Magic Kingdom Report: 50th Anniversary Approaching at Lightning (Lane) Speed!

We’re back with another Magic Kingdom park report in the home stretch before the World’s Most Magical Celebration kicks off two weeks (!!!) from today. In this Walt Disney World photo update, we take a look at the latest 50th Anniversary decorations installed around Cinderella Castle, Fab 50 character statues, construction finishing up, feels like crowds, and more.

One hot topic among Walt Disney World visitors of late has been the crowds–past, present, and future. It’s been a real roller coaster, with the year’s highest crowd levels coming on July 28-29. Literally one month later, attendance had plummeted and trip cancellations were piling up. This is partly to be expected.

Historically, September is the slowest month of the year at Walt Disney World. While other previously off-season months have seen increases in recent years (e.g. January, February, and October), the same has yet to happen with September. However, the beginning of this month saw attendance even lighter than normal for September.

Since unprecedented single-digit average wait times in the week leading up to Labor Day, attendance has normalized as of mid-September. Wait times are still down significantly as compared to late July, but in the neighborhood of what can be expected for the slowest season of the year.

When it comes to ‘feels like’ crowds, attendance seems higher. We spent last week in California and have only been back for a few days this week, so I want to see how this weekend goes before offering any bold proclamations, but my preliminary take is that it’s busier than late August and early September. Oh, and I can tell you very definitively that it is much more humid in Florida than in California. In case that was in dispute!

We’ll be back with another crowd report on Sunday or Monday. For now, let’s take a stroll around Magic Kingdom to see what has changed since our last photo report from the park…

Before you even enter the park, there’s this display with Minnie and Mickey Mouse topiaries, plus a 50th Anniversary cake.

I think this is a simple but awesome photo op. Judging by the lengthy line I had to wait in just to get this photo, other guests seem to agree!

I don’t want to complain about a good thing, but…

How cool would it be if the cake were a Castle Cake?! For those in the know, it’d be a self-deprecating wink and a nod to the 25th Anniversary, and that infamous icon. For everyone else, it’d just be fun. Regardless, this is a cool “little thing” that I very much appreciate.

On a similar note, these Pumpkin Coaches around the Central Plaza are absolutely fantastic.

They offer a great transition from the Pumpkin Mickey Heads on Main Street to the Royal Makeover of Cinderella Castle.

These are another little thing, but they’re incredibly thoughtful.

I don’t think anyone would bat an eye if there were no pumpkins in the Central Plaza at all given the anniversary, but the added effort is very much appreciated. It’s touches like these that make a difference, and why we raise such a fuss when Walt Disney World glosses over the details.

Disney Fab 50 statues have also started going up around the parks.

Thus far, my “award” for best lineup goes to the Central Plaza of Magic Kingdom.

This group of Mickey and friends just feels the most organic, perfectly at home in the hub. The ones at Disney’s Hollywood Studios are also pretty good–probably because that’s the “catch-all” park for various intellectual property.

Even though it’s home to the Figment statue, the choices made for Epcot make it the last place park. On the “plus” side, there was a couple near me debating which Lion King characters they were looking at for a few minutes before settling on Timon and Pumbaa. The statue was of Pua and Hei Hei from Moana. (I’m not one to judge–I thought the lizard by Olaf’s foot was Pascal from Tangled, for some inexplicable reason.)

New tapestries have also appeared on the turrets that flank Cinderella Castle.

I appreciate the idea and the artwork, but this one doesn’t work for me. It seems odd and arbitrary to have that art affixed to an exterior turret. Perhaps Sarah and I should start hanging portraits of our cat and dog on the front of our house.

This look works much better for me–like extensions of the visual motifs of Cinderella Castle’s Royal Makeover itself.

It still doesn’t make complete sense to have these tapestries on exterior turrets, but then again, neither does a fairytale castle in Central Florida. You’ve gotta suspend disbelief a bit.

Moving to Magic Kingdom’s other castle, work has now wrapped up above Be Our Guest Restaurant.

The fresh coat of paint gives the Magic Kingdom version of Beast’s Castle more detail. It doesn’t sell the effect any better (for me, at least), but at least it looks nicer.

