With the 50th Anniversary roughly one year away and Walt Disney World looking for ways to get guests back to the parks once they reopen, there’s the opportunity for some splashy seasonal entertainment in 2021. In this post, we take a look at WDW’s best options for luring guests and longtime fans back, giving a needed shot in the arm to Florida tourism.
For this post, we’re aiming to take a practical view of what really could return, and within the span of a year. While we spend a lot of time on this blog waxing nostalgic about EPCOT Center (our 10 Worst Walt Disney World Attraction Replacements is very EPCOT-heavy), the reality is that extinct omnimover attractions are never coming back. It’s highly unlikely that any long gone ride is coming back, no matter much we might want it–and how good of an idea it might be.
However, there are some more recent things gone from Walt Disney World that could come back, and that’s what we want to focus on here. Making this a “top” 10 list and simply rehashing the Epcot rides we miss the most would’ve been the easy route. Instead, we’ll focus on 10 things that we really miss, but that could conceivably return in some form, be it direct restorations or ‘spiritual successors’ that embody the same characteristics and quality…
Since the closure of Walt Disney World and ensuing economic recession, we’ve updated this list to focus on nostalgic entertainment and seasonal offerings that could conceivably be brought back within the span of a year. While this might seem like idle daydreaming, Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary is just around the corner, and Disney is going to need to do something to bolster attendance at a time when many Americans are fearful of travel or having trouble justifying it from a financial perspective.
There’s actually strong precedent for Walt Disney World leveraging entertainment during a time like this. Summer Nightastic was a free event that occurred during the Great Recession, and was highlighted by a return of Main Street Electrical Parade plus the superlative Magic, Music & Mayhem fireworks (previously from the Pirate & Princess Party, below). Offering a substantive celebration that brings back some Walt Disney World fan favorites could be just what is needed to boost attendance next year…
The Lights of Winter was not a huge-scale offering, but perfectly set the mood for Christmas in Epcot. These archways ran between Future World and World Showcase, and were abruptly “retired” (to put it charitably) one year due to technical issues. For the next few years, many fans hoped their infrastructure would be updated and they’d return, but I think that hope has mostly dissipated. With that said, these could still be rebuilt and restored on short notice, and would give Epcot a shot in the arm during the Christmas season. Perhaps not a bad idea as the park is a veritable unfinished construction site.
9. Happiest Celebration on Earth – Originally, Year of a Million Dreams made our list here. We really enjoyed that event, and a big part of that was surprise Magical Moments awarded by the Dream Squad. We “won” ears twice and got to ride in Mickey’s Jammin’ Jungle Parade during the event. It was a great way to make guests feel special and valued. However, after hearing more and more stories of guest entitlement, I worry that too many people would feel they were owed a Magical Moment, and complain when they didn’t receive one. (A few bad apples…)
Moreover, with Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary on the horizon, I wonder if perhaps something akin to the Happiest Celebration on Earth, which ran globally during Disneyland’s 50th Anniversary, would be more appropriate. A worldwide event paying tribute to Walt Disney World and celebrating the legacy of the theme parks would be cool. The Happiest Celebration on Earth was really the first time we heard much about the international parks, and it’d be cool for each of the parks to pay tribute to one another with a focus on Walt Disney World’s history and legacy.
8. Extinct Foods – My official vote here is for Figaro Fries, the loaded fries that used to be offered in Fantasyland. There are also several desserts and a sandwich I miss at Sunshine Seasons, and a couple holiday cupcakes I really miss. Bringing any of these back would be easy, and could make sense as part of special 50th Anniversary menus.
7. Timekeeper or Alien Encounter – These are the only two attractions on the list, both because Tomorrowland ’94 was a huge hit for me as a kid and they would be fairly easy to bring back with retrofits to existing venues that could be accomplished in under 6 months (less than the time it took to create Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout!)
Let’s start with Alien Encounter. First, Stitch’s Great Escape reused a lot of the same infrastructure, props, and effects…just with a far worse execution. Restoring Alien Encounter would be far easier than creating something new from a blank slate. Second, Walt Disney World demographics skew more adult every year, and Tomorrowland in particular will soon be a land that caters towards an older (or at least taller) audience. Finally, Alien Encounter was just flat-out good.
