There is no denying the importance of the New Fantasyland project at the Magic Kingdom. Along with the opening of Cars Land at Disney’s California Adventure this summer, nothing is more anticipated and scrutinized by fans and critics of the Walt Disney World Company alike. And though there have been signs of things to come in New Fantasyland from over the wall-construction updates and even the opening of the refurbished queue for The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, nothing till this point has more signaled the arrival of New Fantasyland then the soft-opening of its adjacent mini-land, Storybook Circus. As Mickey’s Toontown Fair, gives way to that crystalized vision of a circus at its peak of excitement and simple fun in an era gone by, Dumbo the Flying Elephant makes his return as the headlining attraction for this revamped area of the Magic Kingdom.
But would Dumbo the Flying Elephant’s new performance, away from the Magic Kingdom’s Cinderella Castle, remove the incredibly nostalgic feeling of the attraction? Could Dumbo the Flying Elephant change enough to make it feel like a whole new experience while still not overpowering the innate joyous character of the ride? The answers to these questions and so many more waiting to be answered and we are here to do just that. So join us for a captivating and extensive look at Dumbo the Flying Elephant.
From the moment you step past the construction walls that still surround the newly opened first phase of Storybook Circus, you know this wasn’t just a measly refurbishment for the sake of repairing an aging attraction. Having seen the construction progress first hand dozens of times in person before Dumbo the Flying Elephant opened, you would think the scale of the new attraction’s themed elements wouldn’t provide awe in the way that seeing a new attraction for the first time can. But the way everything comes together from concept to reality before Magic Kingdom guests, will no doubt change your perceptions on the power of Dumbo. Dumbo the Flying Elephant in its old Fantasyland location was just one of the many classic attractions in that most famous land of the Magic Kingdom but now it is showcased almost onto itself, with nothing to detract from its experience, with nothing to steal its moment in the spotlight.
When you do a great job, it speaks for itself.
At first glance you have stepped into the oversized world of the circus of yesteryear, with the enormous and bright golden big top with fire red stripes and blue colored trimmings. It is now the world of Dumbo at Storybook Circus and it has only begun. The brown (concrete) “dirt roads” have the markings of rather large almost circular footprints and a careful eye might even spot some peanuts embedded into the ground. All denote that elephants were here! The aged-red-painted wood of the ticket booth and later the ride control booth bring a sense of charm with the time and place they represent. The clock just above the ticket booth/cast member closet has an hour hand represented by Dumbo’s magic feather as seen in the animated classic. The similarities between the old and new attraction that should be glaringly obvious are less so, because everything, from the materials, to the color scheme (that evokes an aura of tin toys from a day gone by) has given Dumbo the Flying Elephant that prestigious, elegant look of importance that is a hallmark of the Magic Kingdom.
When you do a great job, it speaks for itself. And on Dumbo the Flying Elephant in true Disney fashion it is about layers of details all the way down to the finishings on the custom railings. But of course there is more. You can’t miss the spectacular Dumbo Crest that crowns the center of the big top and even scenes from the movie on the Dumbo spinner. Obviously an attraction has to appeal to our senses beyond just a theme but a theme can be felt as you walk up, during your ride and after you have disembarked and trust me Dumbo never felt this good.
Cast Member Costumes
The costumes the cast members are donning give them the look of ringmasters complete with bright colors that mirror the attraction and the traditional tail that is typical of a ringmaster’s attire. Suffice it to say that more than your usual care has been put into these costume designs and they blend well into the very festive atmosphere of Storybook Circus. They are a major upgrade over what cast members wore in the previous iteration of the attraction.
One of the most unique features about the new Dumbo the Flying Elephant will probably end up being its interactive queue, with its ride “reservation” system. You see Dumbo the Flying Elephant’s queue will eventually wind into the air-conditioned big top, where you will be given something akin to a restaurant pager (one Imagineer told me last summer it had been proposed to look like Dumbo’s magic feather) that will then allow you to enjoy the interactive circus elements inside as you wait your turn to ride. Such a simple idea in practice at a Disney theme park has the potential to revolutionize our experience of one of Disney’s most beloved attractions. Anything beats sitting under the open-aired tents waiting often an hour at Dumbo’s former location and it’s not difficult to see how awesome this is going to be for groups with little ones who are easy to get restless when they are asked to stand around with seemingly no end in sight. The combination of shorter lines with dueling Dumbos and a reinvented queue system with interactive elements inside the three-ring-circus will make your time waiting for Dumbo appreciably more comfortable and endlessly more enjoyable.
