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Walt Disney World 50th Anniversary Character Fashions
Photograph: Matt Stroshane

Your guide to Walt Disney World's 50th anniversary

It's time to celebrate in Orlando — here’s everything you need to know about Walt Disney World's 50th anniversary

Megan duBois
Written by
Megan duBois
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Walt Disney World just kicked off its 50th-anniversary celebration, and over the next 18 months the Orlando resort will put an EARidescent (their word, not ours) shimmer on the whole experience. What should you expect from one of Florida’s top destinations? For starters, there’s a slate of brand-new attractions, 150 new menu items, a handful of nighttime spectaculars, and plenty more.

It might seem overwhelming, especially if you’re hoping to squeeze all of Disney’s new experiences into one trip. But luckily, we’re here to break it all down for you.

No matter when you plan to visit Walt Disney World during its 50th, be sure to bookmark this guide for pro-tips, fun facts, and fresh intel on yet-to-be-announced attractions (fear not: we’ll update our guide throughout the next 18 months as Disney reveals even more experiences). Ready to celebrate? Here’s everything you need to know about Walt Disney World’s 50th anniversary.

RECOMMENDED: the best Orlando theme parks

 

Walt Disney World 50th anniversary guide

Disney Enchantment, Magic Kingdom Park
Photograph: David Roark

Disney Enchantment, Magic Kingdom Park

Disney Enchantment is a new nighttime spectacular at Magic Kingdom Park. Every night, the show brings Cinderella Castle and Main Street U.S.A. to life with vibrant colors by of brand-new projection mapping technology and old-fashioned fireworks. During the show, guests can sing along to songs from Moana, Frozen 2, Coco, and The Princess and the Frog. Keep an eye out for Tinkerbell, who glides over guests and casts pixie dust over the street to make the surrounding trees sparkle.

Pro-tip: To get the best view, find a spot at the end of Main Street U.S.A. (near Casey’s Corner or The Plaza Ice Cream Shop). Here, you’ll be able to see both the Main Street U.S.A. projections and the castle projections.

Fun fact: Disney Enchantment is the first nighttime spectacular at Magic Kingdom Park to use projection mapping down Main Street U.S.A.

Mickey’s Celebration Cavalcade, Magic Kingdom Park
Photograph: Matt Stroshane

Mickey’s Celebration Cavalcade, Magic Kingdom Park

Every day at Magic Kingdom Park, Mickey Mouse and his pals will don their brand-new 50th-anniversary outfits and ride along the parade route to wave at guests. You’ll know the cavalcade is coming when the music gets loud and other guests start to line the streets of Frontierland, Liberty Square, and Main Street U.S.A.

Pro-tip: Check the My Disney Experience app to see when the next cavalcade will happen — it’ll save you from waiting around when you could be riding a new attraction or munching on a 50th-anniversary treat.

Fun fact: Magic Kingdom is the only park where you’ll see Mickey Mouse and his friends in their 50th-anniversary outfits.

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Cinderella Castle Beacon of Magic, Magic Kingdom Park
Photograph: David Roark

Cinderella Castle Beacon of Magic, Magic Kingdom Park

Each of the park icons around Walt Disney World will transform into a “Beacon of Magic” after the sun goes down. At Magic Kingdom Park, Cinderella Castle gets engulfed in color thanks to projection mapping and virtual pixie dust that’s sprinkled over the spires. The short show runs every 15 minutes or so and is only a few moments long but it’s worth watching if you’re waiting for Disney Enchantment or getting ready to walk out of the park for the night.

Pro-tip: The individual Beacons of Magic shows don’t have set times, but you can always ask a cast member in the area for a heads up on the next approximate show.

Fun fact: Cinderella Castle is 189 feet tall, which means you might be able to see the Beacon of Magic show all the way from surrounding resorts (from the beach or, if you’re lucky, even your hotel room’s balcony).

France Pavilion Expansion, EPCOT
Photograph: Matt Stroshane

France Pavilion Expansion, EPCOT

EPCOT recently unveiled its newest expansion in the France pavilion that features a new attraction, dining experience, and cute photo spots. The entire experience is a true pièce de résistance: it’s meant to make guests feel like they’ve stepped into the version of Paris seen in Ratatouille (versus a hyper-realistic Paris).

Pro-tip: Head to the new expansion first thing in the morning or late in the evening to get the best photos, including the new fountain that features Chef Remy on top.

