ORLANDO, Fla. — Walt Disney World is barreling into its golden years as the resort begins the extended celebration of its 50th anniversary.
Disney is introducing three new shows, a family-friendly dark ride and dozens of golden character statues, and it’s tweaking the iconic theme park centerpieces and installing other enhancements for the festivities.
But the coronavirus pandemic complicated the proceedings, affecting everything from travel planning to supply chains to health precautions.
Amid the shelves stocked with 50th-anniversary souvenirs and the crowds gathering at the redecorated Cinderella Castle, the event feels “underpowered” to Jim Hill, who runs JimHillMedia.com and co-hosts The Disney Dish Podcast.
“Some of it is a deliberate choice by Disney,” Hill said. “But at the same time, a lot of it is just the world we’re living in right now: The pandemic that just doesn’t seem to end.”
All Central Florida attractions, including Walt Disney World, shut down in March 2020. Disney’s theme parks reopened four months later, an unprecedented closure that included thousands of employees being furloughed. Some anniversary plans moved forward, including work on the castle.
“They were just getting ready to sort of turn the key on the actual spending for the 50th when the pandemic shut everything,” Hill said.
But the show will go on in 2021. On Oct. 1, exactly 50 years after Magic Kingdom opened its gates, Disney World officially launched its 18-month campaign dubbed “the world’s most magical celebration.”
On that day, three shows debuted: “Disney KiteTails” at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, “Disney Enchantment” at Magic Kingdom and “Harmonious” at Epcot, where Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure ride had its official opening day as well.
Light shows are scheduled on and around four of the parks’ most symbolic structures, transforming them into what Disney calls “Beacons of Light.”
Anniversary banners are hung, a monorail train has been wrapped in the 50th logo, new name tags have been issued to cast members and segments will bookend the Electrical Water Pageant, a floating attraction on the Seven Seas Lagoon that dates back to 1971.
“I think that a lot of people kind of want to see more because in the past, the different anniversaries were such a big to-do,” said Michele Atwood, author of Disney-related books and owner of the Main Street Mouse, a theme park website.
More could be more unveiled during the course of the celebration, which will run into 2023.
“After the holidays are over, maybe add a parade or add some new dessert parties or something that coincides with the 50th anniversary, because it’s an 18-month long celebration,” Atwood said. “So, in my opinion, you would think they would have that — you know, trickle different things throughout that 18 months so that people stay excited the whole time.”
Aside from the three show debuts, Disney World has not announced any special events happening on the actual anniversary date.
“It’s interesting because we’re a week out, and we sort of don’t know if anything is going to happen that day other than what’s been previously announced. … They dribble out little bits of information,” said Lou Mongello, who runs the WDW Radio website and podcast. “As Disney fans, we set our expectations so high. It’s the 50th. It’s a big deal. … So, we’re almost waiting for this grand reveal, which may or may not come yet.”.
“All the parks are getting something, and, look, you have to acknowledge the long-term detrimental effect of the pandemic,” Mongello said. “We know of projects that were canceled or pushed back — Mary Poppins (attraction), progress on Epcot, Tron (ride) — all these things that may have been further along were stalled.
“There’s only so many workers and so much money that you can invest at once, and we have to be cognizant of that.”
Disney World has several projects underway in its parks, including Magic Kingdom’s Tron Lightcycle Run and Epcot’s Guardians of the Galaxy roller coaster, both of which were announced in July 2017. Specific opening dates were never announced, although they were said to be ready “in time for” the 50th anniversary. Then came the pandemic.
Hill said the situation is fluid for the planned attractions and the celebration in general. He expects promotion tied to the 50th anniversary to go on as usual with pushes via the ABC television special that aired Oct. 1 and holiday specials.
“Right now, it’s really just keeping the finger in the air and seeing which way the wind is blowing and how many people are showing up,” he said. “It’s — in a weird sort of way — a very dynamic situation, but at the same time, also incredibly underwhelming.”
Source: Berkshire mont