Spending a warm afternoon in Animal Kingdom, zooming down the Polynesian’s outstanding pool slide is heavenly. We lucked into a Polynesian DVC reservation a month or two before the vacation which was especially lucky since the 50th anniversary at Magic Kingdom was the very next day. There’s never a bad time to stay at the Polynesian but it’s even better when there’s an added convenience factor. We checked in, swam and then walked over to the Ticket and Transportation Center to take a monorail to Epcot for the night.
The day had already been pretty full so we didn’t arrive at Epcot until around 7. Harmonious had debuted the night before but we opted to see the last showing of Happily Ever After. So, instead we watched the second ever showing of Epcot’s new nighttime spectacular. Media events were happening throughout the week and most of them saw Harmonious on the previous night, then were invited to a special dedication at Magic Kingdom on the 30th. For some reason, Wandering in Disney didn’t get an invite! Just kidding, we know why we didn’t get an invite as there are far more important (and popular) sites around.
We grabbed a few snacks from the ongoing Food & Wine Festival and settled into a spot at the front of house for Harmonious. There are two shops at the entrance to World Showcase and a small incline in between them. This is the best place to watch the show from, as the incline should give you a view over others. Harmonious doesn’t offer the same viewing experience as Illuminations did, as you’ll either want to watch from this area or near the Japan Pavilion because of the use of screens.
I won’t go into much detail on the show, because we already have a fairly long review on the site. On that night, we watched it next to some hardcore Epcot and Disney World fans. The finale was met with lukewarm applause and a lot of overheard “Well… What did you think?” questions around us. This was a contrast to what we encountered a few nights later and also to many other experiences with nighttime shows.
Generally, crowd responses at theme parks are similar to what you encounter at a comedy show. People are ready to laugh at comedy clubs and they usually do even if the content isn’t actually that funny. Theme park crowds come ready to cheer so when a nighttime show ends and there isn’t a big response, it’s an odd feeling. The same exact situation happened the following night when watching Enchantment at Magic Kingdom. All that said, Harmonious is a fun show that Disney fans will probably enjoy. I’m just not sure theme park fans will enjoy it.
We let the crowds clear out after the show and checked out Epcot’s newly remodeled Creation Shop. It’s far better than Mouse Gear. That’s not saying a lot coming from me as Mouse Gear always made my face feel flushed and there seemed to be just the faintest smell of urine. Someday maybe we’ll get a candle from some offshoot Disney small business that smells the Mouse Gear scent like people do with the Pirates of the Caribbean water scent. A dream that you wish will come true!
We made it to the front gate of Epcot, which is absolutely gorgeous right now. The lighting on Spaceship Earth is brilliant and one of the most underrated aspects of the 50th anniversary. That lighting combined with the remodel of the front area make for a beautiful setting, one that’s worthy of hanging around for a while at night. We caught a monorail back to the Poly and got some rest before our early morning.
The next morning saw us up with the sun and getting to Magic Kingdom about an hour before official opening. Even so, there were thousands there before us. It was a bizarre day at Magic Kingdom for the 50th anniversary, which we covered live. As I mentioned, there was a dedication at the previous night’s media event but it was still surprising to not see Bob Iger or Chapek get up on stage at the start of the day. They were all there. I don’t really buy into the storyline that Bob Chapek doesn’t want to make public appearances because he’s afraid of getting booed but I did find it a little weird.
The park opening show was cute with Mickey and Minnie sporting their anniversary best. It was the start of plenty of character interactions throughout the day and certainly was one of the main things the crowd wanted.
Unlike most days at a Disney Park, we didn’t really have a plan. There was specialty entertainment to see and we hoped to ride a few of the original attractions but otherwise the plan was to just hang out. In fact, the capacity crowd seemed to have the same idea as wait times were ridiculously low throughout the whole day. Like Big Thunder Mountain sending out empty trains in the middle of the day low. When I say the day was kind of bizarre, that’s what I mean. The crowd was unlike anything I’ve encountered and was wonderful.
I did catch Walt Disney World President, Jeff Vahle, on Main Street and naturally had to grab a selfie. He was all smiles and very friendly to all of the guests around. Seeing higher ups throughout the parks is an important thing and something I hope is emphasized over the next few years.
One of the few plans we had for the day was to rope drop Country Bear Jamboree, as it opened a couple of hours after the park did. We ended up seeing it five times that day and the theater was full every single time. The amount of joy this brought me is incalculable. Singing and laughing along with the bears was glorious.
Another highlight of the day was seeing the original Casey’s Corner Pianist, Randy Morris, come out of retirement to play a set where he began 50 years earlier. A crowd lined up around the tiny piano several rows deep to watch him perform and he was joyous and full of youth. Special moments like this made the anniversary day unique and a reason why I’d encourage Disney fans to go celebrate big anniversaries at parks. I hope playing the set was as precious to him as it was to all of those of us that watched.
The next portion of the day saw us bounce between original attractions like Carousel of Progress, the Tiki Room and more Country Bears. We also tried some specialty food, including this Toad Burger! It was a fine burger but I do think I prefer looking at it.
We went on a few more relaxing and classic attractions throughout the afternoon including Small World, Space Mountain (with a 10 minute wait!) and the River Boat. Circling the river while waving at people drove home the point of how happy people were there to be there. Many were just sitting, taking in the sites and smiling. Even this guy, in all his demented glory, was having a good day!
Here’s a few more photos from the afternoon, filled with a few attractions and lots of wandering!
The whole afternoon was full of good vibes, with people just generally happy to be there. We eventually got hungry and had dinner at Pinocchio Village Haus. Somehow, I’d avoided eating at the restaurant up until that point so it was another one to check off the list, in the name of research. It was fine.
After another showing of the Country Bears and a ride through the Mansion, we started to head towards Main Street to grab a spot a few hours ahead of Disney Enchantment. Along the way, we ran into Tom Bricker of Disney Tourist Blog. I’ve been able to talk to him and/or Sarah Bricker a few times over the years and they are always kind to share a few minutes talking. It’s safe to say that this blog, and many people’s fandom, wouldn’t exist without their site. Cast Members and people like the Bricker’s are what make the Disney community special. Check out their website, it is the best around when it comes to Disney theme parks.
About two hours before the nighttime spectacular, Main Street was packed and we squeezed into a spot that was good but not great. Even amongst a mass of people, everyone remained in a good mood and were eagerly anticipating the new show. While Disney Enchantment didn’t live up to the hype, it was a wonderful experience nonetheless.
The rest of the evening was mostly spent around the hub, enjoying the atmosphere and taking photos. Being a few months removed from the day, I look back at it fondly. There were certainly some special entertainment and offerings by Disney like free PhotoPass, but I’ll mostly remember it thanks to the people. Seeing everyone just simply happy to be there was heartwarming and it felt like I was among a group that all cared about something deeply. While it’s not your normal experience at a Disney Park, it was arguably more enjoyable. I’ll look forward to the next anniversary! Here’s a few more photos from the night.
We’ll pick up our next installment with a day at Epcot!
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Categories: Trip Reports