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Monday, February 22, 2021

After years of speculation, Disney finally confirms the biggest celebration in WDW history

Posted By on Mon, Feb 22, 2021 at 9:30 AM

click to enlarge IMAGE VIA DISNEY
  • Image via Disney
The 50th anniversary celebration at Walt Disney World has been in the works for years, with leaks regarding the plans posted online more than half a decade ago. Now the resort has finally confirmed the upcoming celebration.

As was expected, the 18-month event will begin in October on the actual anniversary of Magic Kingdom’s 1971 opening. Before the pandemic, it was thought the event would kick off in May and run until late 2022. But with capacity decreases and travel restrictions for many guests, the October date is indicative of when the travel industry as a whole expects things to begin heading back to some semblance of normal. Still, some aspects of the celebration may not debut until 2022, when we should hopefully be past the current pandemic-related constraints.



Those include opening two major new attractions: Guardians of the Galaxy Cosmic Rewind at Epcot and the Tron coaster at the Magic Kingdom. Prior to the official kickoff of the celebration in October, we should also see the opening of the family-friendly Ratatouille 3D dark ride and the Space 220 restaurant, both at Epcot.

Disney has confirmed that all four parks will partake in the resort-wide celebration billed as ‘The World’s Most Magical Celebration.’ New nighttime lighting displays will take place on each park’s icon. These ‘Beacons of Magic,’ as Disney has described them, are similar to former projection mapping displays seen on Cinderella Castle, Tower of Terror and the Tree of Life.

click to enlarge The Tower of Terror's Beacons of Magic projection show set to debut as part of WDW's 50th-anniversary celebration. - IMAGE VIA DISNEY
  • Image via Disney
  • The Tower of Terror's Beacons of Magic projection show set to debut as part of WDW's 50th-anniversary celebration.
The castle will also be getting ‘a royal makeover’ that will include new golden ribbons and a 50th anniversary crest.

Last year the castle got a major new paint job. At the time, Disney claimed it was in honor of Cinderella’s 70th anniversary, though numerous insiders confirmed it was related to the resort's upcoming golden anniversary. When the paint job was greenlit, the resort was supposedly still planning to add the seasonal icicle-style holiday dream lights. The paint job needed to be done early to be completed in time for the spring 2021 launch of the 50th anniversary while not interfering with the holiday lights.

Less than two months after announcing the new paint package, the pandemic dramatically altered Disney’s plans. The resort opted not to install the holiday lights and pushed back the expected launch date of the upcoming celebration.

click to enlarge IMAGE VIA DISNEY
  • Image via Disney
Company-wide, Disney canceled more than $900 million in capital expenditures. While they’ve yet to publicly share where these specific cuts occurred, at Walt Disney World many projects have been scaled down or stopped completely. Construction on the Reflections DVC resort, which was to open during the celebration, has come to a standstill, with the site now slowly being taken over by nature. At Epcot, the multi-story Festival Center and the Mary Poppins attraction seem to be canceled with Disney now referring to the Festival Center's location as a ‘festival area,’ that’s believed to be more like a beer garden.

Major updates to multiple Magic Kingdom attractions, which were strongly rumored as part of the 50th anniversary and aligns with how Disney has previously celebrated similar anniversaries, now look to be mostly canceled.

click to enlarge All construction of the Reflections DVC resort at Walt Disney World has been paused for months, perhaps indefinitely - IMAGE VIA BIORECONSTRUCT | TWITTER
  • Image via Bioreconstruct | Twitter
  • All construction of the Reflections DVC resort at Walt Disney World has been paused for months, perhaps indefinitely
The long-rumored update to the monorail fleet and the Skyliner's expansion also now look highly unlikely to occur before or during the year and a half long celebration.

But some ride updates are still moving forward. While Disney has shared no official dates, the Jungle Cruise update is expected to occur during the anniversary. Splash Mountain should close during the anniversary, reopening in late 2023 or 2024 during the Walt Disney Company 100th anniversary that’s expected to closely follow Disney World’s golden celebration.

While not related to the 50th anniversary celebration, parts of Epcot's transformation are debuting during it. This includes the park’s Beacon of Magic display on Spaceship Earth. The attraction inside the geodesic sphere was to receive a significant reimagining with it featuring a new ‘story light’ narrative thread that linked the power of storytelling throughout human history.

