By Suzanne Rowan Kelleher
Right now is an uncommonly good time to plan a trip to the number one family destination in the world. Just last month, Disney World unveiled a long-awaited makeover of Fantasyland, which doubled its size and marked the largest expansion in the Magic Kingdom’s 41-year history.
Along with new rides and attractions, you can look forward to a better experience overall, thanks to several initiatives designed to help you personalize your stay and spend less time waiting in line. Throw in the promise of fun new surprises every week, and 2013 is shaping up to be a banner year for Mickey.
Looking for an excuse to bring the kids to Disney World? Here are seven good reasons to plan a family getaway this spring.
Score a great deal. For most dates between mid-February and mid-June, you can save up to 30 percent off a room at any Disney World resort. Stay at least four days and you can bundle park tickets into a package for even greater savings. For example, it’s possible for a family of four can nab a five-night, six-day package including accommodations at Disney’s All-Star Sports Resort and park tickets for under $1,700.
Streamline your stay. Room key cards are so 2012. Over the next few months, Disney will replace the current Key to the World cards with wireless electronic wristbands called MagicBands, which are part of a larger integrated system that includes a “My Disney Experience” web site and free mobile app. Even before setting foot in the parks, you’ll be able to lock in restaurant reservations, show tickets, and guaranteed ride times for popular attractions. The app will let you change your plans on the go, and your info will be automatically stored in your MagicBand.
Wait less, play more. Dumbo the Flying Elephant has long been an iconic right-of-passage attraction, but its massive popularity meant there was almost always a relentlessly long line. Now, thanks to twin Dumbo spinners, wait time has been halved—and the news gets even better. The wait has become an event in itself, as kids are invited to play under the Big Top in a circus-themed play zone with slides and cargo-net climbing tubes. A circus-ticket pager lets their parents know when it’s time to board the ride.
Dine in a castle. The crowning glory of the New Fantasyland is Be Our Guest Restaurant, the most extravagantly immersive eatery Disney has ever created. The drama begins on the gargoyle-guarded bridge leading to Beast’s Castle, and unfolds as every last detail of the castle’s rooms—from the sumptuous, gilded ballroom to the forboding west wing—draws you further into the film’s storyline. No need to book ahead for the quick-service lunch (served on china and flatware, bien sûr), but advance reservations are a must for the more traditional sit-down dinner.
Hang out with friends. Fantasyland offers three new places to meet favorite characters from “The Little Mermaid” and “Beauty and the Beast.” At Enchanted Tales with Belle, Madame Wardrobe and Lumière emcee an engaging show in which guests take on roles and interact with Belle. You can visit with Ariel in her grotto, then grab what’s arguably the most fun photo op of them all, with the incorrigibly pompous Gaston in a French-village courtyard—that is, when he’s not challenging 5-year-old boys to bicep flex-offs and push-ups.
Design your dream car. Over at Epcot, the ever-popular Test Track thrill ride just reopened after getting a complete makeover of its own. With a new sponsor in Chevrolet and a fresh focus on cutting-edge design, Test Track now begins inside the interactive design center, where you can create the ultimate race car, take it for a speedy spin around the Sim Track, then compare how your car stacks up against the competition.
Expect the unexpected. In both its Orlando and Anaheim parks, Disney has been rolling out “Limited Time Magic,” a 52-week series of fun little extras available on a limited-time basis. For example, Disney princesses turn up for last-minute meet-and-greets, a barbershop quartet appears to serenade the crowd, and Valentine’s Day just might stretch into a whole week of romantic surprises. While you can’t plan far ahead for these moments, you can check out LimitedTimeMagic.com for clues to what’s coming up in the near future.