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December 23, 2014

Be Our Guest revisited: Fantastic dining experience at Walt Disney World

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Even two years after it opened, Be Our Guest still is the most difficult dining reservation to book at Walt Disney World. So, when I was able to secure a late-night table for a family celebration this past weekend, we all were counting the minutes until our dinner was served.

We first dined at Be Our Guest during passholder preview days two years ago, and my family and I hadn't been back since then. So, naturally, I was curious if it would live up to our expectations of our previous experience. The answer was a resounding "yes" from each of the four members of my family.

Our reservation was for 9:20 p.m., and I'm told the last parties are seated at 9:30 p.m. during normal operating hours. (Be Our Guest stays open later during busy periods, such as the holidays.) Because of the timing, we were able to watch Holiday Wishes from the bridge to the restaurant, which was a new experience. It's amazing to be so close to some of the fireworks that normally are seen from in front of Cinderella Castle.

When we entered Beast's castle, we were led to the ballroom, which is where most of the seating is located. And if it isn't spectacular enough on a regular day, imagine it decorated for Christmas. There was a beautiful Christmas tree in the center of the wall-to-ceiling windows that showcase the snowfall effect outside, just like in the story. Garlands also were draped along the walls, creating a festive atmosphere.

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The menu has undergone a few changes, as is to be expected, since we last visited. Popular dishes, such as the French Onion Soup and the Grilled Strip Steak, remain, however. We were happy to see the steak that is served with garlic-herb butter and pommes frites was still available because three of us had been dreaming of ordering just that! (It also is served with green beans.) It is a 10-ounce steak, which was large enough for my daughter and I to split one portion. My 12-year-old son ordered his own, though he did end up sharing with his dad. My husband again ordered the Pan-seared Salmon on Leek Fondue, which was served with served with creamy saffron-crushed potatoes. We all really enjoyed our meals.

Be Our Guest has an extensive wine list, and several imported beers are available, as well. My husband again enjoyed a dark belgian strong ale, Chimay Blue, and said it had a subtle hint of fruit that paired well with the salmon. Beast's castle also serves two signature non-alcoholic drinks: All-Natural Fruit Punch and All-Natural Lemonade. If you choose a light-up castle-themed souvenir goblet for the foamy drinks, the price quadruples. Almost $20 for a drink without alcohol!

Of course, we saved room for dessert. The Grey Stuff has been added to the menu since our last visit, and we were excited to taste the fabled dessert. Our server saw that we were wearing "I'm Celebrating" buttons and brought us a complimentary serving to sample. What a nice surprise! We also chose to share a Strawberry Cream Cheese Cupcake, a Triple Chocolate Cupcake, a Lemon Meringue Cupcake and a Chocolate Cream Puff. My children again loved the presentation of the desserts in a rolling trolley, which makes it difficult to turn down a sweet treat - not that I'm complaining!

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After dinner, we were invited to meet Beast in the library, which is the room that doubles as the checkout during lunch. This meet-and-greet was not available the last time we dined at Be Our Guest, and dinner at the restaurant is the only time and place for guests to meet Beast at Walt Disney World. We were the last family of the night to meet Beast and he patiently posed for a bunch of photos, including one the cast members suggested where the kids and Beast showed their "claws."

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My first impression of Be Our Guest was confirmed this past weekend: It is a delightful dining experience. We received outstanding service, and we thoroughly enjoyed our meal. Although the restaurant is expensive, the pricing is in line with other table-service restaurants at Walt Disney World. In fact, it costs less overall than dinner at Cinderella's Royal Table, which does not offer alcohol. Although securing a reservation can be a hassle, it is well worth the effort.

RELATED LINKS:
** Be Our Guest Menus: Lunch, Dinner, Kids

** Rate and Review Lunch

** Rate and Review Dinner




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May 28, 2014

What families need to know about Disney World's Seven Dwarfs Mine Train

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Well, heigh ho! The Seven Dwarfs Mine Train opens today, and it's definitely the hot new "ticket" at the Magic Kingdom. Before you rush to grab that FastPass reservation -- or decide if the new attraction is worth the standby wait -- here is what you need to know:

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** Perhaps the most important thing to understand about this attraction is that it was not designed to be a thrill ride, but rather an experience that would appeal to (almost) all ages. With that concept in mind, Disney Imagineers developed a gentle roller coaster that many who previewed it -- including our own Deb Wills -- rank in between Goofy's Barnstormer and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad on the nail-biter scale. Individual cars sway gently from side to side during the 2.5-minute ride, and still my husband said after riding it that the Mine Train is among the smoothest and tamest coasters at Walt Disney World.

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** The minimum-height requirement for the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train is 38 inches, compared with 35 inches for the Barnstormer and 40 inches for the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. This again points to the kid-friendly nature of the ride.

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** Unlike the now-defunct Snow White's Scary Adventures, the storytelling throughout this attraction based on Disney's animated version of "Snow White" is not at all frightening. Guests are queued through a landscaped outdoor setting before heading to the mine entrance, and even inside queues are lit up by dazzling "jewels." The ride itself focuses on the lovable Seven Dwarfs rather than the Evil Queen as Snow White's Scary Adventures did, and the theming throughout the coaster is amazing and what guests would expect from a dark ride.

