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Walt Disney World celebrates its 50th anniversary with a whole host of new rides

Dubbed "the world's most magical celebration," the 18-month-long festivities kicked off on October 1, 2021 and will continue through to April 2023.
We headed to Florida to experience the fun at the theme park's 50th birthday

We headed to Florida to experience the fun at the theme park's 50th birthday

Neasa Cumiskey

When my parents were 24 years old, they celebrated their honeymoon by taking a trip to the States for the first time, where they visited Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida.

Fast forward 36 years, and at the exact same age, I made my way over to the 'most magical place on earth' without a husband - but with memories to last a lifetime.

Bubbling with excitement, I was eager to learn about the new attractions, night time spectaculars, and magical moments Walt Disney World has introduced in honour of the resort's 50th anniversary.

Dubbed "the world's most magical celebration," the 18-month-long festivities kicked off on October 1, 2021 and will continue through to April 2023.

After a quick stopover in London and a nine-hour flight to Orlando with Virgin Atlantic, I finally landed on Disney property, parking myself at the Board Walk Inn, an idyllic hotel right in the heart of Disney's Board Walk and just a ten-minute stroll from the entrance to Epcot (Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow).

Neasa Cumiskey with her hosts

Neasa Cumiskey with her hosts

To mark the resort's golden jubilee, each of the four parks (Magic Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, Epcot, and Animal Kingdom) have received a Disney makeover.

At Magic Kingdom, the most visited of all the parks, Cinderella Castle shines as it welcomes guests with glistening gold bunting wrapped along its turrets, as well as shimmering embellishments and a dazzling 50th anniversary emblem just above the portcullis.

Iconic structures at the parks have also been transformed at night into stunning Beacons of Magic, illuminating the resort with their iridescent glow.

Cinderella Castle, the Tree of Life at Animal Kingdom, the Hollywood Tower Hotel at Hollywood Studios, and Epcot's Spaceship Earth each come to life after dark with a mesmerising luminescence, and will continue to do so well after the 50th anniversary celebrations wrap up.

The incredible fireworks at the famous theme park

The incredible fireworks at the famous theme park

The parks are also scattered with dozens of golden character sculptures to mark the occasion - more than fifty Disney favourites are featured in total, making for an exciting scavenger hunt for young and old.

I was personally delighted to see Winnie the Pooh and Piglet were represented in the line-up.

During my time at Walt Disney World, I also caught a glimpse into the park's future in terms of thrill rides and experiences.

While riding the People Mover at Magic Kingdom, a small train that brings guests on a tour of the retro-futuristic Tomorrowland, I was able to peer inside the construction zone of the upcoming TRON Lightcycle Power Run rollercoaster.

Although Disney hasn't officially announced an opening date for TRON, it's likely that the ride will open late this year or in early 2023.

But by far the most exciting opportunity I was afforded was the chance to preview the new Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind attraction, before it opened to the public on May 27.

Debuting as part of the 50th anniversary celebrations, the ride is a whole load of firsts: the first rollercoaster at Epcot, the first Walt Disney World attraction to feature the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise, the first reverse-launch for a Disney coaster, and the first Disney omnicoaster - meaning the car rotates on the track (this one whirls around 360 degrees) to keep guests pointed towards the action.

Neasa got a front row seat at the Guardians of the Galaxy experience

Neasa got a front row seat at the Guardians of the Galaxy experience

It's also now officially first on my list of favourite rides at Walt Disney World, dethroning my previous frontrunner, Splash Mountain.

The new family-thrill coaster embodies the fun and spirited energy of the Guardians of the Galaxy films, and parkgoers will be blown away as they're taken on an intergalactic chase through time and space with their favourite Guardians, namely Rocket, Groot, Gamora, and Star-Lord.

To top it all off, the attraction boasts an incredible soundtrack that will have riders grooving in their seats as they race through the cosmos. Guests will hear tracks from the '70s and '80s as they board the coaster, making for a truly unique experience each time they ride.

I couldn't help but sing and dance along as September by Earth, Wind & Fire blared when I first boarded the ride, enjoying the experience so much that I hopped back on for a second dose of Guardians goodness straight away.

Walt Disney World Resort

Walt Disney World Resort

Even the people behind the magic can't get over the sheer magnificence of Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind. When I asked technical director at Walt Disney Imagineering, Mark 'Flounder' Hurst, to sum up the experience in one word, he simply replied: "Wow!"

"Listening to our guests and listening to everyone's reactions, watching their eyes light up at all the right moments - it's an incredible feeling," he told me afterwards.

Of course, no trip to Walt Disney World would be complete without testing out as many attractions as possible - and I managed to cover just about everything.

Disney's Polynesian Village Resort at Walt Disney World Resort

Disney's Polynesian Village Resort at Walt Disney World Resort

From rides that have been in motion since opening day in 1971 like The Haunted Mansion and Jungle Cruise, to modern classics Slinky Dog Dash and Expedition Everest, I can safely say that Walt Disney World really does have something for everyone.

Personally, I prefer the adrenaline-pumping roller coasters (the faster, the better) but there are many great things to be said about dark rides like Pirates of the Caribbean.

In a somewhat tragic series of events, I did get stuck on It's A Small World for a short while and, let me tell you, two minutes feels like an eternity when you're surrounded by hundreds of dolls chanting the same niggling ear-worm over and over with no escape.

But overall, my trip to Walt Disney World was an almighty success and one that will stay with me for a long, long time.

Even as I'm sitting at my desk writing this piece, sipping tea from my Disney mug, I'm grinning as I think back to the wonderful memories I've made.

Who knows, maybe I'll follow in my parents' footsteps and return to Walt Disney World on my honeymoon. I just need to find a husband first.

FACTBOX:

Walt Disney Travel Company is offering 14 nights at Walt Disney World from €1,111 per person based on 2 adults and 2 children sharing a standard view room. The package includes $500 Disney Dining & Merchandise credit, 14-Day Magic Tickets and $200 spending money. Book before July 27, 2022 to travel between August 8 and September 11 2023.


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