Best and Worst from Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary Celebration

Walt Disney World’s 50th anniversary celebration has officially ended. The celebration wrapped up fairly quietly over the past couple weeks as Disney gradually updated its decorations and park maps to remove mentions of the 50th.

The 18-month celebration started October 1, 2021 before wrapping up March 31, 2023. What did Disney do the best for the 50th? Where did they miss the mark? Let’s discuss.

Spaceship Earth at Night
Isn’t she pretty?

BEST: Points of Light on Spaceship Earth

The new lights on Spaceship Earth are arguably the single best addition to Walt Disney World during the 50th anniversary. The lights made the already lovely Spaceship Earth come to life at night in a brand new way. The short shows on Spaceship Earth add new energy and a new spectacle to the front of EPCOT.

We love these lights and think they were a brilliant addition. We hope they have a long-term future at EPCOT.

Fireworks in Disney Enchantment
‘Disney Enchantment’ and decor.

WORST: Disney Enchantment at Magic Kingdom

Disney Enchantment suffered greatly due to guest expectations and mixed marketing. Disney promoted Disney Enchantment as a show celebrating the 50th anniversary, but the content of the show focused mostly on modern Disney films and characters. There was no nostalgia, no nods to history, and no emotional connection.

Disney later added a new intro for the show featuring Walt Disney, which helped a lot, but we would’ve liked to see more of an actual anniversary show. Disney Enchantment tried to be the next Happily Ever After, but it couldn’t live up to that bar. More in our extended review of Disney Enchantment.

Disney’s decision to listen to guest feedback and promptly bring back Happily Ever After really sums up the overall sentiment for Disney Enchantment.

A thrilling addition to EPCOT.

BEST: EPCOT’s Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind

Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind opened in May 2022 at EPCOT, right in the thick of the 50th anniversary celebration. Cosmic Rewind was the biggest and most-anticipated attraction added to Walt Disney World during the 50th.

The massive indoor coaster, which took over the old home of the Universe of Energy, was an instant hit. Guests love flying, swooping, and spinning through space while enjoying the soundtrack that can play one of six different songs.

Cosmic Rewind is so good and repeatable that it makes the enormous ride building that sticks out over EPCOT’s sightlines almost forgivable. Almost.

EPCOT 'Harmonious' nighttime spectacular.
All spectacle, little substance.

WORST: Harmonious at EPCOT

We feel kind of bad ridiculing both of the nighttime spectaculars Disney debuted during Walt Disney World’s 50th anniversary. But, we unfortunately feel that both shows fell well short of the mark both as marketed anniversary shows and for replacements of arguably iconic nighttime spectaculars.

Harmonious was a spectacle. There’s no denying that. But, the four giant taco barges and the big ring Stargate barge were such eyesores that it immediately detracted from the show’s content before it even debuted. World Showcase Lagoon shouldn’t look like Disney is drilling for oil.

As for the content of Harmonious, we’ve come to expect Disney nighttime spectaculars being clip shows from the latest popular films. Still, it would’ve been nice if the show flowed more and had a bigger connecting line throughout its segments. The show ultimately had nice parts that couldn’t combine into a strong show, which is why Disney is scrapping Harmonious (and its ugly barges) so quickly.

Donald decor!

BEST: Sculptures and Decor

Overall, we think Walt Disney World did a solid job of decorating for its 50th anniversary. The golden character sculptures were a big hit, and guests had a lot of fun trying to track down and see all 50. The sculptures are one of the wins from the 50th, and Disney is going to keep them around for a bit longer.

Decor was also a relative bright spot, with decorations spotted in all of the theme parks. Cinderella Castle transformed with a large ’50’ icon, bunting, and more, which was a bit more polarizing in the Disney community. Some love the pink castle. Some wish the white and blue color scheme would return. Alas, those opinions aside, we can’t take fault in Disney’s effort on decor.

Disney 50th Lemonade Drink
A very disappointing 50th anniversary drink.

WORST: Availability of Special Merch and Food

What’s a celebration without special merchandise, food, and drinks? Unfortunately, a lot of those special 50th items were unavailable throughout the 18 months. It was a constant guessing game whether something would be in stock, which is both frustrating and disappointing for those traveling in during the celebration. That said, we did love the vintage collection.

Disney promoted more than 150 unique “sips and bites” would be found throughout Walt Disney World during the 50th. But, we found out immediately that it’d be very hit or miss whether they’d be in stock. Or even offered. For example, the Uncle Orville Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow Sundae debuted and then wasn’t offered for months. It wasn’t worth trying to hunt down some items because they simply made an appearance and never came back.

We won’t even get into the overhyped 50th anniversary drink here, but you can relive that mess here.

Kites crashing in Disney's KiteTails show.
Pumba going down!

BEST: The Rise and Fall of Disney’s KiteTails

Oh, KiteTails. What a run you had. Disney’s KiteTails was supposed to bring daytime entertainment to the currently empty Discovery River Theater at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. The show would use small and large kites from The Jungle Book and The Lion King, with the largest kites being guided by cast members on jet skis.

The show was a spectacle – even if that was unintentional at first. While it was fun to see big kites zipping around, the real joy came in their crash landings. The character kites would crash into a designated area, much to the surprise of KiteTails‘ first viewers. Watching the characters dive-bomb went viral to the extent that Disney played into the fun.

Disney’s KiteTails was scaled back to random shows, and then closed entirely in September 2022.

50th anniversary decorations at Magic Kingdom.
Was it the most magical celebration?

WORST: Did Disney Do Enough for the 50th?

Walt Disney World’s 50th anniversary probably won’t be remembered as one of the best celebrations Disney has ever hosted. The most common complaint was that the actual anniversary date, October 1, 2021, felt like any other day at the theme parks.

There’s a general feel that Disney didn’t do enough for such an important anniversary. Did the shutdown hurt Disney’s 50th plans? Were budget cuts to blame? Regardless, the 50th felt like a missed opportunity with some plans not panning out (TRON Lightcycle Run was supposed to open for the 50th) and other ideas (nighttime parade?) going unfunded.

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David is a Disney travel expert who created Notes from Neverland in 2018 after visiting Disney theme parks countless times. Previously, David spent way too much time writing about sports, and was featured in Sports Illustrated, MSN, Yahoo!, and in many other publications. Learn more or contact us.

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