** In its quest to create a new experience that would appeal to the widest audience, Disney seemingly took the gender of its guests into account. The Seven Dwarfs Mine Train was a late addition to the development of New Fantasyland. It's been said that Disney planners went back to the drawing board when they realized that a substantial amount of real estate in New Fantasyland was dedicated to the Disney Princesses (and, originally, Disney Fairies). They needed an attraction that would give boys and dads a reason to venture behind Cinderella Castle (aside from accompanying sisters and moms, of course). The Seven Dwarfs Mine Train certainly accomplished that with its adventuresome theming.

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** If the stand-by queue is not too long for your day's schedule, choose that option at least once. There are three interactive areas that are really cute, and the FastPass+ queue bypasses two of them.

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** In short, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train is not a scary ride for most youngsters, and it's not boring for children and adults who seek bigger thrills. My 9-year-old daughter, who regularly rides Walt Disney World's "Mountain" coasters with my husband, thoroughly enjoyed the ride when she previewed it during a soft opening and can't wait to experience it again.

** So, where can you find your favorite characters from the ride? Snow White meets guests each day at the nearby Princess Fairytale Hall. The Seven Dwarfs come out of the mine for special appearances during Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party and Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party, both of which require a separate ticket.

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** There are a couple of fun photo opportunities near the ride, as well. Guests exiting the ride will pass by the Dwarfs' cottage, and it makes a unique backdrop to remember the experience. (There are no professional photos taken on the attraction, as of this writing.) Or, have a friend or family member stand along the fence surrounding the ride, on the walkway to Storybook Circus. Have them snap the photo when your mine car crests the hill and Cinderella Castle is in the background. Really adventurous? Have your camera ready as you come out of the mountain on one of the highest drops of the ride. In front of you, you'll have a bird's eye view of the land enchanted by Belle and the Beast. To the right, Ariel's kingdom; to the left, Cinderella's Castle. Hope you have a fast shutter speed.

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** Although the stores near Cinderella Castle and on Main Street, U.S.A., carry a variety of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs merchandise, only one item so far is available that is attraction-specific. An open edition logo pin features Dopey and Grumpy and contains a swivel movement similar to the attraction vehicles created for the ride. It costs $9.95.



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March 29, 2014

A young model from Orlando helps Walt Disney World spread its magical message

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Recently, my family was excited to see that one of my daughter's friends was pictured in a full-page color ad for Walt Disney World in the Orlando Sentinel. And that piqued my curiosity about how child models are chosen for the company's advertising campaigns and what is involved with that experience.

In this case, Kayla Davis, who will turn 9 next month, is living out her own fairy tale. She began modeling at age 4, and her first photo shoot was for Disney, portraying a princess story time.

"It was truly a magical moment for Kayla," said her mother, Tammy Davis. "She was able to meet Jasmine and Snow White that day."

Tammy said that when Kayla expressed an interest in modeling at a young age, she decided to research what she and her husband could do to facilitate their daughter's dream. She cautions other parents who have children interested in modeling to take the time to find a reputable talent agency. One sign of trustworthy representation is that no fees are collected up front, she said.

The talent agency then handles the interaction between clients, such as Walt Disney World, and its talent, such as Kayla. So, for all the work Kayla has done for Disney World ads, she has not had to audition. Her agency forwards her information and photos when they see a job she might be qualified for, and then the client makes a request for certain models.

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For this most recent ad, Kayla had to be at the Magic Kingdom at 1 a.m. and work until 9 that morning. And although she was able to rest in between shoots, that's still a long night for a third-grader. To prepare, Tammy said she went to bed at 7 p.m.

Once she arrived on Disney property, her job began with having her hair styled and light makeup applied, plus a trip to the wardrobe department for the Belle shirt she is wearing in the ad. Kayla wore several different Disney Princess-themed outfits during the course of the shoot and thoroughly enjoyed that part of the experience, Tammy said.

During this particular shoot, Walt Disney World was showcasing its newest restaurant in the Magic Kingdom, Be Our Guest, as the backdrop for a hiring campaign. The ad reads, "I made her feel like the Belle of the ball. #IamDisney"

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Kayla was required to pretend she was eating in the Fantasyland restaurant, which can be seen in the final full-page ad. She also had to pose for a slew of photos in front of the entrance to the castle. While she was on the job, Kayla got to see a big scene of Beauty and the Beast dancing. She said that interacting with the characters is one of her favorite parts about Disney modeling jobs. The Florida native also was infatuated with the windows in the ballroom of Beast's Castle that depict snow falling.

Kayla has done more shoots for Disney than any other company, her mother said. It certainly would seem that Disney has a way of making dreams come true for both theme-park guests and even others living out their own fairy tales.



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March 19, 2014

Seven Dwarfs Mine Coaster speeds to completion and opening

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Arguably the most anticipated attraction in the New Fantasyland expansion at the Magic Kingdom -- the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train roller coaster -- is speeding to its completion and opening. We don't have much longer to wait for this ride, which was first announced more than three years ago.

The dedication for this attraction is scheduled for 10:15 a.m. May 2, according to the Hilton Hotel at Downtown Disney, and then presumably it would be open to the public afterward. Media have been invited to preview the roller coaster a few days beforehand, so it sounds like the finishing touches are on track.

