Disney World Opts for 50th Anniversary Celebration with Zero Nostalgia

You no doubt have seen the new commercial for Walt Disney World’s 50th anniversary, “The World’s Most Magical Celebration”. If you somehow missed it, here it is:

The commercial shows banners and the “Beacon of Magic” lighting we have been promised for the event, but not much else. The song choice is “A Whole New World” from Aladdin, which is odd, given that not much new is actually announced to open for this event, other than a delayed Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure, you know, a ride that opened at Disneyland Paris in 2014 and was supposed to open at EPCOT in 2020. Disney stalled, delayed, and even halted construction on other attractions planned for the 50th anniversary, most notably TRON Lightcycle Run and Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind, but they also haven’t hit a ride opening deadline in Florida in many years, so we expected those to be a little late to the party anyway.

Before we start blaming the pandemic for this situation, let’s also remember that Universal Orlando Resort completed the VelociCoaster during the pandemic, a large-scale roller coaster attraction with zero animatronics. That’s not wildly different from what TRON or Guardians of the Galaxy are, with the exception of being mostly indoors, in gravity buildings that were pretty-much completed before a park closed in Orlando in March 2020. Smaller, regional theme parks completed many of their rides that were being constructed at the time as well, many of them debuting those attractions this summer.

Regardless, the broken promises of new attractions are not even the reason I am writing this. I could easily forgive the delay of major additions if given something, anything actually celebrating 50 years of Walt Disney World. As of now, there is no museum aspect, no major ride restoration, no nostalgia-laden advertising, and no press release that even mentions anything from the past.

What was striking to me about the commercial, for a monumental 50th anniversary, is that it has zero references to the storied history and legacy of the Vacation Kingdom of the World. There is no mention of Walt Disney and his last great dream, or even a nostalgic look at vintage footage of guests and characters in the parks. They took the time to put 16 “hidden” references in the commercial, yet none of them are related to anything other than Disney films. We are not celebrating 50 years of Disney movies on October 1st, by the way.

Here’s a recent Disney Parks ad that actively grabbed hold of your emotions and memories of the past in a thoughtful way:

The above isn’t even an anniversary ad, it was just for a short return of an old parade. Mind you, Disneyland Resort typically shows an understanding for what people love about the place, and that dates back to their 50th birthday.

Disneyland’s 50th anniversary celebration was not littered with new attractions either, but it did embrace the park’s incredible history. A film starring Steve Martin to recap the five decades that came before played at the Main Street Opera House and was accompanied by a thoughtful and well-curated historical exhibit. Classic attractions were also restored and added new magic, such as Walt Disney Enchanted Tiki Room, The Haunted Mansion, Space Mountain, and more. This formula worked so well that Disneyland has replicated it over and over again, parlaying it into a massively successful Diamond Celebration in 2015 and decades of nostalgic merchandise that they have sold since 2005.

Ads for Walt Disney World’s 25th anniversary celebrated nostalgia too, along with the original song, “Remember the Magic”:

Smaller amusement parks are even doing a better job than Disney World on capturing these feelings, all while celebrating their key milestones. Knott’s Berry Farm is marking 100 years this year, and in celebration, you’ll find a new attraction that pays homage to a long-lost one, resurrected meet and greet characters from the past, and photo-ops for extinct attractions. These are not wildly expensive things, they’re just thoughtful and show some level of care.

What is so remarkable about a 50th anniversary is that guests who have visited over all 50 years are still with us and can return to celebrate this special place. Walt Disney World has been visited by so many people over these decades, and it’s not just people who are active fans on social media. There are millions of people who have an emotional connection to memories made at these parks and resorts, memories that pre-date the attention span of the management currently in the company and their marketing strategy. Doing small, yet thoughtful things playing on our nostalgia means something to us, the most loyal and loving of guests, and shows people that you care about more than just their money. A golden anniversary is not the time to look at your audience as numbers, it is a time to embrace their feelings for your destinations and establish a connection with them, showing that you understand what they cherish about it.

With 126 days left until October 1st, 2021, I think I speak for everyone in saying we hope something will materialize, something showing an appreciation for returning guests and the incredible feats that were pulled off in 1971 and beyond.

