Review: The Enchanted Forest at the Magic Kingdom
By Dave Shute
Try the grey stuff
Don’t believe me? Ask the dishes!
(Be Our Guest, from Beauty and the Beast, music and lyrics by Howard Ashman and Alan Menken)
THE ENCHANTED FOREST: A MISSED OPPORTUNITY, BUT STILL A GREAT ACHIEVEMENT
The Enchanted Forest is one of two areas–the other being Storybook Circus–that together make up New Fantasyland at Magic Kingdom.
It contains two attractions–Under the Sea ~ Journey of the Little Mermaid and Enchanted Tales with Belle, two dining spots–Be Our Guest and Gaston’s Tavern, and Ariel’s Grotto, a meet and greet opportunity.
Under the Sea is too slight for the opportunity this expansion presented, and that casts a sense of disappointment over all of the Enchanted Forest.
But Enchanted Tales with Belle is as good as anything Disney World has opened since 2005.
Moreover, although both Be Our Guest and Gaston’s Tavern have menu issues (Gaston’s is too limited, Be Our Guest is scarce on simple options for little kids), Be Our Guest is overall by far the best table service restaurant in the Magic Kingdom (and the first legit “date night” option there ever)–while Gaston’s is the most charming counter service option in the park.
Add to this the fact that the Enchanted Forest is incomplete, with the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train still to open (I had thought this would be in 2013, but it’s now looking like 2014), and what you’ve got is a work in process that despite the disappointment of Under the Sea, has already demonstrated greatness, with the potential for more greatness to come.
REVIEW: THE ENCHANTED FOREST IN NEW FANTASYLAND AT THE MAGIC KINGDOM
The Enchanted Forest begins about where Dumbo used to be in Fantasyland (Dumbo has been moved to Storybook Circus), and occupies area that among other things decades ago was the home of the ride 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.
Right now, everything is on your left as you enter and walk through the Enchanted Forest. (The mine train construction is on your right; when it is completed, this section of the park will also open to Storybook Circus–until then, it’s a dead end.)
The first thing you’ll find is Enchanted Tales with Belle, the first of three Beauty and the Beast themed areas in the Enchanted Forest. If your family doesn’t have a strong memory of the movie, it’s well worth watching before you depart, just as Dumbo is for Storybook Circus.
Enchanted Tales with Belle is much, much more than an opportunity to meet Belle; it’s as good a display of Disney talent as anything opened at Walt Disney World since 2005–when Soarin, Expedition Everest, etc., opened.
I strongly recommend it for all families, of whatever ages, so long as you recall the movie. For more on the attraction, see this,
After Belle you’ll find the new restaurant, Be Our Guest. Be Our Guest offers counter service at lunch and table service at dinner.
It combines the loveliest setting (especially in the Ballroom and the West Wing) with the most intriguing menu (including, at dinner, alcohol) at the Magic Kingdom, putting it head and shoulders above the other Magic Kingdom sit-down dinners for adults.
For kids it’s a bit more of a mixed bag. The menus are much less kid-friendly than other options at the Magic Kingdom, there’s mostly no characters (sometimes the Beast will arrive), and some elements of the detail and settings may go over their heads.
Lines for lunch begin around 10a and may exceed an hour on busier days; dinner reservations are still booking out within a week of when they become available (180 days before).
There’s a review of lunch at Be Our Guest here; I’ll write more on dinner at Be Our Guest later. But for now there’s good reasons why it’s the hottest reservation at the Magic Kingdom.
Gaston’s Tavern is next–a very small counter service restaurant with a limited menu. The exterior has a statue that pokes fun at Gaston. Gaston himself can be met there (in the image, the gent in the red jacket is Gaston–some mistakenly think he’s Josh from easywdw.com).
There’s a shop in the same village square where you’ll find Gaston’s and then next is Under the Sea ~ Journey of the Little Mermaid.
Under the Sea tells the story of Ariel in a straightforward but not particularly magical or imaginative way. Thus, it’s a fine ride for fans of the movie, but not of great interest to anyone else. This represents such a huge missed opportunity that it can overly color reactions to the Enchanted Forest overall. For more on the ride, see this.
You can’t quite not be disappointed that almost everything in the Enchanted Forest is great (though not perfect) except for its signature ride. But it’s still a wonderful place to visit, and a great addition to the Magic Kingdom!