The Disney Parks Blog just revealed the logo for the ride from Walt Disney Imagineering:

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The official Walt Disney World news outlet has been teasing us with images and details that have Disney fans counting the minutes until they can experience the attraction for themselves. Earlier this month, we were given a peek of what guests can see from the peak of the newest "mountain" ride at Walt Disney World.

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I was in the Magic Kingdom on Saturday and got a close-up look at some sections of the track where more of the construction walls had been removed. The photos below are looking at the attraction from the Castle Courtyard gates seen in the photos above. Looks like so much fun, right?

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With this project, Disney Imagineers tried something new and offered guests a glimpse at the progress through special windows built into the construction walls. This was done so guests could feel like they were part of the project from the beginning and have a sense of ownership in the attraction, I was told.

So, why all the hype for the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train?

It's the first "mountain" attraction to be added to a Walt Disney World theme park since Expedition Everest made its debut at Animal Kingdom in 2006. "Mountain" attractions are typically the big coasters, but this one is being billed as family friendly. In fact, the height requirement is only 38 inches. Plus, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train will feature the first-of-its-kind-ride-system with a train of vehicles that swing side to side, responding to every twist and turn of the track.

Finally, it adds an element to New Fantasyland that was created, at least in part, with boys in mind. If you remember, the original plans for New Fantasyland also included a Disney Fairies section. Developers decided to scrap that and scaled back the Disney Princess areas, which now are dedicated to Belle, Ariel, Rapunzel. Then, Snow White's Scary Adventures was closed and the location re-imagined to be Princess Fairytale Hall, a meet-and-greet set.

Take a look at the newest onboard ride video from Walt Disney Imagineering and tell us if you're excited about the upcoming opening.




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September 15, 2013

Tour Princess Fairytale Hall in Magic Kingdom's New Fantasyland before it opens

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The newest addition to the Magic Kingdom's New Fantasyland, Princess Fairytale Hall, opens this week, and it truly is fit for royalty. I previewed the princess meet-and-greet with my family at a recent Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween event, and we were enchanted by the experience.

Princess Fairytale Hall, which has been built in the space previously occupied by Snow White's Scary Adventures, is located just behind Cinderella Castle in what is called the Castle Courtyard. As you would expect of Disney Imagineers, the transition appears seamless. Guests who are not aware of the park's history would be hard-pressed to know the new attraction hasn't always been there.

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As families approach Princess Fairytale Hall, they will be able to choose from two queues. One leads to Rapunzel and a "visiting princess" and the other takes guests to Cinderella and her royal friend. The queues begin outdoors in a shaded area that sets the scene with heavily bricked walls and crown-shaped light fixtures that cast a slightly purple glow. Of course, Cinderella Castle and Prince Charming Regal Carousel are visible to those waiting in line outside.

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Before entering the hall, guests glimpse the gallery through beautiful stained glass windows. Each has a centered image that depicts a character from the Disney film story of Cinderella. We heard other guests "oohing" and "aahing" over the whimsical designs, and with good reason, given the artistic detail and the historical significance to Disney's film past.

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Once inside, guests will wind through several turns of the line. These, too, are decorated in true royal fashion with ornate iron gates, fancy chandeliers, colorful banners and beautiful arches. Most importantly for the royal realm of Central Florida -- there is air conditioning! After the last turn, guests step onto a rich carpet and enter the hall, where they will see portraits of Princesses Aurora, Jasmine, Tiana, Mulan, Snow White and Rapunzel lining the walls.

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When you finally reach the front of the queue, be sure to step forward so you can take a look at Cinderella's famous glass slipper, which is illuminated in a special case. What a thrill for little girls and other princess fans!

(Last month, the Disney Parks Blog was giving away three similar Fairytale glass slippers. They are made of 100 percent lead-free crystal and enhanced with a sparkling rhinestone pavé heart. Plus, the 6-inch shoe lights up. Inside the gemstone heart on the shoe is a hidden button that you press to bathe the slipper in blue light. The slipper is available for purchase through Disney Floral and Gifts. It can be added to an arrangement for $127.95.)

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Finally, it is time to meet the Disney princesses! A cast member will direct your party into the receiving room associated with your queue. The rooms are organized as exact opposites, with guests standing in a short line before meeting the "visiting" princess and then the "featured" princess. Rapunzel's meet-and-greet (on the left) is decorated in warm tones, while Cinderella's (on the right) is decorated in traditional blues. Both showcase replicas of props from the movies -- from storybooks for each princess to the king's bookends in Cinderella's room.

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My daughter met Snow White with Rapunzel and Aurora with Cinderella, and her enthusiasm was not dimmed by the number of times she has already seen her royal friends. I think a large part of the thrill is the feeling that she actually has stepped into a place that the Disney Princesses frequent. We have dined at Cinderella Castle for special occasions over the years and her excitement at being in the very place where the princesses "live" was palpable. She admired everything, and even my son, when he was in preschool, wondered about the daily routines of the princesses.

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Speaking of Cinderella's Royal Table, Cinderella will continue to meet with guests at the restaurant between greeting her guests at Princess Fairytale Hall.

Here are a few final tips for visiting Princess Fairytale Hall:

** To find out who the "visiting princesses" are each day, check the sign at the entrance to Princess Fairytale Hall. You also can look at the "characters" section of the My Disney Experience app or the printed daily Times Guide for the Magic Kingdom.

