No matter which Magic Kingdom you are in, behind the castle you will find yourself in Fantasyland. Fantasyland is in many ways the most popular areas of the park. Many of the park’s most popular rides are located here – including Dumbo, Small World, Peter Pan, and in Tokyo Winnie the Pooh (Pooh is in Fantasyland in Florida and Hong Kong too, but isn’t as popular). You would think with so many rides being the same, that the lands themselves would be essentially identical. But you would be wrong. In many ways, the Fantasylands are more different from each other than any other corresponding lands (besides the ToonTown areas).
Original Peter Pan's Flight in Disneyland (see later photo to compare to today's ride building).
The original Fantasyland in California started with at “Medieval Faire” theme in 1955. This same theme was extended to the Magic Kingdom in Florida (WDW) in 1971 and then to Tokyo Disneyland (TDL) in 1983. While this theme was being built in TDL, the original in California was getting a major facelift to replace the Medieval Faire theme with the look of a Bavarian village. When Disneyland Paris (DLP) was built in 1992 they mostly followed the DL reboot and used the Bavarian village theme – with some of the ride buildings being exact copies of those in California (Snow White and Pinocchio). However in 2005, the Medieval Faire came back (sort of) with the building of Hong Kong Disneyland (HKDL). HKDL’s Fantasyland is really small, so there are only two real “ride buildings” besides Small World. I’m not sure why tent theme is so popular. Supposedly the only reason it was used in 1955 was lack of money – and that is clearly no longer an issue.
Thankfully Florida seems to finally be abandoning the theme as they spend millions of dollars to remake Fantasyland with the largest expansion ever. Of course this is only in terms of acreage. The gigantic expansion will result in only a one ride gain for WDW, still leaving it behind DL by 3-4 rides. It will however, finally have one ride completely unique to the WDW Fantasyland – the Seven Dwarves’ Mine Train. But to gain this, it is losing Snow White’s Scary Adventure. This will be the second original dark ride to close at WDW. In 1999, Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride was closed in favor of the Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. DL managed to hang on to Mr. Toad’s while adding Pooh to Critter Country (though I’ve included it here for continuity’s sake).
Having now been to both WDW and DL, I can see how DL’s Fantasyland really feels SO much more how the Storybooks paint the picture. It was a lot more fantasy-like and I liked it a lot more than the feel of the WDW Fantasyland. This was also due to the lack of maintenance and care given to the WDW version. I’ll talk more about how this affects the overall feel of WDW’s Fantasyland as I talk about some specific rides.
DL on left, WDW on right. The Bavarian village look gives a much richer guest experience. The medieval tent look by contrast looks old and cheap (which it is/was).
Of course, many who have been to all 5 Fantasylands say that Disneyland Paris outranks them all. I think this picture certainly makes it seem fantastical. This seems to be similar (though not exact) to the look and feel that Imagineers are promising for Florida once the expansion is complete. Let’s hope so…I can’t wait to visit this place in March.
Fantasyland in Disneyland Paris
I’m not really sure what order to go in when comparing these lands, so I will start with my favorite and go from there.
Peter Pan’s Flight
Peter Pan is my favorite Disney ride – period. This is of course a nostalgia thing, but I love the sense of flying above London and Never Never Land. I love some of the thrill rides, too – but my overall favorite has always been Peter Pan. Peter Pan’s Flight is only located in four out of the five parks. Hong Kong Disneyland (HKDL) seems to be missing a lot of the dark rides that have been the bread and butter of Fantasylands since 1955. While the interior of these rides is fairly similar, with some of them being slightly longer, the exteriors are very different – at least in pairs, anyway. Both WDW and TDL have the Medieval Faire frontage similar to their original concepts – though the actual look has changed through the years. They also look very similar to each other except that the Florida version has some 3D figures on the front of the tent. Both California and Paris have the Bavarian village theme, so their buildings give the sense of a Tudor manor house (even though that would be English, not Bavarian) – but it fits Peter Pan.