As for Timekeeper, I loved the time travel components, historical figures, and the animated personality Robin Williams (probably one of the most recognizable actors to any child of the 90s) gave to Timekeeper. What went over my head at the time–that I think I’d appreciate today–was the range of filming locations beyond the Eiffel Tower. Bringing back this CircleVision 360 film wouldn’t be that tough.
6. Adventurers Club – Another one that’s never coming back–at least, not in its former home or original form. Nevertheless, I think a concept similar to the Adventurers Club would be well-received and popular among Walt Disney World’s growing adult audience. It was quirky and unique–a better and more polished incarnation of an entertainment style that’s very popular right now.
The potential for Adventurers Club to return is aided by the fact that its original Cast Members still reunite for private events on a regular basis–we’ve attended multiple (one held outside at Beach Club is pictured above). With plenty of unused venues at Walt Disney World, it’d be easy enough to bring Adventurers Club back on a “limited time magic” basis for the 50th Anniversary.
5. Pirate & Princess Party – Modern Walt Disney World may be reluctant to offer free special events when a hard-ticket event is a possibility. In the case of the Pirate & Princess Party, we’d be willing to pay. We are guessing 99% of you reading this post never experienced the Pirate & Princess Party; the event occurred at various times for a couple of summers before the Great Recession, but was so sparsely attended that it was canceled.
We attended only once, but loved the Enchanted Adventures Parade, the fireworks, and the moody atmosphere of the event. If Magic Kingdom would run this parade during Disney After Hours, that would be the nudge we need to buy tickets to that event.
4. IllumiNations or Wishes – There are already rumors that Harmonious will be significantly delayed, and if Epcot wants a quick shot in the arm, bringing back IllumiNations on October 1, 2021 after a two-year hiatus would definitely draw locals and long-time fans back. If that’s the route Walt Disney World opts to go, we’d like to see some improvements to the show (especially since elements of it were dismantled), but we aren’t picky.
As for Wishes…we were not the biggest fans. We think Happily Ever After is far superior. However, maybe a decent compromise would be alternating the two fireworks shows, or even offering Wishes during once per week special events nights dedicated to nostalgic entertainment. How cool would it be to have a 90s Nite with Wishes, SpectroMagic, Diamond Horseshoe Revue, and Push the Talking Trashcan?!
3. Country Bear Christmas – Assuming the costumes and props are still backstage somewhere (a bold assumption, to be sure), Country Bear Christmas could run this year with only a short refurbishment to accomplish the changeover. Tokyo Disneyland still runs this show every holiday season, and it is glorious. Some might say jovial bears singing Christmas carols captures the true spirit of the season.
Despite blogs like this one extolling the virtues of Country Bear Jamboree, the show is not all that popular, and it’s arguable that the investment wouldn’t be worth it to do the Christmas version. Setting aside the fact that popularity is a terrible barometer of quality, I’d argue that Christmas music has more universal appeal. With November and December attendance at Magic Kingdom surging since the show last ran in the mid-aughts, Country Bear Christmas would be a great way to soak up some of those crowds.
I really hope there is a nighttime parade in the cards for Magic Kingdom, and I really hope it’s in the spirit of SpectroMagic. There was something special about that parade, from SpectroMickey’s lavish costume to the beautiful soundtrack. A technically-advanced replacement that borrows notes from the parade–much in the same way Tokyo’s Dreamlights is an homage to Main Street Electrical Parade–would be a huge hit, and something we’d watch on a near-nightly basis.
1. Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights – Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge is amazing. Rise of the Resistance is mind-blowing–the #1 attraction out of 94 at Walt Disney World. However, in our Star Wars Land v. Osborne Lights post, there was no place at Walt Disney World we loved being in more than the Osborne Lights. It brought smiles and awe to the faces of other guests was really a sight to behold–it was the embodiment of “holiday cheer.”
There were nights we went to Disney’s Hollywood Studios for no other reason than the Osborne Lights, and we’d spend hours just standing back on the Streets of America. Even when it was wall-to-wall people, the Osborne Lights just oozed happiness. Obviously, due to the closures Star Wars land necessitated, the Osborne Lights can never return in their previous form…but a large scale Christmas light display could be added elsewhere at Walt Disney World. There are a ton of Osborne Lights fans out there like us. Bring it back somewhere even in a more limited form would give a big boost to attendance in November and December 2021.
What things–insignificant or major–do you miss at Walt Disney World? Are there seasonal events, entertainment, or attractions you’d like to see resurrected? Do you agree or disagree with our list? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback—even when you disagree with us—is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!