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Snow White's Scary Adventures: The Missing Magic Kingdom Classic

Orlando Expands

Though it may seem a disconnected aside, the first falling domino that would lead to the closure of Snow White’s Scary Adventures came with the arrival of a new theme park in Orlando in 1999.

Don’t misunderstand – since its opening in 1971, Walt Disney World had been the undisputed tourism capital of Florida and among the leading destinations within the United States. Universal’s arrival in 1990 was, at most, an annoyance. Even then, Michael Eisner had rush-delivered Disney’s own studio-themed park – Disney-MGM Studios – to open first, leaving Universal’s Orlando outpost a mere aside at best with not much at all for families with young children to do.

That was due to change less than a decade later, when Universal commissioned a second gate for their Florida property. Universal’s Islands of Adventure opened in 1999. Their first real push against Disney’s monopoly, Islands of Adventure was a visual wonder comprised of six themed “islands” situated around a great lagoon, each meeting (and in places exceeding) Disney’s standards.

(That wasn't just luck… Universal’s park was largely built by Disney Imagineers who’d left the company, fed up with the cost cutting that ran rampant at the time, to form Universal Creative. In fact, Disney’s decision to axe an ethereal and celebrated land from Animal Kingdom led to a walkout. Former Imagineers then took their plans to Universal who were all too happy to bring their ideas to life instead. We've got the full story in our Possibilityland: Beastly Kingdom feature.)

Image: Universal

Universal had assembled a stunning and historic collection of intellectual properties. From the high-energy comic book streets of Marvel Super Hero Island to the dense jungles of an entire land themed to Jurassic Park; the towering ancient ruins of The Lost Continent and the whimsical curved coast of Seuss Landing (a highly sought after and fiercely protected intellectual property). 

And perhaps the most stunning of all is the park's "Main Street" equivalent, here the astounding Port of Entry that leads us to believe that all corners of the globe have come together to create one harmonious seaside outpost of traders, windchimes, seagulls, red rocks, pagodas, ivy, and merchants, all lorded over by the park's astounding icon, the Pharos Lighthouse. 

Image: Universal

In short, Islands of Adventure contained the sort of creativity, detail, and character that people talked about, but hadn’t actually seen from Disney World in years.

With Islands of Adventure's opening looming, Disney began to fortify its defenses. Over the next decade, Disney World rolled out a laundry list of services and discounts all meant to incentivize staying on-property. Disney re-configured its ticket offerings to Magic Your Way Tickets (lowering the per-day price for longer visits) alongside the launch of the Magical Express (providing direct transportation from Orlando International Airport to your Walt Disney World Resort hotel, all meant to make it so that guests wouldn't rent a car and instead be effectively "trapped" on Disney property). Then there’s the Disney Dining Plan, FastPass, and even MagicBands, each cleverly disguised to keep guests staying at Disney World... or maybe, staying away from Universal.

Image: Disney

Ultimately, they didn’t have anything to worry about. Universal infamously botched the marketing and naming of their second gate, leaving guests confused about what exactly “Universal Studios Islands of Adventure at Universal Studios Escape” even was. A product of the school of hard knocks, no one else had turned a single park into a tailor-made resort in all at once growth spurt. Even once Universal corrected course (Universal’s Islands of Adventure at Universal Orlando Resort), the damage was done and their second gate didn’t get the praise, appreciation, and visitor numbers it rightly deserved.

But something was coming that would change all that.

Magic in the Air

The popular story is that J.K. Rowling – the creator of the Harry Potter series and its ensuing, expanding universe – was in talks with Disney to bring “the boy who lived” to Disney Parks, but Disney wasn’t willing to bend to the storyteller’s demands for the total exclusion of the outside world (no Coca-Cola, no LEGO sets in gift shops, etc.) or the reverence she thought her characters deserved. (And honestly, can't you imagine Disney insisting on doing cross-over action figures with the Muppets dressed as Hogwarts students? We can only imagine that Disney would've treated Harry Potter with about as much reverence as they did Star Wars, having Darth Vader dance to Michael Jackson's "Beat It" at the annual Star Wars Weekends... Imagine the same for Voldemort...)

Image: NBCUniversal

Negotiations between Disney and Rowling allegedly stagnated and then fell through. Disney executives, we can imagine, probably figured that no one else would have the capability to bring Rowling’s world to life to the level she demanded. They might've even thought that Rowling would shop around for another operator to bring her Wizarding World for life, inevitably fail to find one worthy, and come crawling back. They were wrong.

In 2010 – after years of stagnation despite its grand foundation – Islands of Adventure received its first major expansion: the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Built to a staggeringly lifelike scale and insulated from any interference from the real world, the snowy town of Hogsmeade and the towering Hogwarts castle perched on a rocky outcropping became an international destination.

Image: Universal

All the while, Disney executives must have looked on in stunned awe of people queued for hours – waiting in packed lines – not to get onto rides, but to get into gift shops. People were tripping over themselves to buy $45 wands, and $5 cups of “Butterbeer,” and $10 chocolate frogs. This was a world they wanted to inhabit. This was not just a ride, but a place.

A new precedent had been set… New attractions would no longer do. The market had spoken, and the people wanted lands. The Wizarding World had signaled that shopping and dining could be part of a theme park experience in an indelible way if they were an inseparable part of the experience; part of the story; part of the world.

Image: Disney

You know where this new scheme took us: Cars Land and a Marvel land at Disney California Adventure; Star Wars lands at Disneyland and Disney's Hollywood Studios; a Ratatouille land at Walt Disney Studios Paris; Toy Story Lands around the globe... Disney green lit projects so vast in scope, the mere idea of them would've made executives cringe a decade earlier.