WDW Fantasyland musings that relate to Pan
According to published reports, part of the New Fantasyland at WDW will be the creation of a new walkway between Fantasyland an Liberty Square going through where the old Skyway terminal was located. Part of this expansion will bring new bathrooms. The old bathrooms located at the back of the Pan building will be removed and taken in as part of a new, expanded Pan queue (which for anyone who has ever waited in line for Peter Pan knows, this is a very needed thing). My hope is that rather than just an expanded queue, they will effectively move Peter Pan’s entrance around the side of the current structure and re-theme it away from the Medieval tent look. This would do two things. First it would greatly reduce the bottle neck between Pan and Small World. Second it would almost entirely remove the tent-like exteriors from WDW Fantasyland. The one in front of Winnie the Pooh is already gone in the first phase of the remake and the one in front of Snow White will be gone as they remake that area into the Disney Princess Meet-n-Greet. This will leave only Mickey’s Phillharmagic, which doesn’t have a huge tent-like look, and Small World, whose tent look can be incorporated into the overall Small World building. Speaking of Small World….
It’s a Small World
It’s a Small World is a perennial favorite in Fantasyland. It has by far the largest OHRC (Optimum Hourly Ride Capacity) of any ride in the land. While most rides in Fantasyland will carry between 500-1000 guests per hour, Small World (in Florida at least) can run at around 2500 at peak times. This idea of efficiency and maximizing guests is one of my pet peeves about WDW, however. Having now been to both WDW and DL, one of the things I noticed was that the primary design element in Florida was not the story but how many people you could push through the ride at a time. This led to some disastrous (in my opinion) choices in building design. The Small World building is the worst offender. Instead of going with the separate Small World building like the one in California (which was added a decade after Fantasyland opened), Imagineers decided to have Small World blend in to the rest of Fantasyland when they built WDW in ’71. It is clear that even the Imagineers recognized the mistake since they have never repeated this design in ANY of the subsequent parks. Tokyo, Paris, and Hong Kong all have Small World buildings that match the original.
The other disaster in Small World design in Florida is its location (also a mistake they didn’t make twice). Rather than giving the largest ride the most space, they crammed it into a corner right across from Peter Pan (the second most popular ride other than Dumbo). Having these two directly across from each other has created a nightmarish bottleneck that necessitates Cast Members being paid to stand and direct foot traffic. They are trying to fix this with the new entryway into Liberty Square (mentioned previously), but the travesty is that with all the land they had in Central Florida they decided to skimp and shove it all so close together in this one spot. Especially since they left out so many other rides.
The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (Pooh’s Hunny Hunt)
This ride is new in all the parks. I’ve ridden it in both Florida and California and they are both somewhat underwhelming. Technically, it is located in Critter Country in California causing the extinction of the Country Bear Jamboree. In Florida, the Country Bears survive, but Mr. Toad was dealt an untimely death in order to welcome a more popular resident to the block. From reading online, it seems that the Tokyo version of this ride is the one more faithful to the concept I originally heard about while working in Fantasyland and WDW in 1998. It has vehicles independently operated by computers rather than on tracks. Then as the ride progresses, the cars move around seemingly randomly while the rooms also move to become part of the ride (so you blow away in the blustery day room, bounce in the Tigger room, etc.). Sadly TDL is the only version to incorporate this ride system, so the rest of the Pooh rides are second-rate cousins. Nothing horrible, just not the same.
You can see that the Pooh ride buildings all got very different treatments as well. The original Florida building matched the HKDL version, but it was recently redone as the first phase in the New Fantasyland expansion. I like the direction they went with the new frontage in Florida. The DL version has a carved wood theme to go with Critter Country and Tokyo has a giant storybook (reminiscent of Storybook ride in DLP – see below). Pooh has yet to make an appearance at DLP.
