How Walt Disney World is celebrating its 50th birthday: fireworks, kites and tentacle cocktails
Believe it or not, Walt Disney World is just now celebrating its golden anniversary.
While the Walt Disney Company dates back to the 1920s, the Orlando theme park first opened its gates 50 years ago this week. And the resort is marking the milestone with fireworks displays, festive dishes — and Mickey and Minnie Mouse sporting some snazzy new outfits — for the next 18 months.
The festivities were actually supposed to be much bigger, however, with a number of new rides rolling out in time for the anniversary celebration. But the pandemic has been a rollercoaster ride for theme parks. COVID-19 shutdowns rained on Disney’s parade by pushing back construction on new attractions such as the Tron Lightcycle Power Run coaster slated for the Magic Kingdom, and Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind attraction for Epcot. As a result, Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure at Epcot is the only new ride coinciding with the park’s 50th anniversary.
Len Testa, president of the Touring Plans travel website and co-author of “The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World,” called the scaled-back celebration a “failure” on Disney’s part. “I think if [Disney CEO Bob Chapek] could take back one decision, it was the decision to stop construction on the new attractions during the pandemic,” he told MarketWatch. “They lost time, and they lost skilled construction workers that they have not yet replaced.”
“The 50th should have been this major event — theoretically we could have gotten three or four new attractions in time for the 50th,” Testa continued. “The thing that they’re advertising as the 50th anniversary special for Animal Kingdom is a kite show. Disney paid $70 billion for Fox — why are we getting a kite show?”
And some of the new features being rolled out for the anniversary have been met with a lukewarm reception. Early reviews of the new Epcot fireworks display, which was previewed in a livestream on Wednesday night, have been mixed.
But there’s plenty that diehard Disney fans will probably get excited about. Disney’s theme parks and product sales reported $4.34 billion in revenue in the third quarter, which was a spike from $1.07 billion a year ago. And reservations to visit Disneyland Resort sold out on the first day they opened up to the public in April, showing how eager people have been to come back back to the Magic Kingdom.
So here’s what the self-described “most magical place on Earth” still has planned for its big 5-0.
Light shows galore
Most celebrations blast off after dark, when the four Orlando theme parks light up the night with revamped firework displays and video installations. The Magic Kingdom’s “Disney Enchantment” show sprinkles fireworks, immersive projections and music from Cinderella’s Castle down Main Street U.S.A. The Tree of Life in Animal Kingdom Park glows with the warm light of “fireflies,” Disney’s anniversary announcement claims. In the Hollywood Studios park, the Hollywood Hotel Tower now shines with a “brilliance” that is supposed to evoke the golden age of cinema. And at Epcot, the new “Harmonious” show in the World Showcase Lagoon features a medley of classic Disney music from “Moana,” “Aladdin,” “Coco” and more, paired with video clips played on giant floating screens — and set off by choreographed fireworks, lasers and fountains.
Fresh photo opps
The “EARidescent 8” Disney mascots, including Mickey and Minnie Mouse, Donald and Daisy Duck, Goofy and Pluto, will be dressed to impressed with new outfits threaded with pops of gold. What’s more, 50 golden sculptures of Disney characters like Mickey, Minnie and “Coco’s” Miguel and Dante, as well as “Star Wars” figures like R2-D2 and BB-8, will be placed across Disney World’s four parks for guests to find for that perfect selfie.
Animal Kingdom visitors can look to the skies for the new “Disney KiteTails” show, where Disney animal characters such as “The Lion King’s” Simba and Zazu, and “The Jungle Book’s” Baloo and King Louie appear as themed kites stretching up to 30 feet long.
And speaking of fur-flying fun, the new “Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure” ride at Epcot brings the Disney-Pixar flick “Ratatouille” to life by making guests feel like they’ve shrunk down to the rodent gourmand’s size before having them scurry through an oversized French restaurant.
Octopus cocktails and bathtub sundaes
There are more than 150 new sips and snacks hitting menus across Disney World’s parks, as well. Some Instagram-ready dishes include the Squid’s Revenge — a spin on the Mexican michelada cocktail garnished with a charred octopus tentacle served at the Be Our Guest restaurant in the Magic Kingdom. Or, the Uncle Orville Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow Sundae fills a bathtub-shaped dessert dish with chocolate and vanilla ice cream, brownie pieces, hot fudge and whipped cream, available at the Magic Kingdom’s Auntie Gravity’s Galactic Goodies. Plus, the 50th Celebration Hot Dog piles a carnival’s worth of strawberry bacon jam, funnel cake pieces and powdered sugar on top of a hot dog.