** On the night we previewed Princess Fairytale Hall, the queue for Rapunzel was consistently longer than the one for Cinderella. I'm not sure if this will hold true once the attraction is open, but it just might, given that it will be the only place on Disney property to meet Rapunzel.

** FastPass will be available for Princess Storybook Hall. There will be two FastPass options -- one for Rapunzel and a her princess friend and one for Cinderella and her visiting princess -- available at the distribution area near Peter Pan's Flight.

You can see more photos of Princess Fairytale Hall, which opens Sept. 18, in our AllEars.Net photo gallery and take our exclusive video tour with the Imagineers who worked on Princess Fairytale Hall.

DISCLAIMER: I was a guest of Walt Disney World at a media preview of Princess Fairytale Hall. This did not affect my story, and my opinions are my own.

November 14, 2012

Review: Dinner at Be Our Guest in Magic Kingdom's New Fantasyland

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At a recent passholder preview of New Fantasyland, my family and I were thrilled to discover Be Our Guest was open for dinner that evening. Reservations were being accepted outside the restaurant for that night only.

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Cast members were accommodating when we asked to be seated in the West Wing. Because it's such a small dining room compared to the Ballroom, there are no promises made that guests will get a table there, but the hostess will take a request when you check in and are given a pager. The Ballroom and the West Wing are the only two dining rooms open for dinner.

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Entering Be Our Guest for dinner was an entirely different experience than when we queued up for lunch. Our host led us directly through the great hall, where cast members lined the entrance to the Ballroom and wished us "Bon Appetit!" As we entered the Ballroom, it was obvious the lights had been dimmed, and the atmosphere was a little more formal. Tables were set with electric candles and red cloth napkins folded into the shape of roses. As we were led to the West Wing, we noticed that the food trolleys now lined the walls and were filled with desserts.

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We chose the West Wing because we wanted to experience the thunderstorm and its effects on the Enchanted Rose and Beast portrait. (See my previous post for more details about the entertainment in the West Wing.) This, coupled with the fact that the doors to the kitchen exit into the West Wing, make this dining room louder than the Ballroom. That didn't bother us at all, but please be aware if you have young children or someone with hearing issues, this might not be the best spot for you to dine. (When my son was a toddler, the thunder at Rainforest Cafe really scared him.)

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Once we were seated and perusing the menu, my husband and I were having difficulty narrowing our selections because everything sounded so delicious. My eight-year-old daughter, however, was struggling because she didn't see any of the traditional kid favorites and she can, at times, be a picky eater. (See the kids' dinner menu here.)

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And there is the dilemma for some parents: Their little girls may be excited to step into Belle's world but disappointed when they can't fully enjoy the experience because the kids' menu is a little more grown-up than their palates. Our server handled the situation beautifully, though, when we explained the situation. She asked a chef to come to our table, and he was very helpful about finding a solution. In my daughter's case, he offered the baked au gratin macaroni that is usually served with the adult pork chop and paired it with French fries. My daughter was satisfied, and we were pleased about the restaurant's flexibility.

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My son chose the thyme-scented pork rack chop with au gratin macaroni and seasonal vegetables and raved about it. My husband and I found it to be quite tasty, too, when we sampled the portion he was unable to finish. One caution: The pork was heavily seasoned with pepper.

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My husband tried the pan-seared salmon on leek fondue, which was served with creamy saffron-crushed potatoes. The salmon was a moist and meaty serving of fish that flaked nicely on the fork. I had the grilled strip steak with garlic-herb butter, which was very flavorful and tender, and pommes frites. The portion was so large that I ended up sharing quite a bit with my husband, who certainly was not complaining. (See the full dinner menu here.)

Be Our Guest has an extensive wine list, which you can see here. Several imported beers are available as well. My husband tried a dark belgian strong ale, Chimay Blue, and said it had a subtle hint of fruit that paired well with the salmon. Beast's castle also serves two signature non-alcoholic drinks: All-Natural Fruit Punch and All-Natural Lemonade. If you choose a light-up castle-themed souvenir goblet for the foamy drinks, the price quadruples. Almost $20 for a drink without alcohol -- ouch!

Although Be Our Guest is expensive, the pricing is in line with other table-service restaurants at Walt Disney World. In fact, it costs less overall than dinner at Cinderella's Royal Table, which does not offer alcohol but does include a photo package. The only price that really stunned me was the non-alcoholic drink. We saw plenty of diners, including children, sipping away, though.

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Still, our dinner experience at Be Our Guest was outstanding. Our server was attentive to our needs, keeping our drinks and bread basket filled and plates cleared. She was knowledgeable about the menu, too. Of course, our favorite part of her service was when she rolled the dessert trolley to our table. Guests can choose a cupcake -- strawberry cream cheese, triple chocolate or lemon meringue (Belle's favorite) -- or a cream puff -- chocolate, passion fruit or lemon-raspberry. We all tried the triple chocolate cupcake, which was quite a sweet ending to an excellent dinner.

November 13, 2012

Review: Lunch at Be Our Guest in Magic Kingdom's New Fantasyland

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Did someone say, put our service to the test?