No doubt bruised from the loss of Potter, Disney rallied with a knee-jerk reaction to purchase something – some say, anything – that would be “Potter-sized.” Thinking quickly, they purchased the worldwide exclusive rights to build attractions based on the biggest box office earner of all time. Of course, we know where this leads: PANDORA – The World of Avatar.

Of course, Disney’s official word was nothing but celebratory in the wake of the Wizarding World up the street. Insiders assured that Disney didn’t expect a drop in visitors at all. Instead, they imagined that guests would spend just as much time at Disney as they always had, and would simply add a day to their vacation to visit Universal. But in practice, the resort seemed to mobilize for the first time in a while. A big change was coming.

Fantasy Plans

In 2009 – just as the finishing touches went into Hogsmeade – Disney made an ambitious announcement: after nearly four decades with the Medieval tournament tent styling that Disneyland had done away with in the ‘80s, Fantasyland at Magic Kingdom would at last receive its own overhaul… a New Fantasyland.

Click and expand for a much larger view. Image: Disney

And borrowing from the new formula of immersive cinematic styling demanded by a post-Animal Kingdom audience, this New Fantasyland would be like stepping into your favorite Disney animated films, complete with opportunities to eat, drink, and shop where beloved characters might. Dining in the Ballroom in the Beast’s castle, drinking “Le Fou’s Brew” in Gaston’s Tavern… Tellingly, people described the planned expansion as having a “Wizarding World level of detail,” establishing Universal’s new island as the standard to match.

There was a problem, though. As fans studied the artwork Disney released (as you can, by clicking and expanding the concept art above to see tremendous detail), they quickly noticed that the land’s audience demographic was bit skewed. Why? Well, consider the attractions – the things to do – that guests would’ve encountered in this expansion:

  • A meet-and-greet / elaborate walkthrough attraction with Belle from Beauty and the Beast inside her father’s cottage (with the accompanying Be Our Guest restaurant… a sight, to be sure)
  • A meet-and-greet with Ariel from The Little Mermaid
  • A meet-and-greet with Cinderella inside her stepmother’s Chateau

Image: Disney

  • A meet-and-greet with Tinkerbell inside an elaborate Pixie Hollow area borrowed from Disneyland, replacing Mickey’s Toontown Fair
  • A meet-and-greet with Snow White and Aurora in their own dedicated cottages
  • A relocated and enhanced Dumbo the Flying Elephant

Image: Disney

  • A new dark ride based on The Little Mermaid, duplicated from the under-construction one at Disney California Adventure

To fans’ count, this brand-new, much-anticipated expansion – “the largest in Magic Kingdom’s history” – amounted to six elaborate meet-and-greets with Disney princesses and net one new ride.

Fans pushed back against the expansion and countered that if this was meant to be the “Potter swatter” that would win visitors back from the Wizarding World, Disney would have to try harder.

Finalizing Fantasyland

Two years after their initial announcement of New Fantasyland, Disney Imagineers were on hand at the semiannual D23 Expo in 2011 to announce New Fantasyland again. But this time, the artwork looked a little different. While detailed “immersive” sub-areas dedicated to Beauty and the Beast and The Little Mermaid remained, the rest of the land had evolved.

The Pixie Hollow area meant to overtake Mickey’s Toontown Fair was scrapped. Now, a fair remained in the northeast corner of the expansion. However, the cartoon circus tents would now be enveloped into Fantasyland and become the Storybook Circus. Inspired by Dumbo, this vintage carnival serves as a historic, reverent fantasy fair dedicated to Disney’s earliest and oft-forgotten cartoons. That meant that a relocated Dumbo (with a new elaborate circus playground queue) and Goofy’s Barnstormer (now rethemed as a carnival daredevil pilot) would feel right at home.

The biggest change, though, would be to the central “island” floating in the midst of the expansion. Where once a half-dozen meet-and-greet cottages and Cinderella’s chateau were planned, a new family roller coaster called Seven Dwarfs Mine Train would instead come to life, rollicking, swinging, swaying, and slaloming along forested hills in and around the gem mine from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

Image: Disney

At first glance, it seemed that New Fantasyland had abandoned its capacity for ever-popular princess meet-and-greets. In fact, they’d only been consolidated. Now, guests would meet an array of rotating princesses in the custom-built Princess Fairytale Hall. But where would it go?

There were only ever two options, given that the eastern block of the castle’s showbuildings bordering New Fantasyland housed two dark rides.

First was the Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, still quite new after having just replaced Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride in 1999 (and partly because the double-sized dark ride Mr. Toad had occupied meant the Pooh replacement could feature a gift shop for the bear’s sought-after merchandise).

The only other slot? Snow White’s Scary Adventures. Read on…

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There are 4 comments.

You should have talked about how Universal Studios has a Marvel land and how that probably angers Disney to no end.

Great report - really interesting. I'm shocking to hear, if I've read it correctly, that the huge space that made up the original Snow White ride is only housing 2 princess meet and greets?! Does this mean there's a whole lot of space being wasted??

Another GREAT article Brian! I really didn't expect to learn so much more new information in addition to the previous article written about this attraction or for this one to tie in Islands of Adventure as well as the most touching story about the closing of this attraction. Seriously read the link one of the most touching Disney stories and yet another reason why I will continue to support the company.

I'm a big fan of the original Snow White's Adventures as it scared the pants off me back in the early '80's and started a life long love of very scary dark rides. I'm sure I'm not alone in this!

I would also like to note that Disney never throws anything away. I've done the runDisney Tower Of Terror 10 miler and they have featured the Wicked Witch figure that dips the apple from the ride along the course as well as a submarine from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. These kind of Easter Eggs are what make me always go back to Disney for more.


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