updated 12/24/2012 AT 9:00 AM ET
•originally published 12/24/2012 AT 10:25 AM ET
Poor Cinderella may not have a stocking to hang by the chimney with care, but she does have that choice bit of Florida real estate: her own castle smack in the middle of Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom.
This season, she isn’t the only Disney princess with a stronghold to call home. Ariel from The Little Mermaid and Belle from Beauty and the Beast now boast their own splashy attractions in the recently launched New Fantasyland, which more than doubles the original 10 acres of the most popular section of the most popular park in the world’s most popular resort. (Yes, expect crowds.)
“To all those who are young, and young at heart,” Once Upon a Time star Ginnifer Goodwin – joined by Jordin Sparks, Walt Disney Parks and Resorts chairman Thomas Staggs and Mickey Mouse – said at the Dec. 6 dedication ceremony. The actress also said, “The castles here are far more beautiful than they are on Once Upon a Time – with no trolls or giants to worry about.”
As for the New Fantasyland landscape, which includes an Enchanted Forest, Ariel oversees a sea grotto, where her Under the Sea – Journey of The Little Mermaid and meet-and-greet photo-taking perch can be found. For the musical adventure, guests board giant clamshells to relive the 1991 feature, with the characters brought to life through both animation and Audio-Animatronics.
Belle’s tale is represented by the French-inspired Be My Guest restaurant inside the richly detailed castle of the Beast, replete with gently falling snow outside the ornate ballroom. There’s also the ominous west wing (where the Beast’s portrait morphs into one of the handsome prince). Less elaborate meals may be taken at the nearby Gaston’s Tavern, in the village square.
Inside Belle’s cottage, Enchanted Tales with Belle, an immersive story-telling experience, is all but stolen by the highly advanced Audio-Animatronic figure of Lumière, the loquacious candlestick holder.
Cinderella really doesn’t go wanting, either. At night, her castle turns into the backdrop for a spectacular holiday lightshow that even manages to convert one of its turrets into an accelerating rocket.
More royal action still lies ahead in the New Year, with the Princess Fairytale Hall, where Tiana from The Princess and the Frog and Rapunzel from Tangled will be able to meet and greet their subjects. Meanwhile, currently to the west of Ariel is the brand new Storybook Circus area, home to Dumbo, which also has doubled in size with two teams of flying elephants. As it is, the waiting queues have been abandoned in favor of one large, circus-tented play area for kids.
The heart of New Fantasyland remains a construction site for the upcoming (for 2014) Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. Staggs describes it as a “family friendly” roller coaster, less intense than Thunder Mountain and featuring patented Disney technology that will allow the rider to swing in the cars, as if on a real mine train. Inside its tunnels, the train will slow so guests can observe Snow White’s pals in humorous action.
Until then, those with an immediate need for speed may monorail it over to Epcot, for the newly refurbished Test Track. Here, drivers design their own Chevrolets before zooming through a Tron-like raceway at a white-knuckle speed of up to 65 m.p.h. Try getting Santa’s sleigh to do that.