During a recent passholder preview of New Fantasyland, I was excited to find Be Our Guest open for lunch AND dinner. With Be Our Guest dinner reservations booked into March, this was a rare opportunity to dine at Magic Kingdom's newest restaurant. Given that each meal has a separate menu and different service, my family and I decided to dine there twice in the same day -- and we were happy we did. Today, I'll tell you about our lunch experience and then I'll be back with a separate blog post about dinner.

First, lunch is a step up from other Disney World counter service restaurants in that guests order their food and then it is brought to their tables by the waitstaff. No juggling trays, bags and kids at the same time! As we entered Beast's castle, we were directed into the Armory Room for a short wait. We were entertained there by the Suits of Armor who talk to each other and to guests. Plus, the lunch menu is displayed on waist-high screens for guests to peruse.

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At the end of the hall, guests are greeted by a cast member at a podium who asks about the size of your party and hands your group a small red monitor with a rose motif on the top. It actually contains Disney's new RFID (radio-frequency identification) technology and allows cast members to identify you inside the castle, and most importantly, bring your lunch to the correct table. Rose in hand, you will be directed to a manned kiosk or unmanned touch screen to order, depending on your preferred method of payment.

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Although we were directed to a manned kiosk, which would seem to cut down on ordering mistakes, we still ended up with problems with our children's meals. First, the cast member did not explain that kids have an option to substitute side dishes, and we missed the fine print. My daughter ordered the Mickey Meatloaf, which is served with broccoli and zucchini, and my son chose the slow-cooked pork with sauteed green beans and mashed sweet potatoes. Both would have preferred French fries with their meals.

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Their meals also came with desserts, which the cast member did not enter into the system, and consequently, were never delivered. My son also never received his apple juice, and a server told him to pick something else from the beverage station, even though he wanted the juice. Clearly, there are some bugs that are being worked out by the staff as the restaurant prepares for its official opening.

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Once our order was placed, we were free to choose a table in the Ballroom, West Wing or Rose Gallery. It was a tough choice, but we opted for the far end of the Ballroom, where we could see the "snow" falling outside the windows. Beautiful! We were invited to collect our silverware, which is metal and not the plastic that is typical of counter-service restaurants, and drinks from a station that included Coca-Cola products, coffee, hot chocolate and iced tea. Then, while we waited for our food, we toured the other rooms.

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The centerpiece of the Rose Gallery is a large-scale replica of a music box made by Maurice and showing Belle and Beast dancing. The walls are decorated with portraits from the tale and other pieces of art. This is the only room with banquettes, if you prefer that type of seating. Also, the Rose Gallery only is open for lunch.

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The West Wing is Beast's hideaway before Belle's love tamed him. It's dark and foreboding, and the furnishings appear to have been ravaged by Beast's frequent fits of anger. Thunder can be heard in this room, making it louder than the others. When the last petal on an Enchanted Rose drops and the thunderstorm is upon the room, a portrait of Belle's handsome prince changes to an image of Beast. (Read more about the design of restaurant from Imagineers here.) Photos will be included on my dinner review because we were seated in the West Wing.

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Returning to the grand Ballroom, our food was being delivered via trolley after just a short time. My husband ordered the Quinoa, Shallot and Chive Salad, and I had the Vegetable Quiche, and we were pleased with the flavors of each meal. Both were served with baby lettuce coated with Champagne vinaigrette, which was fantastic. (This dressing is served on a side salad on the dinner menu, as well.) We found our lunch selections to be delicious.

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Even with the problems with the kids' meals, we'd certainly give Be Our Guest another try for lunch. (See the full lunch menu here and here.) After all, our lunch experience was during a "dress rehearsal." Plus, our children were so engrossed in their surroundings that they even forgot that cupcakes were included with their meals. Other parents, I'm sure, can agree that's quite a testament to how much fun they were having in the imaginative surroundings.


October 27, 2012

Save those Disney Dollars! New Fantasyland merchandise is in Magic Kingdom stores

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For many Walt Disney World visitors, shopping for souvenirs is an integral part of the vacation experience. Who doesn't like to have a reminder of a special trip, especially to the Most Magical Place on Earth?

The hunt for that perfect T-shirt, cap or photo frame can be as enjoyable as the product itself with all the beautiful and creative merchandise displays that engage shoppers. The window displays at The Emporium in the Magic Kingdom and at World of Disney at Downtown Disney are certainly worth a pause as you rush by to the main attractions.

Recently, new merchandise has arrived in the Magic Kingdom to coordinate with the "dress rehearsal" for New Fantasyland attractions and the opening of Storybook Circus. If you have Belle and Beast, Little Mermaid or Dumbo fans at your house, start saving your money!

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The new BonJour Village Gifts carries mostly Belle and Beast merchandise, which makes sense since it is located near Gaston's Tavern and Be Our Guest restaurant. There you'll find new Belle T-shirts for girls and women and Gaston's Tavern T-shirts for men, as you might expect.

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Some of the more unusual items for sale, though, are the light-up castle goblets; gargoyle frames and candle holders; a Jim Shore statue of Belle; and a collection of dishes and stemware and pillows inspired by the Be Our Guest restaurant.

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For younger guests, there are foam shields, swords and crowns -- in both girl and boy versions. So cute! Before the grand opening on Dec. 6, there is a limit of four per guest on some of the items, such as the dishes and frames. New merchandise continues to arrive in preparation for the big celebration.