Snow White’s Scary Adventure (Blanche-Neige et les Sept Nains)
The Snow White ride is one of the oldest in Fantasyland. As mentioned above, it only has a short life left in Florida before being removed in favor of a Princess Meet-n-Greet area. This was necessitated by the addition of the Seven Dwarves’ Mine Train which is set to open in late 2013. Originally the princesses were going to each have their own area in the New Fantasyland, but there were a lot of complaints that all the new stuff was VERY girl-centric. In response Disney dropped the Aurora and Cinderella areas and added the Mine Train. They figured having one Snow White ride was enough, so they are ditching the original dark ride in favor of more princesses to meet the demand of photo-ops. In the end it is probably better, because the Princess Meet-n-Greet can be themed with the castle and we can be rid of one more tent facade in Fantasyland (poor TDL seems stuck with theirs). In DL and DLP, Snow White has the exact same ride building – which is much more in keeping with how you think the ride would look. The one thing we noticed in riding the one in California is that it didn’t have the same happy ending as it does in Florida – rather you ended the ride with the evil queen dropping a rock on you. How fun!
Pinocchio’s Daring Journey (Les Voyages de Pinocchio)
I’ve never really understood why this ride didn’t get built at WDW in 1971 – it was already in existence at DL – and clearly was popular enough that it was built in both Tokyo and Paris. The Paris version directly mimics the original while the TDL version has it’s own unique building. Perhaps it wasn’t built in Florida because they built 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea in Fantasyland rather than Tomorroland (which is where it would fit better at this point). In the end, however, the demise of 20K was the first step in clearing the way for a new Fantasyland expansion, so perhaps it was all for the best. But I still think this ride should be added in Florida. It would have been easy to figure that out as a part of the expansion – and then net two rides instead of just one. Oh well – if I ruled Disney World! 😛
California and Paris
Both DL and DLP share a couple of rides that you won’t find anywhere else in the Disney Kingdoms – Casey Jr.’s Circus Train and the Storybook Land Canal Boats – though the boats go by a different name in Paris (translated as the Land of Fairy Tales). With the addition of Storybook Circus to WDW in 2012, I’m not sure why the Circus Train didn’t come along, but it didn’t. The space needed for it is part of the reason – and I’m sure in Paris it follows around the canal boats and the miniature kingdom – which won’t be in Florida. But it seems that there could have been a better way to work in Casey Jr. besides a souvenir shop.
Then there are the unique rides. Of course DL has more – two as a matter of fact: Alice in Wonderland and Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. Of course Mr. Toad’s didn’t used to be unique, but as discussed before it was ripped away from WDW fans in 1999. Again, I’m not sure why Alice in Wonderland wasn’t brought to Florida or any of the other parks. It was actually a really good ride. In Paris they have Alice’s Curious Labyrinth which seems to be a walk through. Hong Kong has a similar attraction in Fantasy Gardens, which seems to have character greeting as well. Unfortunately for Tokyo, there are no unique rides in Fantasyland – except the Haunted Mansion (which is of course not unique, just unique in Fantasyland). Also, according to the official map, the Matterhorn is in Fantasyland, though they can’t seem to decide where it really belongs (sometimes Fantasyland, sometimes Tomorrowland) and when I was there it seemed to be its own thing.
Standard Carnival Fair
The rest of Fantasyland is rounded out by three pretty basic ride mechanisms that I didn’t think were worth a bunch of space – since they aren’t really unique to Disney – it’s just the theming that is. These include the Carousel, the tea cups (Mad Hatter or Alice’s depending upon the park), and Dumbo. Dumbo in Florida, however, is undergoing a major renovation that will make it somewhat unique. Due to the popularity of the flying pachyderms, Dumbo is moving from the center of Fantasyland to anchor the Storybook Circus with the rethemed Barnstormer. They are adding a second turntable to double the ride capacity and including an interactive queue that will include games to play while you wait (instead of standing in a boring switch-back queue in the 90+ degree heat). I’ll write more about that when I write about Mickey’s ToonTown and its various incarnations, but here is an artist’s rendering of where they are going with it.
Double turntables for Dumbo!
And that’s my take on Fantasyland – it might take me longer to get through the park than I originally thought. Though I think I had more to say about Fantasyland than the rest of the lands. Up next, ToonTown….