Top 8 New Experiences Inspired by Walt Disney World's 50th Jubilee
When Walt Disney World opened on October 1, 1971, it was a dream come true for its namesake founder. Walt Disney was already enjoying the magical success of his Disneyland Resort, which had opened in Southern California in July of 1955. But he was seeking an East Coast equivalent with a scope that would, well, dwarf the original. Urban sprawl around Anaheim had capped the Disneyland property at 160 acres. The 28,000 acres he purchased near Orlando, Florida, would offer Mickey Mouse and his friends a lot more room to roam, and to grow for decades to come.
Today, the Covid-19 pandemic notwithstanding, Walt Disney World welcomes 58 million visitors a year, a global mix of Disney enthusiasts drawn to four unique parks: Magic Kingdom, the Disneyland-inspired original, opened in 1971; futuristic EPCOT, which stands for Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, landed in 1982; the glam Disney-MGM Studios Theme Park opened in 1989, with a name change 19 years later to Hollywood Studios; and Animal Kingdom, which began welcoming fans of all things wild in 1998.
Much of the Walt Disney World experience is timeless. The classics here never disappoint. But a golden anniversary is a big deal, so these are our top eight picks for brand new experiences not to miss.
France Gets Bigger
The France pavilion at EPCOT, one of the most popular of the 11 countries represented in the park’s World Showcase, is fresh off an expansion that nearly doubled its size. The crowning jewel here: Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure, inspired by the 2007 award-wining Pixar-Disney animated film. It’s a whirling, family-friendly 4D ride that shrinks guests to the size of Chef Remy, everyone’s favorite rodent gourmand, and sends them on a multisensory adventure across Gusteau’s Restaurant in Paris. A real-life restaurant debuts, too—La Creperie de Paris—featuring a menu of French sweet treats and hard ciders.
New Nighttime Magic
No one does end-of-day fireworks shows like Disney, but two new attractions are redefining the way to wow guests at night. At EPCOT, Harmonious is a visual tour de force that features pyrotechnics, massive LED screens and synchronized moving fountains—as well as more than 200 performers from around the globe. Classic Disney songs are interpreted in more than a dozen languages in what’s being touted as the largest nighttime spectacular ever produced for a Disney park. Not to be outdone, Magic Kingdom features the new and powerful Disney Enchantment, complete with fireworks, an original song by Grammy winner Philip Lawrence and, for the first time ever, immersive projections that stretch from Cinderella’s Castle all the way down Main Street USA.
It’s All About the Merch
It’s not just theme park enthusiasts flocking to Walt Disney World on its 50th birthday, it’s avid collectors of that exclusive Disney swag. Five new merchandise collections are being launched as part of the park’s jubilee, featuring apparel, accessories, plush toys, housewares and collectibles. The Vault Collection, with myriad retro-themed designs, the Celebration Collection and Disney Castle Collection all launch October 1. Look for the EARidescent Collection, highlighting shimmering fashions, and the Luxe Logo Collection by early November.
Taking Food to New Heights
In partnership with the Patina Restaurant Group, Walt Disney World has launched Space 220 Restaurant inside EPCOT, as part of the Mission: SPACE pavilion expansion. Foodies soar 220 miles into the sky and enjoy meals and drinks while taking in virtual daytime and nighttime views of Earth below. Talk about an elevated dining experience.
This is just a taste of a widespread culinary focus that’s delivering more than 150 new menu items across all parks and attractions at Walt Disney World. Treat yourself to the Cheese Fries with Walt’s Chili at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, indulge in the Mission to Mars Burger at Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Café inside Magic Kingdom, savor the EARidescent Croissant Doughnut at EPCOT and satisfy your sweet tooth with the Glimmer and Shimmer Pineapple Mousse at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
Disney Takes the Stage
On its 50th, a first for Walt Disney World: a new collaboration between Disney imagineers and the world-renowned aerialists at Cirque du Soleil. The new family-friendly show, Drawn to Life, turns the stage into an animator’s table and recounts a young girl’s Disney memories through dazzling Cirque performances. Tickets are on sale now, with the show premiering in Disney Springs on November 18.
Resorts Get a Makeover
The two resort hotels that opened their doors alongside Magic Kingdom on October 1, 1971 are getting their own 50th birthday facelift. All the guest rooms in the A-frame tower at Disney’s Contemporary Resort have a fresh futuristic vibe that evokes Tomorrowland and features characters from Pixar’s hit film, The Incredibles; the lobby showcases a new modern art collection and the signature restaurant is now known as Steakhouse 71. Rooms at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort, a AAA 4-Diamond hotel, feature a color new color palette inspired by the Pacific Ocean, as well as references to the characters from Disney’s Moana.
Characters Go for Gold
Inspired by its golden anniversary, 50 Disney characters are being celebrated in a brand new set of golden sculptures. Spread across all four parks, the Disney Fab 50 Character Collection finds Miguel and Dante from Disney-Pixar’s Coco at EPCOT; BB-8 and R2-D2 from Star Wars Hollywood Studios; Simba, Timon and Pumba from The Lion King at Animal Kingdom; and Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse at Magic Kingdom.
Magic on High
Some high-flying daytime entertainment is premiering at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Disney Kite Tails is a vibrant showcase that features elaborate 3D kites flying out on the water. These colorful kites, some stretching to 30 feet long, depict Disney animal characters like Simba, Baloo and King Louie flying to classic Disney songs. Meanwhile, performers at Discovery River Theater fly vibrant windcatchers and kites of all shapes and sizes in a fascinating display that takes places several times a day.
Ready to plan your next Walt Disney World visit? Travelzoo members can save with date-specific pricing on single- and multi-day theme park tickets into 2022. But remember: after you buy your passes, you still need to make advance reservations for the dates you want to visit, as the parks are still operating at reduced capacity. Several safety measures, like required mask wearing in all indoor spaces, remain in place.
Walt Disney World’s 50th anniversary celebration runs 18 months, all the way through March 2023.