Happy 50th Anniversary Walt Disney World!
By Helen Wright
Walt Disney World is celebrating its 50th Anniversary and since ‘The Worlds Most Magical Celebration’ began in October 2021, guests have been at the parks celebrating in style at one of the most beloved destinations in the world. From a range of new shows and night-time spectaculars, epic new attractions and magical touches throughout all four theme parks, visiting Walt Disney World during this time will go down as one of the most incredible times to visit the resort ever.
Cover image: Richard Stephenson
Recently, I finally got to enjoy the 50th anniversary festivities first-hand, and it was absolutely brilliant. Flying with Virgin Atlantic, we spent a week at Walt Disney World discovering what is new at the parks for the 50th Anniversary and beyond.
During the week-long stay, I wandered the parks in a bubble of happy nostalgia, thinking about why so many people have made the pilgrimage to Walt Disney World over the last half-century. Walt Disney’s first park, Magic Kingdom Park, has been open for 50 years and the Walt Disney World Resort now welcomes around 58-million guests a year, making it the most visited tourist destination in the world. As well as four theme parks and two water parks, Walt Disney World has over 25 hotels across an area twice the size of Manhattan in New York City. Pretty awesome, right?
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Making my way down Main Street USA, I was immediately taken back to my first glimpse of Cinderella Castle, aged eight. After my first time ever on a plane, we’d arrived at this unbelievable faraway place – with a castle! My mind was blown. The blue skies and sunshine made it seem like a different planet. They even had new, weird, fizzy drinks here (I recall a mild obsession with Mountain Dew). I definitely still have my yellow autograph book somewhere, containing the signatures of my cartoon idols, Chip and Dale, Daisy Duck and, of course, Mickey and Minnie Mouse. I’ll have to dig it out.
Looking around, the crowd of people around me was so diverse. Adult couples and families with kids beaming in Disney T-shirts and Mouse ears. Teenagers taking selfies. Groups of friends trying to get everyone in a shot with the castle, laughing wildly at the challenge. All the while, happy music plays subtly from the perfectly manicured flower beds that surround us. Then, in a flurry of excitement, some Disney Characters happen to pass by in a vintage car making everyone stop what they are doing to whoop and wave. We haven’t even reached the attractions yet and it’s already so much fun.
1.5 million of us Brits visit Orlando every year. Despite all the planning, expense and travelling that it involves, the allure is still powerful enough to make the trip to Walt Disney World. Way back in the 80s, my parents obviously thought so. For a family that usually went to Blackpool every year for our summer holiday, it was a big deal for them too. I’m grown up (ish) now. I have my own kids (and you can buy Mountain Dew in the UK, like most other things), but the feeling is still the same. It feels like a special place. And it is.
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50 years of ears! Why is Disney so special?
So why is Disney so special? Could it be there is something for everyone here? Is it that you have four ‘worlds’ of fun and entertainment all in one place (plus a galaxy far, far away). Is it the world’s leading rides and theme park innovation here that you just have to experience first-hand? Maybe it’s just so that you can tick it off the bucket list and see what all the fuss is about?
It could be any or all of these things. Then I realised I’m thinking way too deeply about it. Imagine you are having a bad day, a rubbish month, a tricky year. Then imagine you can leave it all behind for a while and wander the grounds of a magical castle and fly a spaceship, climb Mount Everest, see your favourite Disney characters dancing and waving from a colourful parade – and get to HUG them (after the year of no hugs).
You can escape with pirates to the Caribbean, go on a jungle cruise, explore an African safari. You can get as far away from real life as you can go – and bring the family along too. The memories you can make here are completely unique. That’s a magic that will never age. At Walt Disney World, you can be a carefree kid again. That’s why I think people come. That’s why I do, anyway.
Walt Disney World 50th Anniversary: How to be part of the fun
The Walt Disney World 50th Anniversary is a whopping 18-month event, which started on 1st October 2021 and ends in Spring 2023. There is still time to book a trip and enjoy the anniversary and special events. Virgin Atlantic Holidays are currently offering seven nights in Orlando with Disney tickets and Disney Resort hotel included from £1,609 per person*. (*Price is based on a departure on 7th September 2022 and may be subject to change).
Below, I have detailed some of the things I got up to at Walt Disney World during the 50th Anniversary and have put together a list of my favourite ways to experience ‘The World’s Most Magical Celebration’:
1. See CINDERELLA CASTLE’S beautiful NEW LOOK
Since Magic Kingdom Park was the only Disney theme park open in 1971, it made sense for the park and its iconic castle to be at the centre of Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary celebrations. Last year, the famous Cinderella Castle had a shiny new makeover, with some of the higher turrets painted in a pink hue for the first time. This is a nod to Mary Blair’s original vision for the castle seen in the animated classic film, Cinderella. It looks absolutely stunning in real life (you simply have to see it!).
As well as being pretty in pink, Cinderella Castle has also been decorated with sparkling golden embellishments and a Walt Disney World 50th anniversary crest, making it even more selfie-tastic.
If photos are your thing, this post tells you exactly where to get the best photographs at Walt Disney World.
