Today in Disney history in 2021, Happily Ever After closed to make way for Disney Enchantment, the 50th-anniversary nighttime spectacular.
On September 29th, 2021, Disney “closed” Happily Ever After, the nighttime show at Magic Kingdom. The show was replaced by the 50th-anniversary nighttime spectacular, Disney Enchantment. However, after listening to fans, Happily Ever After returned on April 3rd, 2023. I was there on September 29th, 2021 to see the show for what the thousands of us jammed in the hub, thought was the last time.
The History of Happily Ever
On May 11th, 2017 the show Wishes closed at Magic Kingdom. The show had been running since October 9th, 2003 – almost 14 years. Stop for a moment and think about what you were doing in 2003 vs. 2017. In 2003 there was no Frozen (a world without Olaf!). Disney didn’t yet own Pixar, which came in 2006. They hadn’t added the Star Wars franchise yet either. There wasn’t even a new version of Star Tours yet. That came in 2011.
At Magic Kingdom, you could even visit Mickey and Minnie’s house in Mickey’s Toontown Fair in Fantasyland. Most fans would agree, it was time for a new show. Happily Ever After opened on May 12th, 2017. It quickly became a fan favorite with music and characters from beloved films including Princess and the Frog, Up, Toy Story and so many more.
Happily Ever After Temporarily Closes for the COVID-19 Pandemic
I got to see the show for the first time with a great view from the hub during a Happily Ever After Fireworks Dessert Party on May 20th, 2017. As the years went by, the Happily Ever After fandom was built. But in 2020, the world changed. Fans lost more than 12 months of getting to see the show when it closed for the pandemic on March 15th, 2020.
The show opened again on July 1st, 2021. Cast Members and fans rushed to Magic Kingdom, cheering uproariously as those first notes rang out while the castle lit up. But sadly, the magic was short-lived as Disney announced the show would close “permanently” in September of 2021.
Disney Enchantment Takes Over
This was to make way for Disney World’s 50th-anniversary show, Disney Enchantment. At the time, fans expressed their displeasure at the closing after just a few months of Happily Ever After. Well, those fans spoke, and Disney listened. Disney announced at D23 in 2022 that Happily Ever After would be back. And people loved it! On April 3rd, 2023 Happily Ever After returned with a few exciting additions.
The Magic of Happily Ever After
Disney Live Entertainment Director James Silson describes Happily Ever After as “magic in a bottle.” In an interview with James in WDW Magazine’s May 2023 issue, he shared that “It’s one of the shows that for whatever reason, we all just synergized so comfortably around…The team felt really united across the board.”
The unity is clear throughout the show. Fireworks dance across the sky perfectly timed to the music and projections, like an intricately choreographed dance. Hearing even just the first few bars of the main song “Happily Ever After” and the first line makes me feel like my dreams are within reach. I’m not alone. Just listen to the crowd’s reaction on the re-opening night.
As James shared, “Each segment is a playbook on how we get there.” That playbook is delivered in a jam-packed 20 minutes featuring music, characters and moments from over 30 different Disney and Pixar favorites.
It’s all bookended by an inspirational opening and close that encourages us all to “look inside our hearts and unlock the magic within. To “grab ahold of your dreams and make them come true… to reach out and find your Happily Ever After.”
My Experience at the “Last Night” of Happily Ever After
It was September 18th, 2021. Happily Ever After was ending in just over 10 days on the 29th and the 50th celebrations were kicking off on October 1st. I had not seen the show since 2018. Since then my book series The Story Comes Alive, named after the line in the song from the show, had come out. The books and the show had to meet. So on September 18th, I booked a very last-minute trip to Walt Disney World!
This trip was during modified operations at Disney and park reservations were required. When I was able to get into Magic Kingdom on both September 29th for the last night of Happily Ever After and again for October 1st, I knew the trip was meant to be.
On every Disney trip, I try to have as many new experiences as possible. This would be my 18th trip to Disney World and not only would there be the 50th and last night of Happily Ever After, it was my first time staying at Pop Century. September 29th was a beautiful day, blue skies and not too hot. A perfect time for souvenir shopping at Disney Springs. Finding an epic gift for my non-binary teen at the M&M store just added to those feelings of happiness you can get being at Disney. Check out the story of finding the perfect PRIDE souvenir.
