It’s been fifty magical years since Walt Disney World officially opened to the public on October 1st, 1971. The Walt Disney Company has become such an institution that it’s easy to forget it was started by one creative person. After the opening of Disneyland in California in 1955, Walt Disney had a bigger dream. The Walt Disney World 50th Anniversary celebration is an impressive display of glitz with some new additions and a splash of nostalgia. It all started with more humble beginnings.
Orlando is far from Disney’s original theme park in California but actually very close to Walt Disney’s family history. Mr. Disney’s mother and father were residents of and married in a small central Florida town called Kismet. The town no longer exists but would have been less than a two hour drive from the parks today. Who could imagine decades later their sons would purchase thousands of acres of land nearby to create one of the most beloved vacation destinations on earth.
Walt Disney World Resort is vast in size at 27,000 acres. Upon opening, Walt Disney World consisted of just one park, Magic Kingdom, and the Polynesian and Contemporary resorts. Work was done up until the last minute to get the resorts guest ready. The opening of Walt Disney World was such an historic moment it was even recognized by then President Nixon. According to Becky Cline of the Disney Archives, a special American flag was flown at The White House on opening day and then sent to Disney. That flag was then raised in the Town Square of Magic Kingdom during Roy O. Disney’s dedication speech October 25th, 1971. The flag was recently rediscovered and is now on display at The Hall of Presidents attraction.
Sadly, Walt Disney passed on years before the opening. The inclusion of Walt in Walt Disney World came from Roy O. Disney’s insistence to honor his late brother. Roy passed on just a few months after the opening in December of 1971. He was a dedicated business partner to Walt until the very end, seeing their final collaborative project through.
For more history and magic, catch the television special available on Hulu and Disney+, The Most Magical Story on Earth: 50 Years of Walt Disney World, hosted by self proclaimed Disney fan Whoopi Goldberg.
Walt Disney World is celebrating fifty years with The World’s Most Magical Celebration. Disney World continues to bring back shows and reopen restaurants and hotels that have been closed for over a year and a half due to the pandemic. Walt Disney said, ‘it takes people to make the dream a reality’ and in this milestone moment, Disney leadership has shared various ways the cast members are the heart of the magic. Below is a detailed look at what there is to see, do, eat and more with tips to help you make the most of your visit.
Walt Disney World 50th Anniversary Celebration Dates
The World’s Most Magical Celebration is set to last 18 months from October 1st, 2021 through April 1st, 2023. The event will get better as it goes along with some merchandise and attractions debuting later in the celebration and reopenings continuing. EARidescence, a play on ears and iridescent, is a term coined for the celebration and a visual aesthetic you’ll see throughout.
Photo credit to @sparklynicole
The parks and resorts all have magical touches to mark the occasion. Glittery 50th banners can be found all throughout Walt Disney World Resort. EARidescent 50th medallions have been placed on the freshly painted Walt Disney World entrances that now match the castle colors. Out front at Magic Kingdom there is a Mickey topiary and cake with a 50th topper.
The centerpiece is certainly Cinderella Castle with rooftops decoratively wrapped in gold and iconic brick towers bejeweled in blue and pearl accents. Remember it was just last year the castle received a fresh new paint job in rich, royal colors. The Florida sun can be tricky and the blue rooftops of Cinderella Castle first appeared in a shade that faded into a blueish purple. Since then, the castle has been repainted and the colors are just right for the 50th anniversary.
The advertising campaign for the 50th anniversary shows the four park icons lit up beautifully as Beacons of Magic. Spaceship Earth looks absolutely stunning and is a must see. Cinderella Castle has that incredible glow via projections. If possible, plan to watch these two transform! The next park icons mentioned are fun to see but not as visually impressive during the actual transformation. Tower of Terror is festive and looks similar to how it appears over the holidays. The Tree of Life glows a bit and is worth catching a glimpse of on the way out of the park.
Walt Disney World 50th Anniversary Transportation
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Walt Disney World busses were previously white with Disney Transport on the side in a red, purple and yellow design. Over the last few years Disney busses began popping up featuring characters from the films and other Disney imagery in eye-catching, gradient color schemes. For the 50th anniversary keep an eye out for buses celebrating the occasion in a blue and pixie dusted design featuring Mickey and Minnie in their EARidescent best.
On September 29th, 2021 as the sun went down, guests were surprised with monorails lighting up the track below them in corresponding colors. The light up monorail detail had not been previously shared, adding to the delight. For an extra impressive view, catch the monorails on the Epcot line in front of Spaceship Earth aglow. You can really see the monorail lights in their full glory as they glide along next to vehicles between Epcot and the Transportation and Ticket Center on a dark World Drive.
