Photo Highlights From Walt Disney World's 50th Anniversary

Walt Disney World's 50th Anniversary Celebration (Photo via Brooke Geiger McDonald)
Brooke McDonald
by Brooke McDonald
Last updated: 7:30 PM ET, Tue October 5, 2021

A Photo Tour of Disney's 50th Anniversary Celebrations

Walt Disney World officially kicked off "The Most Magical Celebration on Earth" on Oct. 1 in honor of the resort's 50th anniversary. The celebration pays tribute to Disney World's 50-year history while introducing numerous new offerings now and promising plenty more to come during the 18-month celebration. Here's a look at how Disney World got the party started.

One of Walt Disney World's Opening-Day Resorts Got a Facelift

Disney's Contemporary Resort, which opened with Walt Disney World on Oct. 1, 1971, is undergoing a reimagining of the hotel's lobby and guest rooms. The newly revealed lobby features colorful artwork packed with nods to the iconic Mary Blair-designed mural in the Grand Canyon concourse as well as the Monorail that runs through the hotel's A-frame structure. Original resort concept art and even a photo of Mary Blair honor the resort's history while giving the lobby a welcome refresh.

An Incredible Makeover for Disney's Contemporary Resort Guest Rooms

The guest rooms at Disney's Contemporary Resort are looking super, thanks to a colorful overhaul that introducing theming inspired by Disney Pixar's "The Incredibles" as well as the iconic Disney World monorail. At first glance, the details are subtle but pull open the nightstand or closet door and you'll spot charming artwork; close the curtains to reveal character silhouettes; and notice a beautiful Monorail etched on the bathroom mirror. Room updates are still being completed, first in the hotel's main tower and eventually in the outer buildings as well.

A New Steakhouse Honors the Past

Also in Disney's Contemporary Resort, the new restaurant Steakhouse 71 has opened in place of The Wave. Early reviews - including our own - have been raves. Serving breakfast, lunch and dinner, the restaurant showcases old-timey classics like the Baby Iceberg Wedge Salad, Prime Rib & Classic Yorkshire Pudding, and a Tequila Sunrise cocktail served in a sharable fishbowl-sized glass, but the execution is modern and marvelous.

Steakhouse 71 Fast Favorites

Early fan favorites from Steakhouse 71 include the Sea Salt-dusted Potato Brioche served with Butter and Roasted Garlic-Tomato Spread (it sounds simple but don't miss it!) and the lunchtime Steakhouse 71 Stack Burger, already named best burger at Walt Disney World by Disney foodies in the know.

A Layer Cake for a Storied History

Steakhouse 71's must-order dessert, the Steakhouse 71 Chocolate Cake, pays homage to the Contemporary's 15 stories via a decadent 15 layers of whiskey-infused chocolate cake and chocolate mousse, garnished with raspberries.

Guests Bid Farewell to 'Happily Ever After'

On Sept. 29, Magic Kingdom's beloved nighttime spectacular, "Happily Ever After," was shown for the last time. Guests packed Main Street, U.S.A. to watch the final show, which was retired to make way for Magic Kingdom's new nighttime fireworks and projection show, "Disney Enchantment."

Guests Clamor for Commemorative Merchandise

As one would expect, there's no shortage of souvenirs for sale for guests to commemorate their visit during the 50th-anniversary celebration. Guests who attended Magic Kingdom on Oct. 1 took home a free commemorative map and poster, while shops were packed with guests eager to purchase limited-time merchandise.

Throwback Merchandise Brings Back Memories

One of the most popular merchandise collections released to celebrate the 50th anniversary is the Vault Collection, which features both replicas and pieces inspired by Walt Disney World souvenir items from the 1970s.

Vault Collection Shops Double as Museums

To showcase the collection, Disney has created two Vault Collection-inspired shopping experiences, one at Marketplace Co-Op at Disney Springs and one in the Main Street Cinema at Magic Kingdom. Merchandise is displayed among museum-like displays of vintage photos and props like a carousel horse from Prince Charming Regal Carousel and a ride vehicle from Mr. Toad's Wild Ride (a can't-miss photo op!).

50th Anniversary Merchandise Will Be Available Throughout the Celebration

Guests who aren't planning to visit in the early days of the celebration will still get their chance to scoop up commemorative merch. New collections and items will continue to be revealed throughout the celebration, but some items are only around until they're gone, so if you see something you like, don't delay!

'Disney Enchantment' Debuts at Magic Kingdom

A new nighttime spectacular will close out evenings at Magic Kingdom. "Disney Enchantment" features fireworks and new lighting and projection effects that extend for the first time ever down Main Street U.S.A. The show also introduces a new original song, "You Are the Magic," by eight-time GRAMMY winner Philip Lawrence, and a montage of characters and songs from Disney and Pixar films including "Coco," "Moana," and "The Princess and the Frog."

'Harmonious' Lights Up World Showcase Lagoon at EPCOT

Perhaps the most eagerly anticipated debut so far during the 50th-anniversary celebration was "Harmonious," EPCOT's new nighttime spectacular. The show's focal point is five massive barges permanently moored in World Showcase Lagoon and uses projections, lighting, fountains, and pyrotechnics, accompanied by a special soundtrack of reimagined Disney songs performed by 240 different artists from around the world, to present visual and aural interpretations of classic Disney films.

