Disney World Celebrates Its 50th Season


By Anne Braly

Mickey Mouse is grinning from ear to ear, welcoming thousands of visitors every day to his Magic Kingdom Park as Walt Disney World Resort celebrates its 50th birthday. The park is pulling out all the stops to ensure its guest have a memorable experience, from its attractions to its hotels and restaurants.

After closing for several months due to the COVID-19 pandemic, about 90% of Disney World has reopened, with only a few dining options and entertainment venues still closed.

But you wouldn’t even know it.

“We are magic! Our amazing cast members make everything possible, and the Disney service continues to be the priority,” says Sarah Domenech, public relations manager at Disney World.

Here’s a look at some of the new offerings as Mickey and Friends celebrate their milestone birthday now through the 18-month celebration that kicked off in October 2021.

A Foodie’s Guide to 50

Menus at all four parks will go retro, offering some nostalgic dishes from 1971-’72, including some of Walt’s personal favorites, such as Walt’s Favorite Chili on a footlong hotdog or on a platter of cheese fries from Restaurantosaurus in Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park or the filet mignon topped with Walt’s Hash at The Hollywood Brown Derby in Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

Here’s some more magic Disney chefs are dishing out for the 50th birthday celebration:

  • At Disney’s Contemporary Resort’s California Grill, you’ll find Duck a L’Orange Pizza on an artisanal, wood-fired crust or free-range Planche-Seared Chicken, both popular items on the 1971 menu. The menu during the 50th birthday celebration is prix fixe; reservations are an excellent idea.
  • Toledo at Coronado Springs Resort celebrates 50 years with braised lamb shanks with olive oil-potato puree, huckleberry jam, garlic gravy and English peas.
  • Order a taste of Florida at EPCOT’s Coral Reef Restaurant with a key lime tart topped with toasted meringue and EARidescent sprinkles.
  • Disney Springs’ The Boathouse restaurant celebrates with a favorite from the 1970s — Sweet Nostalgia Pineapple Upside Down Cake with a caramel glaze and Chantilly cream.
  • Olivia’s Café at Disney’s Old Key West Resort has Spam-cheddar biscuits with white gravy and honey on its menu.
  • And guests can make a toast to Disney at full-service restaurants throughout the park with a glass of EARidescent Sip-a-bration, a mocktail with lemonade and strawberry punch. Or, a Magical Beacon Cocktail with gin, blue Curacao and lemonade.

For a complete list of 50th birthday eats and treats that will be offered through October only, go to disneyparks.com.go.com.

Take A Ride

The fun at Walt Disney World Resort never stops, and this year promises to be no different. Here’s a look at what’s new, perhaps since your last visit.

  • There are two waterparks at Walt Disney World. Disney’s Blizard Beach is currently closed for refurbishment, but, after being closed for two years because of the pandemic, the surf’s up at Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon. Guests can spend a day in America’s largest wave pool, take the plunge on a coaster-like raft, or take a whitewater adventure on Miss Adventure Falls. It’s a tropical oasis of watery fun. Check with the park before you go as Typhoon Lagoon closes when it gets too cold, a phenomenon that can happen as far south as Disney World.
  • Keys to the Kingdom. Also returning to the Magic Kingdom Park is one of Disney’s favorite tours, giving guests behind-the-scene tours of the inner workings of the themed park, along with a peak at the underground tunnel system — those things you’ll never see as you walk through the parks. Other tours returning since the pandemic are Caring for Giants, Savor the Savanna, Up Close with Rhinos and Wild Africa Trek, all offered at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.
  • Mickey’s Magical Friendship Faire, a spectacular show filled with music and fanfare in front of Cinderella’s Castle looks a little different as the 50th birthday continues. There are new costumes, a new song and the castle itself is sparkling in its new birthday suit of rose gold and royal blue.
  • Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind is set to take off this summer at EPCOT with vehicles that take vault riders through space, starting with a thrilling reverse launch. It’s more than a ride, it’s a whole new story within the Guardians of the Galaxy taking place on Xander – home of the Nova Corps.
  • Round-Up Rodeo is a new restaurant in Toy Story Land at Disney’s Hollywood Studios and is expected to open later this year. The concept is one based on a toy rodeo arena in Andy’s backyard. Guests will be seated inside playsets of a Western town with an assortment of games and toys matching the rest of the park’s theme. The menu will feature, you guessed it, barbecue.
  • Genie + is new this year and is conveniently located within the My Disney Experience app. If you haven’t already, download the app prior to walking through the gates of Disney World. The service will help you create your best Disney experience, one that’s tailored to you and the rest of your party. It’s also the outlet that will help get you onto the rides faster by moving you into the Lightening Lanes. Genie+ will also let you know how long the wait times are for your favorite attractions. You can also order food and make dining reservations through Genie+. It’s a wonderful new service that comes at a cost of $15 per ticket each day.
  • Disney Springs is the resort’s retail and entertainment district. You’ll find that the lights are back on in the tent theater after being shuttered and dark for four years. Onstage is Cirque de Soleil’s magnificent show, “Drawn to Life.” This is the first-ever collaboration between Cirque du Soleil, Walt Disney Animation Studios and Walt Disney Imagineering, and takes guests on a journey into a world where an animator’s desk becomes the stage and drawings come to life in only the way the artists and athletes of Cirque de Soleil can.

Although some of the park’s new sights, rides and eats won’t be finished until 2023, it’s never too early to start planning your dream vacation to Disney World. For information on tickets and reservations, visit disneyworld.disney.go.com or download the Disney World app. Contact Anne Braly at [email protected] or annebraly.com.

Then and Now

Walt Disney World Resort has undergone a myriad of changes since its first season of fun 50 years ago. Here’s a look at what visitors experienced that first year as they walked through the gates, having paid just $3.50 for adults and $1 for the kids. Now, single-admission prices range from $109-$159, depending on the parks you may want to visit.

Here are some more changes seen throughout the year.

  • Parks: When it opened, Magic Kingdom Park was the only park at Walt Disney World. Now there are three more parks: Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park, EPCOT and Disney’s Hollywood Studios where you can live out your Star Wars fantasies.
  • Restaurants: During the 1971-1972 season, visitors didn’t have a lot or choices — just 11. Now there are 200 different food venues, 90 of which are full-service.
  • Rides: Fifty years ago, you could “do” Walt Disney World in about a day with only 19 rides from which to choose. Now there are 52, not to mention the numerous shows and other attractions.
  • Hotels: Walt Disney World opened with two hotels, both of which as still popular: Disney’s Contemporary Resort and Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort. Now, overnight guests have a wider range of choices, 33 in fact. Disney owns 22 of them, and its newest is vacation experience, Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser that completely envelopes guests into the world of Star Wars, from the décor in their rooms to storylines based on their personal choices. The new starcruiser is set to open March 1. And, of course, there are plenty of new properties outside the park boundaries in Kissimmee, such as Gaylord Palms and Convention Center and The Omni Orlando Resort at Championsgate, both of which are amusement parks themselves with plenty to do for adults and kids.

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