But of course there is just one problem, it isn’t quite open just yet. So for the sake of this review (that we will update once the attraction is truly complete) it is best we focus on the currently established queue for the soft opening. And while what is currently being used for the Dumbo queue is a clear aesthetic improvement over the former Dumbo queue line (let’s face it, what wouldn’t be?) there is little that makes this part of the queue stand out from any other (something the big top’s opening will surely change). Still, there are a few nice touches, simple as they may be that are worth pointing out and do make for a nice experience if not anything out of the ordinary.
Such a simple idea in practice at a Disney theme park has the potential to revolutionize our experience of one of Disney’s most beloved attractions.
As you step into the queue past a circus ticket booth, you step through a small trail with trees and some small plants on either side. They provide a nice natural barrier between the queue and the main path of Storybook Circus on one side and actually help to soften the steel look of the Dumbo attraction itself. You then step into one of the side “tents” that hug the new Dumbo spinners. The first thing you’ll notice is the beautiful aged look of the Dumbo the Flying Elephant logo painted onto the side of the red wood that forms the cast members’ ride control booth. As you look up, the roof above you is lined with dark-stained wood, some ornate lamps and fans to aid with the Florida heat. The columns that hold up the tent also have some nice red and gold finishings that really add to the look of the queue. My favorite feature of the new Dumbo the Flying Elephant queue, in its abbreviated current format, actually has less to do with Dumbo than it does The Barnstormer featuring The Great Goofini.
Although The Barnstormer is not exactly a white-knuckle thrill ride, except for the youngest of guests, the way Disney has showcased the roller coaster by removing visual obstructions and highlighting a fly-by right through a billboard, makes for an entertaining visual for onlookers. Standing in Dumbo’s queue you can’t help but get excited to ride The Barnstormer when you see the roller coaster next door zoom by. One last thing of note is that Disney has opted to keep a slightly updated version of the manual sliding doors at the end of the queue right before one boards Dumbo the Flying Elephant. There is something about the sound of that metal gate opening and the typical sight of a rush of guests pouring out to find their perfect Dumbo that hearkens back to a simpler time.
The attraction’s soundtrack is much improved with a fun variety of circus fare. Some you will immediately recognize and find yourself whistling along to, others provide just enough uniqueness to pique your interest. But the biggest story here is the much improved quality of the speakers that surround Dumbo the Flying Elephant that make it just that much more pleasant of a flight on your favorite pachyderm. The ride’s appearance speaks of splendor but it’s the music that dances with character. As you walk towards the attraction on your approach through Storybook Circus it provides a soft ambiance to the area and once near the attraction it is a pronounced symphony that is fun and light while still engaging. One can only imagine how great it will sound when both Dumbo’s are spinning through the air, not to mention the music that is sure to be playing inside the big top when it is ready to make its debut.
The ride’s appearance speaks of splendor but it’s the music that dances with character.
The vehicles will feel very familiar although they look absolutely stunning in their new color scheme. While the previous Dumbo vehicles stuck to just one distinguishing color per ride vehicle, the new Dumbo the Flying Elephant ride vehicles feature two color variables on Dumbo’s hat, decorative neck bow and blanket. A simple touch that really draws out even more of that lovable character from Dumbo.
Giving up a special view of Cinderella’s Castle for a more cohesive story and better overall experience on the new Dumbo the Flying Elephant will be deemed a fair trade by most.
Alright now for the fun part, you know, the ride. Dumbo the Flying Elephant is a ride experience many of us know and love. By its very nature it is simple, classic and delightful. Those qualities that were present in the previous attraction still hold true in this version. But even as you are walking up to select your Dumbo, you sense this is a familiar and still totally fresh experience. The spinner as we mentioned earlier is incredibly elegant, with red, blue and gold adorning the panels that now cover the spinner base that was previously exposed. The 3D ornaments of Mrs. Jumbo, Mr. Stork, stars and peanuts add to the details of the panels and the top of the spinner itself. As you begin to take your seat, the sound of rushing water soothes along with the fanciful and dreamy nature of the circus fanfare music. Yes, as anticipated the new Dumbo the Flying Elephant prominently displays a water feature that consists of numerous fountains that line the entire inner base of the attraction and pour into a pool just beneath the Dumbo ride vehicles. These fountains though give off an air of richness both through their shiny, golden majestic design and the way they shape the water that flows from them into artful sheets that break flawlessly into the pool below. Before long, Dumbo’s best friend Timothy Q. Mouse, directs our flight and commences our circus act as we circle the skies above.
