When I think back on all the storybooks I read as a kid, it’s clear that they all had one theme in common. Circus. Even the crappy ones my mom bought at the school book fair came in a three-ring binder.
I finally had a chance to check out Phase 1 of the Fantasyland Expansion over the weekend, several days later than the news sites. There’s pictures everywhere, so I won’t bore you with any of mine. But I will say a few things about the three brand new rides that are now open.
Trust me when I tell you, these three unique attractions are a harbinger of good things to come. I’m thrilled that after all these years, we finally have such quality experiences. It’s hard to believe we’ve seen 40 years of the Magic Kingdom without these, but the future is bright indeed.
First up is a nice family attraction called the Walt Disney World Railroad. Guests board one of four steam-powered locomotives for a trip around the Magic Kingdom. The detail on these trains is stunning, and the length of the track (1.5 miles) has to be some kind of record. Guests looking for stomach-churning thrills might be disappointed, but most Disney fans will appreciate the subtle nods to Walt Disney’s personal history, such as the fact that Walt loved trains. He even built a train in his backyard, and it is said that trains were the inspiration for the original Disneyland. It’s nice to know that this idea has finally made its way into a Disney theme park.
|Note the train’s “Walter E. Disney” nameplate. Hardcore fans will recognize this as the name of the company’s founder.
When I rode, it was still in soft opening, and there were a few technical glitches. The train broke down twice (once in Main Street, once in Frontierland) before we returned to Storybook Circus, and it took them a few minutes to get going again. Also, there was a noticeable lack of a preshow to set up the storyline, so I confess there was a bit of confusion regarding just who we were supposed to be rescuing. But these are minor quibbles. Overall, I think guests will be thrilled with this brand new way to see the Magic Kingdom, and the new perspectives that are constantly on display.
Moving on from the train, we come to a bonafide thrill ride, called The Barnstormer. This one has been kept under tight wraps from the Disney folks, and not too many details were leaked ahead of time. We knew that it would star Goofy and be some sort of family rollercoaster, but other nuggets of info were hard to come by. I’m happy to report that Barnstormer is everything you hoped it would be.
The intricately themed ride vehicle consists of 2-person cars linked together on a track, which is powered to the top of a hill by a chain. Gravity does the rest. There are dips, curves, and even a few air brakes thrown in for good measure, all of which comprise the most heartpounding 60 seconds you’ll ever experience outside of Disney’s famous mountain range.
All of this would be for naught if it didn’t have a great story to go with it, and Disney has kicked up a doozy. Goofy, it seems, is a bit of a daredevil pilot, and he’s invited you to go barnstorming with him. After some recent misfires (Stitch, Laugh Floor), it’s good to see Disney can still put together a ripping good yarn that surprises us with its winning originality and sly references to barns, such as a big actual barn.
Finally, Storybook Circus boasts the piece de resistance: Dumbo the Flying Elephant. Here is Disney magic at its finest. Guests climb aboard the titular hero from the 1941 animated classic and take to the skies! Disney delved deep into its vault for this character, and it’s refreshing to see Dumbo finally getting some love. What could have been just another Tangled Unbraided spinner ride has become a masterpiece of theming. Guests were queuing for up to 45 minutes for the chance to take a ride on the little pachyderm. I think Disney has a hit on its hands here, and the Dumbo ride stands a real chance at becoming an instant classic, along the lines of Pirates, Tea Cups, and Small World.
|Dumbo uses the same tried and true ride mechanism perfected by Aladdin’s Magic Carpets and Triceratops Spin.
If I have anything to gripe about, it’s the guidemap, which features Dumbo prominently on the cover. I’m one of those grumpy oldtimers that grumbles every time Disney mixes and matches images from their various theme parks, assuming (correctly) that most people can’t tell the difference.
|As this shot shows, the best views are always to the rider’s left.
The Dumbo on the cover is clearly not from Storybook Circus. Nope, instead it’s a static old shot from Disneyland, which has also been used to promote Disneyland Paris. They’ve cropped it nicely to hide some of the more obvious details, but even though the new WDW version has water, the pavement and trim along the water don’t match this picture, and in this broader shot below, it’s clearly Disneyland’s railing and trashcans.
|Strangely, the motion blur of the strollers in the background is much more pronounced than on the guidemap picture. Could Disney be using Photoshop?
Nevertheless, Fantasyland expansion is off to a good start. I’m looking forward to the next phase, when we will finally get something we’ve all been praying for since the days when Disneyland was just an orange grove and a dream: Two giant circus tents! And maybe we’ll even get an Ariel greeting area! One thing’s for sure, the Magic Kingdom is going to look a whole lot different when we’re done.