New Disney World Attractions To Bring Immersive Experience

Walt Disney World in Florida has some new attractions on the way. The new Fantasyland at Magic Kingdom park will be home to the Enchanted Forest, a new park within a park, inspired by the popular Disney films “The Little Mermaid” and “Beauty and the Beast.” The Enchanted Forest officially opens December 6, 2012, but we got a sneak peek during dress rehearsals last weekend, open to the public.

Eventually hosting lush landscapes, roaring waterfalls and two new castles, guests will be able to ride under the sea with a little mermaid, dine in a beast’s castle and even join a “beauty” for a retelling of the “tale as old as time.”

On our visit, we stopped by Enchanted Tales With Belle, an interactive experience (as opposed to a “ride”) that begins when an enchanted mirror transported us from Belle’s house to Beast’s library, where Belle and Lumière invite guests to become part of a lively retelling of the “tale as old as time.”

Unique here is that groups are small and many are invited to participate in the experience that brings guests up close and personal with live action characters from Beauty and the Beast. This is not a passive, sit around and watch attraction.Steps away, Gaston’s Tavern was also open, serving LeFou’s Brew, Roasted Pork Shanks and other snacks. LeFou’s Brew looks like a mug of beer but is actually a “non-alcoholic no-sugar added frozen apple juice with a hint of toasted marshmallow, topped with all-natural passion fruit-mango foam,” we were told. Roasted pork shanks, so popular they ran out while we were there, fit right in with the tavern designed to look like a comfy lodge in the French countryside.

Not all attractions are open as work progresses. A Be Our Guest Restaurant will soon invite guests to savor the classic cuisine of France. Ariel’s Grotto is close to Under the Sea~Journey of The Little Mermaid attraction where Ariel will be on hand to meet new friends, sign autographs and pose for photos. In the same area and opening in 2014, a massive Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, will take guests through the Dwarfs’ diamond mine, along the countryside and on to their cottage to meet up with Snow White and her pals.

New Fantasyland is opening in phases for the largest expansion in the history of Magic Kingdom park, nearly doubling in size and offering more immersive enchantment and interactive experiences.

[Flickr photos by ChrisCruises]

Disneyland in Sand: The Blankenberge Sand Sculpture Festival

If you’re traveling near Brugge, Belgium, over the next two weeks, you might be wondering if you took a wrong turn somewhere and ended up in the outskirts of Paris. No worries – your GPS is not broken – you’ve just stumbled upon the annual Blankenberge Sand Sculpture festival. This year’s theme happens to be the recreation of the Disneyland Paris Resort, based on the Magical Moments Festival currently underway.

Drawing a team of nearly 40 of the most talented artists in the world, Blankenberge’s Sand Sculpture Festival is a world-renowned event that continues to grow each year. In 2010, it set the world record for the longest sculpture promenade at 841.80 meters – more than a two hour walk!

While past festival themes have taken inspiration from Disney elements, the recreation of an entire Disney theme park in 125 sand sculptures is a first.

Enter the first festival tent and find yourself in the middle of Disneyland Paris’ Main Street, U.S.A. Intricate details and elements are vividly captured in each of the sculptures, helping to bring that special Disney magic to life.

As you wind through the tent, the sculptures seemingly get more detailed and larger than life as you now find yourself in Fantasyland with iconic Disney attractions, like Dumbo the Flying Elephant and the Casey Jr. Train.

Much like each of the Disney Theme Parks, the central focal point is the iconic princess castle. The tallest and most elaborate sculpture in the initial display tent is undoubtedly Sleeping Beauty’s castle, which is flanked by many legendary and modern day Disney princesses.

While most people stopped to admire the castle for what seemed like hours, I found myself drawn to the labyrinth that was just ahead. Next to the 3-D experience of watching Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland movie – or perhaps a visit to an Amsterdam coffee shop – this is probably the closest any of us will get to “being” Alice.

%Gallery-132752%Nearly one-third of the first tent was devoted to Alice and her labyrinth. Each turn presented a sensory overload with walls of sculptures and iconic Alice in Wonderland characters. Pose by the Cheshire Cat, have tea with the Mad Hatter, or take a toke with Absolem the Blue Caterpillar

In what has been a seemingly wet summer for parts of Europe, the outdoor sculptures have fared surprisingly well. Here you can walk around many iconic Disney “E-Ticket” attractions including Big Thunder Railroad, Space Mountain, Hollywood Tower of Terror, and my personal favorite – Phantom Manor – Disneyland Paris’ version of the Haunted Mansion. Complete with the cemetery, a visit on a stormy day is definitely a great way to get in the Halloween spirit now!

Another tent includes an ode to Disney movies and everyone’s favorite pirate – Jack Sparrow. A mix between notable Pirates of the Caribbean attraction elements and the movie characters, this is a definite festival highlight for many Disney fans.

Sadly, it seems the pirates in the jail scene might’ve had their sentence lengthened since the dog’s key didn’t survive the duration of the festival. You’d almost have to assume since they’ve been trying to bribe the dog since 1967, one more year won’t make that much of a difference.

Other Disney classics include characters from Peter Pan, The Lion King, and even The Jungle Book. And it wouldn’t be a complete recreation of Disneyland Paris without the one-year-old Toy Story Playland and Disney-Pixar characters, showcased in the third and final tent.

