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What to expect at Disney's new Fantasyland soft opening Monday

Times Staff Writers

After lots of waiting, Magic Kingdom's new Fantasyland expansion is almost open — sort of. The park's official grand opening is Dec. 6, but the expansion had its soft opening Monday, which means guests can experience Under the Sea — Journey of the Little Mermaid ride, Be Our Guest restaurant, Enchanted Tales with Belle, Ariel's Grotto, Gaston's Tavern and a gift shop.

Keep in mind these are just previews of the attractions that will be open in December, so while you can experience the new area, the hours could be limited.

The Fantasyland expansion continues with the opening of Princess Fairytale Hall in 2013 and the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train in 2014.

If you haven't been to the park this year, you'll also find a new Storybook Circus section where the old Toontown used be, with a Casey Jr. Splash and Soak Station, and two Dumbo rides. That area opened in July.

We managed to get a sneak peek a few weeks ago at the Fantasyland attractions opening Dec. 6, including dining at the new Be Our Guest restaurant. The lunch and dinner spot takes the counter out of walk-up service and gives it a more regal and relaxing sit-down meal feel — with a bit of Disney magic thrown in thanks to GPS technology.

Guests order meals on a touch screen and are given an electronic rose that has a glowing Mickey on the side. Touch that Mickey to one on the screen and the meal is registered. Take the electronic rose and choose a seat anywhere in the castle's three rooms and servers follow tracking devices to magically deliver what the guest ordered.

At a visit to one of the park's first soft openings in early November, the silver rolling top carts took a toll on the decor, tearing hunks of tiles out of ornate rose-patterned floor mosaics only an hour and a half after the castle doors opened.

The lunch at Be Our Guest ranged from about $9-$13 for options including a steak sandwich, turkey breast sandwich, quinoa salad, seared tuna and vegetable quiche. That's about the price of a counter service meal elsewhere in the park. The kids menu is not your typical kids fare, including grilled steak, grilled fish, rice pilaf and whole-grain macaroni.

For dinner, the restaurant will serve rustic French cuisine that includes Cornish hen and ratatouille, and make history as the first restaurant to serve alcohol inside the Magic Kingdom.

How crowded will it be?

One of the challenges of seeing the new Fantasyland is crowds. The Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays are just about the busiest times of the year at Disney.

The website, which tracks park attendance and recommends when to visit, ranks the dates to visit Disney World on a scale, with 1 being the least crowded and 10 being most crowded. For example, Sunday, Dec. 9, is a 3, and the Tuesday and Thursday after that (Dec. 11 and 13) drop to a 2. Starting Dec. 15, most days rank a 5 to 7 with a solid 10 for every day from Dec. 22 through Jan. 1.

Keep in mind that Thanksgiving week is also one of the park's busiest, but veteran Disney-goers know that the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas are a sweet spot during which the decorations are up, but there are less crowds.

Bottom line: If you're brave enough to visit the park in the next few weeks, head over to the new Fantasyland. It's worth what are sure to be some long waits.

— Times staff writers Sharon Kennedy Wynne, Kelly Stefani, and Michelle Stark