Photo Credit: Gene Duncan
Planning a trip to Disney World? Whether it's your annual family vacation destination or the first time your kiddos will experience the magic of the Magic Kingdom, there's a lot that's new at Disney World. Disney Imagineers (with a little help from Tinkerbell), have been busy sprinkling pixie dust throughout the theme parks, creating lots of new rides, new attractions and enchanting experiences. It starts in the Magic Kingdom, which just completed its biggest expansion ever with New Fantasyland, and continues throughout the resort. So follow us as we explore what's new in Disney World. As Peter Pan would say, "Here we go!"
Enchanted Tales with Belle
Best for: Preschoolers and early grade schoolers
Where you'll find it: In Maurice's cottage, on the outskirts of the French village, in Magic Kingdom's New Fantasyland.
Why it's special: Step through a magic mirror into Beast's library, where you and your kids can act out the story of Beauty and the Beast. (Shhh, it's a surprise for Belle!) First, Madame Wardrobe doles out the props and costumes. After a quick dress rehearsal, Lumiere calls Belle in (everyone yell "surprise!"), and narrates the tale as old as time, as she helps her new friends role-play. The grand finale? Belle dances with the lucky child who is Beast, then poses with all the kids, giving each one a special bookmark as a parting gift.
Insider tip: Crowds build quickly, so head here first. After the show, stop in Gaston's Tavern for a snack and a goblet of LeFou's Brew -- a yummy frozen apple juice with toasted marshmallow topping.
Be Our Guest Restaurant
Best for: All ages
Where you'll find it: In Beast's Castle, in Magic Kingdom's New Fantasyland.
Why it's special: Not only do you get to cross the moat and pass through the giant wrought-iron gates to Beast's home, you can dine in one of three themed rooms: The delicate Rose Gallery (with floral mosaics and a giant Beauty and the Beast music box); the dark, forbidden West Wing (where the rose in the bell jar drops its petals); and the majestic Ballroom, where Belle and Beast had their first dance. Go for a quick-service lunch (after ordering on a touch-screen, you're given an enchanted rose that helps your food magically find its way to your table); or do the more formal sit-down dinner. A bonus for grownups? This is the only place in Magic Kingdom that serves alcohol.
Insider tip: Doors open for lunch around 11 a. m., but you can line up as early as 10:15. For dinner, you'll need a reservation: Make one up to 180 days in advance by calling 407-WDW-DINE (3463) or visiting www.disneyworld.com/dine.
Under the Sea~Journey of the Little Mermaid
Best for: Preschoolers and grade schoolers (though some young preschoolers may be scared by the Sea Witch and her creepy-eyed eels).
Where you'll find it: Just beneath Eric's Castle, in Magic Kindgom's New Fantasyland.
Why it's special: A clamshell vehicle takes you "under the sea," and the special effects really make you feel like you're descending to the ocean floor. There, Ariel, Sebastian and friends (and a few enemies) perform all their big musical numbers. This ride has some of the most sophisticated audio-animatronics figures ever created: Watch how Ariel's hair moves as she sings, and how Ursula wiggles every witchy tentacle.
Insider tip: You can get a Fast Pass for this, which lets you return at an appointed time and ride without waiting in line. But the Fast Pass kiosk is way back in the original Fantasyland, so stop at the machine before you head into New Fantasyland.
Best for: Anyone who wants to meet the Little Mermaid in person.
Where you'll find it: Just beneath Eric's castle in Magic Kingdom's New Fantasyland, next door to Under the Sea~Journey of the Little Mermaid ride.
Why it's special: This is no ordinary meet-and-greet. Fans can sit next to Ariel on her seashell throne and get in lots of quality time with the chatty mermaid princess.
Insider tip: If you happen to be in line at high noon on November 18 -- Mickey Mouse's birthday -- look for a very special hidden Mickey. When the sunlight streams through the rocks at just the right moment, it will form a shadow in the shape of the famous mouse. It only happens once a year!
Dumbo, the Flying Elephant
Best for: Toddlers and preschoolers
Where you'll find it: In the center of the Storybook Circus, in Magic Kingdom's New Fantasyland.
Why it's special: The new and improved Dumbo now has two sets of flying elephants that you can ride without standing in line. Here's how it works: Instead of queuing up, go into the air-conditioned Big Top Tent and get a ticket-shaped pager. While you're waiting (usually no more than 20 minutes), chill on a bench while the kids slide, climb and bounce in the circus-themed play area. When your pager lights up, go to the ride and take in the cool views as you spin round and round.
Insider tip: Afraid you won't be able drag kids out of the Big Top Tent play area? Get a Fast Pass, return at the appointed time and walk right onto the ride.
Casey Jr. Splash 'N' Soak Station
Best for: Preschoolers and grade schoolers
Where you'll find it: In Storybook Circus, in Magic Kingdom's New Fantasyland. Why it's special: This wet and wild water playground will cool kids off on a sweltering Orlando day. The whimsical Casey Jr. circus train is loaded with splashy surprises: The locomotive shoots mist from its smokestack, and each car is filled with animals on a mission to drench kids. Watch out for the spraying elephants, monkeys and giraffes!