2. Stay after-dark for Disney Enchantment
By night, Cinderella Castle comes to life with magical effects that, for the first time ever, extend along Main Street, USA, meaning even more great places to view the show. Disney Enchantment is the brand new nighttime spectacular, debuted for the Walt Disney World 50th Anniversary. These incredible displays blow me away every time and there is no better way to end your day at Walt Disney World. As well as stunning fireworks that light up the night sky, visuals are masterfully synced with classic Disney songs and an original new song by seven-time Grammy award-winning songwriter Philip Lawrence.
Through these mind-boggling projections on the castle, see your favourite Disney Characters including Raya, Moana, Elsa and Joe Gardner from Soul come to life under the stars. For a sneak peek, watch the video, courtesy of Disney Parks UK
3. Experience Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind
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The newest attraction at Walt Disney World is the epic Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind. This new family-thrill coaster at EPCOT takes guests on an ‘intergalactic chase through time and space with the heroes of Xandar’. It’s so good. The coaster is super smooth, spins on the track and dazzles with huge graphics depicting a dash across the universe as you ride
Even better, a ‘mixtape’ of 80s and 90s music is played along with some typical Guardians style jokes. The mixtape is random, so you never know which song you are going to get. There are six classic tracks; September (Earth, Wind and Fire), Disco Inferno (The Trammps), Conga (Gloria Estefan and Miami Sound Machine), Everybody Wants to Rule the World (Tears for Fears), I Ran (A Flock Of Seagulls), and One Way or Another (Blondie). Younger guests will never quite understand this added joy, but they will love this slick rollercoaster that is guaranteed to top the list of Walt Disney World’s best attractions.
You can ride Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind on your visit to EPCOT by joining a virtual line on the My Disney Experience app (the official Walt Disney World app), or by purchasing an Individual Lightning Lane pass. The attraction officially opens on May 27th. See a preview, including my debut ride in the video below:
4. View the ‘Beacons of Magic’
Another cool addition to the 50th Anniversary Celebrations are the Beacons of Magic illuminations which have been installed at all four Walt Disney World theme parks. As part of ‘The World’s Most Magical Celebration,’ the famous icons from each park will be illuminated at night, coming to life with an ‘EARidescent glow’. This includes Cinderella Castle, The Tree of Life at Animal Kingdom Park, Hollywood Tower of Terror at Disney’s Hollywood Studios Park and Spaceship Earth at EPCOT (which is my personal favourite).
5. See Walt Disney’s futuristic dream come to life
As well as all the epic celebrations for Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary, the resort’s second park, EPCOT is quietly celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. Opening in 1982, EPCOT (which is an abbreviation of ‘Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow’) started out as Walt Disney’s vision of how a utopian city might look in the future. Its eventual realisation is the Disney theme park we have today that takes guests not only around the world, but also into the world of tomorrow.
Ahead of its 40th Anniversary, EPCOT has been hugely reimagined and is a contender for my favourite park at Walt Disney World. Its futuristic ambitions are being realised in the form of new attractions (Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind) and restaurants (Space 220) and the beautiful park also offers guests a glimpse at different countries and cultures around the world.
A trip across World Showcase Lake will take you to Japan, Norway (where you will find the Frozen Ever After attraction) and Morocco to name a few. During the theme park’s brilliant festivals, you can view gorgeous gardens, unique exhibits and topiary sculptures of Disney Characters (International Flower and Garden Festival, March – July) and taste difference cuisines from around the globe at pop-up stalls during the International Food and Wine Festival (July-November). Don’t leave without a delicious margarita from the Mexico pavilion – available all year!
For the Walt Disney World 50th Anniversary, new lights will shine across the reflective panels of Spaceship Earth as part of the Beacons of Magic installation. However, fans will be delighted to hear that on Spaceship Earth (the iconic structure shaped like a golf ball) this will be a permanent new lighting display that will continue beyond ‘The World’s Most Magical Celebration’ as a defining feature of the park. EPCOT is looking fantastic and I can’t wait to see what they do next!
6. Watch Harmonious – the new firework show at EPCOT
Disney Enchantment at Magic Kingdom Park is not the only new nighttime spectacular at Walt Disney World. Harmonious takes place nightly at EPCOT across the enormous World Showcase Lake and is one of the largest shows ever created for Disney Parks. The show is a beautifully crafted medley of classic Disney music and visuals, reinterpreted by 240 artists from around the world. The show, which can be viewed from anywhere around the lake, uses floating giant screens, choreographed moving fountains, lights, pyrotechnics and lasers. Spot movies including Moana, Aladdin, Coco, Brave, The Lion King, Mulan, The Princess and the Frog and other classic stories on the water.
7. Ride Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure
Another area to receive a big makeover ahead of the 50th Anniversary of Walt Disney World was the France Pavilion at World Showcase. As part of this, a brand-new attraction, ‘Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure’, opened in the pavilion. Based on the beloved 2007 Pixar film ‘Ratatouille,’ and similar to the attraction at Disneyland Paris, the concept is that guests shrink down to the size of a rat and join Remy on a culinary adventure through Gusteau’s restaurant.
