The Magic Kingdom theme park in Orlando opened its gates for the first time on October 1st, 1971. This day marks the grand opening not just of the Magic Kingdom, but the entire Walt Disney World Resort! Now, after 50 years and three more parks, Disney World is ready to celebrate it’s half-century anniversary this year in 2021. The 50th anniversary celebration will officially begin on October 1st, and will span 18 months, leading all the way into 2023. This extended time-frame will allow as many guests as possible to partake in the festivities, while also giving Disney a great marketing tool. In this blog post, I’ll be going over everything we know right now about this upcoming season of celebration, and what to expect in terms of offerings during the 50th anniversary.
My Thoughts Leading Up to the Anniversary
The slogan for the 50th is “The World’s Most Magical Celebration”. A fitting phrase for a place that prides itself on creating magic for its guests. Right off the bat, you get a good idea of the feel Disney will be trying to evoke with this anniversary. I expect them to take a very similar approach as they have in the past, continuing the themes of magic and whimsy that they’re famous for. Don’t expect anything too new and experimental. It will be Disney doing what they do best. One thing that has been lacking is the nostalgic appeal that is a huge draw for many guests, but I’m sure we’ll see more of that as we get closer.
The tourism industry should be back in full force by the time October comes around, allowing Disney to really dive back into normal operations and spike attendance using the 50th as a primary tool to fill up the parks the way they were pre-pandemic. Disney has pushed back the beginning of the celebration (originally slated for early 2021), for this reason, but still plans on having the 18-month period after October to fully celebrate the anniversary.
Rumors have been circulating for years about the size and scope of this giant milestone for the parks. For those that remember, the biggest celebration to come close in recent years was Disneyland’s 60th Diamond Celebration. This was a huge success for Disney and a huge branded event over in California that saw many upgrades to those parks. Unfortunately, it looks like Covid-19 has forced Disney to scale down on a lot of planned activities for WDW’s big anniversary. This isn’t surprising given their recent construction delays on new attractions and overall stagnation in terms of park development. Originally, Disney was rumored to be doing things such as “50 new things for the 50th” and other massive enhancements, but don’t get your hopes up too high at this point.
Everything We Do Know So Far About the 50th Anniversary
Disney has already officially announced several of the things that will be coming starting October. First, Cinderella Castle will receive additional enhancements to add on to the facelift it received last year. Some new golden elements have already been installed along it’s spires, and a large 50th anniversary sign should be installed in the coming months. In addition to the castle makeover, the Disney Parks Blog has revealed that the other four park landmarks: Spaceship Earth at Epcot, the Tree of Life at Animal Kingdom, and the Tower of Terror over at Hollywood Studios, will be receiving new looks as well. Although details are a little unclear, all four will be transformed with new lighting elements to become “beacons of magic” at night. All of these park icons have already had incredible projection and lighting effects in recent years, so I’m looking forward to seeing what Disney will do to take it to the next level. Hopefully they can utilize some new technology here as well.
Disney also announced that Spaceship Earth’s new lighting enhancements will be permanent past the anniversary, and are described to resemble “stars in a nighttime sky”. Despite their history of having bad special event upgrades (birthday cake castle, giant hand with wand next to Epcot sphere, ahem) I trust Disney to keep it classy and not over the top. They’ve learned from their mistakes.
The major aesthetic and color palette of the 50th will be iridescent and gold. Disney has coined the term “EARidescense” to describe the new color style that will be reflected in all of the parks. The main 50th logo (shown below) captures this iridescent coloring in the background. The actual logo design features a simple, modern look with a basic silhouette of Cinderella Castle and a curving number 50 in the center. Overall, I think the entire aesthetic is beautiful even if it’s a bit basic, and I’m excited to see the mountains of merch that will be coming to commemorate the anniversary.
New Attractions for the 50th
Disney is in the process of constructing several new attractions that have been originally scheduled to coincide with the 50th celebration period. But with Covid and construction breaks, things are pretty up in the air. I’ll break down each new attraction coming and when we’re likely to see it open.
- Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure: This attraction is the only one to have a confirmed opening date of October 1st, 2022 (the actual 50th anniversary). The ride is essentially finished and was supposed to open in Summer 2020 but has continued to be pushed back until this fall to coincide with the anniversary. The ride is a clone of the popular Disneyland Paris trackless dark ride of the same name. On the ride, you will be shrunk to the size of a rat and experience what it’s like to be in the kitchen with Remy and his friends. Combining both giant props and screens, this one is sure to be a big hit for the entire family. It will be located in a new expansion of the France Pavilion in Epcot.
- Tron Lightcycle Power Run: This massively popular E-ticket attraction from Shanghai Disneyland was scheduled to be the big star of the anniversary when first announced. However, Disney has announced that the scheduled opening date has been delayed. I still expect that it will open during that 18 month window, in early or mid 2022. I’m hoping sooner rather than later, but we’ll just have to see. They have been ramping up construction on the project recently. When it opens, this rollercoaster will be a direct replication of the ride in Shanghai and will be located adjacent to Space Mountain in Tomorrowland. The coaster is themed like the light cycles from the hit Tron movies and is meant to simulate the thrill of the famous game in the film. The entire attraction building will be a refreshing new vista in Tomorrowland.
- Guardians of the Galaxy Cosmic Rewind: This is another roller coaster coming to the Energy Pavilion in Epcot’s Future World. When finished, it will be the largest indoor roller coaster in the world and first to feature a backwards launch. Although not much is known about the actual ride details, it will be an adventure with the Marvel characters from Guardians of the Galaxy. The ride will be a family-friendly “story coaster” with screens throughout the length of the track. An opening date for this attraction is equally difficult to estimate especially because most of the construction is happening in a closed building. If I had to guess, it will be sometime in 2022, probably towards the later half. They will definitely try to stagger the opening with Tron to bring in two different waves of attendance.
- Harmonious: A new firework spectacular night show at Epcot replacing the iconic Illuminations: Reflections of Earth. This one was also supposed to debut in 2020, but obviously with nighttime shows comes large crowds, and with social distancing measures it just hasn’t been feasible. But, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel (literally!). Disney just announced that fireworks will be coming back to the Magic Kingdom starting on the 4th of July, opening the door to other nighttime spectaculars. I believe that we will see Harmonious possibly debut as early as this summer, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they hold it back to release alongside the 50th like Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure. Either way, it definitely will be a main highlight in Epcot’s new offerings. The show has big shoes to fill replacing Illuminations, but Disney has claimed that it is their largest nighttime show yet, so I can’t wait to see what they have in store.
Experiencing the 50th
Although the theme parks are getting back to a state of normalcy, one thing does not seem to be changing anytime soon: park passes. As an annual passholder who is semi-local and enjoys being able to pop into the parks on a whim, I’m not a fan of the system in general. On a note more targeted to the 50th anniversary, though, space will be limited. At this point in time (June 2021) park passes are already sold out for all guests at the Magic Kingdom on the actual anniversary day. If you’re looking to be one of the first to experience everything in October, I would definitely plan ahead. Not only will park passes and reservations become unavailable, but hotel rates, etc. will skyrocket in price the closer you get. The way the parks have worked recently, it is a necessity to book everything in advance, and I only see this getting worse during the anniversary celebration. This is likely another one of the reasons Disney opted for the celebration to last 18 months. Park passes are showing up on the website well into 2022, so something tells me the system isn’t going away anytime soon. Be prepared!
The 50th anniversary of Walt Disney World is a huge landmark and will be a major part of the guest experience in the next couple years. Although it’s been scaled back because of Covid, I like the overall direction and theme they’re going with. So far, all of the confirmed events and activities are nice, but I do feel like something is still missing to really make the anniversary memorable. I’m holding out hope that more big details have yet to be revealed. The company has said that they will be announcing more stuff in the 4 month period leading up to October 1st, so fingers crossed.
It’s a shame the pandemic recession had to strike at a time where the theme parks were reaching peak popularity and investment in the parks was huge, because I think things would be a lot different without it. But alas, I’m just glad we’ll be able to celebrate with things semi-back to normal, and I’m excited to see how Disney will honor the parks during this year-and-a-half long event.
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