We are pleading with The Walt Disney Company to care about this anniversary before it is too late. There is no do-over on a 50th birthday celebration.

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  1. That’s because the new Disney is distancing themselves from Walt’s legacy. It’s intentional as he’s “problematic” as well as most of his work and movies he’s left behind.

  2. Yes!! What you said Tom!👏👏👏 this is a shame, I would expect this company to be taking pride in this milestone regardless of the obstacles that may have come.

  3. Given how many great attractions Disney World has done away with, I’m not too surprised that they won’t be referring much to the past.

  4. We can hope that with the celebration lasting a whole year, they release nostalgia related things.

  5. Is it just me, or has Disney Co been “de-Walting” the company ever since the 50th anniversary of his passing in 2016?

      1. I love how you say “pretending to be woke.” I don’t think they are pretending to be woke, but are the spokespersons for wokeness since wokeness is essentially pretending to care about social justice. Disney is just disappointing me lately.

  6. Boy, we’re drawing a lot of conclusions from one 30-second teaser video.

      1. Yes I agree it’s only 4 months away, but IMO we can’t take COVID completely out of the picture and complain about delays of very large projects going on at 3 of the 4 parks (counting Galactic Starcruiser for HWS). Nevermind any plans they had for the 50th before COVID decimated any budget they were working with. I think it’s fair to assume stuff for the 50th is going to be cut, but I still think we can’t come to ANY conclusions of what they have planned (or lack of in your point of view) because simply they literally haven’t announced anything other than some cool decorations for Cinderella Castle at MK and new lighting and projections for the other parks. One really can’t think that for something they are calling “the most magical celebration on earth” will ONLY have that going for it? No not at all. We are going to get more. We are going to get Harmonious (I know it’s not related to the 50th, but it’ll be a huge new nighttime show every night that people will most likely love). We will MOST likely get a 50th nighttime show at MK for every night. We will MOST likely get some type of 50th daytime and nighttime parades. And not to mention at the resorts, specifically Poly and Contemporary, there is probably going to be some great things happening there too; I could see some cool historical sites setup in those resorts with old pictures and videos. I could see at MK a spot setup with some museuem events going on.

        Finally, with this new commercial landing today, I think its even more fair to think within the next 2-3 weeks we’ll be hearing a lot more about what their plans are going to be starting October 1st. If nothing like what I said actually happens, of course I’ll eat my words and I personally will be pretty upset … but I have SOME faith in this company still that their primary goal, however odd it may seem at times, is to always try and provide the most magical experience to their Guests every single day. We’ll just have to wait and see!

            1. It should be “are you done knowing everything yet, Tom?”

              Sorry, I couldn’t resist. But no, I don’t know everything, but I would hope after 14 years of doing this I know some things, and the things I choose to write about are those things.

        1. You’ll be lucky to get even some of those things you list. Fireworks are expensive. Parades are VERY expensive in terms of staff costs. I would be amazed if there is any nighttime parade at MK any time soon. Perhaps they might adapt/update HEA or do something different with MK fireworks but I wouldn’t expect much else. You can tell how they’re attempting to manage down expectations by getting so over-excited about spotlights at HS and little LED lights all over Spaceship Earth.

  7. Hear hear!

    I agree with this post. Costs tripled in 20 years, people can’t afford what they used to. Kids just need to be kids and experience that “magic” like we did.

  8. Tom I totally I agree with you. The fact that I live near Disneyland I have not seen these ads yet (but I did see “The Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow” ads that do capture that nostalgia and emotion.
    What is baffling is that ads and promotions tugging at the emotions of millions of people that grew up going to Disney World, and being all cooped up for a year would be a huge pull to get them back! I could just imagine folks seeing a 50th anniversary ad with nostalgia in it and welling up in tears and literally getting online to book a trip.

    Strange… And yes, how did Universal get their ride up and running while Disney’s are still in construction? But then, look how long it took for the Snow White Mine Train to be completed! I sort of compare it to Apple vs Google or Samsung. Apple is actually very slow but very deliberate when coming out with a new device – designs and redesigns. Whereas Google and Samsung just get out as much as they can (often bad with the good). With both Disney and Apple being the market leaders (and I think the top financially) they take their time to (mostly) get it right, and they know folks will be there when they do.

