Best Things That Happened at Walt Disney World in 2021
In some parallel universe, Walt Disney World didn’t experience the madness of the past two years.
Somehow, all the aggravations helped make some stuff that happened this year feel that much more enjoyable.
Here are the best things that happened at Walt Disney World This Year.
The 50th Anniversary Arrives
When we look back at the day that Walt Disney World turned 50, we’ll share some level of amazement and possibly even some puzzlement.
How did Disney pull off such a grand feat during a pandemic? I’ll never understand this, but it’s a credit to the remarkable drive of cast members.
For the past several years, park officials had pointed to October 1st, 2021, as one of the most significant dates ever at Walt Disney World.
Nobody was about to let a pandemic stand in the way of a good time. So, Disney stubbornly proceeded with its ambitious plans.
Eventually, one of the largest social gatherings since March 2020 occurred on that fateful day.
Guests lined up to relish the atmosphere of this once-in-a-lifetime event. It’ll be another 25 if not 50 years before we witness a spectacle like this.
For one day, park officials rolled back the clock by bringing back the opening day pianist at Casey’s Corner.
Main Street, U.S.A. demonstrated its timeless nature by mimicking the same spot as 1971. Sure, the place had grown, but it felt the same.
As for Cinderella Castle, that beauty shined in a way that wasn’t even possible in 1971. That’s the magic of Imagineering.
Everyone loved the 50th-anniversary celebration so much that we all agreed to keep the party going through March of 2023!
I legitimately spent the body of a year answering the same question: When will fireworks return at Walt Disney World?
Park officials performed several tests, but those weren’t about an expected return date.
Disney faced an unprecedented situation with its fireworks downtime. There’s a lot of flammable materials and power supplies involved.
Management needed to know that the fireworks infrastructure remained safe. The whole thing felt like a tease, though.
Finally, on July 1st, 2021, everyone got their wish. Fireworks returned in time for the Independence Day holiday celebration. And that wasn’t even the best part.
On October 1st, park officials unveiled not one but two new nighttime presentations.
We had expected Harmonious for a couple of years, and it didn’t disappoint. Still, the surprise was Disney Enchantment, which will only run through the 50th-anniversary event.
Both shows take Disney Imagineering to new heights with their digital projections.
Plus, they both felt more magical since we’d gone without them for more than a year!
Park Hopping Returns
Something else people missed badly was Park Hopping.
During calendar 2020, Park Passes only went one way. When you reserved a spot at a park, that was it. You could only visit that place for the day.
Thankfully, on January 1st, 2021, Disney restored one of its best amenities.
On that date, guests could switch parks at 2 p.m. At Walt Disney World, in particular, Park Hopping represents a vital part of a visit.
Disney operates four different theme parks in Orlando. So it was downright cruel that we couldn’t visit more than one of them on the same day.
So, the instant that Park Hopping returned, guests went nuts. They excitedly spent their days at multiple parks, experiencing everything that Walt Disney World has to offer.
The PeopleMover Reopens
Everyone has a favorite reopening during the pandemic. This one is mine.
Even before Walt Disney World closed due to Coronavirus concerns, the Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover had already closed.
This attraction suffered several alarming setbacks, including smoke emanating from the escalator at the base of the ride.
Imagineers needed to fix many lingering problems on the PeopleMover. In a way, the pandemic proved the perfect opportunity to overhaul the ride.
Disney reinforced the very foundation of the PeopleMover to ensure that it’d work safely for another generation of park fans.
When the ride finally reopened in April, it was legitimately better than it had been in decades! And it’s still the sneaky-best attraction at Tomorrowland!
Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure Opens
The timing of Walt Disney World’s 2020 closure was remarkable. Disney had opened its latest E-ticket attraction, Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway, mere days before then.
Meanwhile, Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure was reportedly less than three months away from its debut.
Alas, when EPCOT reopened, social gatherings were a huge no-no. There was simply no way that Disney could open a new ride then.
Crowds would have swarmed the France pavilion, defeating the purpose of many health and safety measures.
By October 1st, most of the adult population had gotten vaccinated, though. At that point, Disney could safely open the gates to Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure.
So, guests happily flocked to the Ratatouille ride to live out Remy’s story in an exciting new way.
How good is Ratatouille? A dear friend of mine, a Slinky Dog Dash fanatic, texted me as soon as he exited Ratatouille to tell me it was the best thing at Disney!
Space 220 Debuts
Here’s another massive success story for Disney.
Space 220’s pre-opening luck seemed so bad that I wondered if Madame Leota had cursed the place.
After two years of trying but failing to debut, the restaurant finally arrived in September.
Since then, the place has garnered nothing but glowing praise due to its unique menu and unforgettable setting.
At Space 220, the theming is so immersive that you’ll believe that you’re traveling into outer space.
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You’ll board a space elevator (Disney calls it the Stellarvator) and spend a couple of minutes exploding into space.
Afterward, you’ll enter a space station and sit down for your meal. But, of course, since you’re 220 miles above the Earth, your view looks a bit different.
You’re watching your home planet from high above. Also, some other astronauts and even a space station spin around.
High-tech digital displays create this illusion that you’re really orbiting Earth. It’s amazing! For that matter, so are the food and drinks.
Not coincidentally, this place is always sold out. In fact, Disney recently started offering reservations for lounge seating…and it sold out, too!
Creations Shop and Club Cool Arrive
Disney has spent the body of the pandemic transforming EPCOT into its next form.
This process will take several more years, but 2021 featured a strong start.
For starters, Disney officially closed Future World as a themed land.
In its place, EPCOT added three new themed lands: World Celebration, World Discovery, and World Nature.
World Celebration previously included the land that hosted the beloved Mouse Gear.
Disney officials closed that shop to create a more modern place, which finally debuted in 2021.
Creations Shop provides a stylish backdrop while you’re shopping. It also includes much splashier colors than Mouse Gear.
As a Disney fanatic and historian, I’m still a bit bummed about the name change. Creations Shop is night and day better than the old Mouse Gear, though.
Alongside this store, Disney added Club Cool. It’s a new location for the Coca-Cola shop that offers Disney’s best prank.
Yes, the Beverly is back! Trick your friends into tasting it and then laugh as they recoil in horror!
The Candlelight Processional Returns
Nothing felt stranger about a Disney holiday visit last year than the absence of the Candlelight Processional.
This elaborate performance of the Nativity Story features celebrity narrators, orchestral accompaniment, and choral hymns.
When the Candlelight Processional returned for 2021, everything felt right with the world. And that’s why it’s one of the toughest tickets in town to book!
I’m still not sure what the purpose of this D23 event was. Ordinarily, when Disney schedules these, it wants to announce massive projects coming to the parks.
Destination D23 felt more like a pep talk. It was a “hooray for Disney!” conference at a place where everyone visiting had come for Disney entertainment anyway.
In some ways, the whole thing felt like when your car manufacturer emails you to congratulate you on your purchase.
Despite these nitpicks about the necessity of the event, Destination D23 still stands out as a significant highlight at Walt Disney World in 2021.
Why do I say that? Because it was a giant social gathering! Merely by hosting this event, Disney proved that we were past the worst of the pandemic!
In your face, Coronavirus! Walt Disney World’s back and better than ever! I can’t wait to see what the parks have in store for 2022!
Feature Image: Kent Phillips