LAKE BUENA VISTA, Florida, December 23, 2012 — The opening of the Fantasyland expansion at the Magic Kingdom that took place on December 6 caps a year of change for Walt Disney World.
In fact, 2012 may go down as the most pivotal year in the resort’s history since its opening 41 years ago.
Three years ago, Disney officials announced a major overhaul and expansion of Fantasyland. In doing so, they closed, relocated or re-themed attractions and shuttered an entire themed land and dedicated a significant portion of the Magic Kingdom to the cash-cow line of princesses that have graced the big screen for years.
In what could be the biggest change that comes with the expansion, the Magic Kingdom will sell beer to park guests for the first time.
One new attraction, Under the Sea ~ Journey of the Little Mermaid follows Ariel above and below the sea. Disney is building a similar attraction at California Adventure, a park that many critics say hasn’t met expectations since it opened a decade ago.
“It’s so exciting to bring these classic Disney characters to life,” Chris Beatty, creative director for New Fantasyland, said in a news release. “To be able to recreate Ariel’s world and invite our guests to Prince Eric’s Castle and then under the sea to meet Ariel and her friends is something that’s truly magical.”
In addition to princesses, the Fantasyland expansion also includes an expanded Dumbo attraction and a revamped Walt Disney World Railroad station. And the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, will feature a one-of-a-kind ride system that sways back and forth as it heads down the track when it opens in 2014.
To make room for the expansion, Snow White’s Scary Adventure attraction has been shuttered to make way for a new character greeting location. Additionally, the entire Mickey’s Toontown Fair closed.
Outside the Magic Kingdom, the Disney’s Art of Animation Resort opened this summer. Although Disney has a number of budget resorts — including the All Star and the Pop Century resorts — aimed at keeping guests on property, this new property features suites with both a bedroom and a living room, an offering other budget resorts on Disney property have not included.
Disney’s Art of Animation Resort features 1,120 family suites – to be located in wings themed after popular animated movies: The Lion King, Cars and Finding Nemo – and 864 standard “themed” rooms – to be located in The Little Mermaid wing.
“We … feel really good about Fantasyland rolling out. It is … the first big improvement that we’ve done at the Magic Kingdom in about 40 years,” Bob Iger, chairman and CEO of The Walt Disney Co. said during an earnings call last month. “The product is already, in some cases, open and doing really well. And we think that’s going to drive some attendance gains at that Park.
“And then, lastly, we opened a big new hotel, Art of Animation, which features a family suite concept, which is growing in popularity in the marketplace,” Iger said, according to a transcript. “And the bookings for that hotel have been great.”
Still, Disney has an opportunity to further transform its theme parks, and 2012 could merely be the start of a major theme park reinvention.
The company recently announced it purchased Lucasfilm Ltd. from Lucasfilm Chairman and Founder George Lucas.
While Disney’s Hollywood Studios has featured a Star Tour attraction for years, and the park has hosted the annual Star War Weekends, the company could up the ante on integration of the Star Wars franchise into its parks – especially as additional films are released.
Similarly, in 2009, the company purchased Marvel Comics and now owns thousands of additional characters it can incorporate into its themes parks. For now, guests can find their Marvel fix at nearby Universal Studios Orlando, which licensed the right to use Marvel characters before Disney made its acquisition.
“We’ve had Star Wars in the past. This gives us the ability to expand that presence in our parks,” Iger said. “Marvel, in certain circumstances, because you may recall there are some encumbrances there, will give us an opportunity to expand, but … mostly internationally.”