Nobody does princesses like Disney.
The proof can be seen at the recently debuted Fantasy Faire at Disneyland park in Anaheim, Calif. — where "happily ever after" is a blanket policy.
Before I go further, full disclosure: I’m a Disney first-timer. Post-visit, I wonder how I made it through my 36 years without ever experiencing a Disney park firsthand. I brought along my husband, Harry, and daughters — Aphrodite, 3, and Paulina, 1 1/2.
For the entire week, I was pretty much in awe of the sheer creative genius behind the place. The resort even won over my hard-to-please hubby (I would often joke that I brought the grumpiest traveller in the world to the Happiest Place on Earth).
I quickly discovered, whatever Disney does, it does really, really well.
Fantasy Faire is no different. With its ornate decorations and quaint European village feel, it was hard to believe the attraction — located next to the iconic Sleeping Beauty Castle — only debuted in March as it blends in smoothly with its Fantasyland surroundings.
"That’s one of the things we do best," Disneyland Resort president Michael Colglazier said.
The storybook-worthy village is highlighted by the Royal Hall, where three Disney Princesses gather to meet their guests one-on-one.
Having experienced a couple of days at the park before hitting up Fantasy Faire, I realized the value of meeting a Disney character.
If you spot a Mickey Mouse or Goofy wandering the park, you need to hustle to line up for a quick picture and autograph. Those lineups get cut off after a few minutes, but if you make it, the reaction from your little one is priceless.
The princess meet-and-greet at the Royal Hall gets the same reaction but is a totally different experience, and well worth the wait for fans. (The wait, by the way, was about a half-hour mid-morning on a Thursday. The line was chockablock with little girls dressed as their favourite princesses. A structure provided shade for most of the line and overhead fans kept guests cool, so the time seemed to pass quickly.)
Once you’re in, your party is guided to the first princess. In order, we met Aurora (Sleeping Beauty), Ariel (The Little Mermaid) and Cinderella. Other princesses are shuffled into the mix throughout the day and a sign outside will let guests know who to anticipate.
Each princess has her own room in the lavishly appointed Royal Hall. The visit is quick, but it doesn’t feel rushed at all.
While at Fantasy Faire, watch for these whimsical details:
— The most prominent tower in Fantasy Faire village is Troubadour Tower, which features a staircase (not open to guests) with a carved wooden owl on the newel post.
— On a window ledge next to Troubadour Tower sits Figaro, the mischievous cat from Pinocchio, dozing near a bird in a cage. Occasionally, Figaro stirs awake when the bird sings.
— In the centre of Fantasy Faire, a 4.9-metre stone sculpture pays tribute to Rapunzel’s tower in the Disney animated feature Tangled. After dark, Rapunzel’s hair, twisting around the tower sculpture, comes to life with twinkling lights.
— To the left of the Royal Hall entrance is Clopin’s Music Box. When guests turn the crank at the base of the box, they set in motion a scene in which Clopin, from The Hunchback of Notre Dame, joins other characters from the film in a music-box version of the song Topsy Turvy.
With the help of on-hand staff, we got in video, cellphone pictures and traditional camera photos. The bonus of meeting a character in this setting is the lighting is perfect and there’s no risk of someone walking in front of your photo.
Aphrodite and Paulina got to hug each princess and have a little discussion before getting personalized autographs.
I’m well aware of the criticism Disney Princesses have faced over the years. While they spark imaginative play in children, you’ll have no argument from me that they’re also glittery conduits of consumerism — but the Royal Hall visit didn’t have that vibe at all. The princesses spoke of manners, kindness and, of course, didn’t break character for a millisecond.
As if that’s not enough of a majestic experience enough for you — Fantasy Faire is also home to the Royal Theatre outdoor stage. There you can see one of two 22-minute shows that tell the tales of Beauty and the Beast or Tangled, and feature a couple of slapstick comedians named Mr. Smythe and Mr. Jones.
The theatre holds about 300 people, including benches and floor seating. The side sections offer a better view, as there’s a tent pole which may slightly obstruct view in the middle. Following each show, there’s another chance to meet characters as Belle (Beauty and the Beast) Rapunzel and Flynn Rider (Tangled) greet the audience.
Disney enthusiasts will note that Fantasy Faire takes the place of Carnation Plaza Gardens, the former swing dancing spot that stood in this spot from the earliest days of Disneyland. The former CPG stage hosted school and community music groups and headliners such as Count Basie, Lionel Hampton, Cab Calloway, Les Brown, Buddy Rich, Tommy Dorsey, Stan Kenton and The Osmonds.
In typical Disney style, there’s a tribute to the former venue as a shield over the archway leading from Fantasy Faire to Rancho del Zocalo in Frontierland displays the letters CPG.
As a parent, I certainly appreciated the slower pace of Fantasy Faire. The park can be a bit of sensory overload for the wee ones at times, and a well-placed attraction like this saved the family from bippity-boppity burnout.
IF YOU GO TO DISNEYLAND
For more information, go to disneyland.com/fantasyfaire.
We stayed at the Grand Californian Hotel & Spa. In terms of convenience, this is the place to stay at Disneyland.
The property has a private entrance to Disney California Adventure and is just steps from the Downtown Disney District. With 948 rooms, three pools and three restaurants — including the award-winning Napa Rose — it truly is grand. If you’re looking for an adult night out, Pinocchio’s Workshop is a licenced childcare facility, offered exclusively to hotel guests, that provides onsite care services for children 5-12 years of age from 5 p.m. to midnight (for a fee).
For more information, go to disneyland.com/hotels. For room rates or to make a reservation, call 714-956-6425.