Disney World’s 50th Anniversary Guide – Dining, Shows, Rides & More

The kickoff to the Disney World 50th Anniversary is finally in our rearview, and we can’t wait to join the festivities. But, with so many things for guests to see and do, it can be hard to keep all of the new rides, entertainment, and other special offerings straight. 

For this guide, we’ll break down everything we know so far about the Walt Disney World 50th Anniversary Celebration, from Disney World 50th anniversary dates and new attractions to Cinderella Castle’s celebratory makeover and Mickey’s glittery tuxedo. (Updated November 3, 2021)

What Is the Disney World 50th Anniversary Celebration?

Hailed by Disney as “The World’s Most Magical Celebration,” Disney World’s 50th anniversary fête is a commemoration of five decades of family-friendly fun and, of course, Disney magic. While this is officially Magic Kingdom’s party, all four theme parks are getting in on the event, with magical transformations, all-new attractions and entertainment, and limited-time merchandise and dining. 

50th anniversary sign and attraction

Going to Disney’s 50th Anniversary Celebration

The Disney World 50th anniversary began on October 1, 2021, and is scheduled to run for 18 months, or until around April 1, 2023. But, depending on the event’s success, it is possible that Disney will extend the festivities as they did during the Year of a Million Dreams. Arguably the longest “year” ever, this promotion was extended to last a full 27 months. 

Disney World Anniversary 2021/2022 and Covid-19

Unfortunately, the anniversary festivities look a little different than initially planned due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Though park hopping is allowed, you must have a park pass reservation to access your first park of the day. 

Some entertainment offerings and nighttime shows are temporarily unavailable, like Finding Nemo the Musical at Animal Kingdom and Fantasmic at Hollywood Studios. In lieu of Disney character experiences and daily parades, guests can now enjoy socially distanced character dining and pop-up parades-in-miniature called character cavalcades (and motorcades or flotillas, depending on which park you go to). While most dining options are available, some restaurants remain closed. There’s even one Disney World hotel, Disney’s All-Star Sports Resort, that’s still not welcoming guests, though that, too, will ultimately reopen its doors on December 9, 2021. Things are subject to change quite quickly, so we recommend you refer to the My Disney Experience app or Disney’s website for the most up-to-date information. 

Disney World 50th Anniversary Tickets 

With the event’s launch behind us, one of the busiest times to join the party has, thankfully, passed. However, with most of the anniversary revelry in front of us, there is still plenty of time to book your Disney World 50th anniversary tickets. Whenever you choose to visit, keep in mind that you will need to make a Disney World park pass reservation to attend. 

Early Theme Park Entry & Extended Evening Hours

Guests staying at Disney World hotels will be able to party even longer thanks to the new Early Theme Park Entry, as well as Extended Evening Hours for guests of one of Disney’s deluxe resorts. This benefit takes the place of the Extra Magic Hours, which were complicated yet popular for many years. Early Theme Park Entry will allow Disney resort guests to enter any of the theme parks 30 minutes early. In contrast, Extended Evening Hours will only be available at certain parks on select nights. 

Will the Disney World 50th Anniversary Be Crowded?

Lion King Animal Statues

Yes! It’s not every year that this beloved tourist destination turns 50. Needless to say, with all the fanfare and a slate of new rides and shows to enjoy, Disney World is going to be packed for its 50th, particularly at the start of the event. This is especially true for Magic Kingdom and Epcot, where new, highly anticipated nighttime spectaculars have recently made their debut. 

Likewise, you can also expect crowds to swell once Magic Kingdom’s TRON: Lightcycle Power Run and Epcot’s Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind finally open. Similar to how opening days are as busy as the busiest of New Year’s Eves, an attraction’s or event’s final days can also draw quite a crowd as guests rush to experience something again before it’s gone for good. In other words, plan on March 2023, the last month of Disney’s 50th anniversary celebration, to be just as busy as its first. 

