Disney World’s 50th Anniversary
Updated Apr 2020
Are you planning a trip to Disney World in 2021? If so, you will be in for a really big treat! In 2021 on October 1st, 2021, to be exact, it will be Disney World’s 50th Anniversary!! This is a really huge deal! I myself, cannot even believe that the park is already 50 years old. Granted I wasn’t even born yet when the park opened, but still, yet, it is just crazy that this wonderful, amazing place is just now turning 50 years old!
What is the 50th Anniversary All About??
Technically, it is not just Disney World’s 50th Anniversary aka the 50th anniversary of Magic Kingdom. It is also the 50th Anniversary of the Walt Disney World Resort, or well, more specifically, The Contemporary Resort and the Polynesian Village Resort.
When Magic Kingdom opened, so did both hotels and that is what started the Walt Disney World Resort. Throughout the course of Magic Kingdoms’ history, they have celebrated many milestones. October 1, 1981, was the very first big milestone these two hotels and Magic Kingdom celebrated. The next celebration wasn’t until they celebrated their 10th anniversary in which Disney called it the ‘Tencennial Celebration.’
The second big milestone Disney celebrated was the opening of the second Disney park (Epcot) in 1982, which coincidentally, opened on October 1, 1982; the 11th anniversary of Magic Kingdom, the Contemporary, and the Polynesian. Four years later on October 1, 1986, Magic Kingdom celebrated a milestone of 15 years! Five years later on October 1, 1991, Magic Kingdom celebrated its 20th Anniversary in which they called the Surprise Celebration!
The last big celebration Magic Kingdom had was back in 1996 for the 25th Anniversary Remember the Magic party which lasted for a total of 15 months! Since then, the park has not celebrated anything huge. Yes, the park celebrated its anniversary, but they have only celebrated in a minor way when compared to prior ways they have celebrated. That will all change though come October 1, 2021.
This day will be a very significant day like no other. If you have been to a huge milestone celebration in the past, then you will be in for a big treat as this celebration will be the biggest, grandest, and longest celebration ever. It is not just Disney World’s 50th Anniversary aka the 50th anniversary of Magic Kingdom, but also the 50th anniversary of the Contemporary and Polynesian Resort as well as the 40th anniversary of Epcot! As this is such a huge deal, you may be wondering just what exactly they will be doing to celebrate?
How the 50th Anniversary Could Be Affected by COVID-19
I wanted to start off with an update on anything that might be affected by the current situation of Disney World in 2020. WDW, and all of the other Disney parks around the world, are closed for the time being. This is an unprecedented situation, as the last time any Disney park closed down was in the aftermath of 9/11.
But with the parks closed, all of their construction projects of new hotels, rides, and the like, are shut down for the time being. The company planned for Walt Disney World 2021 to be a year of great change and celebration for everyone. Now, they will definitely go forward with the 50th Anniversary celebration. But some rides and other park changes might not be open by the anniversary.
Disney hasn’t released a set plan for opening again, but there will be changes in the way things are run as life gets slowly back to normal. A few things that are likely to be altered are the fingerprinting at the entrance, the amount of fastpasses available, how the ride queue works in order to limit riders, as well as how many people are allowed in the parks at a time. This may seem intense and a little confusing for people who still have trips planned for Disney World 2021, but rest assured knowing that Disney will work as hard as they can to make visitors’ experiences feel as normal and magical as they can!
Disney’s 50th Anniversary Celebration Dates
We actually don’t know the exact dates for the celebration, or what it will entail but we do know that other celebrations lasted around 16 months so it won’t just be a few days.
My Favorite Disney Must-Haves
What Does This Anniversary Party Entail??
Since Disney World’s 50th Anniversary is still 2 years away, we know some things, and then we don’t know some things. The things we do know consist of projects Disney is working on and what we don’t know consists of rumors/speculation.
