From space dinners to Lightning Lanes: 22 of Disney World’s new 50th-anniversary offerings
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Editor’s note: Walt Disney World hosted the author to showcase the complex’s 50th-anniversary festivities. The opinions expressed below are entirely hers and weren’t subject to review by Disney or any other entity.
Walt Disney World Resort turns 50 this year, and it’s celebrating with an 18-month extravaganza. Of course, a Disney celebration wouldn’t be complete without new experiences and announcements, and the 50th anniversary is no exception.
There is a lot happening at the parks over the next 18 months (and beyond). Here’s a rundown of everything new coming to Disney World.
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New innovative technology
Disney has long been at the forefront of innovation when it comes to using technology to tell immersive stories and create a truly unique experience at its parks. As part of the kickoff for the 50th-anniversary celebration, Disney announced two new interactive experiences coming to Wald Disney World in 2022 — “Hey Disney!” and MagicBand+.
Disney is adding new functionality to all of its Walt Disney World resorts with “Hey Disney!” This service will work with Amazon Echo devices to help Disney guests plan out their perfect Disney trip — from answering questions to setting alarms to giving weather forecasts to requesting extra pillows and more.
You’ll also be able to interact with Disney characters through the service, including Mickey, Olaf, C-3PO and more. And there’s even an entirely new character named Disney Magical Companion that will act as the primary voice of Hey Disney!
The service will be complimentary and optional (so those who would prefer not to use it can just leave the service muted throughout their stay). And families who have eligible Amazon devices at home will also be able to purchase “Hey Disney!” from the Amazon Alexa Skills store.
MagicBands have been a Disney staple since 2013, and the technology is getting a makeover at Disney World in 2022 with the unveiling of the next generation: MagicBand+.
The new MagicBand+ will “come alive with color-changing lights, haptic vibrations and gesture recognition” around the Walt Disney World parks. These bands will unlock unique experiences across the parks for guests.
For example, you’ll be able to find virtual bounties throughout Black Spire Outpost (aka: Galaxy’s Edge at Hollywood Studios), or interact with the “Disney Fab 50 Character Collection” statues located around the parks. Your band will even light up in tune with the new nighttime spectaculars.
More info will be announced in the coming months, and the standard MagicBands will still be available for purchase (and you’ll be able to use yours around the parks and resorts).
We’ve covered this new service in the past, but it will make its official debut later this fall as part of the 50th-anniversary celebration.
Disney Genie is a complimentary service that will be available on the My Disney Experience app to help you plan out your days at Disney World. You’ll be able to put in your ride wish list (or just your general interests if you aren’t sure which attractions you want to hit up), and the app will curate a tentative itinerary you can follow to help you make the most of your time in the parks.
Genie+ will also be available for an additional cost, which will offer Lightning Lane access to help reduce wait times on certain rides and other exciting extras.
New nighttime spectaculars
Speaking of new nighttime spectaculars, several new nighttime entertainment options will debut across the parks that will light up your Disney World experience — literally.
Magic Kingdom is getting a brand-new nighttime spectacular show, “Disney Enchantment.” The show features new music, enhanced lighting and, of course, a healthy dose of Disney pyrotechnics. The lighting effects for the show start at Cinderella Castle and extend all the way down Main Street, U.S.A. (a first for any nighttime fireworks show at Disney World).
If you enjoy a look back at the cartoons and storylines of yesterday and today, this show could be a good one for you. We recommend being close to the castle to be able to truly appreciate all of the projection mapping and animation that happens on the castle itself.
While we’re all (very) sad that Magic Kingdom’s famous and emotional “Happily Ever After” show has ended, it’s still worth catching Tinkerbelle sprinkle pixie dust from above with Enchantment.
Epcot is also getting a new nighttime spectacular: “Harmonious.” If you’ve been to Epcot within the past year, you’ve probably noticed the massive barges anchored in the middle of the World Showcase lagoon. This new show puts those to use with some pretty phenomenal special effects — marrying music, LED screens, water projections and fireworks to bring together different stories from around the world.
TPG got to see the full show in person when it first premiered, and the effects are truly a sight to behold. The music is fun and uplifting — Disney got artists from around the world to rerecord classic Disney songs to showcase different cultures.
The message of the show is meant to remind everyone that we are far more alike than we are different. While it wasn’t my all-time favorite Epcot show (and it didn’t hold a candle to “Happily Ever After” in the heartstrings department), “Harmonious” is still very much worth checking out.
If you want the best view, we recommend seeing it from either the side of the circular barge, which would be from the entrance to World Showcase behind Spaceship Earth or around the American pavilion side of the World Showcase.
Beacons of Magic
The fireworks shows aren’t where the nighttime magic ends, either. Throughout the 18-month 50th-anniversary celebration, icons across the Walt Disney World theme parks will display beautiful “EARidescent” lightning effects:
- Cinderella Castle at Magic Kingdom
- Tree of Life at Animal Kingdom
- Spaceship Earth at Epcot
- Hollywood Tower Hotel at Hollywood Studios
Epcot’s Spaceship Earth got a more permanent makeover with new reflective panels and lights, and the new lighting effects will extend beyond the 50th-anniversary celebration.
