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Whoa, Momma!

Sharon Kennedy Wynne, Tracey Henry and Suzannah DiMarzio

Disney unfolding biggest expansion ever



dumbo.jpgOur colleague Mark Albright reports here that Walt Disney World is starting to unfold many of the new features coming out of its largest expansion ever.

Already unveiled this month is the new retro-style Dumbo, a spinning ride that opened at Walt Disney World that sports lighted fountains, Dumbo's mom's adoring face and golden storks delivering the flying cartoon elephant. Soon, Disney will open a second Dumbo ride next door to shorten the notoriously long lines. And parents will find some relief once the lines move inside a new air-conditioned tent outfitted with a themed play area to occupy their young kids.

It's just the start of the biggest-ever expansion of the 142-acre Magic Kingdom park, which will double the size of Fantasyland with a 26-acre addition. By adding multiple rides, restaurants and gift shops in one swoop, the project dwarfs $90 million Splash Mountain, the last major Magic Kingdom ride addition that debuted two decades ago. Already the budget is headed toward $400 million, topping what rival Universal Orlando lavished on its blockbuster Harry Potter attractions two years ago.

The big question: Will Disney, which has said it will open new areas as they are completed starting later this year, wait until its all done in 2013 or even 2014?

One fun thing to look for: Designers have sneaked plenty of hidden Mickey ears into landscaping, murals and architecture.

Here's the features that are coming:

• Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. A family coaster, a bit slower than Big Thunder Mountain, barrels through a diamond mine to tunes like Heigh Ho Heigh Ho and Whistle While You Work. The mine car buckets swivel side to side, creating a gliding sensation that was confirmed in a mock-up Disney engineers mounted on a pickup.

• The Castle of the Beast. From Beauty and the Beast, this country village features a turreted castle built a bit smaller than Cinderella's only to create an illusion it's miles away. The big draws will be a costumed-character-led tour of Belle's Cottage and a 550-seat French restaurant. Dining rooms range from the ominous Beast's lair to the Be Our Guest scene and the grand ballroom where Belle and the Beast danced.

• Under the Sea. Journey of the Little Mermaid. A clone of the classic, animatronics-laden Disney dark ride that opened last summer at Disney's California Adventure park. The Florida version adds a preride introduction to the story around an underground grotto of waterfalls. The ride's arrival revived many Disneyphiles' 20 year "death watch" for a live show with the same theme at Disney's Hollywood Studios park.

• Storybook Circus. Now half open, this is the former Mickey's Toon Town Fair rebuilt as a Depression-era town when the circus comes to town. Sidewalks around the train station are embedded with elephant footprints and painted concrete that looks like peanut shells. A kiddie coaster is redone with Goofy as the inept star in a stunt show. Unopened is the second Dumbo ride and a splash play area by a circus rail car with elephants squirting water.

• Home of the Disney Princesses. Moved to Main Street Town Hall until a new home is built for Cinderella, Aurora, Tiana and Rapunzel in the shell of Snow White's Scary Adventure, which closes May 31.

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[Last modified: Thursday, March 29, 2012 2:07pm]


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