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Need a dinglehopper? You can find one for sale -- seriously! -- at Sir Mickey's, which is located behind Cinderella Castle. That gift shop now carries Ariel merchandise themed to the New Fantasyland ride, Under the Sea -- Journey of The Little Mermaid. The Disney Parks Blog recently revealed the new line, which also includes T-shirts for kids and women, hoodies, cups, mugs, dolls and plush characters.

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Carla Lewandowski, senior franchise and brand manager with Disney Theme Park Merchandise, explained, "For this new assortment, we were inspired by the many colorful scenes found in the actual attraction. We really liked the scene with Sebastian and the undersea band, and you'll see many moments from that scene on the new items."

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Moving into Storybook Circus, guests will find colorful displays of Dumbo merchandise when they enter Big Top Souvenirs across from the namesake attraction. It's mostly T-shirts, mugs, plates and plush that are themed to the new area of the park, and they are located at the entrance.

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This store is huge and has a very wide assortment of merchandise. It even houses two embroidery stations for personalizing mouse ear hats and the center of the "tent" is a kitchen where delicious treats are made and sold.

Steven Miller, merchandise communications manager at Disney World, shared with me that some of the first items created for the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, which is set to open in 2014, will be pins in upcoming mystery pin sets.

October 15, 2012

Under the Sea: Journey of the Little Mermaid and Ariel's Grotto soft open in Magic Kingdom's Fantasyland

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My family and I were excited to find out that New Fantasyland was open to guests this past weekend as part of a "dress rehearsal" for its soft opening next month. Having already experienced Enchanted Tales with Belle, our family headed farther into the Magic Kingdom's new section to ride Under the Sea: Journey of the Little Mermaid and the meet the star, Ariel, in her new grotto.

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Those who have been to Disney California Adventure quickly will realize that the Florida version is almost identical to The Little Mermaid -- Ariel's Undersea Adventure on the inside. But the queue here has been greatly enhanced and is much more interactive. I have never ridden the California ride, so I'll be giving you a look at this attraction through a fresh perspective.

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First, for repeat riders and those who don't care to experience the new queue, FastPasses are available for Journey of the Little Mermaid at the machines near Mickey's PhilharMagic. Fans of The Little Mermaid, though, will not want to miss the queue, at least the first time. The theming outside really immerses guests into Ariel's world -- from Prince Eric's castle to waterfalls over craggy rocks with starfish and shells everywhere you look. Be sure to look for Prince Eric's boat and footprints in the sandy beach. It's beautiful, but be aware that it's hot in the Florida sun with little shade.

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When the queue leads guests inside the oceanfront caverns, they can look forward not only to cooler temperatures, but also a fun game for all ages. Crabs are trying to sort out Ariel's collection of human objects. On multiple screens throughout the queue, a digital crab will bring out thingamabobs and show them to the guest. The crab will attempt to add each item to his pile because he doesn't know what goes together. The guest is asked to point to objects that don't match to help the crab correctly sort the whozits and whatzits that are part of Ariel's treasure trove.

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My elementary-school-age children definitely wanted to try this game, but it was frustrating when they pointed at the crab and he didn't react about half the time. I wondered if perhaps their height influenced the location of where they pointed, but a cast member I spoke with said the sensor is located overhead so that shouldn't be an issue. We did go through the queue twice to see if there was a learning curve with the game, but my kids had similar results each time. Perhaps that is something that will be addressed when the attraction is tweaked before its grand opening on Dec. 6.

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Another highlight of the queue is an animatronic Scuttle, who talks to the crowd and engages in digital games of his own. Throughout the queue, various nautical set pieces help tell the story familiar to anyone who has seen "The Little Mermaid."

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Guests board the ride in clamshells that feel much like the Doom Buggies and their track at Haunted Mansion, with the ride vehicles traveling in half-circles to see various scenes from Ariel's life and even going backward down a ramp. When the vehicles perform this maneuver, digital bubbles are projected on the clamshell in front of the guest. Hold your breath! Combined with sounds of the sea, it's a clear indication you are traveling beneath the sea to experience Ariel's world.

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The Little Mermaid's landscape is full of color, movement and song, and guests will journey through favorite scenes with familiar friends from the classic story. There's no avoiding Ursula, but in the end, Ariel (of course) still lives happily ever after with Prince Eric. (Ursula's scene is a short part in the ride, so parents of young children probably won't need to be too worried about the fright factor.)

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Ariel fans will find beautiful photo opportunities in the outdoor queue and at the attraction's entrance, but they can meet the actual princess in her new grotto adjacent to the ride. That wait, though also themed, is not interactive, so it feels like an eternity with a daughter excited to see her favorite Disney Princess and a 10-year-old son who wants nothing to do with something so "girly."

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Still, the actual meet-and-greet was efficient, though we were not rushed once we were inside with the princess. Only two families are allowed in the room at a time -- one is with Ariel and the other is next in line, getting ready. The entrance door is closed, which allows for a more private and quieter experience. Ariel is wearing her mermaid outfit again, now that her grotto has returned to Magic Kingdom. (She had been greeting guests in her human form in Adventureland during the construction of New Fantasyland.) There is a Disney PhotoPass photographer to capture the character interaction, and, as always, guests are allowed to use their own cameras, too.