Also note, monorail gold has a small portion of it wrapped in blue with the 50th anniversary celebration graphic. Some Disney Skyliner cabins have also been decorated in this magical aesthetic as well.
Photo credit to @sparklynicolee
Even the road signs around Walt Disney World have started to get a visual refresh. Moving on from the purple, red and yellow look, signage around property is being freshly painted in the same blue color palette as the entrance gate that’s reminiscent of the castle.
Another boat was added to the fleet of the Seven Seas Lagoon and Bay Lake waters. You might sail on the Tradewinds motor cruise on your next visit around Magic Kingdom depending on where you’re headed. It’s a bit more spacious for guests and some of the design enhancements were inspired by Disney watercraft cast members’ feedback.
Walt Disney World 50th Anniversary Song
The Magic is Calling is the official anthem of The Most Magical Celebration On Earth. The song is also available to stream on Spotify. Here are some places you can hear The Magic is Calling around Walt Disney World:
Dapper Dans on Main Street, U.S.A. at Magic Kingdom
Casey’s Corner Pianist on Main Street, U.S.A. at Magic Kingdom
Main Street Philharmonic on Main Street, U.S.A. at Magic Kingdom
Electrical Water Pageant on Seven Seas Lagoon
Voices of Liberty in the America Pavilion at Epcot
after Harmonious as the background music around World Showcase at Epcot
Discovery Island Drummers at Animal Kingdom
a line or two when park icons transform into Beacons of Magic each night
Note: Disney Enchantment also features another new song guests will love called You Are The Magic.
Walt Disney World 50th Anniversary Fireworks
Disney Enchantment is the new firework show at Magic Kingdom. This replaces the ever popular Happily Ever After. Fans of fireworks will be delighted at the continuous string of big, bright and colorful pyrotechnics that fill the sky in Enchantment. The show also features vibrant projections on Cinderella Castle and, for the first time in this park, projections on Main Street buildings. You can expect characters and music from some of Disney’s most beloved and celebrated films and newer releases. Narrator Angela Bassett wants fans to take away from the show that the magic ‘actually resides within us.’ Disney Vacation Club members can of course enjoy the unique view of this show from The Top of The World Lounge at Bay Lake Tower.
Harmonious at Epcot is more of a nighttime spectacular with the prominent visual features of water fountains and graphic projections. Fireworks light up crescendo moments of this multicultural display with Disney songs in thirteen languages.
Special 50th Photopass Magic Shots
To celebrate 50 years, Photopass has added some special Magic Shots. Magic shots are digitally enhanced, usually adding a character or some kind of Disney magic to your park photos. The Confetti Magic Shot looks so realistic and festive and may be the best one yet. Some more additions for the celebration include the EARidescent Balloons Magic Shot and EARidescent Border Magic Shot. Both are so well done and extra festive. The Nighttime Icons Magic Shots add a little more pixie dust to the already glowing Beacons of Magic. How fun will it be to collect all four? There have also been some Photopass photos posted from park goers that included 50th props like a replica of the medallion from the castle! See the Disney Parks Blog for where to find Disney World 50th anniversary Magic Shots.
Magic Kingdom Opening Attractions
Celebrate in the most nostalgic way by experiencing some shows and attractions that opened in 1971 and can still be enjoyed today at Magic Kingdom: Country Bear Jamboree, Dapper Dans, Dumbo the Flying Elephant, The Hall of Presidents, The Haunted Mansion, Frontierland Shootin’ Arcade, it’s a small world, Jungle Cruise, Liberty Square Riverboat, Mad Tea Party, Main Street Vehicles, Peter Pan’s Flight, Prince Charming Regal Carrousel, Swiss Family Treehouse, Tomorrowland Speedway, Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room.
Disney Fab 50 Character Collection Gold Statues
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Throughout Walt Disney World’s four theme parks, guests will find shiny, new golden statues that are part of Disney Fab 50 Character Collection. If you’re on a mission to see them all, note that this celebratory exhibition features fifty characters but not fifty statues as some appear together in one. Here is a complete list of the sculptures in each park:
Magic Kingdom Character Statues
Chip and Dale
Dumbo and Timothy
Gus and Jaq
Lady and Tramp
Lumiere and Cogsworth
Winnie the Pooh and Piglet
Epcot Character Statues
Olaf and Bruni
Pua and Hei Hei
Rocket and Groot
Hollywood Studios Character Statues
Bo Peep and Woody
Flounder and Sebastian
Animal Kingdom Character Statues
Bambi and Thumper
Nemo and Dory
Timon and Pumba
Walt Disney World 50th Anniversary Annual Passholder Perks
Walt Disney World Annual Passholders get some exclusives. There are merchandise pieces for the 50th that include Annual Passholder in the design. There is also a special Annual Pass card featuring an EARidescent background and the golden Mickey statue. These are, of course, complementary and Passholders can visit a Guest Relations or ticket window to get a pass with the new design. Tip: Remember there is a Guest Relations location both inside and just outside each park’s entrance and one may have a shorter line.
