As we regroup, we take the time to drink in the details of the expansion. Atop Ariel’s real estate sits Prince Eric’s castle, a seal with an “E” adorning a turret. Belle’s Village has a French accent, with signs in French and flower-filled window boxes. There’s a souvenir shop, a tavern and the Beast’s castle, where we hope to eat a late lunch.
Although we’re standing amid a sea of frills and sequins, much of the activity centers on the fountain depicting Gaston, the macho villain of “Beauty and the Beast.” Here, in front of the waterworks, is the man himself, a bit of a black bouffant pulled into a ponytail, red shirt cinched in at the waist. Maybe he’s in a Disney villain recovery program, because this Gaston is quite friendly and charming. Perhaps hordes of tiara-wearing girls have that effect on everyone.
Our princess ambitions foiled for the moment, I gear up to try another new experience: Disney World’s FastPass Plus card. FastPasses have been around for years. They allow for timed admission to some of the parks’ most popular attractions, sending pass-holders to the front of the line during an hour-long window. The catch? In most instances, you can have only one FastPass at a time.
Now Disney is in the process of testing the FastPass Plus card, which lets you select a limited number of FastPass attractions in advance. You then choose from one of several time combinations for your preferred rides or shows. We’ve lucked into participating in the pilot program.
We’d already tried our FastPass Plus cards the day before, at Hollywood Studios. Even though we had no problems, I can’t help holding my breath each time I touch the card to the lollipop-shaped reader. It’s almost designed to create suspense. After you tap the card, a white circle lights up and starts spinning, as if it’s thinking. Then the reader, which includes an outline of Mickey Mouse, glows green, and voila, you’re in. Whew.
The four-attraction roster we’ve loaded onto our FastPass card, in addition to the paper passes we collect, means that we’re ricocheting pinball-style from land to land trying to time everything just so. It seems as if we’re outsmarting the system, but between breaths, I can’t shake the feeling that somehow, it’s outsmarting us.
Into the castle
The Ariel ride has reopened. The advertised waiting time is 20 minutes — score! — but it turns out to be double that. Disney makes the queue more interesting with a game that allows our hand gestures to tell a little animated crab behind a plastic window whether the treasure he hauls out matches the rest of what’s around him. I see a lot of these interactive games during our visit, something I don’t remember from my last visit, eight years ago.