LAKE BUENA VISTA — There are two particularly pixie-dusted thrills on the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, the final, and best, piece of Walt Disney World's $425 million New Fantasyland expansion at the Magic Kingdom.
The first one I can reveal without guilt: In the middle of the ride — an inside-outside "family friendly" steel coaster that packs some zip in its second half — you weave through a dazzling cave chockful of hi-ho-ing little animatronic fellas and detail-rich Imagineering. You exit via a steep lift hill, with the singing shadows of Doc, Dopey, Grumpy & Co. following you up, if not over, the gently eerie climb.
If you're thinking Splash Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain, you're just about right — but lessen the height and roar.
Wee ones 38 inches and taller can scurry aboard, and new "tilting" technology to simulate a rockin' mine cart makes the three-minute experience remarkably smooth, as you hug, instead of battle, myriad sharp turns and hard-twisting embankments.
As for that other tingly moment — I've always felt Disney World is at its best when it gets a little sinister — I'll let you discover that one for yourself when the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train officially opens May 28. Let's just say an old friend from the shuttered Snow White's Scary Adventures gets the last say — or cackle — before you cruise back into the loading station. It's a clever, classic twist and should suitably freak out a new generation of parkgoers. Sorry, kids, it's a rite of passage.
Mainly because I've spent the past month begging and pleading, the Mouse House gave me a sneak peek of the new attraction. I only rode it once; I spent scant time in the queue, too, which wanders through lush woodlands and should be absolutely gorgeous at night, especially as it's lit by ornate yellow-plated lanterns.
But from my quick loop? It's a cozy charmer in almost all facets, basically split into rollicking thirds: slow coaster, hanging with the Dwarfs in the mine, then faster coaster. It may not be as immersive as Universal Orlando's new Harry Potter stuff or as potentially heart-racing as Busch Gardens' Falcon's Fury, but wow, it just makes you feel good.
Disney's current craze is making queues interactive, and they do so again here: a video screen allows you to match floating jewels in a sluice, plus an inventive fountain made of wooden critter heads turns into a music instrument when you wave a hand under the spouts. One potential problem: When this ride gets crowded (and stays crowded), it's going to be an all-elbows scrum of push-and-shove trying to get a chance to play the games.
But Disney is hoping it can lessen those mob scenes. As many as five trains (!) can operate at once on the scenic Seven Dwarfs Mine Train track. No doubt it's going to draw all ages, as it lessens the big-drop fears of big-boy rides and yet retains an innovative blend of robotics (love the skunk chilling on Sleepy's heaving head) and genuine, if relatively heart-safe, thrills.
I was smiling and yahooing throughout the whole thing, my crazy Disney-nerd eyes frantically searching for Hidden Mickeys among the glowing googaws (let me know when you find one), trying like heck to figure out how they animated the Dwarfy faces (inner-head projection?) and matching sly visual gags with scenes from the 1937 film (must have that cuckoo clock).
Oh, and I should mention that lil' princess fans will get their fix, too: Snow White shows up to the party, but again, I'm going to leave it up to you to find her. Just watch out for her old friend.
Sean Daly can be reached at [email protected] Follow @seandalypoplife on Twitter.