LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The multiyear makeover of the Magic Kingdom's Fantasyland at Walt Disney World will be complete with the Wednesday opening of the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, a super smooth ride that serves as a good introductory coaster.
The ride is shorter than the park's Big Thunder Mountain railroad and less bumpy and intense, too. Another benefit for families with easily frightened preschoolers: Mine Train probably won't be as terrifying for children as the old Snow White's Scary Adventure, a classic Disney dark ride that gave the Wicked Queen a prominent role.
In the new Mine Train ride, the dwarfs are the stars; Snow White makes a cameo at the end along with the Wicked Queen but it's in an open-air setting, not in the dark. (Snow White's Scary Adventure closed in 2012 to make way for Princess Fairytale Hall, where Anna and Elsa from "Frozen" and other Disney princesses meet park guests.)
Mine train ride completes Disney's Fantasy Land update
The PG's Rob Owen experiences the new Seven Dwarfs mine train ride in the Fantasy Land section of Walt Disney World, California. (Video by Rob Owen; edited by Melissa Tkach; 5/25/2014)
At the new ride's dedication on May 2, Walt Disney World Parks and Resorts chairman Tom Staggs called Seven Dwarfs Mine Train "the literal and figurative centerpiece of New Fantasyland," and indeed it is. The rest of New Fantasyland, which opened to the public last year following the dismantling of Mickey's Toontown, wraps around the Mine Train ride.
"We knew it had to be something special that provides just the right blend of heart, humor and thrill while still keeping with the charm of this special land," Mr. Staggs said.
And like some of the revised Fantasyland attractions -- and other rides throughout the Magic Kingdom -- Seven Dwarfs Mine Train features interactive preshow elements in its standby queue (the FastPass entry bypasses these additions).
Park guests can play a tabletop video game where they try to match up gems from the mine (a floating bar of soap is slippery and almost impossible to maneuver). A second interactive element features water and sounds and a third involves spinning barrels.
(Hint: Spin all seven at once -- with the help of other folks waiting in line -- and you'll see a surprise projected on the mine's ceiling.)
The ride begins with banking turns outside the mine that offer up pleasant views of New Fantasyland before entering the mine where animatronic dwarfs are at work extracting gems. Shadows of the dwarfs marching to "Heigh-Ho, Heigh-Ho, it's off to work we go" -- taken from a scene in the 1937 film -- are projected on the mine's rock walls as the coaster ascends its final hill. Then it rushes back outside and smoothly maneuvers around more turns before coming to rest in front of the dwarfs' cottage, where an animatronic Snow White dances as the Wicked Queen peers in through a window.
Each mine train car swings back and forth independently as it moves along the track, but it can't really be felt in any sort of wild way; instead it results in a ride that's not jarring or raucous.
Chris Beatty, senior creative director of Walt Disney Imagineering, described Mine Train as "the quintessential family thrill ride" that also honors the Snow White story.
"The focus was on delivering something that resonated with all ages," he said, noting that setting the ride in the dwarfs' mine provides a new, differentiated location from the previous Snow White attraction. "It's a combination of an amazing coaster experience and an amazing dark ride at the same time. ...And this lets us go to a part of the film that we never got to explore in a physical attraction."
Most of the animatronic dwarfs are new, high-tech creations ("I think we set the bar for animated figures in our dark rides," Mr. Beatty said), but in keeping with the Disney tradition of honoring former park rides, the figures of Grumpy, Doc, Bashful, Sleepy and Happy were brought over from Snow White's Scary Adventure for the Mine Train's final, cottage-set scene.
The creation of New Fantasyland in the Magic Kingdom -- about 20 miles southeast of Orlando -- began in 2011 with the closure of Mickey's Toontown Fair. In its place, Disney imagineers created a new double Dumbo attraction -- two versions of the same ride to increase capacity -- along with new meet-and-greet areas for Ariel the Little Mermaid and other Disney costumed characters.
New Fantasyland, directly behind the original Fantasyland just beyond Cinderella Castle, also includes an Enchanted Tales with Belle interactive story theater, the Be Our Guest restaurant, beneath the castle from "Beauty and the Beast," Gaston's Pub and a version of Under the Sea -- Journey of the Little Mermaid, a music-filled dark ride that first opened at Disney California Adventure in Anaheim, Calif., in June 2011.
TV writer Rob Owen: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-2582. Follow RobOwenTV on Twitter or Facebook.