Walt Disney World 50th Anniversary Character Costumes
Characters have cute new looks for The Most Magical Celebration on Earth. The special anniversary outfits have charming details like embroidered fireworks on Mickey’s jacket. You can see these costumes in the welcome show, meet and greets, floatilla and cavalcades. Goofy and Pluto will also stop by resorts in their Character Caravan wearing their EARidescent looks.
Walt Disney World 50th Anniversary Food
Popcorn, the quintessential Disney food, is showing up to the party in style. You can get the popular salty snack in a 50th themed cardboard box. There are also at least six different collector popcorn buckets for the occasion: Mickey, Minnie and red, green, blue and gold Mickey-shaped balloon replicas.
Joffrey’s Coffee at Disney Springs is offering lovely latte art with the 50th anniversary logo featuring the castle. There is also a special Joffrey’s Coffee Walt Disney World 50th Anniversary Blend that is served throughout the parks and available for purchase by the bag. From Joffrey’s site: ‘A dark blend, sourced from the Cerrado region of Brazil, Santa Barbara in Honduras, and the Costa Rican Central Valley, the special blend also has notes of blueberry, black cherry and a hint of lemon.’
Disney has really gotten into themed treats, especially over the last few years. There is something cute and delicious in every corner for The Most Magical Celebration On Earth. You can even have a themed adult beverage to commemorate the anniversary. Many restaurants are featuring menu items that wink back to Disney history like the Mr. Toad burger that will give you a giggle. Even some favorites of Walt Disney are being offered. California Grill has a unique dining experience with a vintage inspired menu. There are a few different fireworks dessert parties to add to the fun.
For a detailed look see the Foodie Guide to 50th Anniversary Sips and Bites.
Walt Disney World 50th Anniversary Merchandise
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There are multiple collections of celebratory merchandise. Walt Disney World 50th Anniversary ears, pins, ornaments, Spirit Jerseys and more are available all around the resort. Pro tip: World of Disney at Disney Springs often has a large selection.
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The Celebration Collection has headwear, apparel and home decor. The Disney Castle Collection has a wide range of items inspired by the Magic Kingdom park icon. The Vault Collection features headwear, apparel and plush inspired by retro items from The Walt Disney Archives. The shimmery EARidescent Collection debuts in late October 2021 with a Loungefly backpack, Spirit Jersey and Minnie ears. The Luxe Logo Collection hits shelves November 2021 and will have apparel, accessories and more.
Space 220 is a highly themed space restaurant at Epcot. Guests appear to be dining high above earth. The menu is Prix Fixe with out of this world food.
Steak House 71 is now open in the Contemporary lobby. It’s in the former location of The Wave and features nostalgic photos upon entering.
La Crêperie de Paris is in the expanded France Pavilion at Epcot near Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure.
Citrico’s at the Grand Floridian was recently completely refurbished. Guests now dine among a Mary Poppins Returns theme with whimsical touches throughout. There are butterflies on light fixtures, touches inspired by the character’s famous bag and menu items that nod to the film.
You can see Kite Tails soar in the Discovery River Theater, former home of Rivers of Light, near Expedition Everest. There are two versions of this outdoor show. One features songs and character kites from The Lion King and the other is inspired by The Jungle Book.
An old show gets a new look as the Electrical Water Pageant joins the party. Guests can see a 50th anniversary tag that has been added on to the beginning and end of this classic show that also opened in 1971. The Electrical Water Pageant is a light show that travels by water vessel around the Seven Seas Lagoon and Bay Lake each night from 9:00-10:30 p.m. Check show times in the My Disney Experience App on or close to your visit. Viewing spots include the Polynesian, Grand Floridian, Wilderness Lodge, Fort Wilderness and Contemporary Resort. You may also catch a glimpse of this 15 minute show on a Magic Kingdom ferry or monorail.
The Let The Magic Begin Magic Kingdom welcome show happens on the stage in front of Cinderella Castle each morning. Just before the park officially opens, this short character appearance starts the day for those visiting Magic Kingdom. Note you will need to be inside the park and at least a little ways down Main Street to catch this. You can see Mickey, Minnie, Pluto, Goofy, Donald, Daisy, Chip and Dale in their EARidescent looks here. The appearance is about five minutes with a small firework blast at the end.
