Secret plans to overhaul Disney World's Fantasyland?

Could Walt Disney World be re-awakening, like Aurora, from a recession-induced slumber?

The resort giant usually surfs from buzz to buzz by keeping at least one banner ride in the construction pipeline, but it hasn't announced any major attractions since it opened the Toy Story Midway Mania 3-D arcade ride in the first half of 2008. Instead, the only newsworthy announcements coming from the Mouse have mostly been price cuts and promotions -- hardly E-ticket stuff, although it is nice to be handed free food for families who book a vacation there through Sept. 26.

That could be about to change. In fact, the Florida resort may be about to transform the appeal of its very core and send its fans into fits of rejoicing.

Attractions Magazine, which covers the goings-on at Orlando's mighty amusement parks, has posted what looks like a blueprint for a new renovation to the Magic Kingdom's Fantasyland, the most child-friendly zone that contains the park's most legendary rides. And if it's to believed, the changes are going to be extreme.

Disney is famously tight-lipped about announcing its new attractions until descriptions and images have been groomed by public relations experts, so if this plan is real, it has been leaked.


Walt Disney Imagineering, which is responsible for park designs, commented on the alleged leak with the following statement: "We are always looking at ways to enhance our guests' experience at all of our Disney theme parks and resorts. At this time, we have nothing new to announce."

California Adventure, Disneyland's sister park in Anaheim, has already announced its own $1.1 billion makeover intended to give a jolt to its relatively anemic attendance. The company has promoted the changes with sanctioned renderings of the new Cars Land and a lavish new water spectacular. It has even been promoting the investments at an on-site information center, the Blue Sky Cellar, where concept art for a ride based on The Little Mermaid has been posted.

For years, Disney fans have documented the ride's slow road to fruition as it was developed, nearly built, and shelved again. But so far, the new dark ride (an indoor ride typical of Fantasyland classics based on Peter Pan and Snow White) has not been officially announced as green-lit for Florida, as it has in California.

The alleged plans from Florida's Fantasyland, though, clearly show the ride on its projected plot there. You can even see the route the ride vehicles would take through the building. The new ride would occupy land in the northeast section of the land that was originally occupied by the long-dismantled 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea submarine ride, which closed in 1994 and has been mostly dead real estate ever since.

More surprises: The trademark Dumbo ride, an amusement so culturally distinctive that the Smithsonian displays an original ride vehicle from it, will multiply. No doubt addressing the poor load speed of the attraction's 1955 origins, Disney looks like it's planning to run two of them, side-by-side.

If you ask me, if these plans are real, they represent a dramatic improvement, and not just because they add the first new Fantasyland dark ride in years. Hopefully, the new Mermaid ride will be as well-funded and as stocked with cutting-edge technology as the phenomenal nine-year-old Pooh's Hunny Hunt ride at Tokyo Disneyland, another Imagineering project.

The new scheme also finally makes use of space that has been wasted for more than a decade. Particularly interesting is the new placement of Dumbo: Toward the back of the re-imagined land, on more land reclaimed from the old lagoon, which has been fallow for a decade. Other Dumbo rides at Disney parks worldwide are built over moats, but that wasn't possible in Florida because the "utilidor" workers' tunnels beneath Fantasyland's streets couldn't support the water.

The new location, away from the tunnels, could enable Disney to add the originally intended water feature back to the ride. In that way, the new version of Fantasyland could be an improvement on the original.

Pixie Hollow, an area that functions as a meet-and-greet for Disney's new Fairies franchise, was opened last fall, and more locations for face time with Disney Princesses also appear to be on the future landscape.

Walt Disney World, which operates under a different budget than Disneyland, has to step up its game if it wants to stay lively. Next year, Universal Studios' Islands of Adventure launches its epic new land, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, marking it as the most current theme park in a competitive family market.

Disney Parks' earnings report from the last quarter will come out this week. If it's poor, expect a big construction announcement soon. The sooner Disney can bolster its attendance, the sooner can start charging you more again.

Although they're good for family budgets, discounts and deals can't be relied upon to pull the traffic in forever. If this plan is to believed, Disney is rolling the big cannons back into position.
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The resort giant usually surfs from buzz to buzz by keeping at least one banner ride in the construction pipeline, but it hasn't announced any major attractions since it opened the Toy Story Midway Mania 3-D arcade ride in the first half of 2008.
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