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Heigh Ho Heigh Ho

It’s off to Fantasyland we go at Walt Disney World in Orlando.

Whether you’ve been to Walt Disney World Resort near Orlando, Fla., a dozen times or you’re planning your first visit, the magic will envelop you as soon as you enter the park; even sooner, if you’re staying at a Disney hotel.

dragon

In title: The Seven Dwarfs Mine Train ©Disney

Above: Maleficent the dragon ©Disney

Below: The MagicBand ©Disney

band

The park opened in 1971, and it is still evolving to keep the experience fresh and fun. Join us as we take a quick trip through some of the newest developments at the resort.

Fantasyland Expands

New Fantasyland is the largest expansion in the Magic Kingdom’s history, doubling the size of Fantasyland and tripling the number of castles. A multi-year expansion project that began in 2012, New Fantasyland lies just beyond the existing Fantasyland and is laid out fairytale-style, with waterfalls, grottoes, arched bridges, forests, and circus big tops. The skyline of the most popular theme park in the world now includes not only the iconic Cinderella Castle, but also the ramparts of Beast’s Castle and the stately Prince Eric’s Castle.

Walt Disney “Imagineers”–the creative team behind all the attractions at Disney parks–outdid themselves by bringing to life beloved Disney stories and putting guests in the middle of Disney classics and new favorites. An example of this is Princess Fairytale Hall, which opened in fall 2013. This attraction gives guests the chance to meet their favorite Disney princesses, including Queen Elsa and Princess Anna of Frozen and Rapunzel from Tangled.

Other rides in New Fantasyland put guests in a clamshell to explore the undersea world of Ariel and on a roller coaster to barnstorm with the Great Goofini. Stroll through a French village to spend time with Belle and play a part in her story.

The crowning jewel of the new expansion is Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, which opened in 2014. This family-friendly roller coaster is accompanied by music and scenes from the world of Snow White and Sleepy, Doc, Grumpy, Bashful, Sneezy, Happy, and Dopey.

The Festival of Fantasy parade brings the stories and characters of Fantasyland to life on Main Street, U.S.A., with eye-popping floats, colorful costumes, and a soundtrack that features popular songs from beloved Disney films. Don’t miss the Maleficent dragon; it’s 53 feet long, 26 feet tall with fiery eyes and a prickly spinning wheel in the center.

A major improvement to the park experience is the development of interactive queues, which keep visitors entertained while waiting in line. At the Dumbo the Flying Elephant ride, for example, the air-conditioned waiting area has benches for the parents and a circus-themed play area for youngsters.

High tech for big fun

The latest step in the ongoing quest to make the Disney experience better is the development of MyMagic+, a constantly evolving umbrella program with the ability to connect and customize almost all aspects of the Disney guest experience. Key components are My Disney Experience, FastPass+, and MagicBand.

Before you leave home, you can build a personal guide on the My Disney Experience Web site. Make dining reservations, connect with family and friends to coordinate plans and share photos, and navigate the parks with ease with new online maps.

FastPass+ lets guests select attractions and experiences and lock in their must-do favorites ahead of time. No longer is it necessary to be at the park gate the minute it opens and race to your desired attractions to reserve a ride; you can do it in advance. The new FastPass+ offers more than twice as many options as before, including the ability to reserve fireworks and parade viewing areas, shows, and character greetings.

The latest must-have fashion accessory at Walt Disney World is the MagicBand, a bracelet that unlocks the magic of the park–everything from opening your Disney Resort hotel room to buying food or souvenirs, entering the parks, and more. Just scan your bracelet. MagicBands are available for $12.95 plus tax at Disney theme parks; Disney Resort guests receive a MagicBand at no extra cost.

For those who would prefer to unplug and turn the smart phone off, don’t worry. Paper maps are readily available at all parks. Guests can choose to not participate in MyMagic+ or to use a card instead of MagicBand.

Disney for adults

It’s a fact that adults love Disney parks. Epcot, in particular, appeals to the older crowd, and creative restaurants and dining options help seal the deal.

You’ll think you’ve been magically transported to Morocco when you stop by the Spice Road Table in the Morocco Pavilion at Epcot World Showcase. Opened in 2014, the restaurant features Mediterranean small plates and specialty drinks in a setting filled with tile work, tapestries, and art representative of Morocco. The outdoor terrace dining area is perfect for viewing “IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth,” the nightly fireworks show.

The Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival will be March 4–May 17 this year. In addition to bountiful blooms, you can attend gardening seminars and outdoor kitchen demonstrations.

Staying in a Disney property

Visiting Walt Disney World Resort can be expensive, but there are splurges that are definitely worth it, and top among them is staying at a Disney property. Almost every travel guide advises staying at a Disney property. A big advantage to staying on site is the early and easy access to the Monorail and other park transportation.

Another innovative service for resort hotel guests is Disney’s Magical Express, which coordinates airport shuttle, luggage delivery, and airline check-in. Printed boarding passes will magically appear in your room the day of your departure. This complimentary service is designed to provide stress-free travel, and it delivers.

Looking ahead

Downtown Disney is in the midst of a multi-year transformation into Disney Springs, which will offer more than 150 shopping, dining, and entertainment options, set amid open-air promenades and meandering streams. Scheduled for completion in 2016, Disney Springs will re-create the feel of a Florida waterfront town. It will have four interconnected outdoor neighborhoods; The Landing will open later this year with two restaurants, The BOATHOUSE and Morimoto Asia.

A Frozen attraction is scheduled to open at Epcot’s Norway Pavilion in 2016. At Disney’s Animal Kingdom, the mythical world of Pandora, inspired by James Cameron’s AVATAR, will open in 2017. Disney guests will be able to see, hear, or touch the bioluminescent rain forests, floating mountains, and soaring Banshees of Pandora.

When you’re writing your list of New Year’s resolutions, include making memories to last a lifetime. Then let the Disney magic turn that dream into reality.

Barbara Gibbs Ostmann is a contributor from Gerald, Missouri.

January/February 2015 Issue

BEFORE YOU GO

January is Disney Month at AAA. Whether a trip to a Disney resort is an annual vacation for you and your family or it is your first time to embrace Disney magic, leave it to the experts at AAA Travel to take you step-by-step through all things Disney and help you plan the perfect vacation. Visit your local AAA Travel office during Disney Month and enter to win a Disney-themed gift basket. View a list of offices to serve you.

Offer subject to change without notice; certain restrictions may apply.



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