I admit it, being a local makes you a huge chicken over two things: dense crowds and touring in the rain. I don’t absolutely avoid either, of course (we would have missed the parks over the entire summer, if that were the case) but we try to limit exposure as much as it’s possible. With that in mind, I was hoping that dress rehearsals for this next phase of New Fantasyland would continue today, Sunday, October 14, after a lot of Disney blogs reported yesterday of nearly everything being open. As there was a Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween party tonight, I hoped that the park’s early 7:00 pm closure would limit crowds hoping to see all the new, shiny things at the back of the park.
On the whole, I’d say the crowds back there were not nearly as thick as they really could have been. Maybe everyone piled over there yesterday, maybe a lot of people aren’t that excited about running over there at the first chance, or maybe Magic Kingdom was indeed less trafficked because of the MNSSHP. For whatever reason, waits weren’t insane and it wasn’t shoulder-to-shoulder park guests back there today, which let us get a look at nearly everything. Reading further will give you pictures and spoilers, so if you wish to keep the area a surprise for your next trip, stop reading now.
When we got to the park, we headed first to get fastpasses for Journey of the Little Mermaid (currently available in front of Mickey’s Philharmagic, where Dumbo fastpasses were before they were relocated to Storybook Circus) and they were available without too much lead time before they matured. Standby waits at the attraction were never long while we were there this afternoon. A lot of this is due to its crowd-friendly continuous loader setup, which really moves the guests through at a rapid rate.
We had a short wait before our fastpasses were ready to go, so we spent some time just enjoying the common areas and theming.
We were able to get a peek inside some of the Be Our Guest restaurant (not open for food, just for looking around). The bridge leading to the restaurant is striking, really setting the mood with gargoyle-like grotesque statues lining the way. The stained glass detail over the doorway is a foreshadowing of the large, stunning Belle and Beast stained glass panel just inside restaurant and to the left. (Will this, perhaps, be the backdrop for a table service photo-op?) On the immediate right, the suits of armor hallway leads to what must be the counter service/lunch area of the restaurant. Kiosks were visible from behind the rope and you could just make out menu items on the screens, so clearly we’ll have self-order stations like the kiosks at Pecos Bill’s. We were also able to look at the ballroom-themed seating area for the table service side of the restaurant. It looks great, though it also looks like a lot of tables in a large, open room. I can’t see how this won’t get really loud when it is filled with excited park guests having dinner there, as there’s nothing in the room like dividers or half walls to absorb any of the sound. You can see more photos taken in and around Be Our Guest here, including the beautiful stained glass window.
With just a few minutes before we could use our fastpasses, we poked our heads inside Bonjour Gifts. It isn’t a huge shop, but there are a lot of items inside, many of which are either unique to the shop or at least very relevant to the surroundings. The upper walls are lined with more subtle theming that ties it in with the rest of the area.
This area (near Gaston’s Tavern and Bonjour Gifts) also hosts Gaston’s fountain, and it is often home to Gaston himself as well. His meet and greet, at least at the moment, is sometimes a traditional “character stands in one place, people wait in a line looked after by a cast member, and a PhotoPass photographer is there to take pictures” meet and greet, but Gaston also free-roams the village square from time to time. He is happy to sign autograph books (Gaston told my daughter, “Finally! Now your book will be worth something!” as he signed hers) and pose for photographs, but you kind of have to mill around him and wait for him to pick you out of the crowd when he’s in wandering mode, which the character handler near him kept telling us was because “you can’t control Gaston when he’s decided he’s searching for Belle.” It is actually a nice change of pace for a meet and greet, but I can’t help thinking that people who feel passed over in the crowd will complain to Guest Services and Gaston’s wandering may vanish at some point in the future.
Our first ride on Journey of the Little Mermaid (hereafter, JotLM, because that’s exhausting to type) was pretty much a walk on through the fastpass line. The group who got merged in after us came out of the standby line, though, and I asked one of them how long they’d waited. They had walked nearly all the way through the standby queue, stopping only a couple of times, very briefly. I really like how efficient Disney’s modern continuous loaders are at moving guests through the ride, and this ride certainly fits that bill.