    1. The Disney > Universal and Apple > Google/Samsung argument is more veiled under perceived value than actual value received. It pains me to say that Disney has got it wrong the majority of the time over nearly the last decade. Continually up charging without actually innovating, trying to market things that have existed for years as something brand new to spend more $ on, just like Apple.

  9. You have a good pint. I think a video showing all the wonderful things from the past would be an interesting contrast to the severely limited offerings today. No parades, no character meet and greets, no fireworks, no complementary transportation, no extra magic hours. The loyal guests are the only people who would notice this.

  10. I am sorry, but I have to disagree with everything you have posted. I was excited to watch the commercial today and thing that it does a great job of summarizing the last 50 years at Walt Disney World with just one word….MAGIC. We travel to Disney from across the country multiple times a year. I read this site multiple times each day for the latest updates. Why? Because of the magic of being at Walt Disney World. I have planned my trip the last week of September for 3 years now. I made my DVC reservations on the morning 11 months out. Not for a new attraction, Not for a new fireworks show or a museum. But so I can experience the Magic of being there on a Magic day.

    1. But they could be doing so much more. Don’t be satisfied with the bare minimum. “Magic” isn’t the history of the park, it’s the specific attractions and people like you who visited. That’s what should be celebrated not iridescent shiny glitter.

      1. “Discontent is the first necessity of progress.” Susan B Anthony quoting Thomas Edison in The American Adventure-Epcot!!!!!!!!!!!!

  11. Crack….. Tom just hit a HOMERUN…. Disney needs to show more love to World.. it is the biggest and most recognized I.e greatest of all the parks… it’s got all the potential that no other park has or can have for that matter.

  12. I rarely ever agree with you Tom, but I have to say you’re completely right here with no exaggeration. It’s sad, but it’s a business at the end of the day. That doesn’t mean they can’t treat WDW with more respect though.

  13. I literally come here for Tom’s realness. Also, being the fact that my first visit was in 1978, yeah, I’m a little disappointed by this, too.

  14. I could not agree more. Whoever is running this celebration seems to have no respect for the past of the park or idea of how a celebration should be run. A celebration should be full of new offerings. They hold far too much hope that people will return and drive revenue just off of the name of the celebration. It surely doesn’t help that the general public has no idea how little will be offered for this celebration. It’s the most visited theme park in the world and yet it receives the executive attention of a peanut.

    1. In my opinion, the person who is running this operation actually show a ton a respect to the theme parks. Nostalgia brings a ton of uncreativity and disrespect. Not to mention rides like 1983 journey into imagination and the great movie ride we’re freaking awful attractions.

      1. You obviously: 1) Tried a very unsuccessful attempt at satire and being funny, or 2) You do not understand WDW.

  15. With all the negativity in the world, it’s nice to find positivity on this website with this article being an exception. Yes they could do a bit better with a commercial but I highly doubt this is the only one to come for the 50th. Have a little faith

    1. I agree with you with a burning passion Jeremy. All these nostalgists need to have some faith and positivity in this too!

      1. it’s not about just the nostalgia. It’s about how we are 4 months away from this celebration and we only know about lighting designs for the parks. It’s either one of two things. They don’t have a plan for the anniversary an or they aren’t putting much of an effort into the anniversary because they don’t care. They are under horrid leadership and Chepek just sees some walking dollar bills. If disney doesn’t do something soon the people are out

  16. This is a good discussion of the conflicting feelings that I also have. On the one hand, I have enjoyed going to WDW for 30 years. On the other, I dislike many of the company’s decisions in that time. Movie rides in Epcot, serving so much alcohol that drunk people scale the pyramid in Mexico, not caring about the parks’ history, data-gathering to extract the most revenue per customer, etc. But there’s no doubt that their formula works–many people love Frozen Ever After and don’t care about having their every movement/biometric data tracked. My emotional connection to the parks and their founder (who’s been gone for 55 years) may not be that relevant to a company worth hundreds of billions of dollars. I’m just a data point, and probably one in the minority. That’s just a reality. I wonder if others think this, too?

