Walt Disney World Changes for 2021: The 50th Anniversary

Walt Disney World Changes for 2021: The 50th Anniversary

 If you haven’t been to Disney World in the last few years you are in for some big changes! There are supposed to be 50 Changes implemented at Walt Disney World by the 50th Anniversary. This includes things as big as new lands, and as small as new character meet and greets. Apart from all the planning now needed to make the most of your trip, you’ll also see new Disney Rides, Disney Restaurants, Shows and Lands. BUT, you’ll also see some of your favorite things retire. With Walt Disney World making significant changes every year to meet demand and continue challenging Universal Studios, even more changes are coming in preparation of the anniversary of Walt Disney World in 2021. The list were going to share here may seem insurmountable, but we guarantee Disney knows what they’re doing. 

If you’re one of the fortunate souls who visit Walt Disney World often then some of this list will seem old to you. For the most part these are the big changes we’ve seen over the last few years and the ones that are on the horizon before 2021. Note that we’re also including things that are leaving on Walt Disney World, so you can be prepared on your next visit.

Walt Disney World Vacation Planning Changes

If you haven’t been to Walt Disney World in the last few years you may not have gotten a chance to do your own DIY planning via the My Disney Experience app, have a go at fast pass booking ( p.s. its not on paper anymore), or experience the joy of magic bands! Here’s the big planning changes we’ve seen. And if you need a fresh look at how to do the whole planning thing check out our 12 step post.

  • Introduction of Magic Bands as identifier for park ticket, resort key, and fast pass band.
  • Introduction of more streamlined Fast Passes. 
  • A stricter Disney Planning Timeline for Restaurant and Fast Pass reservations.
  • The My Disney Experience App gets an overhaul in summer 2018 with interaction between family members planned, as well potentially being able to unlock your resort room with the app.

Magic Kingdom Bucket list Best Rides, Best Food

Changes Coming to Walt Disney World

( and some that are most recent)

Magic Kingdom Changes

  • Introduction of the Hub Grass in front of Cinderellas Castle, for lounging and dessert parties.
  • Wreck it Ralph Attraction to replaces Stitch’s Great Escape by 2022
  • Skipper Canteen Jungle Cruise Restaurant comes to Adventureland
  • Happily Ever After Fireworks Show replaces Wishes
  • New Fireworks Show coming to Mickey’s Halloween Party 2019
  • Cruella’s Halloween Hide-A-Way comes to Tony’s as an upcharge Dinner Package in 2019
  • Mickey’s Halloween Party adds 3 new ride overlays at Big Thunder Mountain, Monster’s Inc Laugh Floor and Peoplemover
  • Walt Disney World Railroad, Temporarily Closed intermittently throughout 2019
  • PeopleMover Refurbishments including new areas and scenes within the ride
  • Tomorrowland Speedway Refurbish to match Tron, late 2018 temporary closure.
  • Carousel of Progress Updates, to start in 2019
  • The Main Street Electrical Light Parade Retired 2018
  • Stitch’s Great Escape Closed; now features a character meet and greet with Stitch ( temporary)
  • Instagram darling, The Purple Wall, is refreshed with geometric graphics.
  • Tron Lightcycle roller coaster is started, completion by 2021 in Tomorrowland
  • The Incredibles overlay takes over Tomorrowland with new photo ops Summer 2018
  • Cosmic Rays debuts new outdoor eating area to match Tron Lightcycle theme
  • Magician Mickey Character Meet and Greet no longer includes a “talking Mickey”
  • Pirates of the Caribbean ride removed the “up for sale” Red Head character and makes her a pirate instead.
  • Move it, Shake it, Dance it, Play it Parade retires December 1, 2018.
  • Move It! Shake It! MousekeDance It! Street Party featuring a Mickey Mouse club soundtrack remix starts Jan 18 2019.
  • The Hidden Pascal game is introduced at the Rapunzel Tangled Tower Bathroom area 2016.
  • Introduction of Elsa’s Frozen Holiday Wish show to light the castle at Christmas
  • Captain Jack’s Pirate Tutorial retires September 30 2018.

Walt Disney World Changes coming for the 50th Anniversary in 2021. Disney changes in Disney Parks

free disney planning video

Epcot Changes

Epcot is getting a major overhaul, so we won’t be able to cover all of it here, but here’s some of the ones currently completed or in process.

