By Bill Burke
The ongoing expansion at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom has taken a few noticeable steps forward in the past few days.
A massive statue of “Beauty and the Beast” villain Gaston has arrived on-site, and is now being put in place in the midst of the as-yet unfinished Belle’s Village section of Fantasyland Forest. Gaston, who will take his place in a fountain, joins the Be Our Guest restaurant (a new quick service by day/table service by night restaurant set in Beast’s Castle,) Gaston’s Tavern (actually a misnomer, because the Magic Kingdom is a dry park) and Bonjour Gifts.
Here are the latest projected dates for the largest, most expensive expansion in Magic Kingdom history:
- Under the Sea: Journey of the Little Mermaid is a dark ride bringing guests below the waves to join scenes from the classic Disney film. Disney projects this attraction will open by the holidays in 2012.
- Enchanted Tales with Belle where guests will be transported by a magical mirror into an immersive storytelling experience is expected to open by the holidays.
- The Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, a coaster using a first-of-its-kind ride system where the attractions’ mine cars swing back and forth through a curving, plunging diamond mine, will open in 2014.
- Princess Fairytale Hall – Say goodbye to the Snow White’s Scary Adventures attraction, and say hello to Tiana, Cinderella, et al. Meet Disney’s royalty in the Castle Courtyard right in the center of Fantasyland. A castle entrance of stone, stained glass windows and princess portraits will lend this meet-and-greet area a noble atmosphere. Expect to get your princess hugs by late 2013.
Already open in the ongoing project are the Great Goofini’s Barnstormer coaster, the Casey Jr. Splash ‘n’ Soak Station, the Fantasyland Train Station and now 2 Dumbo the Flying Elephant attractions. As one whirls through the sky clockwise, its twin takes guests on a counter-clockwise journey. The queue area for the newest Dumbo attraction is inside, awash in glorious air conditioning and featuring a play area for kids to cavort in. Parents are given a pager, which alerts them when its time to get back in line.
Also this week, guests have discovered that Disney has quietly opened free Wi-Fi access throughout the Magic Kingdom. Agree to Disney’s terms-of-service and you’re on your way. Speeds and connection have been reported as spotty, as is cellular service in the park. The Wi-Fi is expected to play a role in Disney’s NextGen system, designed to take advantage of technology to better customize and enhance guest experience.
Disney rolled out free Wi-Fi throughout its resorts earlier this summer.