The update had been confirmed to begin in May, but when the parks reopened in July after their nearly four-month closure, the iconic attraction reopened with no indication that the announced update was moving forward. Some aspects of the update may have been canceled, but after nearly 40 years in operation, there are major updates required for many parts of the attraction that need to be addressed. It’s believed that the previously announced project may still move forward in some form by mid-decade.

click to enlarge A scene from the proposed updated version of Spaceship Earth featuring the projection mapping effects. - IMAGE VIA DISNEY
  • Image via Disney
  • A scene from the proposed updated version of Spaceship Earth featuring the projection mapping effects.
Even while the ‘story light’ update inside the attraction has been postponed, Disney has confirmed the outside of Spaceship Earth will receive permanent new lighting that will make it sparkle in a nod to stars in the sky. The new lighting package will debut as part of the 50th anniversary. Other additions to the area, including a statue of Walt Disney and a new Moana-themed walk-through attraction, are also still moving forward though no timelines have been given on when those will open.

Imagineer Zach Riddley, the Walt Disney World Portfolio Executive and in charge of the Epcot overhaul, shared more details on social media of what to expect from the Spaceship Earth exterior lighting package.

The Princeton-educated Imagineer has a background in architecture but more recently has made a name for himself with his lead in numerous high-profile projects, including the largest overhaul in Epcot’s history. In a caption on a post related to the Spaceship Earth update, Riddley explains, “Spaceship Earth is a unique structure recognized around the world. To honor this idea, our Imagineers have created custom lighting features that literally emerge from her unique architecture. These features will shine across Spaceship Earth’s silver panels and “connect” with one another, resembling shimmering stars in a nighttime sky.”

click to enlarge Spaceship Earth's Beacons of Magic projection show set to debut as part of WDW's 50th-anniversary celebration. The sparkling lights on the sphere are new lights that will be added to the building in the coming months. - IMAGE VIA DISNEY
  • Image via Disney
  • Spaceship Earth's Beacons of Magic projection show set to debut as part of WDW's 50th-anniversary celebration. The sparkling lights on the sphere are new lights that will be added to the building in the coming months.
Going on, he states, “Spaceship Earth has maintained her classic multi-color lighting design for nearly 40 years – a legacy the team working on this project are keen to preserve. Her classic look will be maintained and accentuated through new colors and intensity in programmed expressions that extend into the new main entrance fountain and the entire World Celebration area that continues to take shape before our eyes.”

Epcot will also see a brand-new nighttime spectacular, Harmonious, debut in time for the 50th anniversary. Like the nighttime effects at the front of the park, Harmonious will stick around after the anniversary celebration ends in 2023. Disney left out any mention of nighttime spectaculars in their recent announcements regarding the upcoming celebration. This may be due to ongoing social distancing safety measures. Once it is safe to lift these a new nighttime show is expected to debut at the Magic Kingdom, though Disney may now instead wait until the company's 100th-anniversary celebration in 2023 to debut this show.

While the Reflections resort looks to have been shelved, Disney is still moving forward with Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser. That multi-day, fully immersive cruise-like hotel experience is still on schedule to open later this year. It’s expected that it will be featured heavily in marketing for the 50th anniversary.

One major new update that may occur during the celebration is the groundbreaking for the Brightline higher-speed train station. The line isn't expected to begin operation until late 2023 at the earliest but the station should begin construction sometime within the next two years.

click to enlarge Mickey and Minnie's "EARidescence" 50th-anniversary outfits - IMAGE VIA DISNEY
  • Image via Disney
  • Mickey and Minnie's "EARidescence" 50th-anniversary outfits
As is common with limited-time events, select Disney characters will receive celebration-related updated outfits, and merchandise for the event will be sold throughout the resort. Merchandise, resort gateway signage, Magic Kingdom’s toll plaza, character outfits, and other items all feature the shimmering “EARidescence” pinks, golds, and blues chosen for the event.

The 50th anniversary celebration is set to debut on Oct. 1, 2021. Reservations for the Magic Kingdom on that day are already filled. More details regarding the celebration are expected in the coming months.


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click to enlarge IMAGE VIA DISNEY
  • Image via Disney

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