Fun fact: Walt Disney Imagineering and Pixar worked together to create “crookedology,” immersing guests in the whimsical world of Paris that Remy knows. This means that nothing has a straight line—you’ll see twisted gutters, slightly tilted windows, and bent railings.

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La Creperie De Paris, EPCOT
Photograph: Harrison Cooney

La Creperie De Paris, EPCOT

Part of the new France pavilion expansion, you can now dine at La Creperie De Paris. As the name suggests, this table service restaurant (first come, first served) offers made-to-order sweet crepes and savory galettes. There is also a quick service window at the restaurant that serves its own menu of crepes and galettes for those in a hurry.

Pro-tip: Try to get a seat by the window for the most authentic French feel; not only is the extra light great for photos, the window offers a nice perch for those keeping an eye on the line for Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure.

Fun fact: The buckwheat used for the creperie’s savory galettes is shipped to Walt Disney World from France, and the galettes are naturally gluten free.

Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure, EPCOT
Photograph: Matt Stroshane

Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure, EPCOT

Say hello to Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure, the newest family-friendly attraction at EPCOT. Everyone wears 3D for this mostly screen-based ride that makes you feel like you’re the size of Remy (in other words, itty-bitty) as you scurry through Paris and through Gusteau’s Restaurant (it’s a big world, after all).

Pro-tip: Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure uses the same boarding group system as Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance. This means you make a reservation to ride the attraction before the park opens through the My Disney Experience app. If you don’t get in on the first opening at 7am, you can try again at 1pm.

Fun fact: The ride is presented in both English and French, but you won’t know what language you get before you get on the attraction.

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Space 220 is a new restaurant in EPCOT’s World Discovery neighborhood located between Test Track and Mission: Space. The restaurant serves modern American food, bar bites, cocktails, and mocktails in a space station-themed dining room. Hop aboard the “space elevator” and you’ll watch through virtual portholes above and below as you're beamed up to the Centauri Space Station. Once the doors open onto the space station, you’re guided into the dining room where windows look out over Earth (yes, it's out of this world). The restaurant is only open for lunch and dinner and serves a prix-fixe menu.

Pro-tip: If you don’t want the prix-fixe menu, you can dine in the lounge (first come, first served) which has its own food menu. You still get the same experience riding the space elevator, not to mention those views back to Earth, all without the restrictive menu.

Fun fact: Depending on when you visit, you may see Earth in the daytime or Earth at night — when night falls on Epcot, it's mirrored at Space 220, too.

Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind, EPCOT
Photograph: Disney/Marvel

Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind, EPCOT

The highly anticipated attraction, Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind, will open at EPCOT in 2022. Dubbed as the park’s first “other-world” showcase pavilion, it will teach EPCOT guests about the technology and treasures found in the fictional world of Xandar from the Guardians of the Galaxy movies.

Pro-tip: When the attraction announces its opening date, don’t hesitate — you’ll want to book a resort reservation quickly if you plan on being one of the first to experience the ride.

Fun fact: Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind is one of the largest indoor coasters in the world. It will feature a ride vehicle that can rotate 360 degrees making it Disney’s first-ever reverse launch.

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Harmonious, EPCOT
Photograph: David Roark

Harmonious, EPCOT

Harmonious is the new nighttime show at EPCOT. The show takes place in World Showcase and uses popular Disney songs (from movies like The Princess and the Frog, Coco, Brave, and The Lion King) to talk about the world community. Harmonious combines animation on large LED screens along with dancing water, lasers, projections, and fireworks in order to create one fantastic finale to journey through EPCOT.

Pro-tip: Looking for the best view? Watch from the areas between the Mexico and Canada pavilions, or on either side of the American Gardens Theater.

Fun fact: You’ll hear 13 different languages throughout the soundtrack’s 15 songs.

Spaceship Earth Beacon of Magic, EPCOT
Photograph: David Roark

Spaceship Earth Beacon of Magic, EPCOT

As the sun goes down, the massive geodesic dome known as Spaceship Earth lights up with bright colors. Part of the Beacons of Magic program at each park, the spectacle takes place approximately every 15 minutes. After the exterior of Spaceship Earth changes colors and sparkles, it turns bright white at the end of the display.

Pro-tip: You can watch the display from just about anywhere in the park, but the best spot is right at the front near the EPCOT fountain.

Fun fact: EPCOT’s Beacon of Magic uses a first-of-its-kind programmable LED lighting system that was invented by Walt Disney Imagineering just for this project.

