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Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary: What’s the Big Deal?

On October 1, 2021, Walt Disney World opened its gates to thousands before 5 a.m., gift shops were madhouses, the Wi-Fi was often non-functional, the park ran out of FuelRods as guests tried to recharge their devices, and it took restaurants over an hour to get people their food.

I wish I was there.

Why?

On October 1, 1971, Walt Disney World was dedicated and opened, making this year its 50th anniversary. The park will be hosting a celebration that will go on for 18 months to be celebrated across all four parks, though it was only Magic Kingdom that actually opened in 1971.

This may not seem like a huge deal, but to a life-long Disney fan who hopes to work for Disney in the future, I wish I could have experienced the big day.

So what is the 50th anniversary and what does the “World’s Most Magical Celebration” entail? Let’s take a look.

New Entertainment

At Magic Kingdom, a new nighttime spectacular has been all the rage. Despite a lot of pushback for taking away the previous nighttime show, Happily Ever After, the new show takes themes of empowerment and presents them in a whole new way. Disney Enchantment uses new projection effects that extend from Cinderella Castle all the way down Main Street, U.S.A. These effects are used around a lot of theme parks, such as other Disney parks and Universal Studios, to turn objects, often irregularly shaped, into a display surface for video projection. There are mixed feelings on the new show, but a lot of the negativity is just out of sentimentality toward Happily Ever After.

Also at the original Orlando park, the new daytime parade-like event, “Mickey's Celebration Cavalcade,” will feature the EARidescent Eight (Mickey and friends). This will feature the new 50th anthem, “The Magic is Calling.”

Over at EPCOT, Harmonious celebrates how the music of Disney inspires people around the globe, which is why it lands Illuminations’ old spot in World Showcase Lagoon. Favorite Disney songs are performed in the languages of the story’s origins, a key theme of the show. The show also features floating set pieces, which have provided controversy due to their massiveness that throw off the look of World Showcase during the day. 

Also at EPCOT, just in time for the 50th, the Matsuriza Taiko drummers, Sergio the comedic juggler and Alberta Bound return to Japan, Italy and Canada.

Disney KiteTails premiered at Animal Kingdom, with several shows daily at the Discovery River Amphitheater. Performers fly windcatchers and kites alongside Disney animal friends, such as Simba, Zazu and Baloo, to the beat of Disney songs. 

The Electrical Water Pageant that goes around Seven Seas Lagoon, the lake right outside Magic Kingdom, also added a 50th-themed caboose, which you can view from a resort around the lake.

New Attractions

While Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure was ready to open in late spring 2021, Disney opted for the attraction to open on October 1, likely to draw crowds to EPCOT and away from Magic Kingdom. On the ride, guests shrink down to Remy’s size as they race through Gusteau’s restaurant. This attraction debuted at Disneyland Paris in 2014 and was recreated at Walt Disney World due to its popularity.

Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind is confirmed to open in EPCOT in 2022 in time to be part of the official 18-month long celebration. The title of “Cosmic Rewind” refers to the first reverse launch on a Disney coaster, meaning the coaster starts with guests shooting backward. The storytelling coaster will rotate 360 degrees so guests can watch the action as they help the Guardians save the galaxy.

The PLAY! Pavilion, also in EPCOT, is an interactive city with activities and experiences to connect guests with characters in a new way. For example, guests can help Edna Mode, from The Incredibles, rid the world of uninspired style or compete in a water-balloon fight with Donald Duck’s nephews, Huey, Dewey and Louie.

The TRON Lightcycle Power Run coaster was planned to open at Magic Kingdom in time for the 50th anniversary, but doesn’t have an opening date yet. Due to COVID-19, construction was paused on this attraction, which originally debuted in Tokyo Disney.

New Dining

Of course, it isn’t a Disney celebration without food, so Disney has prepared plenty of 50th-themed treats, including new ice cream bars, chocolate mousse and other popular dishes from 1971.

Next to Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure in EPCOT, La Crêperie de Paris offers sweet and savory crepes. This restaurant has both indoor seating and a take-out window for easy access.