Similarly, scaffolding is down around Splash Mountain. No clue what was done, but the scaffolding was only up for a couple weeks and covered a small portion above the first lift hill.

As a reminder, Disney released New Concept Art & Details for Splash Mountain’s Princess and the Frog Reimagining. Our expectation is still that that project is a couple of years away from starting in earnest; here’s hoping the inside of Splash Mountain receives some proper TLC with a winter refurbishment this coming off-season.

Lightning Lanes continue to pop up around Walt Disney World, replacing FastPass+ signage.

As a reminder, Lightning Lanes are physical queues guests will walk through when using the Disney Genie+ service or buying individual attraction access (what we’ve been calling Magic Carpet Access).

Line Lanes exist in real life, whereas the other two exist in the digital world—on the Grid. You can walk through a Lightning Lane—you can scroll through the Genie+ service with your fingers.

Read more about the differences in Lightning Lanes v. Genie+ at Walt Disney World.

As another reminder, Walt Disney World announced Lightning Lanes and the Genie+ system on August 18.

It’ll be over a month between that and the next update. We’re already past the Friday “taking out the trash” afternoon news dump and Disney won’t drop news of significant scale over the weekend.

If you think this is a bit surprising and/or disappointing given how many questions the original announcement raised, you’re not alone.

In prior posts, we’ve suggested that this process has been more rushed than normal, and the Lightning Lane and Genie+ system was one of multiple competing proposals. From what we’re hearing, it continues to be the case that specifics are being figured out in a race against the clock.

It’s my understanding that certain details are still to be determined and subject to change (we’ve already seen one operational modification this week that “lightly” contradicts the original Genie+ announcement).

Suffice to say, there’s a reason Walt Disney World hasn’t yet released a comprehensive list of attractions, Genie+ v. Magic Carpet Access breakdown, pricing, or launch date.

Purely speculation, but my guess is that an early October launch is unlikely and it’ll be a scramble just to have the system live before the end of that month. Hopefully another announcement comes next week with clarifying information and a specific launch date.

Beyond the substance of the change, it’s disappointing that Walt Disney World dropped bombshell news with significant ramifications for those with vacations planned and quietly backed away, Homer in the hedge style. Yet another example of the company expecting guests to plan months in advance, yet cannot be bothered to do the same.

Here are more photos of the new Walt Disney World 50th Anniversary decorations that have been added to Magic Kingdom recently:

Ultimately, it’s still a solid time at Magic Kingdom right now with lower wait times and feels like crowds that are probably less than half of what they’ll be next month. We’d stop short of saying it’s a great time to visit given the weather, yet-to-debut anniversary offerings, and the current health situation—but even that is improving dramatically.

With all of that said, it might be an attractive time to visit for those who are averse to crowds, who don’t want to mess with the uncertainty of Genie+ and Lightning Lanes, or pay the higher seasonal prices (with no discounts!) that kick in next month through the remainder of the year. The clock is ticking though, as there’s only about 10 days before the pre-anniversary crowds should start arriving!

Speaking of which, there’s exactly two weeks until Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary kickoff on October 1, 2021! We’re expecting a lot more changes at Magic Kingdom in the next 14 days. Accordingly, we’ll be in the parks every single day between now and then, bringing you more updates as things continue to change at a fast pace.

Planning a Walt Disney World trip? Learn about hotels on our Walt Disney World Hotels Reviews page. For where to eat, read our Walt Disney World Restaurant Reviews. To save money on tickets or determine which type to buy, read our Tips for Saving Money on Walt Disney World Tickets post. Our What to Pack for Disney Trips post takes a unique look at clever items to take. For what to do and when to do it, our Walt Disney World Ride Guides will help. For comprehensive advice, the best place to start is our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide for everything you need to know!


Are you anxious for more info or announcements about Lightning Lanes and the Genie+ system? How do you feel about the decorations for Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary? If you’ve visited Magic Kingdom this month, what has been your experience with crowds and wait times? Thoughts on feels like crowds or congestion v. wait times? What about anything else covered here? Do you plan on visiting Walt Disney World this year, or are you sitting it out until 2022? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!

29 Responses to “Magic Kingdom Report: 50th Anniversary Approaching at Lightning (Lane) Speed!”
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