Electrical Water Pagent
Electrical Water Pagent is a classic part of the Disney experience. The parade has sailed across Seven Seas Lagoon and Bay Lake since the resort first opened in 1971, and it’s getting new additions for the 50th anniversary.
You’ll be able to see a new towering castle and swirling pixie dust light up in tune with “The Magic Is Calling,” the celebration anthem.
Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure
Disney fans have waited a long time for this ride to finally debut at Epcot. On the ride, you’ll shrink down to Remy’s size as you race through Gusteau’s restaurant.
If you’ve ever been on the Remy’s Ratatouille ride at Disneyland Paris, this new attraction at Epcot is almost a carbon copy. We got to ride as part of a media preview event — and we actually ended up going twice.
The ride is cute and a solid kid-friendly addition to World Showcase. You wear 3-D glasses and are some fun effects throughout the story.
Just keep in mind that it may not be best for those who get motion sickness easily. Surprisingly, the area around the entrance and the inside queue were actually our favorite elements of the experience. The ambiance of the queue is awesome and really transports you into the story’s setting before you set foot on the attraction itself.
Epcot guests have long asked for more family-friendly activities that both kids and parents can enjoy and Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure is just what the chef ordered.
Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind attraction
While it isn’t debuting on Oct. 1, Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind is set to open in 2022 as part of the larger 50th-anniversary celebration that is spread out across 18 months.
The ride is still under construction, but TPG got a special sneak peek of what’s in store. Inside the ride building — the rollercoaster is massive. Guests will visit Zandar and find themselves on a wild adventure with twists and turns throughout the story.
Cosmic Rewind is set to be the largest indoor coaster at any Disney park, and from what we can tell, it will be a crowd-pleaser when it opens next year. More details should be announced in the coming months, so stay tuned for more details.
New dining experiences
Once you’ve worked up an appetite checking out all of the attractions across the park, you’ll be able to check out one of the new dining experiences opening for the 50th-anniversary celebration.
Ever wished you could dine in space? Epcot’s new restaurant is out of this world — literally.
Space 220 will take you 220 miles above Earth to the Centauri Space Station.
Panoramic windows look out over views of Earth, and you’ll see space tourists, visiting ships and a few other surprises float past the windows.
Disney has really been focusing on immersive experiences the past few years, and Space220 does not disappoint. While the menu is a bit pricey, the atmosphere is well worth it. And the food and cocktails are yummy, too.
We recommend the calamari as an appetizer choice and any of the amazing (though admittedly very sweet) cocktails that come with fun effects like melting cotton candy or pop rocks.
La Crêperie de Paris
If you’d rather keep your feet on the ground, you can escape to Paris for a crepe. The restaurant offers table service and take-away options and many different savory galettes and sweet crepes.
We sampled each of the offerings, and they were all delicious. Grab the Galette Classique for a delicious ham, egg and swiss option (our favorite that we tried). The Galette Saumon is a fun brunch pick with smoked salmon and cream cheese. The Crêpe Melba (peaches, red berries and almonds) and the Crêpe Gourmande (hazelnut chocolate spread with whipped cream) are both good dessert options.
As part of Disney’s Contemporary resort renovations, The Wave restaurant has been replaced with a new steakhouse option.
The name is an ode to the year Disney World — and the Contemporary — opened to the public, and every menu item has a story that involves Walt Disney himself.
If you like steakhouse food, this is a solid option for an upscale meal. The steaks were cooked perfectly, and the crabcake appetizer was delicious. There is also a specialty cocktails list and plenty of desserts to choose from. In fact, the ambrosia dessert was a sleeper favorite at our table — a fun twist on a classic that was surprisingly delicious.
Make sure to ask your server about the backstories to each of the dishes you try. Hearing about the history and personal connection of each menu item was the highlight of the night.
50th-anniversary specialty food items
Throughout the celebration, you’ll also find a few specialty food items available throughout the parks and a few resorts, including:
- Cheese fries with Walt’s Chili – Animal Kingdom
- Filet Mignon with Walt’s Hash – Hollywood Studios
- Mission to Mars burger – Magic Kingdom
- EARidescent Croissant Doughnut – Epcot
- EARidescent Ice Dream Cone – Blizzard Beach
- 50th Celebration Ganache Chocolate Bar – Disney Springs
- 50th Celebration Soufflé – Disney’s Contemporary
- Magical Beacon Cocktail – Throughout the table-service restaurants, lounges and pool bars at Disney World
More than 150 new items will be scattered across the menus, and they all pay homage to the resort’s past “while pushing culinary adventures to exciting new places.”
Novelty items such as popcorn buckets, mugs and sippers are also available for purchase starting today, Oct. 1.
In addition to new nighttime spectaculars, there are new shows and entertainment to enjoy during the celebration.