Let’s look at Magic Kingdom for instance. One of the big projects being worked on is the building of the TRON Lightcycle Run roller coaster that will reach speeds of over 60 mph. If you’re not familiar with what this is, it’s a ride that was built for Tomorrowland in Shanghai Disneyland. It opened with the park in 2016. Believe it or not, the ride was developed and was always going to come to Tomorrowland at the Magic Kingdom, but it came to Shanghai first. That being said, the ride will make its debut in 2021 for the 50th anniversary of the park. That’s the first official thing we know about the plans for Disney World’s 50th Anniversary.
The second thing we know from examining Magic Kingdom is that Tomorrowland is getting some kind of major makeover. This process is in phases and has slowly been going on for the past year or two, but we see these changes. The whole theming of the land is slowly changing from a retro-future Tomorrowland to a more modern-techno future Tomorrowland.
The first changes we saw in regards to theming was a complete refresh in the painting of the rock work towards the entrance to the land and some painting changes involving certain walls in the land. Specifically, in regards to walls, the famous ‘Purple Wall’ has been recently updated with a new color scheme.
Staying in Tomorrowland, the next topic of discussion in terms of the future of the land would be the Tomorrowland Speedway. Currently, there is a love/hate relationship that many guests have with this ride. Personally, I don’t think it goes fast enough.
People love it as it is a ride that brings about nostalgia when they rode it for the very first time as kids and then were able to take their kids on it for the first time. Then there are those who hate it. They hate it as it smells horribly from the gas it emits, and then it is a very loud ride. This ride was closed from January 2 – May 18, 2019, to alter the track slightly so that the addition of the TRON Lightcycle Run could be accommodated. There was a lot of speculation that Disney would be partnering with Tesla to convert gas-powered cars to electric, but Disney quickly debunked this rumor. This isn’t to say the cars won’t be converted to electric in the future, just that they aren’t as of yet.
Speaking of refurbishments, Peter Pan’s Flight closed from January 7, 2019 until February 2, 2019. This 27 day refurbishment gave the ride a face lift — of sorts — with fresh paint throughout the ride. While no major changes were done, this ride is in top shape and ready for that 2021 celebration.
I love visiting Epcot, but I am ready for some more rides there. Thankfully, Epcot is getting many renovations to prepare itself for this huge celebration.
Epcot’s renovations will “keep it true to the original vision while making it more timeless, more relevant, more family-friendly, more Disney,” said Bob Chapek, chairman of Disney Parks and Resorts. “Families want a little bit more of that Disney wow factor.”
It’s been years, (since the 90s actually) that Spaceship Earth received a major update. Now’s the time. At the D23 Expo, it was revealed that Spaceship Earth will be getting revamped with new technological effects focused more on storytelling and a new magical addition called a “story light” that will be a guide to guests along their journey on the ride. While the previous speculation had this ride down for 2 years or so, at this time Disney has not provided a time frame as to how long these updates will take. So, stay tuned.
In Fall 2021, Disney World will be welcoming a GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY COASTER to Epcot’s Future World. I’m very excited, can you tell? The new indoor high speed roller coaster will be called Guardians of the Galaxy Cosmic Rewind and will be centered around the mysteries and similarities of Earth and Xandar followed by an adventure with the Guardians of the Galaxy. It will also feature the first reverse launch on a Disney coaster.
Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure is scheduled to open between France and Morocco in the summer of Disney World 2020 and will honor traditional French cooking. If you’ve been to Disneyland Paris and have ridden the Ratatouille ride there, know that it’s going to be similar. If you haven’t, it is going to be a dark, trackless ride where the riders are shrunk to Remy’s (the rat) size. If you want a sneak peek of that, watch this video.
Mission Space received an update of more space and seating and fewer computers. The newest addition will be a restaurant called Space 220 that will open in Winter 2019 and provide its guests with an unforgettable culinary experience including day and night views of the Earth from 220 miles up.
The China pavilion will get a new 360-degree film to replace “Reflections of China” entitled “Wondrous China”.
Disney also announced a Mary Poppins attraction coming which includes expanding Epcot’s United Kingdom to add Mary Poppins’ charming setting. It will be practically perfect in every way.
