Disney's Orlando theme park is planning a big comeback for its 50th birthday

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Simon Veness
·3 min read
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Walt Disney World Orlando castle
Walt Disney World Orlando castle

Disney’s United States theme parks posted a near $3 billion (£2.2 billion) loss in 2020. The pandemic shut them down completely in California and for four months in Orlando, where they were only permitted to reopen at drastically reduced capacity in July.

International visitors remain on hold with the suspension of all air corridors for the time being, but Florida remains hopeful things can start to resume by the summer, and there are already signs the big Florida hotspot will be back in full pixie dust mode by the autumn, as October marks the 50th anniversary of the Walt Disney World Resort.

Local reports list bookings at almost 80 per cent for the first quarter, and the arrival of the Covid vaccine has rekindled British interest for the summer and beyond.

Chris Bradshaw, sales and marketing director for leading UK ticket agency AttractionTickets.com, said: “We’ve seen a significant increase in demand for Disney tickets and hotel packages on the back of the successful vaccine announcements.”

The grand opening of Walt Disney World in 1971
The grand opening of Walt Disney World in 1971

TUI UK is also reporting Orlando as a top destination again. Richard Sofer, commercial director, said: “Florida remains an important and popular destination for TUI. Our summer 2021 and 2022 holidays have been selling really well since Christmas.”

Virgin Atlantic, Britain’s biggest airline to Florida, sees a similar pattern. Its spokesman said: “Once restrictions are lifted, we’re anticipating particular demand for the Caribbean and US. We also expect high demand for families travelling to Orlando, and we’re seeing great offers for early-bird bookings.”

Disney is also sweetening its appeal with a raft of improvements for the birthday celebrations. Its Epcot park will unveil four major attractions, as well as a transformation of its former Future World. New features include Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure, a zany Disney aims to ride high indoor whirl into the world of the cartoon rat; Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind, a roller-coaster; and Harmonious, a dazzling nightly show combining pyrotechnics, lasers, moving fountains and giant LED screens.

Disney-MGM Studios 
Disney-MGM Studios

More will be on offer at the Magic Kingdom, most notably a “royal makeover” for Cinderella Castle and the highspeed Tron Lightcycle Power Run indoor/outdoor coaster.

Another notable update will be a makeover for one of Disney’s original hotels, the Polynesian Village Resort, which will re-emerge this summer with rooms and interior decor inspired by the South Seas style of the film Moana.

Perhaps the most imaginative draw, though, will be the Galactic Starcruiser, a fully themed Star Wars hotel that will open late in 2021, featuring all-inclusive two-day “voyages” to a galaxy far, far away. Dates and pricing have yet to be announced, but it promises to be a genuine one-of-a-kind experience.

And that’s just Disney. Universal Orlando and Busch Gardens have major new coasters lined up for 2021, ready to welcome back British visitors in adrenalin-soaked style to what could well be called “The Year of the Roller Coaster.”

Travel within the UK and overseas is currently subject to restrictions.