LAKE BUENA VISTA – If there’s one word that probably worries theme parks more than anything else, it’s stagnation – the notion that their rides and attractions are overly familiar to tourists who are now ready to move on to newer, more exciting spots.
That kind of familiarity probably seems like the ideal goal for a theme park like Walt Disney World, which after all promotes itself as being a place where families build “magical memories” from one generation to the next, said Lexi Green, an interloper for the theme park giant.
“Disney is not just an attractions experience, it’s a memories experience,” Green said, as she reflected back at her own initial visit to the theme park giant near Orlando.
“My very first Disney ride was Dumbo,” she said of the Dumbo the Flying Elephant ride at the Magic Kingdom.
It’s those memories, she added, that have been bringing visitors back to the theme park for the past 40 years, with their children, and then grandchildren, to build new memories.
But at the same time, Green said, Disney remains committed to reinventing itself and finding new ways to entertain visitors. That’s why, she said, the Magic Kingdom, Epcot and Downtown Disney are all working on developing something new – so visitors have an added reason to come back.
“There’s so much cool stuff going on,” she said.
On Thursday, Walt Disney World hosted the trade association that the theme park at Lake Buena Vista is a member of, the Central Florida Vacation Rental Managers Association.
The CFVRMA represents the fast-growing number of vacation homes serving guests at houses across Central Florida. They’re fully furnished houses that are rented to tourists and business travelers on a short term basis, offering more space – multiple bedrooms, a kitchen, a game room and private pool – than what a hotel room can provide.
The industry is particularly prominent in Northeast Polk County, along U.S. 27, and the association’s president, An Flamand, operates her business there in Davenport. USA Vacation Homes has been operating there for a while now — “I’ve been doing this for 11 years,” Flamand said.
The association members meet once a month and are usually hosted by a resort or attraction in Central Florida. This month, it was Disney’s turn, and the association members were given a special presentation by Green about the special changes going on at Disney.
It was, Flamand said, a lot of great information for the property managers to pass on to their guests during their Central Florida vacation.
“I would like to thank Disney for this great venue and for hosting us today,” Flamand said.
Green said there’s a lot of changes on the way for Disney’s guests to experience, no more so than at Fantasyland in the Magic Kingdom, which is being expanded to include a host of new rides, dining options and new themed areas.
“The new Fantasyland will be comprised of two phases, the Storybook Circus and the Enchanted Forest,” she said. The Dumbo ride, for example, will be doubled in capacity.
“The way to it is going to be made much easier because you will be waiting in an air-conditioned tent,” Green said. “Let me say that again – air-conditioned.”
The Storybook Circus, which opens next month, will include the Casey Jr. Splash n’ Soak Station, a themed water area.
“It’s a fantastic place to cool off in the heat,” she said.
In the Enchanted Forest, “There are going to be two castles,” Green said. “How cool is that? Who is building castles anymore? If you travel to Europe, no one is building castles anymore.”
The castles will be designed to look like the ones from Disney’s hit 1991 animated movie “Beauty and The Beast.”
Also in line with that movie will be Ariel’s Grotto, where guests can hear enchanted tales with Belle.
“After that, you can get into the Be Our Guest Restaurant,” she said. “The main dining room looks exactly like the one in the movie.”
Another new ride will be Under the Sea: Journey of the Little Mermaid, taken from Disney’s animated movie “The Little Mermaid.”
“You get into a clamshell – not a real clamshell, a life-sized one – and ride through the colorful scenes of the movie,” Green said.
Heading over to The Village Square, guests can also ride the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, a ride that replaced the now-defunct Snow White’s Scary Adventure, which dated back to the theme park’s opening in 1971.
“It will be the first of its kind train ride,” Green said. “There will be music from the film and animated figures from Snow White.”
At Epcot, “which is celebrating its 30th anniversary in October,” Green said, a new attraction will be Test Trak presented by Chevrolet.
“You get to design your own automobile, then take your car over to the sim car and try it out,” she said.
The Japan Pavilion is opening a new restaurant called Katsura Grill, which will have some new meals from Japan.
And that’s not all, Green said.
“I can’t talk a lot about it, it’s still under wraps, but there’s going to be a new attraction based on the ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ movies,” she said. “I can’t tell you much about it, you’ll find out more this year. But I’ll tell you this – what kind of socks do pirates wear? Arrrggg –iles.”
One other significant addition is coming to Disney, Green noted.
“You’re thinking there’s nothing else you can bring to Disney,” Green smiled. “You’re wrong. We’re getting Starbucks.”
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