That being said, as this is an 18-month-long celebration, we do expect crowds to wax and wane with the seasons, popular holidays, and school breaks just like any year. Expect the beginning of October to likely reach crowd levels comparable to Christmas and New Year’s. However, if you stick to less popular periods to visit, like January and February in Winter 2022 or August and September when school starts again, you shouldn’t have to fight holiday-heavy crowds.  

When Is the Best Time to Go to the WDW 50th Anniversary?

It really depends on what works best for you and what you’re interested in. For hardcore Disney World fans, the pomp and circumstance of the celebration’s start made October 1, 2021, an incredibly popular (i.e., BUSY) time to visit. 

Castle with 50th signage

Having said that, there is still lots of The World’s Most Magical Celebration left to enjoy, so don’t be sad if you missed out. In fact, those who care more about the rides than the pageantry of it all would be better off waiting until later on in the festivities once the enthusiasm has died down a bit. This way, you won’t just have fewer people to contend with, but you’ll also have a better chance of experiencing some of the other new attractions that won’t be finished in time for the anniversary’s start. 

TRON: Lightcycle Power Run at Magic Kingdom and Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind at Epcot were both originally scheduled to be complete in time for the 50th, but the pandemic threw a wrench in the construction timeline. Neither attraction currently has an official opening date just yet. However, the TRON roller coaster is anticipated to be complete by early-to-mid 2022, and the Guardians of the Galaxy coaster should be ready by Fall 2022. So, if you’re hoping to catch these two attractions, your best bet is scheduling your trip to Disney World for some time around September or October of next year.  

Disney Genie & Lightning Lanes

Skipping the lines is back at Disney World just in time for the 50th – although it looks a bit different than you’re used to. Instead of free FastPasses, guests will now be able to save time standing in ride queues by using Lightning Lanes. Only this time, you’ll need to pay for the privilege. 

Using the new Disney Genie vacation planning tool, guests can bypass the crowds at some of Walt Disney World’s most popular attractions, whether that’s by capitalizing on short wait times (for free!) or using the Lightning Lane (not free). For $15 per person per day, Disney Genie+ lets guests skip the lines at over 40 popular rides, including Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and Haunted Mansion at Magic Kingdom and Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run at Hollywood Studios. For a separate fee – or fees, Individual Lightning Lane Selections are priced per ride at between $7-15 – guests can also avoid long queues at other in-demand rides like Seven Dwarfs Mine Train and Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure by making Individual Attraction Selections. 

Mobile phones with Genie App

Though many Disney World fans are less than thrilled to pay for a previously complimentary amenity, Lightning Lanes come in handy for those wanting to go on as many rides as possible during the busy anniversary celebration. Of course, you’ll also want to take advantage of free(!) Disney Genie tools like the automatic, personalized virtual itinerary to help you get the most out of your jam-packed day. 

What to Enjoy at the Disney 50th Anniversary Celebration 

For its 50th anniversary, Disney World invites guests to “celebrate the small stuff, the big stuff and even the in-between stuff.” And with things like brand-new rides, all-new shows, spiffy decorations, special events, and limited-time merch, there’s a whole lot to celebrate. 

EARidescent Disney World 50th Anniversary Decorations & Costumes

This is the Walt Disney World Resort’s golden anniversary, and while you will find a lot of gilded accents, The World’s Most Magical Celebration is all about EARidescence. Think, dazzling displays swirling with hues of blue, purple, aqua, and gold and glittering with pixie dust. 

This shimmering color scheme can be found throughout Disney World, from glimmering park decorations and Disney transportation overlays to fancy character costumes and cast members’ nametags. Even the Disney Skyliner, Monorail, buses, and Mickey, Minnie, and the gang are getting dressed up for the occasion! 

Castle with towers at theme park

And speaking of Mickey and his pals, you’ll find 50 gilded statues of well-loved Disney characters hidden throughout all four theme parks. We don’t know about you, but this sounds like a Disney World scavenger hunt in the making.  

