Entering the Magic Kingdom Production Center the top-secret warehouses where Disney Worlds parade floats are stored and maintained is like tiptoeing among sleeping giants (emphasis on the word giants).
Here, in the shadow of Splash Mountain and shielded from prying eyes and unauthorized cameras, Disneys parade team is putting the finishing fairy dust on its Festival of Fantasy Parade, which will bring Peter Pan, Pinocchio, Brave and Tangled to life in March on Disneys largest floats ever.
Youll see them coming because of their size and scale, says Disney producer Kris Bunnell. It will be the most grand parade weve ever done like mini-Broadway shows rolling down the street.
For the Disney crew, the supersized parade is a fitting tribute tocompletion of the new Fantasyland, the largest expansion of the Magic Kingdom since the park opened in 1971.
Meanwhile, SeaWorld Orlando celebrates its 50th anniversary this year with a new nighttime Shamu show. And this summer, Universal Studios Orlando will open a second Harry Potter section: the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Diagon Alley.
Like Islands of Adventures Hogsmeade, Diagon Alley will be an expansive area of shops (Quality Quidditch Supplies), restaurants (Leaky Cauldron) and attractions (Knockturn Alley and Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts).
Fans of Harry Potter will fall under Diagon Alleys spell, promises Mark Woodbury, president of Universal Creative. And if youre not a fan when you come, youll surely be one by the time you leave.
But the big story at the biggest player in town is the completion of the new Fantasyland, which has slowly undergone a makeover worthy of Cinderella.
The home of the iconic Its a Small World ride has welcomed Under the Sea, a shimmering tour of the Little Mermaids colorful underwater world, and upgraded Ariels Grotto, where the green-tailed redhead meets and greets admirers.
Be Our Guest Restaurant opened in October 2012, but parkgoers are still lining up at the Beasts castle to chow on Mickey Meatloaf and Croque Monsieur inside one of three elaborately themed rooms.
Big Top Souvenirs began selling Disney paraphernalia and mouthwatering sweets inside an intricately detailed circus tent whose fixtures and display units are works of art in themselves.
And last September, Cinderella, Rapunzel and other royal types began welcoming children to Princess Fairytale Hall. In two intimate but vibrant rooms (both designed and lighted with photographers in mind), the princesses spend a few moments chatting privately with each visitor.
Even Dumbo got a do-over two sets of high-flying elephants now take off and land on the edge of Tomorrowland.
In March, Imagineers will place the final jewel in the Fantasyland crown when the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train leaves the station for the first time.
To board the family-friendly coaster, guests must first cross a stone bridge and meander through a woodland environment toward the Dwarfs cottage in the distance. The queue area will be dotted with barrels of glittering jewels and interactive features themed to mining.
The ride, whose track wends through indoor and outdoor sections blends old and new. Guests will encounter Snow White, her seven little men and their animal friends from the 77-year-old film while secured in a coaster built with cutting-edge technology.
After studying the films mine scene and the movements of the dwarfs mine cars, Imagineers created a coaster with cradle-like pivots that allow the vehicles to swing back and forth during the ride.
It moves like no other thing weve ever developed, says Dave Minichiello, director of Creative Development at Walt Disney Imagineering.
Which takes us back to those towering, twisting and turning parade floats, like the steampunk-inspired Maleficent dragon, which stretches 53 feet long and stands 26 feet tall.
There is so much movement and kinetic energy to all the floats, Bunnell says. Theres so much to see, so much to take in.