What Do Changes to the Fantasyland Expansion Mean for Guests?

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Yesterday Disney confirmed what has been rumored for weeks now: That plans for the elaborate Fantasyland expansion have been re-tooled in an attempt to balance what many perceive as being too  “princess” oriented, leaving very little for boys and adults.  Why the change? Well the obvious reason is that Disney has a new Parks and Resorts Chairman, Tom  Staggs, who reportedly had reservations about the project for the just that reason.  Others say it’s in response to Universal Studio’s opening of the Harry Potter attraction.   What does this mean for the expansion? Well, it’s still a go.  Disney has said that most of what was promised will happen including, one assumes, the Little Mermaid dark ride.  Construction is still taking place behind those walls and the company has said that the completion is still on schedule, sometime in 2012-13. 

One of the most persistent rumors has been that the whole Pixie Hollow idea has been scrapped.  No one from Disney has confirmed this, but the idea of a entire section of the park nearly the size of Mickey’s Toon Town Fair being devoted to Tinkerbell and friends has always seemed a bit out of step with what fans want to see. Yes, a small meet in greet is probably called for.  But I don’t actually know any little girls who, despite full shelves of fairy themed toys sitting tantalizingly in the stores, are interested in playing with Tink and her friends.   

One of my criticisms of the Fantasyland expansion is that it’s too meet and greet heavy.   Now personally, I’m not a big fan of meet and greets, so I’m probably the worst person to opine on this subject, but having an entire land devoted to meeting one princess after the other seems to be too much waiting for too little.    It also seems dangerously limited to the three to eight-year old girl segment of the population.  Sure, there are activities planned at each meet and greet, but do you tour the parks that way?  We’re sort of a ride-oriented family, like most people.   We love the shows and parades, but meet and greets are probably the last thing on our list.  We do them if there’s no lines.   My daughter might want to slow down for a few minutes to make a birthday card for Princess Aurora, but her brothers do not.   I suspect that this means that moms will be waiting with their little girls while dads take the boys (and older girls) out to enjoy the action.   That doesn’t sound like too much fun for mom.

It looks like the “Dueling Dumbos” as it’s been called, is still in the works.  Dumbo will be relocated to the Toon Town area. If you haven’t seen the drawings, it’s two Dumbo rides right next to each other, with an interactive queue.   This is really a welcome change, as anyone who’s ever waited in this line can attest to.   The rumor is that the old Toon Town area will also be re-themed as a circus.  I keep wondering where this idea generated from. Sure, Dumbo is a popular ride, but most kids haven’t seen the movie or even the books.  And circuses are so politically incorrect at this point that most kids have never been and therefore have no frame of reference, which can be important for developing loyalty and interest in an attraction.  Most schools no longer do circus field trips and many parents refuse to take their children, so it would appear that a circus theme , while in keeping with the Dumbo attraction, is out of step with today’s kids and parents. 

One thing I don’t agree with is the idea that Disney is making these changes in response to the popularity of Universal’s Harry Potter attraction.  Disney is a very smart company and they have known about Harry Potter for years. In fact, Disney backed away from the franchise because Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling wanted too much control.  So it’s not like Disney was taken by surprise  by the popularity of the attraction. While the Fantasyland expansion itself may be an attempt by Disney to always have something more than Universal can offer, I don’t think the changes are a result of Disney being caught off guard by the popularity of Harry Potter. 

I think ultimately these changes are going to be great for guests.  I’ll admit it, I love the Disney Princesses, but even I saw the area as being too much for little girls.  Sure, I’d enjoy it myself, as would my daughter who will be the perfect age when the project is complete, but my boys would  not and I’m sure they’re not in the minority.  I also don’t think these changes should surprise anyone.  Any project this big is going to get some tweaking along the way.  I can’t wait to see the final project.

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