At last, the long awaited Part Two of our experience to the Fantasyland expansion of Disney World, this time complete with video! See Part 1 Here.
On our last day at the parks we made sure to prioritize a trip to Enchanted Tales with Belle, the new interactive Beauty and the Beast experience. We weren’t sure what to expect considering we that were a group of adults and that this was most likely designed for young kids. But we had heard that the animatronics were not to be missed, so we gave it a go. As we turned the corner into Fantasyland we kept turning down a cobblestone path leading up to a thatched roof cottage with a stable attached. We wound our way through the farm-style fencing up to the house. Quickly I realized, “Wait, this is BELLE’S house and stable!” Remember in the movie when Belle goes out to the stable to feed the chickens and kicks the bucket of food over while swearing never to be Gaston’s “little wife” because she wants much more than this provincial life? That’s the one.
The line moved slowly but there was plenty to entertain. It was, however, about 200 degrees out, so we did feel a bit like melting into a puddle and calling it a day. The line twisted around the outside of the house and led through a door into Belle’s and Maurice’s living room—air conditioned and everything, thank the Lord. With the relief from the heat came a renewed sense of curiosity for our surroundings. Between exposed wooden beams and yellowy-cream walls, the tables and counters were covered in stacks of Belle’s books and strewn about with Maurice’s blueprints for his inventions. On the wall hung a portrait of a young Belle next to who we were to deduce as Belle’s mother. We spotted along the opposite wall pencil markings—Belle’s growing heights over the years.
At intervals of about 10-15 minutes, a big door would open and a Disney cast member, dressed in culottes and tunics, would usher a new group into the next room. We (somewhat) patiently waited our turn. At last, our large party was welcomed into the “experience.” (Again, I use that word carefully and intentionally. Then again, I don’t know what else to call what followed. It was neither a ride nor a play nor a game, so experience is all I can say.) We followed a corridor down to another room where the cast member informed us that we were in Maurice’s workshop. Indeed, tools and blueprints and schematics and odds and ends appropriately suggested ‘eccentric inventor.’ The one component that looked out of place was a giant mirror hanging on the wall. The cast member explained that this was a magic mirror given to Maurice by the Beast so that he could talk to Belle whenever he liked. The cast member asked us all if we wanted to see how it worked.
“Yes!” rang out young voices all around us. OK! The lights went dim and the mirror began to smoke and glow green. Slowly and seamlessly the mirror grew wider and taller. Before we knew it the glass had disappeared to reveal a secret passageway. Awesome.
The passage led through a short corridor and opened up into a broad, brightly lit hall, and who was there to welcome us but the Wardrobe in all her boisterous hospitality.
With the help of the cast members the Wardrobe distributed from within her cabinets props for all of the children present, as well as any of the adults (Josh)
who wanted to play along. She explained that, when we went into the next room, Lumiere would help us surprise Belle and reenact the story of how Belle met the Beast. After a moment or two of rehearsal, into the next room we went. We shuffled in and sat on benches facing a large fireplace. On top of the mantle sat the man—er—candelabra we’d all been waiting for. Lumiere welcomed us with broad sweeps of this brass arms and his charming, smirking smiles. He gave all of the kiddos (and Josh) their instructions to yell “Surprise!” when Belle arrived. “Are you ready?” “Yea!” The lights when down, the door on the left opened, and Belle came in. SURPRISE! Belle was appropriately surprised. Music played as she greeted us. With cues from Lumiere and some prodding from the cast members, the children (and Josh, who was a suit of armor) reenacted the Story of Beauty and the Beast, complete with a “Be Our Guest” parade around the room.
As if I were not already delighted, there was a particular moment that won all of our hearts. You might think that one of the young boys would jump at the chance to play the role of the Beast. On this particular occasion, however, this was far from the case. It was, in fact, a little girl in a Cinderella outfit who eagerly claimed the part. On went the Beast’s red cape and the play was cast. Half way through the play, the time came for the Beast to give a mighty roar. The lights when down, the spotlight went up, the music turned off, and then we heard it—tiny, sweet, and delightful: “rooooaaaar!” I later overheard the little girl’s mother tell a cast member that for months this little girl was desperate to play the role of the Beast, therefore making this a dream come true. A “Disney moment” if ever there was one!
As I reflect on these magnificently interwoven elements of acting, animatronics, timing, comfort, interactivity, etc., I realize how easily it all could have gone off poorly. It could have felt painfully cheesy, but we were all too impressed to think too hard about it. It could have been disastrously awkward if we had had to wait for too long to go from room to room, or if something else had broken down in the system, but there was never a moment’s doubt. We could have felt like cattle, what with all the shuffling we did, but our curiosity kept us moving. The professionalism, the high standard of service, and there being so much to look at completely prevented all of these possibilities. I noticed that a huge key to the success of this experience was the wherewithal of all of the cast members.
It is no easy task to herd kids with their costumes and their anxious parents on what must be an exceedingly tight schedule. Neither is it simple to keep so many people not only happy but enthralled, and keep yourself practically invisible in the process. I had heard tell of the exemplary Disney customer service. I even read a little book about it called Lessons from the Mouse, all about how other businesses can apply the Disney customer service standard. But here it was, in living color, making it possible for hundreds of people every day to leave behind their cares of the hot and sweaty world outside. No one does this better than Disney, and they do their best to prove it every day.
Here are a few clips from the experience strung together for your viewing pleasure. Be sure to admire the flexibility of the animatronics, the expert facilitating skills of each of the cast members, and best of all, the little roar.