  • Choza de Margarita, a permanent outdoor food kitchen, is added to Mexico
  • Ellen’s Universe of Energy closes. 
  • Leave a Legacy walls come down at Epcot Spring 2019.
  • Interactive Play Pavilion in Wonders of Life Building
  • Liberty Inn Restaurant in America, Epcot closes July 8, 2019.
  • Regal Eagle Smokehouse Craft Drafts & Barbecue replaces Liberty Inn, late 2019.
  • Guardians of the Galaxy indoor “storytelling” Rollercoaster. Completion by 2021.
  • Circle of Life with Timon and Pumba closes at The Land building
  • Addition of an Authentic French Creperie is announced for Epcot France
  • A New Movie, Awesome Planet, arrives at The Land Pavilion replacing Circle of Life in 2020
  • Frozen Ever After replaces Maelstrom
  • Spaceship Earth will close for 2 years once Epcot entrance construction starts
  • Takumi Tei, an artisan Japanese restaurant, set to open in Japan Epcot, Summer 2019.
  • Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure begins construction in France Epcot, proposed opening in 2020
  • Mary Poppins ride Rumored for UK. Talk of a dark ride, or flat ride ( like a carousel) are hinted.
  • Plans to remove “Leave a Legacy” Memorial Gardens. Pictures relocated somewhere else to allow new entrance.
  • Starbucks in Epcot Plaza will be moving and Club Cool may be found elsewhere in the parks as Innoventions West is slated for removal.
  • Space Station Restaurant begins construction/ Epcot Future World, near Mission Space. Summer 2019
  • The Spike the Bee Pollen-Nation scavenger hunt game is introduced at Flower and Garden Festival 2018
  • Illuminations: Reflections of Earth night time show set to be retired in 2018 and changed to Windows on the World sometime in 2020. An interim show called “Epcot Forever” will start in 2019 with lasers, fireworks and more! Epcot Forever Opens Oct 1, 2019.
  • Possible Coco overlay coming to Gran Tour Fiesta Boat ride in Mexico, Epcot. Rumored.
  • New Chinese film to replace old film in China/ Epcot, seamless 360 circle-vision by 2020
  • New Canada 360 to premiere with Festival of the Arts in 2020
  • Mission Space adds “Green Mission” ride storylines
  • Soarin’ Update happened in 2016 changed to Soaring Around the World
  • Beauty and the Beast sing along will be added to Epcot France before 2021.
  • Introduction of the International Festival of the Arts in January/February as a new annual festival in 2017
  • Major Overhaul of Epcot before 2021 with emphasis on greenery and connection across spaces. Notice the port of call gift shops domed roofs to match Spaceship Earth. Planned name for area is Gardens of Wonder

up a great bird adventure animal kingdom

Animal Kingdom Changes

If you haven’t gotten to Pandora: World of Avatar at Animal Kingdom yet, know that this lands popularity has ranked Animal Kingdom in the #2 most popular theme park spot, second to Magic Kingdom. Lots of people, lots of awesome, lots going on.

  • Pandora, World of Avatar Opens Spring 2017
    • Flight of the Banshee
    • Na’vi River Ride
    • Satuli Canteen Quick Service
    • Pongu Pongu Counter Service
  • Rivers of Light Night show debuts in 2017, changes to Rivers of Light: We Are One in 2019.
  • Rivers Of Light Dessert Party debuts 2018
  • Diwali, the India Festival of Lights is added to the Up! A Great Bird Adventure show during Christmas.
  • Tiffin’s Restaurant opens in 2017
  • Hakuna Matata Dance Party with Timon and Rafiki starts on Discovery Island 2019
  • Tree of Life Awakenings digital show opens, adds a NEW Lion King overlay for 2019
  • Introduction of Kevin, from Up as wandering character at Animal Kingdom
  • Rafiki’s Planet Watch Conservation Center set to close 2018. Open Summer 2019 temporarily.
  • Flights of Wonder Closes, replaced by Up! A Great Bird Adventure.
  • Animal Kingdom’s parade is removed from the programming schedule
  • Kilmanjaro Safari adds evening safari rides
  • The Lion King Hakuna Matata Time Dance Party starts on Discovery Island Jan 18, 2019
  • Donald Duck’s Birthday Bash takes on a potentially permanent setup in Dinoland
  • Rumors of an Indiana Jones ride to replace Dinosaur ride.