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Creations Shop, EPCOT
Photograph: Walt Disney WOrld

Creations Shop, EPCOT

Taking over the now-closed Mouse Gear, Creations Shop is the latest store to debut at EPCOT. The shop features almost exclusively EPCOT merchandise from light-up Mickey ears to T-shirts and trading pins.

Pro-tip: The line to get into the Creations Shop can get long first thing in the morning and later in the evening. Consider stopping in after making your first loop around World Showcase — you’ll get a better shopping experience with fewer crowds and more room to browse.

Fun fact: The shop is inspired by Mickey Mouse, which is something you can’t miss even if you tried (you’ll spot large murals featuring the famous mouse and even a set of sculptures lining the path to checkout).

Club Cool, EPCOT

Although Club Cool isn’t technically new to EPCOT, it’s in a completely new spot with a whole new experience (you’ll find it next to the Creations Shop). Here, try Coca-Cola products from around the world including Beverly, a discontinued Italian drink that was notoriously not-so-great (but a must-try nonetheless).

Pro-tip: You can try as many soda samples as you want and it’s all free. Just be mindful that you’re not alone — there may be people behind you waiting to try something, too!

Fun fact: In some form or another, Club Cool has been a part of EPCOT since 1998 when it first opened as Ice Station Cool.

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Disney KiteTails, Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park
Photograph: David Roark

Disney KiteTails, Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park

A new daytime show, Disney KiteTails, is taking flight in the Discovery River Theater. The show features beautiful Disney character-themed kites that glide through the sky as music from the respective movies plays around the theater. The show takes place in the waters of the Discovery River as well as in the stands of the theater, so keep your eyes peeled.

Pro-tip: Disney KiteTails is best seen from the DinoLand U.S.A. side of the theater, about halfway down and toward the edge of the stands. As the kites and kite performers walk by, you’ll get an up-close look at some of the beautiful features on each kite.

Fun fact: There are actually two versions of Disney KiteTails. The first depicts The Lion King, and the second features The Jungle Book. You never know which one you’re going to get when you sit down for the show.

 

Tree of Life Beacon of Magic, Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park
Photograph: Todd Anderson

Tree of Life Beacon of Magic, Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park

The Tree of Life is the center of everything at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park. The icon has massive, intricately carved animals (lions, bison, elephants, and more) around the trunk and branches. Each night, as the sun sets on the park, the Tree of Life comes to life with warm hues and flickering fireflies that represent the magic of nature.

Pro-tip: Instead of watching the display from Discovery Island, head over to Africa or Asia to get a different view of the Tree of Life and the Beacon of Magic.

Fun fact: There are over 300 different animals carved into the Tree of Life.

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The Hollywood Tower Hotel Beacon of Magic, Disney’s Hollywood Studios
Photograph: Walt Disney World

The Hollywood Tower Hotel Beacon of Magic, Disney’s Hollywood Studios

Head to Disney’s Hollywood Studios to see the Hollywood Tower Hotel (home to The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror) awash in gold as the park celebrates the 50th anniversary and the golden age of Hollywood.

Pro-tip: As you walk up to the Hollywood Tower Hotel to get a closer look at the Beacon of Magic, take a look at the sign that displays wait times just outside the attraction — hop in line if it says 13 minutes because there won't be a wait to get on.

Fun fact: If you take a closer look on the sides of the building near the top spires, you’ll see silhouettes of people dancing at the Tip Top Club, a fictional space that’s part of the attraction’s storyline.

Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser, opening March 1, 2022
Photograph: David Roark

Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser, opening March 1, 2022

The highly anticipated Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser vacation will officially launch on March 1, 2022. During this two-night stay, guests will experience Star Wars in a truly immersive way — expect activities like bridge training, lightsaber training, character interactions, and a “port adventure” to Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

Pro-tip: If you want to be one of the first to experience Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser, general bookings begin October 28, 2021.

Fun fact: Guests are encouraged to dress up and create (i.e. totally make up) their own backstory while on board. While there is a costume policy at the Disney Parks, Walt Disney Imagineering has said full cosplay will be acceptable onboard the Halcyon, where Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser takes place.

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Disney’s Contemporary Resort
Photograph: Kent Phillips

Disney’s Contemporary Resort

Over at Disney’s Contemporary Resort, guest rooms have been reimagined with themes inspired by The Incredibles. The rooms include subtle touches from the Parr family like super suits hanging in the closet and even a to-do list from Mr. Incredible on the bedside table.

Pro-tip: If you’re going to spend most of your time at Magic Kingdom Park, Disney’s Contemporary Resort is a great choice — from here, you can take the monorail or walk to the park in about 5 to 10 minutes.