Opening in 1982, Epcot was Disney’s version of the World Fair as well as a celebration of technology and the future, it’s fallen a bit behind so these changes will be very welcome for us all.
Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge opened August 29, 2019, and has been a huge success allowing guests to travel through space, board a star destroyer, and fly the Millennium Falcon. Another ride, Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, opened December 5, 2019, at Hollywood Studios and January 17, 2020, at Disneyland, allowing park guests to fight alongside the resistance. It’s been extremely popular and before the shut down, there were huge lines at park opening just to be able to get a boarding group.
Another recent addition, Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway is now where the Great Movie Ride used to be. The attraction has a new catchy theme song and begins with a Mickey & Minnie short cartoon. It puts you inside the world of Mickey cartoons and is the first ride-through attraction to star the two lovable mice. Though the Great Movie Ride was a fan-favorite for some people, the few visitors who have gotten to experience Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway love the new addition, which opened at Walt Disney World on March 4, 2020.
There is one last thing we absolutely know is going to happen before we dive into speculation. We do know this celebration is going to be huge. Perhaps, this celebration will be the biggest, grandest, and most memorable celebration Disney World has put on to date. In fact, while it is not confirmed, (but is most likely going to be) it is to be a celebration that lasts for at least a year if not a year and a half! Why have it so long? Well, first off it is to celebrate the 50 years of memories, magic, happiness and smiles the resort has created over the last 50 years. It is also to celebrate the 50th of the Contemporary and Polynesian Resort. Not only that, but the same year Epcot will be celebrating its 40th anniversary. To say there isn’t a lot to celebrate is kind of an understatement. When Disney decides to put on a big party and celebrate, you better be prepared as it is something you do not want to miss out on!
Rumors and Speculation Regarding the Big 50
Now it is time for speculation. These things I am about to share are things that are only rumored currently for the Disney World’s 50th Anniversary plans. They have not been confirmed in any way, although some of these things are most likely going to happen based on evidence of other celebrations Disney has put on. When Disneyland celebrated their 60th anniversary, they had special fireworks. It was called Disneyland Forever. That said, it is almost guaranteed that Magic Kingdom will have some kind of special fireworks for the anniversary. No, it is not going to be replacing Happily Ever After but instead just be at the Magic Kingdom for a limited-time engagement. Disneyland also debuted a brand-new nighttime parade for the 60th anniversary which was called Paint the Night. If you go to Magic Kingdom now, you would see that currently there is no nighttime parade.
On October 9, 2016, Magic Kingdom held its very last performance of the Main Street Electrical Parade. It’s now 2020, and Disney World’s Magic Kingdom has not gotten a new nighttime parade yet. In fact, this is now the longest time in Magic Kingdom history the park has been without a nighttime parade. Will we ever get one back? Well, if Disneyland got a special parade for their big celebration, chances are Magic Kingdom may most likely receive a brand-new parade for its 50th. Hopefully, we do get a parade as the parades were truly special to see. It was another way for guests to stay at the park later at night. I myself have memories of seeing the Main Street Electrical Parade along with the SpectroMagic Parade many times with my family members. With the technology we have today, I am sure that if and when a nighttime parade comes back, it is sure to be quite the spectacle!
Back on the topic of rides, there are rumors out there that talk about the refurbishment and update of several Disney attractions at Magic Kingdom. We know so far that the Tomorrowland Speedway is coming back different in some way shape or form. Peter Pan’s Flight may be coming back newly updated, but who knows. Hopefully, it does come back with the added updates the Disneyland version received. The rumored attractions to receive some kind of update for the 50th include but are not limited to: The Tomorrowland Speedway, Peter Pan’s Flight, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, The Carousel of Progress, It’s A Small World, Mickey’s Philharmagic, Stitch’s Great Escape, Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, Jungle Cruise and Splash Mountain.