Hollywood Studios Changes

Hollywood Studios has been under construction for about two years. With quite a bit still to do,Hollywood Studios and Epcot are the parks that will have the biggest changes going into the 50th Anniversary in 2021.

  • New park logo in 2019. 
  • “Studio” Parking lot names are replaced by character names, preparing to remove studio theming of park. 
  • Fantasmic is refreshed 2017
  • Hollywood Studio’s 30th Anniversary 2019 starts Jan 18, 2019. 
  • 2019 brings additional pop-up shows including The Incredibles installation at Pixar Place, offering character meet and greets from Jan 18- Sept 30 2019
  • Meet and Greet with Toy Story 4 Bo Peep arrives at Toy Story Land Summer 2019.
  • New Mike and Sully Meet and Greet in the One Man’s Dream building opens 2019.
  • Additional Star Tours storylines added for a possibility of 26 different ride experiences
  • A new version of Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular with a new story line debuts summer 2021.
  • Citizens of Hollywood street show scaled back, some street shows retired.
  • Star Wars Land opening Aug 29,2019. Land will open in phases.
    • Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run Ride: A new ride with simulations similar to Pandora’s Flight of Passage.
    • Rise of the Resistance Ride
    • Cantina Quick Serve and various food carts
    • Cantina Table Service Immersion Restaurant
    • Galactic Datapad App is planned for immersion experience
  • Toy Story Land opens June 30 2018
    • Slinky Dog Dash
    • Alien Swirling Saucers
    • Woody’s Lunch Box Quick Serve
    • Expansion to Toy Story Land announced May 2019, bring a new full service restaurant, Roundup Rodeo BBQ.
  • The Great Movie Ride closes.
  • Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway takes over the Chinese Theater Spring 2020.
  • Star Wars Galaxy Nights, Star Wars Launch Bay and the Star Wars March of the Storm Troopers premier in 2016/2017
  • Lighting McQueen’s Racing Academy show and meet and greet. Spring 2019, near Rock N Roller Coaster.
  • Backlot Express Quick Service is now Star Wars themed
  • Grand Avenue is built as a way to manage incoming crowds to Star Wars Land
  • Baseline Tap House added on Grand Avenue
  • Introduction of Sunset Seasons Greetings show at Christmas
  • Wonderful World of Animation Nighttime Show to celebrate 30th anniversary. ( This is not a replacement for fantasmic). May 2019
AT D23 EXPO 2017, DISNEY PARKS CHAIRMAN BOB CHAPEK ANNOUNCES NEW STAR WARS-THEMED HOTEL FOR WALT DISNEY WORLD RESORT — During D23 Expo 2017, Walt Disney Parks & Resorts Chairman Bob Chapek announced plans to create the most experiential concept ever in an immersive Star Wars-themed hotel at Walt Disney World Resort. Dedicated entirely to the galaxy of Star Wars, it will be a one-of-a-kind experience where a luxury resort meets a multi-day adventure in a galaxy far, far away.

Disney Resort Changes

One of the biggest ways Disney is meeting the needs of more guests is by upgrading current resorts and establishing new resorts. Disney resorts are and have been going under refurbishment or scheduled to before the 2021 deadline. The River Country resort is a very new development and not set to be completed by 2021. 

    • Refurbishments begin at Saratoga Springs
    • Citricos at The Grand Floridian will become Victoria and Albert’s Bistro, may complete by end of 2021. 
    • The Beauty and Beast inspired Bar and Lounge at Grand Floridian open Fall 2019
    • The Coronado Springs Gran Destino Tower Refurbishment completed in 2019
    • Disney Riviera Resort and Villas will open as a new DVC property Dec 16, 2019.
    • Topolino Terrace, a rooftop restaurant atop Riviera set to open Fall 2019. 
    • Star Wars Immersion Resort to be added next to Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge.
    • Caribbean Beach Resort construction makes way for gondola Skyliner system. 
    • Caribbean Beach Resort construction completes December 2018
    • Sebastians Bistro opens as Caribbean Beach’s new Table Service Restaurant.
    • Coronado Springs adds Toledo Tapas Restaurant, on the rooftop, set to open Summer 2019. 
    •  New DVC Resort called ” Reflections: A Disney Lakeside Lodge” announced to cover River Country Water Park site, located between campgrounds and Wilderness Lodge. TBD 2022
    • Skyliner gondola stations added to Caribbean Beach/ Disney’s Riviera Resort and Pop Century/Art of Animation. Disney Skyliner Gondolas set to open September 29, 2019. Check out all the details about the Disney Skyliner Gondola Transportation System.

    walt disney world transportation minnie van rental lyft

    Walt Disney World Changes Park Wide

    At all four parks Disney has done things to connect, make things easier and offer new experiences. The transportation efforts have been to offset huge crowd increases. See our 5 rules to keep from getting locked out if the parks it maximum capacity.

