Disney's revamped Magic Kingdom - Fantasyland

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Disney's revamped Magic Kingdom - Fantasyland

It's hard to keep your wits about you when you're enveloped by darkness, upside-down and travelling at around 100km an hour. But it's surprising how much composure you can maintain when you're sitting next to a giggling 10 year old who is barely old enough to tie his shoelaces.

Trying in vain to disguise my terror while riding the hurtling rollercoaster, I drag my clammy hands along the side of my jeans and grit my teeth to contain the squeal trying to escape from the back of my throat. I almost give in and let the yelp escape, but manage to keep it together until the sun peeps through the end of the tunnel and the roller coaster draws to a halt.

It appears that I'm not the only one who is enormously relieved as several pale faced parents slowly emerge from the roller car, led by euphoric children who are racing to join the end of the line to do it all again. Luckily, it appears my three comrades are not among them, and we gingerly head towards the exit in silence, well aware of the battering our egos have just received.

We spy our guide Sean wearing a fittingly broad smile, and it quickly becomes clear why he opted to sit this one out. A diehard Disney fan, he doesn't make any effort to hide his amusement and quips "It's all about making memories, baby", the sarcasm in his voice as thick as treacle.

As the colour returns to our faces, we leave behind the fast pace of Disney's Hollywood Studios and set a course for the more sedate offerings of the nearby Magic Kingdom theme park.

Slowing the pace
The change of tempo is palpable as we stroll through the main gates. For one, the youngsters are about five years younger, and I can't help but shake the feeling of being stuck in a storybook as we spot the Cinderella Castle rising imposingly in the distance.

All around us wide eyed littlies are sharing their life stories with giant Belle and Goofy characters, convinced they are the real deal, while hordes of young girls parade around in Tinkerbell outfits, complete with glitter hairspray and magic wands.

Magic Kingdom is the oldest Disney World theme park, having opened its doors to the public back in October 1971. But there are no cracks showing - barely a speck of dust in fact - as the park recently revealed the largest expansion in its four decade history; New Fantasyland.

Several years in the making, the revamp has doubled the size of the original Fantasyland to welcome some of the more recent Disney additions to the park. Beauty and the Beast and the Little Mermaid now have homes in the new Enchanted Forest, and old favourite Dumbo has received some attention as part of the Storybook Circus upgrade.

Two more highlights are also in the pipeline; the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train and Princess Fairytale Hall will open over the next two years.

In with the new
Visiting on the first day of the launch in early December, we prepare to battle a sea of toddlers and prams, and set our sights on one of the latest additions - the Journey of the Little Mermaid.

My trepidation mounts as we join an excruciatingly long queue, dominated by monstrous 12-year olds. As I stand just 5"1 in height, it is doubly galling to be dwarfed by some of these frightful adolescents.

But surprisingly, my concern eases as we progress in the queuing area, which is cleverly decked out like an interactive outdoor aquarium to keep the whippersnappers entertained during what proves to be a lengthy wait.

Having heard a lot of hype about Ariel's domain, it is hard to contain my excitement as a pink clam shell floats around the corner and spits out the last round of guests, ready for us to board. We pair up, jump into the mobile mollusc and drift towards the action, albeit at an impressively subdued pace. As a complete Disney novice, I don't have a clear idea of what to expect, but with every word of the Little Mermaid soundtrack echoing in my memory, I have high hopes.

To my delight, the clever Disney imagineers do not disappoint. In a five minute round trip, we float past scenes from the movie which seem so close, so real, that it is as though we've entered the film's narrative and taken a starring role. The twinkle in Ariel's eye takes me right back to the first time I saw the film, and rekindles vivid memories of belting out Under the Sea into my hairbrush. It also seems to have a similar effect on the kids, who whistle the tunes with a spring in their step as they alight from the clam.

The tried and true
Truth be told, my Disney repertoire doesn't stretch much beyond The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast, but Dumbo is another long standing favourite who is drawing the crowds. So much so, in fact, that the flying elephant was, pardon the pun, earmarked as a key expansion in the New Fantasyland development.

Dumbo has retained his popularity over his four decade lifespan, with crowds often pouring out onto the pavement. Answering to the call, Disney has not only added a second Dumbo ride, but created a new way of queuing to ease the stress of waiting. Both rides are now connected to a big top area with a truck load of interactive games, while the parents are given a ticket pager to hold their place in the queue and notify them when it's their turn to fly.

After whistling our way from Ariel's abode, we pay Dumbo a visit to see what all the fuss is about. Ironically, there isn't a soul in line as we prepare for the worst. But then again, it was past 7pm - a time when most 5-year-olds are fast asleep after their bed time story.

We shuffle through the queuing area and are promptly greeted by a rather animated staff member, who ushers us through to the shiny new ride. We jump in the carriage and buckle up ready to take flight. But I must say, the seatbelts are hardly a necessary precaution - the pace is akin to driving an ancient car up a steep hill. My hair rustles slightly in the breeze, but it is not exactly a whirlwind experience.

Our guide Sean is quick to defend Dumbo, noting that even if elephants could fly, they would probably travel at a leisurely pace. "The little ones love Dumbo. It's not always about the speed, it's about the memories." I'm inclined to agree. Even if Dumbo didn't stack up to Ariel in my personal Disney pantheon, the memories are priceless.