Journey of the Little Mermaid, which opened at California Adventure Park at Disneyland last year, is a sweet ride built around one of Disney’s iconic princesses, Ariel. Mechanically, the cars and track layout are set up much like the Haunted Mansion, with clamshell-shaped cars that move relatively slowly through the grottoes of Prince Eric Castle. The scenes features scores of animatronic characters and are set to the popular music of the movie.
The castles is one of two being built in this expansion — neither of which, we’re assured, will be as big as Cinderella Castle, Magic Kingdom’s alpha castle.
Nearby is Beast Castle, which will house one of Disney World’s largest restaurants, Be Our Guest, also opening in late 2012. Its three dining rooms will be the ballroom where Belle and the Beast danced, the West Wing where the enchanted rose is kept (and which will have a holographic rose losing its petals), and a room that celebrates the other characters from the movie. Gaston’s Tavern — “a manly space,” Beatty called it — which will sell snacks and beverages (although not alcoholic ones), will also open this year.
A 25-foot waterfall will cascade from the rock work around the castle. At that castle’s feet is Maurice’s Cottage, gateway to Enchanted Tales with Belle. Beatty says “a great piece of magic” will take visitors to the castle library, where they will be greeted by Belle — the Beauty — and Lumiere, the Beast’s maitre d’, who is under a curse that turned him into a candelabra.
The experience is part photo opp, part storytelling, which the guests become part of. “This takes the meet-and-greet experience to a whole new level,” Beatty said. Enchanted Tales with Belle will be less structured and have shorter wait times and smaller groups of guests, he said.
The next element, to open in late 2013, is Princess Fairytale Hall, which will be the new location for meet-and-greets with Disney princesses. High-ceilinged, with stained-glass windows and what Beatty described as a “regal tournament feel,” it will be adjacent to Cinderella Castle on the site of Snow White’s Scary Adventures, which closed last month.
The last component of the Fantasyland expansion will be the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, a roller coaster with swinging ore buckets for cars, to open in 2014. Some of the supports are already up for the mine train, but they eventually will be covered by terrain, so that the train appears to be running on the sculpted land, not a raised track. The train will run through the trees, then into the mine where the dwarves are sorting their gems.
Fantasyland is not Disney’s only development this year.
The Exotic Driving Experience, which opened in January at the Walt Disney World Speedway between Epcot and Magic Kingdom, offers guests the chance to drive Ferraris, Lamborghinis and other supercars around the track, coached by a driving instructor. See story, page xx.
Coming this fall are Splitsville, a two-level bowling alley with 30 lanes plus billiard tables, live entertainment and an upscale menu at Downtown Disney; and The Legend of Captain Jack Sparrow, an attraction based on the four Pirates of the Caribbean movies, in the space previously occupied by Journey to Narnia: Prince Caspian at Hollywood Studios.
Construction is to begin next year on an Avatar land at Animal Kingdom, scheduled to open in 2015. Although Disney has released no details, the New York Times quoted Avatar creator James Cameron as saying it will include a ride that simulates flight.
Turtle Trek is the newest attraction at SeaWorld. It’s a combination of two habitats — freshwater for manatees, saltwater for sea turtles — and an extremely high-definition movie about the life of a sea turtle that is projected in 3-D on a 360-degree dome. Watching the resident green and hawksbill sea turtles, either from a walkway above, or at eye level through the heavy glass of the aquarium, can be addictive. The technology of the short movie is terrific, the sea creatures coming from all sides, and above — right at viewers wearing 3-D glasses.
SeaWorld has long rescued and tended to orphaned or injured manatees and sea turtles, and they were the inspiration for the new attraction. Some of the animals are released back into the wild, but others are too badly injured to survive on their own and become permanent residents of these two habitats.
The message of the attraction is “don’t trash where you splash,” focusing on the plastic trash — soda-can rings, grocery bags, discarded fishing line — that turtles and other wildlife swallow or get tangled in. Adopting its own message, SeaWorld has eliminated the use of plastic bags in its shops.
Coming next year: Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin, which will include a ride on which guests can choose the level of thrill they want to experience, an encounter with penguins in their habitat, a restaurant and gift shop. SeaWorld hasn’t said how it will keep guests comfortable in a penguin habitat that must be kept in the low 30s, but says it will be the coldest theme park attraction in the world.
When Discovery Cove opened its new Grand Reef last June, one adventure wasn’t quite ready: SeaVenture, in which air piped into special helmets allows guests to walk on the “sea bottom,” coming face-to-face with fish and other sea creatures. They can also watch black tip, white tip, zebra, woebegone and nurse sharks behind glass at eye level, as well as eels and lobsters, each species in its own enclosed habitat.
SeaVenture opened later last summer and now takes up to six people at a time on the 20-minute underwater stroll. Guests wear 73-pound helmets connected to air hoses that allow them to breathe normally as the group walks along the bottom of Grand Reef, which is about 12 feet under at its deepest point. Scuba certification isn’t required. Cost is $59.
A new swimming and wading area called Freshwater Oasis is scheduled to open this summer in the spot previously occupied by Tropical Reef. Designed as a freshwater spring under a rainforest canopy, the oasis will be populated by marmosets, a tiny member of the primate family, and Asian otters. The animals will be on an island where they can be watched by people but won’t actually come in contact with them.
Keeping with the same caring-for-wildlife theme, SeaWorld’s sister park, Busch Gardens Tampa Bay, has turned its Animal Care Center into an attraction. Treatment rooms have wall-to-wall windows that allow guests to watch certain procedures and surgeries. Down the hall is the kitchen, where staff talk to guests about how and what animals are fed. One day last month, several young guests assisted the staff in making meatballs to feed the hyenas.
Also new this year is Iceploration, a show in the Moroccan Palace aimed at youngsters that stresses the natural wonders of the earth and features ice skaters, puppets, acrobats and live animals.