    • Dessert Parties and special viewing areas are added for most evening shows, available at an additional cost.
    • Club 33 locations are being built in all four parks
    • All 4 Disney Parks now serve alcohol with meals
    • The Disney Skyliner system is confirmed for a September 29, 2019 opening date. The central hub will be at the Caribbean Beach Resort. Stations will be available at Disney’s Art of Animation/ Pop Century Resorts, Disney’s Riviera Resort, Epcot International Gateway, and Hollywood Studios Main Gate.
    • Minnie Van Service available for guests at all Disney Resorts
    • The broken walkway from Magic Kingdom that leads to the Grand Floridian is set to be connected providing another option for walking guests to avoid the monorail or buses. 

    Disney Springs Changes

    Disney Springs has been morphing ever since it stopped being Downtown Disney. Now a fairly upscale shopping and restaurant experience Disney springs is continually adding amazing things to the non-park day experience. We love that you don’t have to pay admission or have a ticket to the parks to enjoy Disney Springs. And that the Disney busses still bring you there! Here’s some of the new things. 

    • Wolfgang Puck Bar and Grill opens
    • Jaleo, a new Spanish restaurant featuring tapas opens
    • City Works Eatery and Pour House featuring craft beers is set to open in summer 2019
    • The Chicken Guy, Guy Fieri’s quick serve restaurant open
    • Pepe by Jose Andres opens
    • World of Disney store is refurbished
    • New Mac and Cheese Food Truck
    • NBA Experience opens Aug 12, 2019. 

To see all the main upcoming changes see Disney’s website here. We’ll be sharing all the new things as they pop up so stay tuned! If you’re interested in some of the changes over at Disneyland, check out the Disneyland section of our blog.

If you got questions, reach out! A lot is happening!

walt disney world changes to happen before the 20th anniversary at walt disney world #disneychanges #disneynews #disneytips #disney2021

7 thoughts on “Walt Disney World Changes for 2021: The 50th Anniversary”

  • Great list! With all the new changes when do you think it best to take a second trip – I like to go at the least busiest times

  • Typically the best times are around Jan-Feb and again August-October. Both of these times in 2019/2020 should be OK crowd wise, because a lot of people are either going to wait for Star Wars Galaxy Edge to open late November and go then, or skip 2020 altogether and just plan their “big trip” in 2021 when the anniversary festivities are in full swing and all the new stuff is open.You never can tell with the crowds, but these months do tend to be the lowest each year.

  • Looking at a family holiday for the anniversary 2021. Dilemma.. Do I being them over in the April May when it’s good weather and the crowds are not manic or wait till the Oct when the anniversary kicks in but the crowds will be UNBEARABLE??

  • Hey Paula! We think the whole year of 2021 is gonna be pretty busy! Celebrations actually start late 2020 in preparation for the 50th Anniversary, so we’d say base it on the weather or the ride you most want open. Waiting until October 2021 may not get you more of an advantage than going in May. We don’t know exact open dates for the big rides like Ratatouille, or Tron, but by May 2021 Runaway Railway will be open, Star Wars Land will be complete and the Guardians of the Galaxy Ride will be done. Ratatouille is slated for a late 2020 opening rumored right now. The only ride you may have to wait until October for will be Tron. Hope that helps!

  • Hi, you said Star Wars was three months behind schedule – does that mean we’re still looking at a Fall 2019 opening? We’re planning our first ever trip for Feb 2020 and Star Wars is high on the list of must-dos!

  • Hey Adele! So at this point, Galaxy’s Edge has been pushed back to open in “late” fall, which leaves it pretty vague. We anticipate it will open after a series of soft openings, so by your trip in February 2020, we’re guessing the crowds will be a tiny bit lower than the first couple of months after opening and hopefully they will have a lot of the bugs worked out by then!

  • Congratulations on your future and first ever trip. Regardless of when you go you going be amazed. Don’t rush and just let yourself sink into the Magic!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.