Insider tip: Bring a bathing suit, beach towel, water shoes and change of clothes -- kids will get soaked!
Pete's Silly Side Show
Best for: Toddlers, preschoolers and grade schoolers
Where you'll find it: In the red big top tent in Storybook Circus, in Magic Kingdom's New Fantasyland.
Why it's special: A talking calliope invites you in to greet classic Disney characters dressed in circus-themed attire. Meet the Astounding Donaldo (Donald Duck as a snake charmer), Great Goofini (Goofy as stunt pilot), Minnie Magnifique (Minnie Mouse as an animal trainer) and Madame Daisy Fortuna (Daisy Duck as a fortune teller).
Insider tip: When you exit Pete's Silly Side Show, you'll wind up in Big Top Souvenirs store. To divert your kids' attention, make your way toward the sweet-smelling kitchen counter in back, where you can watch chefs make fudge and candy apples.
Celebrate the Magic! Castle Projection Show
Best for: Preschool age and older
Where you'll find it: At Cinderella's Castle in Magic Kingdom, every evening.
Why it's special: All your favorite Disney movie scenes are projected onto Cinderella's Castle in this dazzling nighttime show. Picture this: Park lights dim, music starts and an animated Tinkerbell flies around the castle, transforming it into a screen of sorts for Disney imagery. You'll go down the rabbit hole with Alice, be part of Wreck It Ralph's video game and blast to infinity and beyond with Buzz Lightyear. Fight pirates with Captain Jack Sparrow, gallop through the Scottish moors with Brave's Merida, then revel in the grand finale -- one big kaleidoscope of color, music and motion.
Insider tip: The best viewing spots are in front of the castle or on the bridges that surround it.
The New Test Track
Best for: Kids 40" or taller
Where you'll find it: Epcot's Future World
Why it's special: This fun car ride just got a high-tech, interactive makeover. Now, you design and test your own virtual vehicle. While in line, you'll create a concept car at a computer station, see a picture of your creation and then save the design specs onto a special pass card. At the front of the line, swipe your card to enter your virtual car into the Test Track performance tests. Then hop into the 6-passenger ride vehicle and take off on a test drive. During the ride, screens will tell you how your virtual car fared. The final test is for acceleration, and as your car speeds up, it busts through a door and out on to the racetrack for a thrilling high-octane climax.
Insider tip: We recommend you ride Test Track first thing in the morning, when crowds are lightest, so you can get the full effect.
Phineas & Ferb: Agent P's World Showcase Adventure
Best for: Grade schoolers
Where you'll find it: Epcot's World Showcase
Why it's special: The whole family gets exercise, as you work together to catch a criminal in this interactive secret agent game. Your mission: To prevent the dastardly Dr. Doofenshmirtz from carrying out his devious plans to take over the world. Go to one of the recruitment centers (at Odyssey Bridge, Norway Pavilion, Italy Pavilion or International Gateway) for your assignment and handheld Field Operative Notification Equipment (FONE). The smart FONE will lead you around the World Showcase, offering clues and instructions on getting Dr. Doofenshmirtz before he gets you!
Insider tip: Each World Showcase pavilion hosts a different mission (which lasts between 30 and 45 minutes), so kids can have a unique experience in each country.
The Legend of Captain Jack Sparrow
Best for: Grade school age and older
Where you'll find it: Disney's Hollywood Studios
Why it's special: This walk-through experience immerses you in the best-known scenes from all four Pirates of the Caribbean movies, plus contains new footage with Johnny Depp filmed especially for the attraction. With a talking skull and crossbones as your guide, see if you have what it takes to join Captain Jack Sparrow's crew. Can you survive a raging sea storm, battle a kraken and help Captain Jack defeat Davy Jones and sink the Flying Dutchman? If so, you'll get to take the pirate's oath and join Captain Jack in a rousing rendition of "Yo Ho, Yo Ho, A Pirate's Life For Me." Insider tip: It's loud and dark in here, and could be too intense for some children.
Disney's Art of Animation Resort
Best for: Families who need their space.
Where you'll find it: On Disney resort property, right next door to Pop Century Resort.
Why it's special: Disney's newest value resort has spacious movie-themed family suites that sleep six. Each one has two bathrooms, a master bedroom with queen bed, and a living area with kitchenette, sofa bed and cool convertible dining table/Murphy bed. Family suites are located in three whimsical wings -- Cars, Lion King and Finding Nemo -- all designed to make you feel like you've stepped right into the movie. There's also a Little Mermaid wing with standard hotel rooms that sleep up to four.
Insider tip: As with all on-site Disney World resorts, guests at Disney's Art of Animation Resort get complimentary bus transportation to the theme parks and exclusive access to Extra Magic Hours, which allow you, on designated days, to enter certain parks early or stay two hours past the regular closing time.