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Under the Sea: Journey of the Little Mermaid and Ariel's Grotto are sure to be popular additions to Fantasyland. For fans of the classic Disney film, once they dive into this sea, they'll long to be, part of Ariel's world for many more visits.

Here's a peek inside the ride:


September 10, 2012

Sneak peek: New Fantasyland's Enchanted Tales with Belle

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Guests who were disappointed when "Storytime With Belle" in the Fairytale Garden was discontinued have a lot to look forward to when its replacement officially debuts on Dec. 6 in the Magic Kingdom.

Enchanted Tales with Belle, part of New Fantasyland at Walt Disney World, was open to guests during select times this past week while cast members tested the new interactive experience. This marked the first time that guests were invited beyond the new castle walls, and we were fortunate to be offered the opportunity to take a first look at the new attraction.

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After passing under the archway, my children and I walked through winding paths, eventually lining up in front of the cottage of Maurice, Belle's father. The top of Beast's castle is visible high up the mountain in the background, giving guests the impression they have stepped right into the story, Beauty and the Beast. (The Beast's castle will house Be Our Guest restaurant, which opens Nov. 19.)

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While in line, guests will notice many clever details, including a well, lanterns, wooden buckets, a wheelbarrow, wagon wheels and even chairs built into the walls of the queue. Cast members dressed as townspeople greet visitors along the way. There is a FASTpass entrance, though cast members I spoke to weren't sure where the ticket distribution will be located.

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Guests enter Maurice's cottage in the main room where they will see a cozy fireplace, stacks of books everywhere -- Belle does live here, after all -- and even a portrait of Belle as a young girl with her mother. Belle's mother never is mentioned in the story, so it's wonderful to see what she looks like. (Guests using FASTpasses will skip this room, I'm told.)

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From the hearth, guests are admitted to Maurice's workshop in groups of about 45, according to a cast member. This area has even more detailed theming, giving guests plenty to study while they wait in front of the magic mirror. Maurice's drawing board and sketches are evident, his tools are scattered throughout the space, and his creations are perched on shelves and hanging from the ceiling.

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Then the cast member announces, "Take me back to the day Belle and Beast fell in love." The lights dim, and the mirror that Beast is said to have given Maurice undergoes an amazing transformation and becomes a magic portal into Beast's castle. What appears to be a solid wall is now an entranceway into a room where Wardrobe awaits the group. A cast member explains that children and adults alike are invited to play parts in the retelling of Beauty and the Beast, which will be a surprise for Belle.

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A talking Wardrobe interacts with the group as the cast member hands out props and selects participants for the reenactment. The great thing about this experience is that there appears to be enough parts for every child in the room, so no one who wants to participate will be left out. Encourage your child to volunteer because the payoff with Belle is worth it. (More on that to come.) There are certain character roles that are filled each time -- Beast, Suits of Armor, Mrs. Potts and Chip, Dungeon Bars, Footstool, Horse, Laughing Frames. We also saw Plate and Silverware used.

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Once the parts are assigned, the actors and the rest of the group are led into one of two identical libraries. (Of course, you're not supposed to know there are two libraries, but we went through Enchanted Tales with Belle twice and happened to get the different rooms. My children are old enough to notice everything was opposite what they had just seen. Not to worry, though, because we all know they need two rooms to get all the guests in place and then Belle can go back and forth between the libraries more quickly.)

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In the library, Lumiere directs the audience to sit on benches while the actors are moved to the front of the room. The lights are dimmed, so everyone can yell, "Surprise!" when Belle enters the room. Then, cast members help the guest actors deliver their simple lines to Belle. The experience is interactive for the audience, as well, when guests are invited to howl with the wind, shiver in the dungeon and gallop with a horse. Belle then leads the actors around the room to the peppy song, "Be Our Guest."

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The play concludes when Belle dances with the guest portraying Beast. The first boy we saw in this role was very young and sweet as Beast. The second was older and easily embarrassed, which gave the audience a chuckle. My 8-year-old daughter portrayed Footstool and Horse on different visits and enjoyed every minute. Being a little more reserved, my 10-year-old son chose to just watch. He was amazed by the magic portal, but not as interested in a Disney Princess experience.

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Afterward, cast members introduce each member of the "production," and Belle presents them with bookmarks. As Lumiere says, the token "is in appreciation to mark the occasion." A Disney PhotoPass photographer takes posed photos of Belle with each individual actor (and also captures action shots during the experience.) On the way out, guests are given special Enchanted Tales-themed PhotoPass cards so they can see all the images from their specific session.

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Our wait time for Enchanted Tales with Belle was about 25 minutes, but it's sure to be longer when the attraction officially opens and word spreads about how truly magical the experience is.

June 28, 2012

Dumbo interactive queue for kids soft-opens at Disney World

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As has been the recent trend at Walt Disney World, another attraction is set to reopen with an interactive queue. For parents like me, these are welcome additions to help break up the long waits for our impatient children. It's hard enough to wait in a long line when you're an adult, but when you're a child, it's just cruel and unusual punishment to see the magic and have to wait to experience it.

