Celebrating 50 Years of Magic and Memories
When the Walt Disney World Resort opened on Oct. 1, 1971, it brought Disney’s unique brand of magic and pixie dust to life in Orlando, welcoming guests for the first time to Magic Kingdom Park, Disney’s Contemporary Resort, and Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort.
“Walt’s biggest dream was to create a fully immersive place unlike anywhere else, where characters and stories could come alive to entertain and delight guests of all ages,” said Bob Chapek, CEO of The Walt Disney Company, as part of a special celebratory moment ahead of the premiere performance of “Disney Enchantment,” Magic Kingdom Park’s new nighttime spectacular. “In the years since the gates first opened, hundreds of millions of people have come here and experienced the magic and wonder of Disney.”
Now, Walt Disney World Resort is honoring its 50th anniversary with “The World’s Most Magical Celebration,” an 18-month event that kicked off in October, presenting new attractions, entertainment, experiences, merchandise, and food and beverage delights to guests across its four parks and more than 25 resort hotels.
Cinderella Castle received a makeover as part of the celebration, with a vibrant new color scheme, gold and sparkling embellishments, and a 50th anniversary crest. The castle at Magic Kingdom Park and the other three park icons—the Tree of Life at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park, the Hollywood Tower Hotel at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and “Spaceship Earth” at Epcot—become Beacons of Magic at night, with lights and a glow of “EARidescence,” Disney’s term for the special shimmer featured throughout the anniversary celebration.
The EARidescence carries over into cast members’ nametags, commemorative merchandise, and menu items, including The Plaza Restaurant’s huge “Cheers to 50 years!” ice cream sundae, full of brownies, cupcakes, pretzel rods, hot fudge, whipped cream, and a Mickey pretzel.
Epcot’s Transformation Takes Shape
As part of Epcot’s ongoing reimagining, the park became unified by four neighborhoods on Oct. 1: World Showcase, World Celebration, World Nature, and World Discovery.
In World Showcase, the France pavilion more than doubled in size with the addition of a whimsical version of Paris inspired by Disney and Pixar’s “Ratatouille” film. The new area features La Crêperie de Paris, a restaurant offering authentic French cuisine, as well as “Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure,” a new family-friendly 4D attraction, shrinking riders down to the size of a rat to join Chef Remy on a dash through Gusteau’s restaurant.
“We worked closely with Pixar to collaborate on not only elements of ‘Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure’ but also elements in the area development. We worked with artisans to make sure that we were staying true to ‘Ratatouille,’” says Sarah Ramos, project manager for Walt Disney Imagineering. “Our ride engineers worked on the trackless ride system to give it movement and also tilts and bumps in moments to really make you feel like you’re scampering along.”
The “Ratatouille”-themed expansion also gave the Disney Parks merchandise team plenty of inspiration to work with in creating kitchen utensils, pins, notebooks, apparel, bump-and-go toy vehicles based on the ride, and an interactive chef hat from which Remy pops out.
“We always try to look at all of our merchandise assortments in terms of who our guest demographic is and have something for everyone to be able to take home as a tangible memory,” says Amanda Luna, brand merchandising manager with Disney Parks. “I really wanted to do a squishy type of material that felt like cheese [for a keychain]. We look at things that are trending and at different story beats in the attraction.”
Heading into World Discovery, guests can take a simulated flight to outer space for a one-of-a-kind dining experience at Epcot’s new Space 220 Restaurant.
“The whole idea of this restaurant is that we are sitting in a quadrant of a functioning, vibrant space station, so it’s an introduction to space tourism. When you turn the corner into the dining area, you see this beautiful view of space,” says Wendy Aguila, associate project coordinator with Walt Disney Imagineering. “We’re still tethered to Epcot, and that’s actually something we worked with NASA on early on to get what Earth would look like from 220 miles away, including those details of geography and where we are.”