Space 220 was a highly-anticipated dining experience in EPCOT, located in the Mission: SPACE Pavilion. Opening on September 20, diners eat in a space station with a simulated view of outer space, including a look back at Earth from 220 miles away.

Located in Disney’s Contemporary Resort, Steakhouse 71 brings back 1970s nostalgia with its themed decor and menu. The menu is inspired by some of Walt Disney’s favorite dishes, such as Prime Rib Hash for breakfast or Beef Tenderloin Medallions for dinner.

Decorations

50 gold Disney character statues are displayed across all four parks, called the Fab 50. Most of these are displayed prominently, but some statues are found in unexpected places! Woody and Bo Peep from Toy Story are actually toy-sized and Stitch is hanging from the iconic purple wall in Tomorrowland at Magic Kingdom! (Fun tip: The McDonald’s Happy Meal toys are currently themed after these! Collecting the toys is such a fun idea, especially if you spray paint them gold, just like the statues!)

Cinderella Castle was painted pink and blue in 2020, in anticipation of the 50th anniversary. Glimmering jewels and golden bunting were put up afterwards, followed by extra trimmings and a 50th crest, creating the overall EARidescent decorations on the castle.

The other park icons have gotten a retheme as well, transforming into Beacons of Magic. Pixie dust and fireflies inhabit the Tree of Life at Animal Kingdom and various light features shine on the Hollywood Tower Hotel at Hollywood Studios. A permanent feature of new lighting across the reflective panels of Spaceship Earth, resembling stars in the night sky, will stay past the celebration at EPCOT.

New Merchandise

Most of the merchandise can be found at the Emporium at Magic Kingdom on Main Street or at World of Disney at Disney Springs. The new Creations Shop at EPCOT and Island Mercantile also have some of the new items. These collections include the Celebration Collection, The Castle Collection, and the Vault Connection.

Hotel Offerings

Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort recently did a Moana retheme and Disney’s Contemporary Resort did an Incredibles retheme. Reservations at these two hotels fill up quickly, due to their location on the monorail loop to Magic Kingdom.

Star Wars Galactic Starcruiser

On March 1, 2022, the Star Wars Galactic Starcruiser will take flight. This is an all-new vacation experience that allows guests to check-in for a two-night adventure aboard a starship, interacting with characters and becoming participants in stories that take place around them on their journey. The Starcruiser has 100 guest cabins, as well as onboard dining and a trip to Batuu (Galaxy’s Edge at Disney’s Hollywood Studios). Reservations will be available starting Oct. 28, 2021.

Disney Genie

This free planning tool within the My Disney Experience app gives you a personalized itinerary based on your interests that updates throughout the day, adjusting to forecasted wait times to predict quicker entries into attractions. Because of this, Disney has announced that the FastPass+ service will be rebranded as Lightning Lane, a paid service. This will allow guests to choose times to arrive at various attractions and use the Lightning Lane entrance for $15 per ticket per day. 

MagicBand+

An update to the past wristband technology, MagicBand+ will now come with color-changing lights, vibrations and gesture recognition. The band will light up in sync to the nighttime shows, Disney Enchantment and Harmonious, as well as interactions with the Fab 50 character statues and around Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. It will keep the current features of park and room entry, retail purchases, dining, PhotoPass and more. The new bands will debut in 2022. 

Disney has been known for over 50 years as a unique and special destination. While the experience is expensive and extravagant at times, the constant upgrades and changes keep guests coming back for more. No matter how you feel about Disney, the 50th celebration offers something for everyone. I am excited to experience the special ways Walt Disney World is celebrating this monumental anniversary!

Hey! I'm Madalynn & I'm a freshman at KU! I'm majoring in Strategic Communication & minoring in Film & Media Studies. When going to a coffee shop, my go-to is a caramel latte! In the future, my goal is to work for Disney Parks & Resorts in advertising! I'm excited to share my articles with you - I hope you enjoy! :)
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