us shrinking down to the size of a pixie to play among “towering blades of grass,” when it opened as phase 2 in 2013. According to the concept art and some of the plans for the area, it looked like Pixie Hollow was going to replace some of Mickey’s Toontown Fare, although, it wasn’t the only thing set to go in that part of the park.
Part 4 — Dumbo Gets a Land
Since Disney claimed Dumbo was the most popular attraction in Fantasyland, they announced they were going to double the Dumbos. This would be done as part of its relocation off to the side of the area, making room for the central part of New Fantasyland. A big part of the initial announcement for this new version of Dumbo The Flying Elephant was that parents would be able to sit and relax while their kids could play in a circus-themed queue-less queue, instead of standing in line while you wait.
The new Dumbo attraction was to be set within a larger Circus themed miniland, eventually named Storybook Circus. This would see a retheme of the Barnstormer at Goofy’s Wiseacres Farm kiddie coaster to allow it to fit better with the new theme. The rethemed version, named the Barnstormer Starring The Great Goofini, re-envisioned Goofy as a daredevil pilot. Instead of passing through a crashed-through barn, riders would now soar through a crashed billboard. If you look behind you after getting in line, you can spot jumbled letters on the back of the entry sign. When rearranged it spells out Wiseacre Farm, making it look like Goofy used the old farm for his new act.
Eventually, all of Pixie Hollow was cancelled, and the circus area grew to take over all of the former Toontown Fair’s land. Unfortunately, the play areas and meet and greets of Pixie Hollow were replaced with… play areas and meet and greets, just now themed to the circus grounds. Much like the land it replaced, guests would be able to meet characters like Donald and Minnie, but now they were dressed in their circus outfits and within a themed sideshow “tent.”
Part 5 — Snow White’s Not-So-Scary Ride
Early in 2011 Tom Staggs took over the project. A father of boys himself, Staggs seemed to agree that the plans were a bit too princess-y, and he wanted to make the new area fun for all kids. The Little Mermaid ride and much of the Beauty and the Beast areas were already well underway, and set to open as phase 1 the following year. But there was still time to change the plans for what was going in the center of the Enchanted Forest. This is when the idea for the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train was born.
With a new attraction themed to Snow White now being planned for the center of the new area, it was decided that they would close Snow White’s Scary Adventures, one of the attractions still located in the “old” Fantasyland. This space would be converted into Princess Fairytale Hall, which would essentially be a smaller-scale version of what would’ve been built for New Fantasyland. Props and figures from the Scary Adventure ride would even find their way onto the new Mine Train coaster. And since Pooh’s Playful Spot needed to be removed for the new coaster, his tree, (along with the carved Nautilus reference inside) was relocated across the path and made into a nicer entry area for his ride.
Though many would agree the addition of Mine Train was a positive change, even the story of the coaster’s development itself includes a bit of UnBuilt history. According to rumors, the track layout for this coaster was shortened a couple times before the final layout was settled upon. Additional show scenes, including one featuring the dwarfs walking along a log like the scene in the film, were believed to be cut, although Disney has never confirmed it.
Seven Dwarfs Mine Train’s grand opening in May of 2014 would mark the end of the final phase for New Fantasyland. To this day it remains one of the most popular attractions at Walt Disney World. Since its original announcement in 2009, New Fantasyland went through some dramatic changes over the years. It would remain the largest single park expansion in Walt Disney World’s history… That is, until they announced a land based on a Galaxy far, far away just a year later. But that, is a whole other story.
Hope you enjoyed this look back at the development of New Fantasyland! Be sure to check out the video version of this article here. And you can see our previous articles about unbuilt attractions here. Subscribe to the news feed to never miss an update, or enter your email address below.