A few seconds later you notice once again, that you are soaring on the only Dumbo the Flying Elephant in the world that flies clockwise. But what truly changes your perception of this attraction and indeed the experience on Dumbo is the view. Now, obviously there is little like seeing Cinderella Castle from just about any spot in the Magic Kingdom and surely the view from Dumbo in Fantasyland was memorable. Still, there is something uniquely gratifying about the more story driven experience on Dumbo the Flying Elephant in its current location hugged tightly by the larger than life circus tents, the Great Goofini and even the nearby tall trees. You can still catch glimpses of Cinderella’s Castle albeit from much further away but the new location will also eventually have spectacular views of the Seven Dwarfs Mine Coaster along with other parts of New Fantasyland. Giving up a special view of Cinderella’s Castle for a more cohesive story and better overall experience on the new Dumbo the Flying Elephant will be deemed a fair trade by most. A little over a minute and a half later Dumbo concludes his flight but we still haven’t even begun to tell you of how special the Dumbo experience is at night!
If there is one dramatic difference that will completely change the way you perceive Dumbo the Flying Elephant at the Magic Kingdom forever, it has to be the lighting. Disney Parks across the globe come to life at night and Dumbo the Flying Elephant is now a shining example of this. Walt Disney Imagineers have grown fond of using LED lighting nearly everywhere, for their energy saving ability, their brightness and their ability to project just about any color they could ever dream of using. Just as the fountains lined the inner wall of the new Dumbo the Flying Elephant, new LED lighting forms a ring of light under the falling water from the fountains and across the outer edge of the pool as well. With lighting patterns that slowly fluctuate and accent the pool and the entire base of the attraction, it is one of those almost magical things in Disney you just have to see for yourself in person. It attracts attention and when both spinners are illuminated at night, it will be a visual wonder and a stunning draw for an area of the park that always lacked much of anything that drew this level of natural curiosity amongst park-goers.
And truly the lighting story doesn’t even end there at Dumbo the Flying Elephant. While no other lighting at Dumbo compares with the lighting mentioned above there are other very nice additions to the themed lighting elements including various lamp posts each with their own unique character. More notably the circus tents are adorned with large red and white bulbs that are a staple of a circus or other festival type event and you can rest assured that here they are done ever-so tastefully within the theme. Thankfully this will never be confused with a cheap carnival overlay.
The new Dumbo the Flying Elephant stands as the new standard for what even the most basic ride at the Magic Kingdom should aim to achieve. From big top, to bottom no detail seems to have been spared the luxurious feel that this classic Disney attraction now possesses. The character and charm of the original is supremely heightened for what remains at its very core a simple experience, a spinning carousel of flying elephants. The decision to place Dumbo the Flying Elephant as the cornerstone attraction of Storybook Circus has its obvious advantages of both freeing up space for the New Fantasyland expansion and giving the Northeastern area of the Magic Kingdom an innate draw that it had previously sorely lacked. But to say that this ride was always going to be popular no matter where it is located within the Magic Kingdom, though correct, glazes over the incredible work that has been done to give Dumbo the Flying Elephant the attention and care that all staple Disney attractions and brands deserve.
The attraction in its current form did not come about without a few trade-offs. There is no denying the pure joy and excitement that one had when walking into Fantasyland and seeing the kinetic whimsy of Dumbo’s magical aerial performance. But while there is no doubt the latter will be missed, the New Fantasyland project will go a long way to replacing any void left behind. Sure seeing Cinderella’s Castle from atop Dumbo is an irreplaceable memory for those of us lucky to have ever seen it but Dumbo’s new flight is far more in character amongst the Storybook Circus backdrop. Much of the attraction still remains behind closed doors and construction walls. Though privy to some information about the new interactive queue, we can only imagine the wonderful creations and storytelling Disney has devised for this indoor space. And when the refurbished original spinner makes its debut alongside its all new twin, it will glimmer in the sunlight and sparkle and amaze under the night sky.
Changing one of the Magic Kingdoms most beloved attractions is not without risk but clearly Disney Imagineers and everyone involved with the Dumbo the Flying Elephant project have poured their love and genius into this ride. The result is an attraction that many who’ve never thought of riding before, will find themselves giving it a shot for the first time. Dumbo is now eye-catching, story-filled and a lasting example of simple Disney fun.
Da Mouse Ride Rating: 8.5*
*This rating reflects the review of the soft-opening of Dumbo the Flying Elephant and will be adjusted once the attraction is complete.