  17. They’re performing basic maintenance on the parks (fresh paint!) and acting like it’s something special. And even the pre-pandemic plans with the Guardians and Tron rides were veeeeery drawn out construction projects that could’ve been finished well ahead of the 50th. It’s really disappointing how little effort and ambition seems to have gone into what should be a momentous occasion.

    1. Ah yes, the “fresh paint” of literally remodeling the entire central part of epcot, expanding France to include a new ride, building other new rides, not to mention the dozens of decorations that will be added later cause they don’t want to put them up 5 months early.

      1. Guardians is the only new ride. Every other ride planned is a clone that has existed for years.

  18. I am honestly happy that Disney is not putting nostalgia into this. Nostalgia in theme parks can cause the theme parks to lose creativity, inspiration, and even originality. Face it Tom Corless, the Disney parks need to do something new and less nostalgic things, because nostalgia only makes parks stuck in its atrocious past. You should also realize that Disney does not like to repeat themselves either.

    1. Is that why all the “new” rides they’re adding are repeated clones that have existed elsewhere for years? 😂 Maybe that’s also why every new ride since Potter has been a lackluster screen dominated knee jerk reaction to it trying to replicate its success

  19. I agree with everything Tom has written. It seems Disney is driving away from anything that has to do with tradition; both Disney and American Tradition. The parks, the movies, everything. They are trying to make a new culture.

  20. Current Disney leadership has failed us in so many ways. They built a park in communist China, and have begged plans for their 5th anniv than WDW 50th. WDW gets some paint jobs, and a wossification of JC that no one asked for.

  21. Couldn’t agree more. With that said I’m still optimistic something really magical will come to fruition. Praying for some real Walt magic, not Chapek-style magic.

  22. My sentiments exactly. The company is spitting at the legacy of the resort and in so doing demeaning and insulting it’s guests.The people in charge today do not have a clue about what made Disney park vacations special and simply just don’t care.

  23. Funnily enough, this articles mentions nothing about one of the usual hallmarks of Disney park anniversary celebrations – Live Entertainment, particularly parades and shows….with an anniversary celebration usually having a new parade and fireworks spectacular at the forefront of its birthday offerings. (yes, I understand that live entertainment is not really operating right now, but that aside…).

    The WDW 50th really should have had, at the very least, a brand new daytime (or nighttime) parade and new fireworks spectacular at the forefront of the anniversary offerings (pandemic or not). And with those supposedly new entertainment offerings planned for the other parks folded into the lot for further promotion. To even save money, they could have just cloned the current best Disney parade in the world, Tokyo’s Dreaming Up, for WDW’s 50th. Would have been perfect.

  24. Well said! There’s 50 years of fantastic material and memories to gather inspiration from… I’m sure the creatives will come up with something… hopefully, soon. The 1996 ad was wonderful!

  25. Disney is a haven for merchandise and food > experiences and rides that is all they care about now and just feed a resellers market. Very soon they will dedicate more space to selling things than rides. Everyone together now: “Walt’s ideology is dead and Eisners live on”. The only nostalgia they rely on is your memories of the park blinding you to dramatic price increases for food and admission.

  26. It’s so weird. If they focused on nostalgia or focused on new things I feel either of these things would bring in the magic and most importantly (for them) money. But they aren’t acknowledging and maintaining the old stuff and they love to budget cut the new stuff. Even in my tiny business I have learned if I skimp on quality of the tools or materials I use either it takes me too long or the customer isn’t as satisfied. When I spend the money most often the money comes back. If they were smart they’d focus on both old and new and my god the money would roll in. Maybe it’s my year to finally explore the universal parks.

  27. I know people won’t agree with this, but Disneyland is the park of nostalgia. Disney World doesn’t need to rely on that. It’s nice to have some nostalgic experiences, but it’s also nice to have a park where new generations can build their own new experiences.

    Maybe they aren’t doing a whole ride refurbishment, but they’re doing a lot to Main Street for this celebration, and they’re refreshing other structures as well (the carousel is beautiful).

    1. Disneyland gets just as many new rides, so there’s no real correlation there. As far as these refurbishments, these are things they’re supposed to do every few years anyway, this isn’t a special occurrence.