Club Cool Is Back

Fan-favorite tasting experience, Club Cool, has reopened at EPCOT with a bright new look. Here, guests can try free samples of Coca-Cola beverages from around the world and shop a collection of Coca-Cola souvenirs. Sipping the sometimes "exotic" flavors have become an EPCOT rite of passage. Polarizing flavor "Beverly" from Italy is a returning offering, along with seven other flavors including "Smart Sour Plum" from China, which, like "Beverly," has elicited some strong opinions.

Spot the Statues

Fifty golden character sculptures have been placed throughout the four theme parks, giving guests a fun opportunity to see how many they can find. Plus, they make great photo ops. See characters like Winnie the Pooh, Piglet, and Stitch at Magic Kingdom, BB-8, R2-D2 and Frozone at Disney's Hollywood Studios, Bambi and Thumper at Disney's Animal Kingdom, and Figment at EPCOT.

Mickey's Celebration Cavalcade

A new character cavalcade has debuted at Magic Kingdom in celebration of the 50th Anniversary. Mickey's Celebration Cavalcade features Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Pluto, Donald, Daisy, Chip 'n' Dale, all dressed in their new "EARidescent" costumes and accompanied by dancers and a version of the celebration anthem "The Magic Is Calling."

The Celebration Anthem Is Repurposed Across the Theme Parks

Walt Disney World 50th Anniversary Anthem "The Magic Is Calling" is being used throughout the theme parks in different musical styles. Catch a version as the Mickey and Friends Flotilla cruises the Discovery River at Disney's Animal Kingdom - and be prepared to have it stuck in your head for days when you get home.

Cinderella Pumpkins Replace Mickey

On the first day of fall, Disney swapped out the classic Mickey pumpkin fall wreaths in Magic Kingdom with EARidescent Cinderella Coach pumpkins.

Throwback Details Appear in Delightful Places

The Vault Collection isn't the only place Disney is tapping into fans' nostalgia. We were thrilled to be handed a Mickey pretzel wrapped in this colorful paper. It features vintage logos and attraction tickets.

Popcorn Buckets

It's not a Disney celebration without an accompanying popcorn bucket release and Disney has introduced seven new ones for the 50th anniversary. Guests eagerly scooped up EARidescent Mickey balloon buckets in four colors as well as buckets shaped like Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse in their celebration costumes. Those partial to the classic popcorn bucket shape can grab this one for $12 with refills a steal at just $2 each.

Remy's Ratatouille Adventure Officially Opens at EPCOT

Set that alarm on your EPCOT day because Remy's Ratatouille Adventure, the new family-friendly ride inspired by Disney Pixar's "Ratatouille" officially opened Oct. 1 and you'll need to join the Virtual Queue at 7 am to ride it. Read all about this tons-of-fun 3D trackless dark ride plus how to get a Boarding Group to ride it.

The France Pavilion Has Even More of That Je Ne Sais Quoi

Remy's Ratatouille Adventure is the centerpiece attraction housed in a stunning expanded portion of the France pavilion. Guests enter the expansion area beneath a sign reminiscent of the iconic Paris Metro signs and travel along a tree-lined walkway. Waterfront railings and Parisian park benches are embellished with subtle rat details as guests make the transition into "Remy's Paris."

A New World Showcase Restaurant

The France pavilion expansion also introduced new table-service and quick-service restaurants, La Crêperie de Paris and Crêpes À Emporter at La Crêperie de Paris. Serving authentic savory galettes, sweet crêpes, and hard ciders from France's Brittany region, the restaurant currently accepts walk-up guests both indoors for table service and outside for quick service.

Creations Shop

EPCOT's new flagship merchandise location has opened. Replacing Mouse Gear, Creations Shop is a sprawling, light-filled, colorful space decorated with murals, statues, and other homages to Mickey Mouse. A must-visit for EPCOT fans, the shop sells special merchandise dedicated to EPCOT, including the EPCOT Light & Color Collection, which features numerous items inspired by the park's beloved icon, Spaceship Earth.

Beacons of Magic Are Revealed

Every night, all four of Walt Disney World's park icons - Cinderella Castle at Magic Kingdom, the Tree of Life at Disney's Animal Kingdom, the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror at Disney's Hollywood Studios, and Spaceship Earth at EPCOT, shimmer with new lighting and projections. They all look fabulous, but one rises above the rest. Spaceship Earth is dotted with "Points of Light" that transition through a rainbow of colors creating a sight so stunning it takes your breath away.

Disney KiteTails Is the Sleeper Hit of the 50th Anniversary

All eyes were on new nighttime shows "Harmonious" and "Disney Enchantment," but all smiles were on "Disney KiteTails," a whimsical new daytime show introduced at Disney's Animal Kingdom. Featuring two alternating daytime performances, one themed to "The Lion King" and the other to "The Jungle Book," the shows star a series of massive, gorgeous character kites pulled by jet skis. Fans have been tickled by the kites' seeming "crash landings" - which are in fact intentional (that's how kites land!). The element of playfulness, unpredictability and surprise has left guests (including yours truly) squealing with delight and even returning for multiple shows in a day.

Space 220

An out-of-this-world new restaurant has opened in EPCOT's World Discovery neighborhood. Space 220 whisks guests 220 miles above Earth's surface via a virtual space elevator for lunch and dinner with truly stellar views. Sip exotic space cocktails like the purple Planetary Punch that bubbles away in your glass and nibble on small plates in the walk-up lounge area, or book a reservation for a two-course prix fixe lunch or three-course dinner and dine while gazing out at the Earth below and passing ships and astronauts floating by.

See how Disney World is celebrating turning 50 years old.

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