Despite Disney fans’ divided opinions on the land as a whole, you can’t help but love the artists’ whimsical recreations of Toy Story Playland elements, including the entrance marquee. Represented Pixar movies include Wall-E, Monsters, Inc., Ratatouille, and Cars 2.

If you are interested in visiting the Blankenberge Sand Sculpture Festival this year, you better hurry as the Disney magic ends on September 12. The festival is open 10am – 7pm daily and prices are €11 for adults, €9 for students and 60+, €7 for children between 4-12 years old, and children under 3 are free.

Don’t despair just yet if you didn’t make this year’s Disneyland themed festival. There’s a chance you might be able to see something similar at one of the Disney Theme Parks in the future. While nothing is official yet, has reported that representatives from Disneyland Paris and Walt Disney World held talks to discuss the potential of building sand sculptures in both theme parks. With Walt Disney World’s 40th anniversary right around the corner on October 1st, and Disneyland Paris approaching its 20th anniversary next year, anything is possible with a little pixie dust.

Space Mountain shut down after rider found unconscious

It wasn’t all fun and games in Orlando Florida this afternoon as Walt Disney World shut down the Space Mountain ride for inspection Saturday after a woman was found unconscious at the end of the ride.

“Our thoughts and concerns are with the guest and her family. We have sent a representative to the hospital to assist them with their needs,” Walt Disney World spokeswoman Andrea Finger told WESH 2 News.

The 48-year-old woman was treated by emergency services and taken to a local hospital in Orlando. While condition of the woman was not yet available, Disney said that it appeared to be a medical issue and not a result of an injury or ride malfunction.

Walt Disney World personnel are examining the ride to ensure it is safe. It is normal procedure for the theme parks to shut down, inspect and test a ride when someone becomes injured or seriously ill.

This is not the first problem with the ride. In 2006 a 7-year-old boy, a terminal cancer patient visiting as a part of the Give Kids the World program, fainted after riding Space Mountain, was taken to a local hospital where he died of natural causes.

Also in 2006, a 73-year-old man lost consciousness while riding Space Mountain and died three days later. The medical examiner found that the man died of natural causes due to a heart condition.

Flickr photo by BestofWDW

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Disney begins construction on a new ship in Pappenburg Germany

At a ceremony in Pappenburg, Germany this week, Disney Cruise Lines marked another milestone in the expansion of it’s fleet of magical cruise ships.

Assisted by Karl Holz, President of Disney Cruise Line, Minnie Mouse presided over the keel laying ceremony at they Meyer-Werft shipyard where new Disney Fantasy, twin to recently launched Disney Dream will be constructed.

The keel laying ceremony is a significant milestone in the ship building process when the first block, or section of the ship, is lowered into the building dock and a coin is placed under the keel for good fortune.

Not to be a twin sister to Disney Dream, new Fantasy will have many of the same features but also some new design elements and guest experiences that will give the ship a unique identity all her own. Different from Disney Dream sailing 3 and 4-night sailings, the new Disney Fantasy will sail week-long itineraries. Both will sail from Florida’s Port Canaveral where guests can easily add on a stay at Walt Disney World either before or after sailing.

“Disney begins construction on a new ship in Pappenburg Germany” is not the only news about Disney. The company that represents quality family entertainment world-wide is also embracing social media as we see in this video.

Disney vacations: Why we go

Walt Disney World
is the most visited resort in the world. Other Disney resorts and Disney cruises remain huge destinations worldwide. Yet, a Disney vacation is also maligned by many people.

Believe me, I’ve heard all the negatives: It’s overly programmed; it’s pedestrian; it’s gimmicky; it’s hot and miserable (or cold and miserable, as the case may be).

And as a journalist who covers Disney, I have to admit that many of my trips to “The World” feel a whole lot more like work than vacation, even with my family in tow.

After a marathon couple of weeks trying to cover all the holiday happenings at Disney Parks, I spent the first half of January in Disney burn-out. But I was reminded again last week why I – and many other moms – bring our kids on Disney vacations.

While watching the fireworks at the Magic Kingdom, Tinker Bell took off from Cinderella Castle to make her nightly flight. My 7-year-old daughter, who has seen these same fireworks dozens of times, turned to me, eyes sparkling, and squealed, “Mom, Tinkerbell waved at ME!”

I cannot even express the joy I felt in that moment. I can only say it was worth a million not-so-great moments waiting in line, sweating, and dealing with kids’ meltdowns and obnoxious grown-ups on vacation.

It’s a sentiment Walt Disney Company CEO Bob Iger agreed with when I interviewed him last week on board the Disney Dream.

A father and grandfather himself, Iger has a built-in focus group at home, and it keeps him centered on Disney’s core values.

“Watching through my kids’ eyes reinforces the richest and most valuable quality of Disney – the impact we have on kids and families,” Iger said.

Sure, enjoying a Disney vacation requires a little leap, a little suspension of reality. And no, it doesn’t give you a sense of the place you’ve traveled or a look into the real people who live there.

But I still urge you to try it sometime. And when you do, go with a kid.

Because as far as I’m concerned, Tinker Bell really does fly out of Cinderella Castle every night. And she really did pick my daughter out of the crowd last week and wave specifically at her.

And it was magical.