Of course, it wouldn’t be a Magic Kingdom milestone celebration without some special decorations for Cinderella Castle. 50th-anniversary additions include golden ribbons twirled around the castle spires, bejeweled bunting, and even a gilded crest commemorating the occasion. However, the magic doesn’t really start until the sun goes down (more on that next). 

Walt Disney 50th Anniversary Entertainment

As anybody knows, the best way to celebrate anything is with fireworks, twinkle lights, and… kites? Well, Disney World has all of it during The World’s Most Magical Celebration.

Beacons of Magic

While you won’t see the Tower of Terror draped with ribbons or a gem-encrusted Tree of Life anytime soon, each theme park icon will go through an enchanting moonlit transformation called Beacons of Magic. Through the technological wizardry that is projection mapping, park icons get a nighttime makeover on select nights with an EARidscent upgrade of their very own. 

Magic Kingdom’s Cinderella Castle sparkles and shines with “pixie dust.” Epcot’s Spaceship Earth glistens with “possibility and optimism” and a little bit of “stardust.” After all, as Carl Sagan once said, “we’re made of star stuff.” Tower of Terror at Disney’s Hollywood Studios twinkles with the glitz and glamour of the golden age of Tinseltown. And Animal Kingdom’s Tree of Life glows with the fire of a thousand fireflies.  

EPCOT ball in multi-color

Each nighttime display is set to a new song called “The Magic Is Calling.” This anthemic song is also used during Mickey’s Celebration Cavalcade and has been arranged for a number of Disney World performing groups like the Dapper Dans, Main Street Philharmonic, Voices of Liberty, and Discovery Island Drummers. 

New Disney World Shows

Three of the Disney World theme parks have also gotten all-new shows. At Magic Kingdom, Happily Ever After (catch the last show here) was replaced by Disney Enchantment. Like how Tinker Bell turned the Jolly Roger gold with her pixie dust in Peter Pan, this new Magic Kingdom fireworks show blankets Cinderella Castle and Main Street U.S.A. in a golden blanket of pixie dust thanks to the magic of projection mapping. 

Over at Epcot, the highly anticipated Harmonious has taken the reins from Epcot Forever. Like the previous nighttime spectaculars, this new Epcot fireworks show takes place on World Showcase Lagoon and features a medley of beloved Disney songs sung by a choir of 240 artists from around the world set to clips from different Disney films projected on giant floating screens, reflecting the unifying power of Disney music and stories. 

Fireworks in the sky over water

While it isn’t a fireworks display, Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park also unveiled a brand-new show. Disney KiteTails is an awe-inspiring performance using intricate, 3D kites of some of Disney’s well-loved animal characters like Simba, Zazu, King Louie, and Baloo, with the windcatchers soaring over the Discovery River Amphitheater to the tune of popular Disney songs. 

Finally, after almost four long years, Cirque du Soleil is returning to Disney World. Opening November 18, 2021, at Disney Springs, Drawn to Life will take guests on a whimsical journey through Disney animation. Go back to the drawing board, literally, during this thrilling stage show featuring high-flying acrobatics, creative costumes, and exciting choreography all set to a soundtrack inspired by Disney classics. 

Mickey’s Celebration Cavalcade at Magic Kingdom

While it doesn’t come close to replacing the Festival of Fantasy Parade, Disney World’s 50th anniversary celebration will also get a new character cavalcade. Mickey’s Celebration Cavalcade will star what Disney is calling the “EARidescent Eight” – Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Daisy, Pluto, Goofy, Chip, and Dale – in all their shimmering finery. Just like the current cavalcades, Mickey’s Celebration Cavalcade will pass through the Magic Kingdom several times throughout the day. 