  28. So very well said!! We missed the 25th and were so looking forward to the 50th. Sadly my mom is no longer with us, but from what we’ve seen so far it doesn’t look like it’s going to tug at any of our heartstrings which is what we always loved so much about Walt Disney World. So many treasured memories and they aren’t touching on any nostalgia or anything about Walt! It’s heartbreaking! And I couldn’t agree more Disneyland caters to the fans making us feel like family. World is just sadly becoming a numbers game. : (

  29. You are putting a lot into an early commercial. Relax its going to be awesome.

  30. This reinforces the idea that the current Disney leadership is totally out of touch with its fan base. The entire corporate leadership team needs to go.

  31. I couldn’t agree more. I feel so sorry and sad for generations after ours who don’t know what it was like to fly into MCO, take the DME to the resort, enjoy a true magic firework show at night at MK or Epcot (and not what they try to pass as firework show with Epcot Forever), get chills at the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights,…. I could go on and on. I truly hope that they give us some of the magic back that they’ve taken away, and for once dont think of their shareholders, but their loyal fans, who keep coming snd spend a lot of money year after year.

  32. First visited WDW 4 months after opening and have been a regular since. Already have a special ticket and reservation for October 1. But Im disappointed that Disney seems more concerned with properties over seas and not concentrated on this 50th Monumental Occasion

  33. Well said Tom. Disney World knows how important nostalgia is to return guests. I love so many attractions at WDW but they have to know people don’t wait in a 70 min line for Peter Pan’s Flight because it’s such an incredible attraction but because we rode it as kids, with people who’ve passed, with our own kids, etc.

  34. I turn 50 in November. I grew up going to Walt Disney World and watching it grow too. I am so sad NOTHING, nostalgia wise, is planned. I hope they have something planned and just haven’t shared it yet.

  35. I so wish they would do a magical memories parade and bring back those of us still capable to be in a parade celebrating the decades ( I was a Show Girl in the 1979 Christmas parade) as many of us are still very proud of bring part of the magic!!

  36. It’s one commercial, I don’t think that means they’re refusing to acknowledge the past. And I think that Disney’s construction took longer than Universal’s because Disney was more strict on Covid protocols.

    1. They completely shut down construction sites for a longer period, I don’t think that was a protocol so much as a financial move.

  37. Thank you Tom for posting the obvious. Walt Disney is gone and so is the real appreciation that he showed by really “caring” about his customers and the message he wanted to get across that family and values were/are important! He truly got as much happiness as he hoped people who came to the “world” would experience. Too many companies besides the entertainment companies are going down the same path unfortunately and we keep losing anything wholesome and positive!!! It was the place where adults could become children as soon as they entered those gates and just have fun!! Keep up the good work Tom try to keep the voice for those of us who care and want to remember that a small part of the “magic” still lives in Walt Disney World. I sincerely hope that someone from the “company” will wake up and smell the coffee.

  38. You lost me when you started complaining about delays in construction and started comparing Disney to other parks. I don’t know about the construction protocols of those parks, but I’m fine with work at Disney being slower if it kept folks safe. I don’t know if stricter protocols contributed to delays, but I do know that it wasn’t in WDWs game plan.

    It’s so weird that an article about the poor choices marketing is making surrounding the anniversary has a section about something that is more likely the result of poor circumstances than poor choices.

  39. Don’t forget that a bunch of progressive, liberal losers are now in charge of Walt Disney world! Walt himself is probably rolling in his grave! These commies hate you, America and what Disney was really all about- magic moments with your family and a celebration of America and our heritage

  40. Disney is a wonderful place but they have lost the magic. It no longer exists. Very sad to see. I believe Walt would be very disappointed in what is has become.

  41. I find this article upsetting. I’ve never come across so much negativity when reading about Disney. Disney has gone above and beyond to reopen its doors in the middle of a pandemic. The measures they have taken to keep their employees and guests safe when reopening their doors seems to have gone unnoticed, or just forgotten. Instead we focus on what might not happen. For me, Disney provided a place where I could go and experience joy during very dark times. It provided me with comfort and hope. I’ve been there five times since they’ve reopened in July and I can tell you the magic was never lost. I would much rather see them bring back their employees, open attractions when they’re ready to be opened safely, and offer their guests a safe environment to enjoy with their families. Let’s also not forget, Disney is a business that has to ensure they stay afloat during uncertain times so we all have a Disney to go back to.