Now it was time to head to Magic Kingdom and get ready to watch the story come alive!
Let the Wonder Take Hold
This was my first time seeing Cinderella Castle with the 50th decorations. Wow, it was a big change from the pink decorations that I’d seen in 1996 for the 25th. By 6 PM, thousands of people had already staked out their Happily Ever After viewing spot in the hub.
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A Cast Member spotted my overwhelmed look and shared some excellent advice to come back later and squeeze in. As a party of one, it would be easier to slip in closer to the show. A good lesson to remember: when in a Disney park, listen to Cast Members. So off to Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, I went! By 7:30 PM, I made my way into the hub and grabbed a spot right near the front. The crowds were huge and very excited.
This was my first time ever standing so close to the castle during the show. I’ve watched from the hub grass, in front of Casey’s Corner and up near the Partners Statue. Each location offers a different experience!
Watch the Moment Unfold
By 8:05 PM, the countdown began with the 10-minute announcement. The crowd is already starting to go wild and that pre-nighttime show crush starts to happen as more and more people pile into the hub.
This countdown is followed by a series of beautiful instrumental versions of When Will My Life Begin from Tangled, Colors of the Wind from Pocahontas, and Belle from Beauty and the Beast. These are by Midnite String Quartet and I highly recommend them for your Disney playlist!
The Story Comes Alive When We Look Inside
At 8:10 PM, the “just a few minutes” announcement. You know the one where they tell you to stay put until the end of the show because the light will be dimmed? During the wait, I had made friends with two Cast Members who had actually met at Happily Ever After. Their friendship continued and one was departing soon, as her Disney College Program was coming to an end.
This show held a very special place for both of them because it brought them a lifelong friendship. They were very excited when they saw the books I had with me and the titles, named after their favorite Disney show. They were also super sweet and willing to play photographer.
At 8:14 PM, that first moment with the first instrumental strains of the Happily Ever After song. Does anyone else get butterflies when you hear these first few notes? I had told myself I was just going to watch and not film, but it was just too tempting to capture the memories.
Feel Your Heart Beat Faster
The show included guests singing along, some crying, lots of phones held up to film, the smell of the fireworks, and kids on shoulders. All the hallmarks of a Disney nighttime show! Baymax flying, Elsa letting it go, Genie dancing, Lightning speeding across the screen, there are so many magical moments in this show.
What are your favorite parts? I love a lot of it, but especially:
- Merida shooting the arrow and that perfectly-timed firework
- Tiana’s opening and how it looks like she really is on the balcony of the castle
- The lanterns that float gently up the castle during At Last I See the Light, and the one firework that shoots out of the top spire
- Carl’s house from UP! with the thousands of multicolored balloons that gently float up the castle
- The ending with the images of the characters that transform the castle into an enormous
stained-glass window of Disney magic.
Reach Out and Find Your Happily Ever After
Now we’ve reached the end of the show. The cheers were deafening and total strangers were hugging. Then the title song sung by Jordan Fisher and Angie Keilhau played. It was hard to hear the music over thousands of people singing along. Of course, I had to do the super cheesy thing and have my books come up when Angie Keilhau sings the words “the story comes alive.”
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Happily Ever After Magic Shot
While most of the crowds were heading out of the park, I went back into Fantasyland to just wander around a fairly quiet park. Making my way back into the hub around 9:30 PM the lines for the Happily Ever After Magic Shot were a bit shorter.
Setting Off for a New Tomorrow
After a surprisingly quick bus wait and ride back to the resort, I arrived at Pop Century still buzzing from the exciting evening. After a melancholy sigh at seeing that there were Happily Ever After showings on the Disney Resort channel, I scrolled through and found my Magic Shots had been added.
It was time to let the show go, set off for the new tomorrow, and see Disney Enchantment on its debut evening October 1st, 2021. It was exciting to be there on that night and be part of what I thought was Disney history. But, I am so happy Disney brought the show back so even more fans can be inspired and watch the story come alive.