How Upcoming Projects Could End Up Working Out
Like I said, there’s definitely going to be alterations or schedule shifts for these huge projects that Disney has in-progress. The Disney Food Blog has done an amazing job explaining the 3 possible situations that we may be facing for Disney World 2021: that Disney will complete everything on time and as planned, that projects will be delayed, or that some projects may be scrapped altogether. The last one’s not ideal, but it’s possible. Disney is losing money just like any other business, so that will affect their plans going forward.
For example, the new Ratatouille ride has a Summer 2020 opening date. It was very close to being finished before construction shut down. Expect this ride to be ready soon after the parks open back up. It might be a little later than planned, but Disney will want to use the new ride to draw visitors back in.
The new Cirque Du Soleil show has already been affected by the shutdown, as the new Drawn to Life show was supposed to have its world premiere on April 17, 2020, but has obviously been postponed. But this does mean that the show was prepared to open, and will be one of the quickest new attractions to get started once Walt Disney World opens again.
For the Guardians of the Galaxy ride, it could take priority over the TRON coaster, but Epcot has its 40th anniversary in October of 2022. It would make sense for Disney to possibly push its completion back for that event. TRON Lightcycle Run has a set opening date but it has not been unannounced, so it’s hard to guess when the ride will be completed and if it’s on schedule.
Epcot’s Mary Poppins attraction is very likely going to be pushed back or possibly scrapped completely. Though I really hope not, as it would be an amazing addition to World Showcase. If you want to know more, definitely check out the post on The Disney Food Blog.
How Should One Prepare for the Big 50th??
With the 50th anniversary on its way, you may be wondering just how you should prepare for this grand occasion? My first piece of advice is to book your vacation as soon as possible. Just in time for the festivities will be an all-new digital offering called Disney Genie that will be available in late 2020 to help anyone plan their Disney trip and get the most out of it. Disney Genie will be able to focus on exactly what you’d like to do and help with itineraries to make sure your trip is as fun and catered to you as it should be. If you haven’t planned a trip for the end of 2021 but you’d like to go, during the shutdown would be a very good time to book a trip. Prices are low for flights and hotels, and you’re not likely to see these low prices once the parks open up again.
The second thing you need to do is plan to arrive at the Magic Kingdom the day of the 50th by no later than 5:30 am. What I mean by arriving by 5:30 is by 5:30 you are all the way at the gate ready and waiting to get in the park. I actually recommend going as early as you possibly can, so if you can get there before 5:30, then great. If not, well, try your absolute best. You are going to want to get there early for a number of reasons.
The first reason is if you do not, loads of people will be in line well before you and it may take a really long time to get in the park. That being said, you will also miss some things happening in the park right away when it opens, hence the reason you need to be there early. As soon as people are let into the park and this could be as early as 5:30 am, people will either head straight for the Emporium to wait in line and buy special anniversary merchandise or they will head right to the center hub in front of the castle and wait for the dedication ceremony that will be taking place. If you are fortunate enough to make your way through the line of the emporium and get a great spot for the ceremony, you did really good.
My last piece of advice is to be prepared. The crowds and lines will be extremely long. Think about how the crowds are at Black Friday. Then take that energy and double or maybe even triple it. That is how crazy it will be at the park. This day may even be worse than going to the park on Christmas Day or New Year’s Eve. Along with being prepared, you need to have a battle plan. Plan out your day exactly how you want it to go and then stick to that plan. If you do not have a plan, you may not get to do all the things you want to do during the park’s celebration.
So, if you plan, if you prepare, and if you are a crazy person like me who will be at Magic Kingdom at 5:30am on a Friday, then you will have the best time of your life! Either way this celebration is sure to one to remember and be anything unlike you have ever seen! Will I see you there? Who knows, but you have 1 year, 5 months, and 8 days (from the day I updated this) until the big 50th anniversary of Walt Disney World kicks off!
Regarding any changes to the 50th anniversary of Walt Disney World in 2021, keep an eye on my blog and other Disney news sites. Disney will likely announce these changes when they announce the reopening of the parks.