Disney Character Meet-and-Greets Are Back

Aside from random pop-up sightings from afar, up-close character interactions have been on pause ever since the pandemic began. And while character dining has returned in a modified capacity to some restaurants, you still couldn’t really meet Mickey or your favorite Disney princess. Until now, that is. We’re excited to say that starting November 2021, guests can once again experience character meet-and-greets at Disney World.

While you still won’t be able to get an autograph or give a hug, you will be able to take a socially distanced selfie. Please note that not all of the character meetings that existed pre-pandemic are back yet. At the time of writing, the only character meet-and-greets returning to Disney World are Mickey Mouse and some of the Disney princesses at Magic Kingdom and Minnie Mouse and some of the Disney Junior characters at Hollywood Studios. Whether these are the only character interactions returning remains to be seen, but we wouldn’t be surprised if more fan-favorites are brought back in the coming months.

New Disney World Rides

One of the most exciting parts of this Disney anniversary celebration is the slate of new attractions. Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure – and the new France Pavilion expansion – officially opened its doors to guests on October 1, 2021, helping to kick off The World’s Most Magical Celebration. This playful ride shrinks guests to the size of a rat as they join the Little Chef on a rollicking scurry through the kitchen, dining room, and walls of Gusteau’s restaurant. 

Attraction entrance sign and fountain

Due to Covid-19-related construction delays, all the originally announced rides, namely TRON: Lightcycle Power Run and Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind, won’t be ready in time for the start of the party on October 1. However, they will open up before the 50th festivities conclude in early 2023. 

Set to open in early-to-mid 2022, TRON: Lightcycle Power Run at Magic Kingdom is an exciting roller coaster that originated at Shanghai Disneyland and is changing the face of Tomorrowland from retro to futuristic. Meanwhile, the Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind at Epcot is an all-new roller coaster featuring cars that will rotate 360 degrees. The Guardians of the Galaxy coaster doesn’t yet have an opening date, but we’re hopeful it will be ready by Fall 2022. 

New Disney World Restaurants

Once you’ve gone on all the latest rides at Disney World during the 50th anniversary celebration, your next stop is the new Disney World restaurants. La Crêperie de Paris is part of Epcot’s new France Pavilion expansion and serves dessert crêpes, savory galettes, and crisp hard ciders inspired by France’s Brittany region. Best of all, both quick service and table service options are be available, so you can nosh a crêpe regardless of how much (or little) time you have. 

Another new restaurant to look forward to at Epcot is Space 220 in the Mission: SPACE pavilion. A unique dining experience unlike anything else at Walt Disney World, Space 220 immerses guests in the depths of space – from 220 miles above Earth. With the help of a little Disney magic, that is. While the setting may be out-of-this-world, the three-course, prix fixe menu sounds thoroughly terrestrial, with dishes like Big Bang Burrata, Florida Red Snapper, Slow Rotation Short Rib, and Carrot Cake on offer. 

Chocolate cake with fruit

Located at Disney’s Contemporary Resort, Steakhouse 71 and the attached Steakhouse 71 Lounge is an ode to Walt Disney World’s 1970s roots, with dishes inspired by the man himself. Named after the year the resort (and Magic Kingdom) first opened, Steakhouse 71 dishes up contemporary riffs on some of Walt’s favorite dishes like Walt’s Prime Rib Hash and retro items like PB&J Chicken Wings and Bacon & Eggs and reimagined classic cocktails like the Fig Manhattan. 

One restaurant that we don’t have an opening date for yet, but we’re fairly confident will open at some point during The World’s Most Magical Celebration, is Roundup Rodeo BBQ at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Unfortunately, we don’t know too much yet about this new table service restaurant coming to Toy Story Land other than the fact that diners will eat smoky, saucy BBQ amongst larger-than-life cardboard cutouts of Woody and the gang as they put on a rodeo. 