Cirque du Soleil debuts the show Drawn to Life at Disney Springs on November 18th, 2021. It quickly opened in 2020 and now this collaborative, creative effort returns to the big top. From show writer and director Michel Laprise: ‘From day one, we saw a link between the dedication of an animator in the classic 2D hand-drawn animation. They will spend, like, hours to make drawings. This is very similar to what we do here. Not only the acrobats who have to make that one movement emotional, technically perfect, but everybody here, the set designers, the props team, everybody, costumes. What we have here, people have to know that it’s unique.’ Drawn to Life replaces La Nouba at Disney Springs but this is the first show that features collaborative storytelling between Disney and Cirque.
Creations Shop is now open in place of Mouse Gear at Epcot. This is the main merchandise hub centrally located in the park. It has a bright, open concept and features some colorful Mickey art.
Club Cool returns in a brand new location at Epcot next to Creations Shop. This shop actually offers free Coca Cola products from around the world via soda fountains. If you haven’t been, you must try the Beverly…
New Rides & Attractions
Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure is now open in France at Epcot. This 3D attraction takes you on a French culinary journey from a rat’s perspective. Upon opening, this attraction has a virtual queue similar to Rise of the Resistance when it opened. Remy’s will not initially be included in Genie+ and Lightning Lane access will be an additional cost.
The Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind attraction opens at Epcot in 2022. This story coaster will feature Disney’s first reverse launch and vehicles will rotate 360 degrees. Cosmic Rewind also marks changes for the park as the first other world showcase pavilion featuring the Wonders of Xandar. In an interview, Imagineer Wyatt Winter shared this is still a family coaster and feels somewhere in between Seven Dwarfs Mine Train and Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster in terms of thrill.
Mickey’s Philharmagic at Magic Kingdom is adding a new scene from the colorful Disney Pixar film Coco.
No opening date has been provided for the delayed Tron coaster at Magic Kingdom at this time.
Photo credit to @sparklynicoleole
When you hear ‘welcome home’ you’ll be entering in royal style. Resorts are giving a regal welcome with eye-catching blue rugs with a gold castle donning the 5-0 in the center. There are also special food items and window displays at shops at the resorts.
The Contemporary lobby refurbishment is complete with the flair of Mary Blair. The famed Imagineer worked alongside Walt Disney and is often remembered for her talent with color palettes and pairings. The Contemporary also now has rooms themed to The Incredibles in a sleek and simplified, modern design.
Polynesian Resort rooms are receiving makeovers themed to Moana with Maui tattoo wallpaper and other character touches featuring Hei Hei and Pua.
The Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser is a new resort adventure coming to Walt Disney World. This experience is less like a hotel and more like a land cruise. Disney describes it as, ‘part live immersive theater, part themed environment, part culinary extravaganza, part real-life role-playing game.’ Voyages begin March 1st, 2022 and bookings are open to all on October 28th, 2021. A two night stay for a party of two starts at over $5000.
Disney Genie, Genie+ and Lightning Lane Replace FastPass+
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The FastPass+ replacement system launches on October 19th, 2021. Disney Genie is a complementary tool within the existing My Disney Experience App. Genie uses guest preference input and data from Disney to form a park plan for the day. If you decide you don’t want to do something Genie suggests, the plan for the day updates. For those who like to make their own plan, Disney Genie’s forecasted wait times may still be an asset. The tool also aims to make day of dining reservations and mobile ordering more seamless.
Guests will need to purchase Disney Genie+ at $15 per person, per day to use FastPass entrances which are now called Lightning Lanes. Genie+ includes over forty attractions around Walt Disney World but not all of them. Some of the most popular attractions have an additional cost for Lightning Lane access like Rise of the Resistance at $15 per person at launch. Prices for individual Lightning Lanes will fluctuate like park tickets do and there is a max of two per person, per day. Upon the start of this program there will only be two attractions at each park that require the additional Lightning Lane cost.
It’s possible to purchase individual Lightning Lane access with or without Genie+. Useful features like the overhead map of Walt Disney World with wait times and mobile order and dining reservations will still be available in the My Disney Experience App.
Walt Disney World 50th Anniversary Digital Guide
In the My Disney Experience App there is a digital guide to the 50th anniversary celebration with more information and details. As the theme song says, the magic is calling us to the place where all of our dreams come true: the most magical place on earth. Will you answer the call and visit Walt Disney World during The World’s Most Magical Celebration? Let us know in a comment below.