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Theme Park News: Disney World ramps up for its 50th anniversary as Disneyland prepares to reopen (sort of)

By Carlye Wisel

There's a lot on deck for theme parks in the coming months, particularly where Disney is concerned. As the East Coast resort prepares for its milestone anniversary, Disneyland Resort takes another step forward on its year-long road toward reopening. We've also got some truly out-of-this-world news. Here's all the theme park news you need to know, in this galaxy and beyond:


Disney California Adventure, one of the two parks comprising Disneyland Resort, will at long last bring guests back into its coastal grounds for a new ticketed dining event starting next month. Attractions will not be in operation as per current California COVID-19 restrictions, and while there will be an aspect of "carefully crafted" entertainment as per Disneyland President Ken Potrock, food and beverage seem to be the main focus here. Still, fans are elated; the experience, offering theme park flavors multiple days per week, will undoubtedly provide a controlled and organized park visit to those with pent-up demand in a region where parks have sat closed for nearly an entire year.

Tickets and details will be announced soon, but it's worth noting Disney California Adventure is uniquely poised to pull off an event of this kind. With each of its themed "lands" already containing ample outdoor seating and wide pathways to spread out from other guests, social distancing should be an easy prospect, particularly with limited ticketed attendance. It's a stretch to say DCA, which recently celebrated its 20th anniversary, was built for this, but if most of its lands are utilized — which a recent union notice seems to confirm — it should, quite literally, be a walk in the park.

Currently, the Buena Vista Street entryway portion of Disney California Adventure is open to day guests for dining and shopping, along with a soundstage operating as additional retail space. Next month's event, however, will allow guests to further walk the park for the first time and enjoy even more theme park tastes that have not been offered since the COVID-related closures last year.

According to the OC Register, over 700 cast members will also return to work the Disney California Adventure event. Knott's Berry Farm, the nearby park which had its own outdoor food festivals in 2020, recently announced the Knotts's Taste of Boysenberry Festival starting March 5.

Interior of the new Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge merchandise store at Downtown Disney

It's not the only newsworthy bit happening at the California resort. Downtown Disney, the mall-like expanse outside the parks, also just transformed a portion of its shuttered Rainforest Cafe into a Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge trading post, selling items such as lightsabers, plush toys, and previously exclusive items as the theme park land sits closed.

Currently, Southern California's COVID-19 numbers are seeing a significant decline following December's peak rates, which put a stay-at-home order into effect over the winter holidays. Theme parks are not allowed to open standard operations until the state's least restrictive tier, but a state bill, which has the support of the Anaheim City Council, seeks to grant larger theme parks the ability to open at the same time as smaller amusement parks.

Artist rendering of Cinderella Castle with 50th Anniversary decor


Disney World has begun ramping towards one heck of a birthday bash. The Florida theme park resort's 50th anniversary kicks off this October, and the first details of what guests will see have been revealed, including Cinderella Castle getting some new gilded touches upon its turrets, special new costumes for Mickey and Minnie Mouse, and some welcomed late-night entertainment.

In the first of what's likely to be many announcements, Disney Parks confirmed to Good Morning America that each of the four parks will have a sparkling "nighttime glow," offering special seasonal illuminations throughout the resort. The celebration will also last for 18 months, extending festivities into early 2023. It's somewhat of a relief for anyone who may not have been ready to travel even by the end of this year, allowing them to plan accordingly knowing they won't miss out on the celebration.

Artist rendering of Epcot's Spaceship Earth at nighttime

Epcot's version of the nighttime display signals something much more significant, likely in tandem with the overhaul currently happening throughout the Future World section of the park. According to Imagineer Zach Riddley, whose social media posts can double as a news release intended for and delivered directly to the most passionate of fans, Epcot's lighting features will "emerge" from the structure and "'connect' with one another, resembling shimmering stars in a nighttime sky." The color scheme of the iconic structure will be maintained and preserved, but "accentuated through new colors and intensity."

We're waiting for further details of what guests can expect for the celebration — and how Spaceship Earth will sport lights that poke out of its frame? — but with the anniversary clocking a year and a half from the get-go, it's looking more likely that some future projects that weren't publicly slated to open in 2021, like the Tron Lightcycle Power Run coaster, could still "open" during the 50th festivities.


And, if that wasn't enough Disney news this week, the most unexpected announcement I've personally ever seen came yesterday morning when Joe Rohde, famed Disney Imagineer, revealed he'd set his sights on a different horizon: space.

The artist, designer, and living legend behind experiences like Aulani and Animal Kingdom announced his retirement from Walt Disney Imagineering in late November. Now, nearly two months after his final day at the mouse house, he's announced his latest gig as Virgin Galactic's experience architect.

There's an extra Disney touch here, too. The company, which intends to boost and expand upon space exploration as the world's first commercial spaceline, is currently run by CEO Michael Colglazier, a former Disney exec who most recently headed the company's international theme park division. Amy Jupiter, another Imagineer who recently left the company, joins Rohde in the mission to bring experiential design honed on Earth into the great beyond.

Not too shabby of a retirement!


- New York amusement parks now have a pathway to reopening, as outdoor parks will have the ability to open with limited capacity in April.

- Walt Disney World Swan & Dolphin Hotel is now accepting reservations for its new Swan Reserve tower.

- Hong Kong Disneyland has now reopened.

- This Orlando Sentinel tax loophole story has everything: cows, scapegoats, and big business.

- Epcot was testing fireworks last night...

- Disneyland is offering refunds for unused "Sip and Savor" passes from the 2020 Food and Wine Festival.