    1. It’s very hard to not stay afloat with $24 billion in the bank. They could’ve paid employees through the entire pandemic and stayed afloat. It’s not really a business in any sort of peril. Sadly, everyone just wants a strong stock price, no matter the world’s situation.

  42. Maybe they’re keeping it a secret… That’s my hope, anyway. And hopefully it will be more than a one-time event .. I still haven’t forgiven Disney for keeping the dragon to a select few the day they celebrated New Fantasyland in December 2012. I was at Epcot the day they unleashed the dragon in the sky. My connection to Disney is I am a 1971 kid. I’m delaying my actual birthday so I can celebrate it with Disney in October. I have been planning on this for 10 years. It’s very special to me that I’m the same age as Magic Kingdom. I waited my whole life to see Cinderella’s castle, finally seeing it for the first time at age 39. I was so excited to see what it looked like inside. Not what I thought but oh well, I love it anyway.

  43. WDW better get woke to the fact that the wokeness has turned people off. I’ll spend my hard earned money elsewhere, tired of the fukk throttle money grab.

  44. Seems like Tom is jumping to conclusions-get off of Disney! And be happy for what we do have and stop with the negative energy-spread good vibes-thanks! Some people will never even get to experience the magic-and only go off of things they see others post-so use your words wisely.

  45. Perfectly said. I’ve been saying for a while now that the heart, tradition, and lineage of Disney is just gone. There seems to be no one left there who has any real understanding or genuine appreciation for Walt’s vision. It’s disheartening. We gave up our APs & DVC three years ago and haven’t looked back.

  46. As a Disney fan who was there in 1971 and will be there in 2021…I AGREE!!!!!!!!

  47. You only have one opportunity to make a first impression and I am dramatically underwhelmed.

    They should have put a full court press on having Trom and Guardians ready (three years under construction??????) for October 1st, 2021 as well as the rat ride. That would have brought in the crowds and balanced them across multiple parks.

    The whole new world song is a misrepresentation and I think Disney lawyers would agree. I understand money is tight but better this than a lame Marvel flick which cost the same.

    As a stockholder, shame Disney for leaving money on the table.

  48. While I understand the sentiment – I do think COVID has really put a damper on the financial position – would you run WDWNT on massive debt, I doubt it (Disney took on 11BL of debt in the last 1.5 years)

    The other point is simple – stop spending your money there – IF enough folks are unhappy about the current state of WDW and stop coming (spending money) something will change – until then stop complaining about it

    1. I don’t think any major corporation should go unchecked, so there’s an important to voicing opinions, especially those shared by many people. Your summation of the financial situation of The Walt Disney Company is not the full, accurate picture.

      1. Fair enough – but you totally ignored my other point – stop going – if you you and many others that felt like you stopped spending their hard earned money and went to say Universal instead perhaps things might change

      2. And one other thing –

        I am totally with you that this company is totally driven on IP and squeezing every penny out of everything – my family and I own 1000 DVC points because we love coming and we are seriously considering selling them because it is being run like a flaming pile of poo by Chapek and his ilk – so that is why I am saying stop going – that’s what we are thinking

        At every turn it seems money is driver of all decision making at
        The Company”- but as a small business owner myself I do want to be at least cognizant of the massive debt incurred

  49. Unfortunately, Disney is no longer interested in showing an appreciation for the past, it’s own history, Guest nostalgia, nor Walt’s legacy. They are only interested in their own optics and woke/social justice agenda. It is no longer the company it once was. Heartbreaking for us die hard fans.

  50. Exactly!

    After visiting during things like Happiest Celebration on Earth and Year of a Million Dreams, I was already pumped for what possibilities the 50th of WDW could bring. I can’t believe that as we get closer to the 50th, I am actually considering giving it a complete pass. I’m not coming to celebration construction zones and rides they didn’t bother to finish.

    50 years is a significant milestone and needs the proper recognition. Paint on gateways and some blinky lights isn’t enough.

    For some arguing against nostalgia: the proper thing would be a balance – a celebration of the things that got us to this date, as well as some new things that lead us into the next 50.

    Disney has done this well before. They know how to do it and the fact they aren’t putting something better together shows they don’t care.

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