When people think of Walt Disney World , they almost immediately envision Fantasyland. As home to the iconic Cinderella Castle as well as multiple rides and attractions built around beloved characters from decades of Disney movies, Fantasyland is the emotional heart that beats inside all the thrill rides, souvenir stands, and vendors of $3 water bottles in all the other areas of the resort.
While certainly thick with its own peculiarly sneaky brand of consumerism, it must be noted that Fantasyland is the one “land” in the Magic Kingdom  where the ratio of attractions-to-vendors seems almost reasonable. More than any other part of the park, Fantasyland is an essential stop on any Disney itinerary, whether or not you are traveling with young children.
Entering from Liberty Square  and the Haunted Mansion, the first attraction is It’s a Small World. As something of an eternal punch line, the ride itself has become instantly associated with a headache-inducing repetition of its cloyingly simplistic theme song. There are even anecdotal reports of people (in my family!) being driven to near panic-attack states by the song. I don’t believe any of it.
The ride is sweet, as slow-moving boats give riders a tour of happy children all over the world. Yes, every single one of those children is singing the song, but if it were ditched in favor of, say, Bob Marley’s “One Love,” can you imagine the outcry? And though it’s simplistic, the message of universality at the ride’s heart—the ride itself was built for inclusion at the UNICEF pavilion at the 1964 World’s Fair—is hard to argue with.
A recent renovation did little to alter the ride’s fundamentals; instead, a much-needed fresh coat of paint was applied throughout, some of the “children’s” costumes were refurbished, and the soundtrack was given improved fidelity. Check your cynicism at the door.
As famous or infamous as It’s a Small World is, it’s the character-themed rides in Fantasyland that are the biggest draw, and which usually have the longest lines. On the face of it, Peter Pan’s Flight, Snow White’s Scary Adventures, and The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh are little more than motion-enhanced retellings of the classic tales. But in true Disney fashion, all three of these rides are finely detailed and choreographed excursions that take riders deep into the story.
The soaring sensation on Peter Pan’s Flight, the deep-rooted terror brought on by the stepmother-to-wicked-witch transformation in the Snow White ride, and the goofy fun of riding around in one of Pooh’s honey pots are immersive and highly enjoyable. Worth noting: The “scary” adjective in the title of the Snow White ride is not accidental; young children will likely be more scared on this attraction than in the Haunted Mansion.
In Fantasyland a clutch of traditional carnival rides are transformed into Cinderella’s Golden Carousel, Dumbo the Flying Elephant, and the Mad Tea Party. None are especially innovative, but all of them—especially the spinning teacups of the Mad Tea Party—are fun.
Directly across from the Dumbo ride is Pooh’s Playful Spot, a spacious themed playground that gives kids a chance to play in Rabbit’s Garden, splash around in the Floody Place, clamber over giant logs, and poke around in Pooh’s house.
Little ones will also get a kick out of Storytime with Belle, a 20-minute show where they can hear the Beauty and the Beast heroine tell the tale of, uh, Beauty and the Beast. In true Disney fashion, there’s plenty of audience interaction and lots of songs.
Mickey’s PhilharMagic is one of several 3-D movie experiences at the Walt Disney World Resort. It’s also on the grandest scale: The theater houses the world’s largest seamless movie screen. The movie itself is equally grandiose, incorporating almost a dozen classic Disney characters (from Mickey and Donald to Jasmine and Simba), sight gags, songs, and some very impressive 3-D effects.