The newest interactive queue is for the relocated Dumbo The Flying Elephant attraction at Magic Kingdom, and it features many firsts. We all can appreciate that the standby line enters an air conditioned building that is themed as a tent. Ahhhh. If you choose to ride Dumbo with a FastPass -- unheard of before the ride moved to the Storybook Circus area -- you will bypass the interactive part of the queue. FastPass users still enter the front of the tent, though, and see the attraction and experience the air conditioning, if only briefly. (FastPasses currently are distributed near Mickey's PhilharMagic.)

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So, how does this queue entertain Disney's younger guests? It's essentially a cleverly-themed play area with seating for parents and a pager to alert each family when it's their turn return to the queue before boarding the ride. Guests are seemingly walking into the circus tent that Dumbo experienced in the classic movie.

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First, they will be met by a cast member and asked about how many members are in their party. Then they will be given a pager that looks like a circus ticket. Once entering, they will see a center ring with toys playground equipment appropriate for toddlers. Overhead, Dumbo flies in circles around the center ring.

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Outside that ring is a large, elevated play structure covered in nets. Kids can enter and perform as acrobats by climbing the ladder to a pretend high-dive, hopping up steps that look like trampolines or moving through the "burning" building, which is a replica of what Dumbo faced during his circus performances under the big top. Once inside the play structure, there are plenty of opportunities to run, jump and swivel. When kids are ready to come down, they can exit through two small slides that are fast enough to keep older children interested. Plus, they make various circus noises each time a guest slides. Parents will appreciate that the grandstand bleacher seating allows for clear sight lines of their busy children.

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One of the most interesting aspects of this interactive area is the use of light. Spotlights are used to highlight the kids' movements. For example, when a child pops out of the Human Cannonball slide, a light appears at the bottom. When another child climbs the trampoline-shaped steps or the ladder to the high-dive, each footfall is lighted. Children can even press a button to light up the pretend fire in the burning building. Be aware that ambient lighting is used overall, so it may be a little darker than you're used to -- especially coming inside from the glare of the Florida sun. The mood lighting, if you will, is continually changing during your brief respite in the tent.

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My husband really liked that the pagers are shaped like circus tickets. Timothy Q. Mouse, the rodent that befriended Dumbo, announces your time to leave the play area and get back in line and ready for your ride with Dumbo. The pager system works well and guests apparently are funneled to the least crowded of two Dumbo rides. (You don't pick which Dumbo to ride.) Then, take your seat and experience the dueling elephant carousels fly high over the Magic Kingdom.

Dumbo's interactive queue is in the soft-opening phase, being open to guests at various times as cast members test different aspects. It's expected to be be open full-time in July.

June 16, 2012

Casey Jr. splash pad cool addition to Disney World's Fantasyland

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Casey Jr. Splash 'N' Soak Station in the Storybook Circus section of Fantasyland opened Friday (June 15) to little fanfare, but families have a lot to be excited about. This new water play area in the Magic Kingdom offers a great respite from the Florida heat, and its design is a welcome improvement on the old Donald's Boat.

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Casey Jr. is the steam engine that brings the circus to town in the movie "Dumbo," and that theming continues at Walt Disney World. The engine and tender appear to have pulled onto the turntable with four boxcars, each carrying a different animal -- giraffes, elephants (of course!), monkeys and camels. Guests will notice the subtle evidence of train tracks between the water play area and the nearby bathrooms, which are located in a building modeled after a roundhouse.

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The soaking station brings the circus to life with its many sounds and the bustling activity of the water jets coming from the moving animals (and other sources). My kids are certain that the elephants shoot more water than the other animals because their trunks have multiple streams -- or so they say. About every 10 minutes, Casey Jr. begins his stationary journey, and guests will notice the locomotive sounds and the misting from the engine increase as he reaches his destination.

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As we've come to expect with The Walt Disney Co., there is an incredible attention to detail in Casey Jr. Splash 'N' Soak Station. Casey Jr. opens and closes his eyes. One of the monkeys is wearing a hat that is actually a white Mickey Mouse glove. The elephant car has baskets of lettuce and bananas attaching for feedings. The detached boxcars even have aged chains trailing from the bottom, presumably where the cars would have been attached to one another. There is a lot to appreciate about this next step in the Fantasyland expansion project.

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The most important thing to know about this attraction: You WILL get wet. And I do not mean just the kids frolicking in the splash pad. Parents sitting around the perimeter might be surprised to find themselves doused by a stream of water or mist blowing in the wind. Certainly, parents who are chasing after toddlers can expect to be just as wet as the little ones are because of the water shooting from so many angles and locations.

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So, my best advice is to plan ahead and bring swimsuits and towels or an extra change of clothes for anyone who might be venturing near Casey Jr. Splash 'N' Soak Station. Also, be sure to pack sunscreen because there is not a lot of shade near the attraction. For those who find they don't have everything their little ones need, a nearby merchandise cart sells towels, water shoes, hats, sunscreen and more.

After spending more than an hour in the water, my almost-8-year-old daughter proclaimed that we have to visit Casey Jr. every time we go into the Magic Kingdom.

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About Fantasyland

This page contains an archive of all entries posted to A Mom and The Magic in the Fantasyland category. They are listed from oldest to newest.

Cinderella Castle is the previous category.

Festival of Fantasy Parade is the next category.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.