As for the ride itself, it’s quite charming with several very nice effects. There is a water effect as you “go under the water” at the beginning of the ride that is very well done. The animatronics do a good job of contributing to the telling of the story (though Sebastian’s eyes glow a little too brightly in some scenes) and it’s an enjoyable trip through some lovely scenes and some even lovelier air conditioning. We did take a second ride going through the standby queue with a very short wait, and I was actually a little sad to walk through the line so quickly and miss some of the details in the queue surroundings. (I’m sure I’ll get to study them next July when the crowds are larger, though, so there’s that to look forward to.) I highly recommend it to you on your next trip, especially if you’re already in the area. Here’s a link to my other photos in and around JotLM.
Before we move on, though, I need to know if I’m crazy here, or if these guys (below) are intentional nods to Epcot’s Figment.
We did not get back to meet Ariel in her new surroundings and back in her tail, though the waits we saw posted weren’t terrible. Around 11:00 am, the wait time sign was at 20 minutes, and it was at 30 minutes when we left around 2:00 pm. Considering the wait times Ariel and Prince Eric used to command at the Adventureland Veranda, those aren’t outrageous waits at all, really.
As for Gaston’s Tavern, which is currently the only source of food in the area other than the popcorn/ice cream cart near JotLM, it is clearly meant only as a secondary food location. Other than the pork shank, every other item on the menu is a snack, like chips and hummus or apple slices with caramel dip. We tried the pork shank (tasty, but heavy on the pepper and very greasy) and we also split a LeFeu’s Brew, which is a frozen concoction that is a gold-ish color with a foamy topping. If you’ve seen a frozen Butterbeer from Universal’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter, it’s very similar to that (which I can’t think is a coincidence). It is mostly an apple base with a fruity foam (mango/passionfruit) and a “hint of marshmallow” according to the signage. The taste is difficult to describe. I can pick out all of those flavors in the drink except for the marshmallow flavor, which I couldn’t really get a sense of. It’s not bad, especially if you like apple juice, but I’m not sure it’s super-awesome-great, either, and at $4.50 on its own or $10 with a souvenir (plastic) mug, I’m not sure how many more are in my future.
We also went to Enchanted Tales with Belle, where the queue stayed steady at around 45 minutes for the three or so hours we were there. The wait is less comfortable than many other next-gen queues being built around the parks, with more than half of your likely wait being completely uncovered. Even at today’s 80-85ish temperatures, we felt a little baked out there in the sun until we reached the shorter section near the end of the queue with overhead coverings. There is the exterior of Maurice’s cottage to admire before you reach the indoor section, which offers a lot of detail and things to see, but it’s tough to really enjoy it in mid-day Florida sun. I recommend seeing this attraction either right when it opens (if you can get into a short early day queue for it) or sometime other than the 12pm-3pm timeframe when the sun is at its least forgiving.
Once inside and on our trip back to the day Belle and the Beast fell in love, I have nothing less than praise for the theming and detail. The effects (there’s a magic mirror effect and two very well done animatronic characters) are examples of Imagineering’s best work. When it came time to pick people to play characters in the retelling of Belle’s story, however, we started to run into problems. Suddenly, all the children who’d been animated and lively during our wait (including mine!) turned into shrinking violets who were too shy to imagine taking part in the story. Our session had characters populated mostly by adults, though a few children were talked into participating when a parent offered to stand with them. Thankfully, the adults who were pressed into service (including me, I was a laughing portrait) got through the story with smiles on our faces and Belle acted suitably impressed.
At the end of the story, everyone who played a character was introduced to Belle as “Lord (name)” or “Lady (name)” and given a special bookmark, and we all had a little photo op moment with Belle. Many of you have probably read elsewhere that those who did not have a role in the story do not get a photo and moment with Belle, and that was true in our group today. There were no autographs (no one asked, but I can’t really see where you’d have an opportunity to ask the way things are set up) and also, the cast members did not pass out the special bookmark doodads to anyone not participating. With waits already in the 45 minute range for a relatively low crowd level season, I’m not sure I’m excited at the possibility that a lot of complaints lead to changes in the setup where everyone who wishes to get a photo with Belle is given time to do so, which will push wait times up very quickly. I am sure that people will complain, though, and I’m interested to see what the reaction will be and if any changes will be made after the attraction has been open for awhile. You can see more photos of Enchanted Tales with Belle, including some nice details from the walk through Maurice’s cottage, here.
That sums up our afternoon at the dress rehearsal pretty nicely. Are you excited to visit New Fantasyland on your next trip?