Disney 50th Anniversary Merchandise

Of course, no trip to Disney World is complete without the perfect souvenir. Fortunately, you’ll have a LOT to choose from when it comes to Disney World 50th anniversary merchandise. We’re talking four different collections to choose from – the Celebration Collection, Disney Castle Collection, Vault Collection, and EARidescent Collection – featuring items like ears, spirit jerseys, apparel, pins, mugs, bags, and much more. 

Various merchandise on display

If something catches your eye while you’re out and about, we highly recommend that you consider buying it right away so you aren’t potentially disappointed later. Disney fans can go crazy for exclusive merchandise, and with some items already sold out, there’s a decent chance that the souvenir you want might not be there when you stop back to get it later in the day. 

Special Disney World Anniversary Dining

Another hallmark of any special Disney event is limited-time dining, from themed snacks and sips to dessert parties and dinner packages. At the theme parks, hotels, and Disney Springs, as with any other holiday or special event, there is a cornucopia of tasty treats and celebratory beverages to choose from (more than 150, to be precise!), with each destination getting a special 50th anniversary menu. Think, classic theme park favorites with a  festive twist and a splash of inspiration from Walt Disney himself at Magic Kingdom and global flavors with pixie dust pizzazz at Epcot. 

 Disney 50th Anniversary Dessert Parties, Fireworks Cruises & Dinner Packages

Another exciting announcement is the return of Disney fireworks dessert parties, cruises, and dinner packages. These Appetizing Occasions will take place during Disney Enchantment at Magic Kingdom and Harmonious at Epcot. 

Inside the park, guests can choose from three different Magic Kingdom 50th Fireworks Dessert Parties for Disney Enchantment: a Pre-Party, Treats & Seats, and an After-Party. Regardless of which seating you choose, all guests enjoy a selection of anniversary-inspired sweets, cheeses, and drinks, including beer and wine. And as for where you’ll actually watch the fireworks, those at the Treats & Seats party will enjoy the show from Tomorrowland Terrace Restaurant, while guests at the Pre-Party and After-Party will get reserved fireworks seating in one of the plaza gardens.  

Fireworks above Cinderella Castle

Celebration at the Top: 50th Flavors and Fireworks at Disney’s Contemporary Resort has taken over the Sonoma and Napa Rooms at California Grill with an elevated evening, both literally and figuratively. Drinks, small plates, and sushi inspired by the restaurant’s original menu from when the resort opened in 1971 are served up alongside some of the best views of the Magic Kingdom fireworks outside the park

Another great way to enjoy the Magic Kingdom fireworks is by going on Ferrytale Fireworks: A Sparkling Dessert Cruise. This on-the-water dessert party takes place on one of the iconic Magic Kingdom ferries, setting sail from the Transportation and Ticket Center. Guests indulge in an array of sweets and both alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages before taking in the fireworks from Seven Seas Lagoon. 

While there haven’t been any dessert parties announced yet for Epcot and Harmonious, diners can tuck into an Epcot Fireworks Dining Package at either the Rose & Crown Dining Room at the UK Pavilion or Spice Road Table at the Morocco Pavilion. Each Epcot restaurant offers unbeatable views of the World Showcase Lagoon along with some tasty global eats. Dine on a prix fixe menu with an appetizer, entrée, dessert platter, and bottomless beverages at the Rose & Crown or two small plates, a dessert platter, and bottomless beverages at Spice Road Table. 

Ok Disney World fans, that wraps our guide to The World’s Most Magical Celebration. Well, at least our guide to what we know so far. There are still some opening dates that have yet to be announced, and we’re sure that Disney still has some tricks up its sleeve when it comes to anniversary surprises, so we’ll update you as they are unveiled. 

If you can make it to the 50th, be sure to go in with a plan. Make the most of your time with our 1-day plans for Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom. Then, save some cash for anniversary merch and EARidescent treats by booking our discounted Walt Disney World tickets

Are you planning on going to The World’s Most Magical Celebration? What are you most looking forward to? What do you wish was still going to be a part of the anniversary? Let us know in the comments!

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