Animal Kingdom is home to the new “Disney KiteTails” daytime show. Three times each day, the Discovery River Theatre will come alive with windcatchers and kites of all shapes and sizes. Some larger 3D kites will also fly above the water, featuring Disney favorites from “The Lion King” and “The Jungle Book.”
Drawn to Life
Over at Disney Springs, Cirque du Soleil, Walt Disney Animation Studios and Walt Disney Imagineering collaborated on a new family-friendly show called Drawn to Life.
The show follows the story of Julie, “a determined girl who discovers an unexpected gift left by her Disney animator father: an unfinished animation.”
You can buy tickets at cirquedusoleil.com/drawntolife. The show premieres on Nov. 18.
The Magic Is Calling
If you visit the parks, you’ll likely notice that a new song is playing across different locations in different ways. Disney Platinum-selling songwriter, music producer Alana Da Fonseca, songwriter and producer Bobby Studley and award-winning composer Emily Bear collaborated on a brand new song written just for the 50th-anniversary celebration.
“The Magic Is Calling,” is the official anthem of the celebration, and guests will hear it in a handful of live entertainment shows, during cavalcade and more.
New Epcot transformation
Epcot is is the park going through the biggest transformation right now as it transitions from the park of yesterday to a true Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow. It no longer feels akin to a high school field trip and instead blends nature and educational experiences with Disney characters and attractions.
Not only is Epcot home to the new Space 220 restaurant, the Ratatouille ride and a new nighttime show, but there’s more going on, including creating new gathering areas, the Club Cool experience by Coca Cola and the newly defined areas of World Showcase, World Nature, World Celebration and World Discovery.
Epcot’s transformation is not yet complete with some lingering construction and the upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy thrill ride and Moana Journey of Water trail still to come. But even now, the park has already catapulted its way toward the top of the list of parks that have major new experiences on offer.
New merchandise collections
Of course, it wouldn’t be a Disney celebration without new merchandise. Disney World is launching five new merchandise lines throughout the celebration.
The Celebration Collection includes family-friendly options that feature the iridescent color palette that we’ve seen on many of the decorations. The Disney Castle Collection is filled with clothes, collectibles, jewelry and more — all inspired by Cinderella Castle. The EARidescent Collection has a pink-themed palette with touches like sequined ribbing and beautiful embroidery.
However, the two collections we’re most excited about are the Vault Collection and the Luxe Logo Collection. The Vault Collection is filled with retro-styled merchandise that nods back to the original designs of Disney. The Luxe Logo Collection has a black and gold color palette with more upscale pieces (including a pair of black leather and gold ears that we’re obsessed with).
Some of these lines are now available across the parks, Disney Springs and online: The Celebration Collection, Disney Castle Collection and the EARidescent Collection.
Newly renovated hotels
Last, but certainly not least, Disney is also revamping (and adding) hotels for guests.
Disney’s Contemporary Resort
The Contemporary is one of the original resorts that opened alongside Magic Kingdom back in 1971. The A-frame hotel has been undergoing extensive renovations, and the property is in the final stretch of finishing out rooms in the main building now.
The new rooms, lobby area and other hotel areas have been redesigned with a post-modern vibe that’s fun, yet still very sleek. We were able to stay in the resort as press guests of Disney World, and the new “Incredibles”-themed rooms are fantastic.
You’ll also find plenty of nods to the history of the resort and Disney World as a whole throughout the property.
Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort
The Polynesian Village Resort, also an opening day property, recently completed a substantial renovation ranging from the entrance to the rooms. The resort now sports a Moana-infused look that blends perfectly with the Polynesian Islands theme of the property.
The rooms feature a new color palette inspired by the Pacific Ocean and its islands.
In this renovation, you’ll also find that the flooring was transitioned from carpet to hard floors, the beds were raised for luggage storage and a tremendous number of power and USB outlets were installed all around the room. In this case, one of the best resorts in all of Walt Disney World only got better.
Disney’s Grand Floridian
Disney’s Grand Floridian is indeed grand, but Disney has announced plans to take it to the next level.
One of the five outer buildings currently being utilized for hotel rooms at the Grand Floridian will soon be transformed into 200 Disney Vacation Club resort studios that will accommodate up to five guests each with a projected opening date of summer 2022.
This room design should take the turn-of-the-century Victorian theme of the property to a modern-day take on that design with quartz countertops, a pattern tile and a relaxing color palate. When we asked if the hotel rooms at the Grand Floridian may someday soon take on a similar updated look … the answer was quite promising.
Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser
In addition to renovating some existing properties, Disney World is also adding an immersive hotel experience for Star Wars fans. Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser will launch on March 1, 2022, and bookings will be available on Oct. 28.
This experience is pricey (like “expect to spend at least $6,000” pricey), but it’s set to be a game-changer when it comes to truly immersive experiences. Guests are supposed to truly feel like they are part of the canon Star Wars universe, choosing how to interact with the storyline as they go.
Featured photo courtesy of Disney Parks.
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