|By Dewayne Bevil, Orlando
SentinelMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Dec. 06, 2012--Walt Disney World celebrated the largest expansion in Magic Kingdom history with a grand opening for portions of its "new" Fantasyland this morning.
Former "American Idol" champion Jordin Sparks and Ginnifer Goodwin, star of ABC's "Once Upon a Time," ceremoniously cut the ribbon with golden scissors to open the area officially.
"The castles here are far more beautiful than what we have on 'Once Upon a Time,'" said Goodwin, who plays Snow White on the ABC series.
Tom Staggs, chairman of Disney Parks and Resorts, thanked employees during the brief ceremony for their work on the $425 million project.
Later, in a public event in front of Cinderella Castle, Sparks sang a medley of Disney songs related to the new attractions. She was flanked by dancers, dwarfs, Dumbo and a selection of princesses.
After a smattering of fireworks, a large banner reading "Welcome to New Fantasyland" was unfurled from the castle.
The attractions to open in the latest phase of the project include the Under the Sea -- Journey of the Little Mermaid ride, featuring dozens of Disney's famed audio-animatronics; Enchanted Tales With Belle, an interaction with the lead female character from "Beauty and the Beast"; Be Our Guest Restaurant, serving French cuisine; and Gaston's Tavern, a small counter-serve eatery.
Guests have previewed those stops for several weeks. They are built in the general vicinity of the old 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, an attraction that closed in 1994.
This summer saw the opening of Storybook Circus, a new subset of Fantasyland built on the former site of Mickey's Toontown Fair. Rides there include a rethemed Barnstormer roller coaster and Dumbo the Flying Elephant, which now features two spinning carousels and an indoor queue that doubles as a playground. A water-play area, stores, remodeled train station and character meet-and-greet area.
"Old" Fantasyland attractions remain at Magic Kingdom, including "it's a small world," Peter Pan's Flight, the Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, Prince Charming Regal Carrousel, Mad Tea Party and Cinderella Castle.
More Fantasyland additions are on the way. Next year, Princess Fairytale Hall will house royal meet-and-greets with guests, and the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train roller coaster is scheduled to open in 2014.
In addition to Fantasyland openings, Disney also reopened a remodeled version of Epcot's Test Track, which had been closed since April. In the new version, park guests design cars using variables such as capability, efficiency, responsiveness and power. Those creations are matched against the attraction's SimCar, which takes riders through performance tests. The long, high-speed stretch that bursts from the Test Track building remains from the original attraction.
"The main idea here was to bring the world of the automotive story that we were telling at Test Track into present day and really set it up to be a kind of a future story about automotive design," said Melissa Jeselnick, project manager with Walt Disney Imagineering.
With hands-on activities before, during and after the ride, the new Test Track is the most interactive attraction created by Disney, she said. It gives guests creative control and a lesson in manufacturing.
"If you choose a big engine, you're going to get a lot of power, but potentially, that's going to impact your efficiency scores," Jeselnick said.
There will be ways to make the virtual cars very impractical, Jeselnick said, along with methods to make them reflect the personality of their makers -- or to match their makers' bedrooms.
"All the options are there to appeal to big car buffs as well as people who are wanting to make them a little more whimsical," she said
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