Fun fact: Disney’s Contemporary Resort was part of Walt Disney World’s original opening, which means it’s also 50 years old.

Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort
Photograph: Kent Phillips

Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort

The guest rooms at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort were recently redone to bring touches of the Disney film Moana into the picture. Each room features characters from the movie along with vibrant colors that give tropical island vibes to the space.

Pro-tip: Book a room that faces Magic Kingdom so you can watch the nightly fireworks from your balcony. Be sure to specify when you check-in that you want a top-floor room, otherwise your view may be obstructed by the Bora Bora Bungalows.

Fun fact: Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort is also celebrating its 50th anniversary this year as it was an official resort when Walt Disney World first opened.

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Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort and Spa

Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort and Spa is, without question, one of the premier resorts at Walt Disney World. Here, you’ll find a large selection of Disney Vacation Club rooms that are about to look better than ever: they’re set to get an updated look complete with brand-new Murphy beds. The resort is also turning 200 rooms in its Big Pine Key building into new DVC resort studios.

Pro-tip: You don’t have to be a Disney Vacation Club member to stay in the DVC studios or villas. You can rent DVC points or you can pay outright for the larger space with more in-room amenities.

Fun fact: While many people think that Disney’s Grand Floridian was an opening day resort, it actually didn’t debut to guests until 1988.

Electrical Water Pageant
Photograph: Matt Stroshane

Electrical Water Pageant

At night, the resorts around Bay Lake and Seven Seas Lagoon are treated to the Electrical Water Pageant, a floating water parade with music, light shows, and a brand-new scene (showing a castle and pixie dust) in celebration of the 50th anniversary. The new segment plays to “The Magic Is Calling,” the anniversary’s official anthem song.

Pro-tip: Depending on which Magic Kingdom resort you’ve booked, the time for each show will be different. For exact times check the My Disney Experience app or check with the front desk.

Fun fact: The Electrical Water Pageant has been part of the Walt Disney World experience for 50 years.

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Disney Springs is getting a new show called Drawn to Life, a collaboration between Cirque du Soleil, Walt Disney Animation Studios, and Walt Disney Imagineering. The family-friendly show follows the story of Julie after she finds an unfinished animation drawn by her father, who just so happens to be an animator for Disney.

Pro-tip: Book your tickets in advance for this show. The theater is quite small and shows often fill up weeks in advance, especially on weekends.

Fun fact: Walt Disney World isn’t the only one celebrating its 50th — this is also the 50th production from Cirque du Soleil!

New dining experiences
Photograph: David Roark

New dining experiences

You’ll find plenty of new dining experiences around Walt Disney World, so be sure to pack an appetite. You’ll find two new restaurants at Disney’s Contemporary Resort alone, Steakhouse 71 and California Grill (the latter of which will offer a special prix-fixe menu for the 50th anniversary). Meanwhile, at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort and Spa, you’ll find a new Mary Poppins Returns-themed dining room at Cítricos, which recently revamped its menu to focus on Florida cuisine with a Mediterranean twist.

Pro-tip: If you don’t have a reservation, all of these restaurants have lounges that are first-come, first-served.

Fun fact: The design inside Steakhouse 71 is inspired by the history of Walt Disney World — in the entry hallway, you’ll even spot images of the resort in mid-construction from the late 60s.

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50th anniversary themed foods
Photograph: Kent Phillips

50th anniversary themed foods

To celebrate its 50th anniversary, Walt Disney World added new menu items throughout the parks and resorts. Some of the dishes are throwbacks (like Walt Disney’s personal favorites, chili and fried chicken), while some are fan-favorites with a new twist (like peanut-covered churros).

Pro-tip: Try to order as many items as possible through the My Disney Experience app — it will save you time and allow you to get on an attraction (or two) while you wait.

Fun fact: There are over 150 new menu items to try at Walt Disney World, and more are likely to debut throughout the next 18 months.

The newest hotel to open its doors for guests is the Walt Disney World Swan Reserve. The hotel is owned and operated by Marriott, but is nestled into a busy corner of Walt Disney World near EPCOT and Disney's Hollywood Studios. Each of the rooms features nods to Florida's historic citrus industry, along with stunning views of Walt Disney World. 

Pro-tip: You can book your room based on what you want to see. For example, if you want to watch EPCOT's new nighttime show Harmonious, book an EPCOT View room. 

Fun fact: The Walt Disney World Swan Reserve has 151 suites that are specifically designed for families of six to 10 people. 

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