The France expansion at EPCOT is now more than doubledthe size of the original pavilion. Make time to explore the new area. Walk under an art nouveau-style archway evoking a Paris Metro station before a stroll down a French market street called Alleé des Marchands (‘Alley of the Merchants’). Disney Imagineers worked with Pixar to design buildings in the pavilion that evoke the whimsical, handmade architectural style seen in Ratatouille and it’s so cute. France is now one of my favourite pavilions around the lake and a top spot for a selfie.
While you are there, grab a sweet treat from La Crêperie de Paris, a traditional creperie with a menu from renowned chef Jérôme Bocuse (inspired by the Brittany region of France). The table-service restaurant serves savory galettes and sweet dessert crepes, along with some of Brittany’s famous hard ciders.
8. Eat in space at Space 220 Restaurant
There is so much going on at EPCOT, the park almost deserves its own dedicated post (watch this space – no pun intended). Another amazing addition to the park is Space 220, a restaurant that is designed to look as though guests are dining on an International Space Station. The inspired dining room will feature simulated views of Earth by day and night.
Book for lunch or dinner at Space 220 and enjoy cosmic views from 220 miles above the atmosphere. The restaurant requires a booking and serves a fixed price menu ($55 per person for a 2-course lunch, $79 per person for a three course dinner. The Kids menu is priced at $29 per person and is only available for guests aged 9 and younger). You can also eat at the Space Lounge, a more casual way to experience Space 220. Here, you can order a-la-carte and enjoy snacks and specialty cocktails.The lounge also requires a booking.
TOP TIP: Restaurants at Walt Disney World can be booked up to 60 days in advance. Space 220 is one where tables are immediately snapped up, so make sure you’re online and ready to book exactly 60 days before you want to visit. UK guests can book online or via the My Disney Experience app. If you are staying at a Walt Disney World hotel, you can make reservations 60 days in advance of your whole trip, giving you an advantage over regular admission guests.
9. A makeover for Mickey and Minnie
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It all started with a mouse! From that first drawing of Mortimer Mouse, could Walt Disney have envisioned millions of fans from across the world would be flying in to celebrate the 50-year anniversary of Walt Disney World? To be fair, he was one of life’s most excellent visionaries, so I bet he probably could!
Of course, Mickey and Minnie are stepping out in style for the big bash. As hosts of ‘The World’s Most Magical Celebration,’ Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse will be dressed for the occasion in sparkling new looks, custom-made for this special occasion. Their limited edition costumes will include beautifully embroidered impressions of Cinderella Castle surrounded by fireworks, as well as a brocade in multi-toned, ‘EARidescent’ fabric – all punctuated with shimmers of gold.
Guests can meet Mickey Mouse wearing his 50th Anniversary outfit at Town Square Theater in Magic Kingdom Park.
10. Try out the exciting new MagicBand+
If you haven’t visited Walt Disney World before, the MagicBand is a wrist-worn device that you can use for various functions at Walt Disney World resort. These include a digital record of your park tickets, Genie+ and Lightning Lane bookings, Disney Resort Hotel room key, Disney’s PhotoPass (Memory Maker) and paying in restaurants and shops (if you have linked your credit card to the band).
However, in 2022, the next-generation MagicBand+ will be launching. These new funky bands will still have the popular features of the original MagicBand, but contain snazzy new ‘powers’ that will create exciting and immersive experiences in the parks. The new MagicBands will come alive at various times with colour-changing lights, haptic vibrations and gesture recognition. As you explore the parks, MagicBand+ will interact with nighttime spectaculars, including Harmonious at EPCOT and Disney Enchantment at Magic Kingdom Park. MagicBand+ can communicate with the Fab 50 Character statues in the park and allow you to become a Bounty Hunter at Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge.
If you stay at a Disney Resort hotel, guests will have the option to purchase with a discount on-site. However, if you’d like to use your standard MagicBand or Disney MagicMobile (through the My Disney Experience), it will still work as standard, but not activate the special features.
Happy Anniversary Disney!
In 50 years, Walt Disney World has welcomed millions of families, sparked marriage proposals and become the happiest place on earth for so many people. For fans, like me, who have grown up with the parks, the Walt Disney World 50th Anniversary is an occasion for us to celebrate too. There is no doubt it’s going to be a very exciting few years for Disney. The 50th anniversary is the perfect chance to celebrate the stories, characters and adventures that we will cherish for a lifetime.
Thank you to Disney Parks UK and Virgin Holidays for the opportunity to visit Walt Disney World during the World’s Most Magical Celebration, and for the preview of Cosmic Rewind. It was a dream week. Helen travelled as part of a UK press trip.
“The World’s Most Magical Celebration” to commemorate the Walt Disney World 50th Anniversary began on October 1, 2021. Tickets for 2022 and 2023 have been released and are available to buy now. For more on the transformation of EPCOT and the Walt Disney World Resort 50th Anniversary celebration follow us on Twitter and Instagram and visit WDWNews.com and DisneyParksBlog.com for more updates.
Packages are available at virginholidays.co.uk
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