Spotlight on New Entertainment
Also new at Epcot is the “Harmonious” evening fireworks spectacular presented over World Showcase Lagoon. The 20-minute show features large floating set pieces, LED panels, choreographed moving fountains, lights, pyrotechnics, and lasers, which come together through a soundtrack of 15 familiar Disney songs reinterpreted by 240 artists from around the world in 13 different languages.
“Disney Enchantment” at Magic Kingdom Park is another new nighttime spectacular that showcases fireworks, music, and immersive projection effects, extending from Cinderella Castle down Main Street, U.S.A.
“We have such a wide IP (intellectual property) to choose from. It’s really about what moves that story,” says David “dstew” Stewart, production manager for Disney Live Entertainment. “Whose story can we follow on this journey? How can we weave those stories together? So we have ‘Alice in Wonderland’ and ‘Beauty and the Beast,’ and some of our newer favorites like ‘Soul,’ ‘Coco,’ and ‘Moana.’”
Over at Disney Springs, “Drawn to Life”—a collaboration between Cirque du Soleil, Walt Disney Animation Studios, and Walt Disney Imagineering—opened in November. The long-awaited acrobatic show features an international cast of 64 artists and tells the story of a girl named Julie and her journey through the world of animation.
“Working with the creator of the show, Michel Laprise, his ideas, and the team from Disney, we considered how we’re going to do something on the stage, how can we reflect that with the animation, and vice versa,” says Heather Reilly, company manager of “Drawn to Life” with Cirque du Soleil Entertainment Group. “One of the things that we’ve done is taken the 12 principles of animation that Disney is so famous for, and we’ve married an act with each of those ideas. For instance, we have an act with rhythmic gymnasts, and they’re married with the stop motion idea.”
To create a more seamless guest experience, Walt Disney World Resort recently introduced two new pieces of tech: the next-generation MagicBand+ and the “Hey Disney!” voice assistant.
“MagicBand+ has all of the features that our guests love about the current MagicBands but has some new capabilities,” says Dan Soto, vice president of technology and digital for Disney Parks, Experiences and Products. “It has lights, colors, and haptics that vibrate and notify you when you’re close to a special moment of magic. It also has gesture recognition, so it can recognize when an arm is raised or extended. All of those capabilities can help trigger new magical moments that we’re creating across the Walt Disney World Resort.”
In collaboration with Amazon, Disney created “Hey Disney!”—its own custom voice assistant that works in tandem with Alexa for supported Amazon Echo devices that will begin rolling out in Walt Disney World Resort hotel rooms in 2022 as an optional, complimentary feature during guest stays.
“When you interact with it, you’re going to hear the authentic voices of some of your favorite Disney characters, but you’re also going to hear and interact with a new persona we created called the Disney Magical Companion,” Soto says. “It’s your host to unlock over 1,000 magical interactions in the device, like Disney stories, jokes, a trivia experience, and a personalized greeting from your favorite character.”
New Attractions on the Horizon
Walt Disney World Resort will debut two new experiences this year. On March 1, Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser will invite its first guests aboard for an immersive two-night adventure exploring the Star Wars galaxy.
Jared Sell, assistant project manager with Walt Disney Imagineering, says guests will enter a Launch Pod to begin their Star Wars story and be able to wield a lightsaber, learn the ways of the Jedi, visit to the Bridge, dine, and more, all before being transported to Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge.
“You’re going to continue your story and be able to carry over whatever storylines you have chosen,” he says. “Your actions matter, so whatever decisions you’ve made on that ship will now carry over into the land. If you choose to align with the Resistance, might some Stormtroopers come and look for you? That is quite possible.”
The second highly anticipated attraction experience is “Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind,” opening this summer at Epcot. The new storytelling coaster will rotate 360 degrees and include the first reverse launch on a Disney coaster.
“When you start with the Wonders of Xandar [pavilion] and then get through the ride experience, you will have encountered the Guardians and picked up on the energy, the music, and all of the things that are such signatures from those films,” says Alex Wright, senior creative director with Walt Disney Imagineering. “That’s what we’re hoping to deliver—something for everybody.”
Juanita Chavarro Arias is the managing editor of Funworld.