The Mouse means business with Disney World Fantasyland expansion

We were right. A month and a half ago, brought you word of some "secret" plans to overhaul Fantasyland in the Magic Kingdom of Walt Disney World. At the time, Disney wouldn't comment directly on them, but now it can be told: They're real.

In 2013, the Magic Kingdom's 42nd birthday year, Fantasyland will grow in its largest expansion ever. The details, now official, are pretty much as we had them: a new dark ride based on The Little Mermaid is coming, and the famous Dumbo ride will be multiplying, taking up twice the previous space for, we can only hope, shorter waits. Fans have already dubbed the new version "Double Dumbo."

Four years is a long way off, and so far, the plans for Walt Disney World's 40th anniversary year, 2011, aren't quite so scintillating, with only a rehab of the old Star Tours ride announced.
Although details are sketchy, one downside for Disney fans is already clear: Toontown will be no more. That's OK. It was supposed to be a temporary attraction, Mickey's Birthdayland, but the park simply retained the area, an awkward spur of land that doesn't conform to the "hub" system that Walt Disney designed, rather than developing it in a coherent way.

Toontown's elimination is a sign that Disney is finally counting the costs of resting on its laurels, and that it recognizes that it's time to correct some of the mistakes that years of benign neglect have created. In this way, the recession has finally caused the company to take a hard look at all the ways it has failed to properly maximize its product at its flagship Florida park.

This upcoming renovation also finally reclaims land that has been allowed to lay fallow for years, including the former 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea area. Meanwhile, over in Tomorrowland, Disney is currently razing the old Skyway gondola station that has been moldering in the corner for a decade. The Mouse is getting serious.

It's been a quiet few years in Orlando, as the major theme parks ride out the recession with ticket and package discounts and subtle service trims. But next year, the city will attempt to start its resurgence. So if you were hoping to find a deal on a vacation there, it would be wise to plan something for the next 24 months.

What's causing this sudden surge in productivity? It's not that the economy is finally back on line. Contrary to popular belief, the major theme parks are not bleeding money right now. They're just not making as much money as they used to. They're pulling in money with a fork rather than a rake.

No, the motivator here is competition. On Tuesday, Universal Orlando will release many long-awaited details of its Harry Potter land, which opens in a year at its Islands of Adventure park.

Disney's announcement is a sign that, after several years of adding nothing special to its parks, it's finally willing to spend some real cash to slash at the jugular of its biggest rival in the theme park market.

If its tactic works, you can say goodbye to all those great eat-free or stay-free packages that have been in the offing all year. If it fails, you can get ready for more fantastic discounts for Theme Park Land while the giants struggle to pay their construction bills.
Read Full Story