For any bedraggled parent who has lugged cranky kids from Dumbo to Pooh in an epic Magic Kingdom survival test, we have news for you: For the first time in its 41-year history, the original Disney World park will soon serve alcohol within its pixie-dusted walls.
Not that the spirits are for grumpy grownup purposes, mind you. In classic storytelling style, and perhaps to stave off purists who are taking issue with the news, alcohol will be offered in the name of "theming."
Beer and wine will be restricted to dinner only at the French-style Be Our Guest restaurant in the new Beauty and the Beast attraction, part of the next phase of the $425 million New Fantasyland expansion that "soft" opens Nov. 19. This news was casually dropped into the tail-end of a post on the Disney Parks Blog on Thursday:
"And just for dinner, select wines and beers will be offered that complement the French-inspired cuisine."
Gulp. Say what?!
Stuart McGuire, the beverage director for Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, then added that "the wines focus primarily on France's famous wine-growing regions, including Champagne, Alsace, Loire, Rhone, Burgundy and Bordeaux. . . . We'll also offer the leading French beer, Kronenbourg 1664. And, staying in the general region, we'll also offer Belgian beers."
Guests will not be able to take the alcoholic beverages into other parts of the Magic Kingdom — so, no getting crocked under Cinderella's Castle.
Disney says that simply pouring beer and wine isn't the point. "As food and beverage offerings continue to evolve in our theme parks, we carefully consider our guests' expectations and how those offerings can complement our stories," Disney spokesman Bryan Malenius said Friday. "Our research tells us guests expect to have the option to order beer and wine with their dinner at an elegantly themed table-service experience like Be Our Guest."
The 500-seat restaurant sounds impressive: 20-foot ceilings, chandeliers, related feats of whizbang Imagineering. But the alcohol about-face is currently trumping all other news, especially since Walter Elias Disney himself initially decreed that Disneyland, which opened in Anaheim, Calif., in 1955, should be a "dry" park. (Except for the exclusive members-only Club 33, Disneyland is still alcohol-free.) The Magic Kingdom is, in myriad respects, Disneyland's East Coast magic-mirror reflection.
That said, Walt Disney World, the most visited theme park on the planet, does offer alcohol, including liquor, at its other three major parks. Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom both include busy "themed" bars. And Epcot celebrates an annual Food & Wine Festival, which this year kicks off on Sept. 28.
Nevertheless, the Magic Kingdom is sacred ground to many Disneyphiles, and this week's alcohol revelation is a hot topic on the Internet. One tsk-tsker tweeted: "If u need beer/wine 2 go to The Magic Kingdom, rethink ur plans. Not happy about alcohol at Be Our Guest." Another reasoned: "I'm sad that Walt's vision of a dry park is changing, but I'm fine with alcohol being served at Be Our Guest as long as that's where it stays."
So does this open the door for more alcohol in the Magic Kingdom? There had been speculation that another New Fantasyland place called Gaston's Tavern — based on the villain in Beauty and the Beast — might sell alcohol. But on Friday, Disney said there are no such plans. Instead Gaston's will feature a nonalcholic drink called LeFou's Brew
For now, Belle's place is the one generating all the, ahem, buzz.
"Nobody saw this coming," says Lou Mongello, who reports on Disney for WDW Radio, a podcast that gets a million downloads a month. "The nostalgists are losing their minds. But hey, Disney is listening to guest feedback. They're trying to make an upscale restaurant, and guests would like a glass of wine with dinner. It's not like they're serving Jell-O shots."
Sean Daly can be reached at [email protected] Follow @seandalypoplife on Twitter.