When Disney celebrates major milestones, anniversaries, and events, it’s not like a typical day in the theme parks. It’s the happiest, the most magical, and often crowded, so we’re sharing tips to help you prepare.
It’s exciting to be in a Disney theme park during a major event – Disney loves to celebrate milestones like theme park anniversaries, The Walt Disney Company milestones, character birthdays, new attraction grand openings, or even the anniversary of a film release. These celebrations can be small or significant, but either way they tend to draw large crowds of Guests who also want to join in the fun. So, if you’re in the park on the actual day of the milestone, the experience will be different than an average day in the parks.
In the months ahead, Disney theme parks have a few major milestones coming up, including the official Disney100 anniversary on October 16, 2023; the 35th anniversary of Disney’s Hollywood Studios 35th on May 1, 2024; and the future opening of Tiana’s Bayou Adventure in both Florida and California in late 2024. If you’re planning to head to Walt Disney World or Disneyland to mark any of these big events, you’ve to be prepared! Make sure to keep the following tips in mind, all from those who’ve attended major milestone events before and have learned a few things along the way.
1. Dress for All-Day Comfort
Plan for a long day at the theme park. If you want the rush of being there at opening all the way through the nighttime show, it’s going to be a marathon. You’ll want to keep both the weather and your comfort in mind as you get dressed.
Think about the forecast and what you’re hoping to do while at the parks. If it’s going to be cool at night, wear layers you can add or remove as the temperatures change. Layers are also helpful for frigid air-conditioned restaurants. Planning to hit any water rides or spend 12+ hours in the sunshine? A change of clothes may be helpful.
Additionally, regardless of the weather, comfy shoes are a must! A major milestone celebration at Disney is not the day to break in those new Crocs.
2. Plan Your Park Transportation in Advance
Everyone will likely be trying to get to the same park you are (after all, you all want to celebrate the same Disney milestone!). No matter how many Guests the Cast Members have “fill in all the available space,” you’ll want to be ready for longer-than-usual lines for all forms of Disney transportation. Trams, buses, and the Skyliner can all experience incredibly high wait times and long lines when there’s a big event happening – and the crowds start early.
For example, when visiting Magic Kingdom on October 1st, 2021 for Walt Disney World’s 50th anniversary, the line for the bus at POP Century Resort was over an hour long by 7:00 AM. The park wasn’t even supposed to open for Resort Guests until 7:30 AM!
If you’re eager to arrive early, plan ahead. Find out when the first bus will arrive and prepare to get in line well in advance. If you’re walking or driving, leave your hotel early, or plan for long lines to get into the parking lot. This may be a day to invest in a rideshare app ride or taxi, as you may be able to skip some of the wait.
3. Get a Locker
Jamie, a longtime Annual Passholder who regularly visits Walt Disney World and Disneyland, has experienced the parks on a few major events and highly recommends nabbing a locker first thing in the morning: “The first person to arrive in the park gets the locker. Special events means special merch, and do you really want to be carrying around a brand new ceramic Starbucks mug all day?”
That locker can save your back, space in your backpack, your wallet, and your sanity! When you’re dropping off that major event merch, you’ll be able to see just how much celebration spending you’ve been doing. It’s also a great place to stash your change of clothes (or extra layers) so you aren’t lugging them around.
And you’ll want to act fast during major milestone celebrations. When I was in the parks for Disney World’s 50th, all of the lockers were gone before 8 AM. Thankfully, Jamie arrived extra early and got me one! I visited the locker multiple times to store my popcorn bucket, grab a layer for the nighttime show, and hold all the special event day merch so I wasn’t carrying it for 15+ hours.
4. Use the Commemorative Map to Plan Your Day
For most major events, Disney hands out a commemorative map. While you might be quite familiar with Walt Disney World or Disneyland, you’ll want to take a look at this map – it’ll have all of the special extras taking place throughout the theme park noted inside.
Disney travel agent and fellow WDW Magazine friend Julie has these great tips: “Make sure to pick up the map or poster or whatever special item they may be handing out in the park. Find the things that are special for the day and embrace them. Some of the special events are rumors, but for EPCOT’s 40th they had the event information in the commemorative map.”
5. Make Limited-Edition Merch a Priority
There could be an entire post just about shopping on special event days! Shopping on celebration days is often a totally different experience. Merch is in high demand, and Guests are typically ready and waiting for its release.
“Check for merchandise releases. [Shopping for] most of the limited edition merch is only available through Virtual Queue,” shares expert Julie.
This was one of the many mistakes I made when at Magic Kingdom for the 50th anniversary. I had no idea what a shopping via Virtual Queue even was. Most of the major stores were entrance by Virtual Queue only, so options to purchase were limited. During milestone events, if there will be special merchandise for the day, it won’t be in a store you’re just going to be able to wander into.
Don’t make the mistake I made and leave all your souvenir shopping until the special event day. If you do, be ready to wait in line and have fewer options than usual.
And just when you thought there wasn’t anything else to share about shopping…
6. Keep an Eye Out for Freebies
Jamie shares a great tip. “Don’t forget the freebies! Special events can offer up a whole slew of freebies. As a collector, I love being able to look back at a special event park map or even display it if there’s a free button that goes along with it.”
What kinds of freebies can you expect during a major event or milestone celebration? Magic Kingdom gave each Guest in the park a commemorative map and poster featuring the 50th anniversary Cinderella Castle Beacon of Magic on October 1, 2021. Both totally display-worthy!
7. Try Special Menu Items at Theme Park Restaurants
All the special events, shopping, and snacking can be exhausting. Make time to take a break – a break that includes refueling and resting with a meal reservation at one of the dining spots serving celebration-themed treats.
In addition to special event treats (like those popcorn buckets and specialty churros), restaurants often also have special menus. For Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary, for example, Crystal Palace offered a buffet of Walt’s Favorites, which made the day even more special.
Every celebration comes with something deliciously tasty and unique, so scout the menus at your favorite dining spots in advance so you know where you might want to try to get an advance dining reservation (ADR) or place a mobile order on the day of.
8. Go With Friends – And Split Up!
Plan meet ups in advance if you’re headed to the theme parks at Walt Disney World or Disneyland for a major milestone celebration. Reach out to friends and you can coordinate plans, pick a place to meet, and decide how you’ll want to enjoy the festivities. One great way to know who will also be in the parks is to share your plans on your social media accounts.
Before you arrive at the parks, make sure to exchange contact info and schedule a time to meet up. This is especially important if you’re traveling solo. Not sure who you might meet up with?Trust me, if you’re reading this blog, you know more Disney fans than you think!
Plus, there’s another perk to visiting with or meeting up with friends on busy celebration dates. For AP and foodie Jamie, being with friends can save you time: “Take turns grabbing your must-eats. One person can mobile order and pick up the meal while the other snags a table. From churros, to popcorn, cake pops, and shakes, there are always specialty food offerings. Buddying up means you get to try more eats. In this case, sharing is really caring.”
With friends, you can easily divide and conquer! Whether you’re hunting down specialty merch or want to try to do, well, everything, you can split up to save time in queues and have more luck getting limited-supply items.
9. Make New Friends in the Parks
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Make time to chat with Cast Members and other guests. You’re going to be in the park for a while. It’s the perfect time to make some new friends.
So, how do you make new Disney friends? You can wear something celebratory, do a DisneyBound, customize your “I’m Celebrating” button, or just wear a smile. Take every chance you have to chat with Cast Members – in stores, at restaurants, in ride queues, or even Photopass photographers while you’re getting photos taken.
On the day of Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary Celebration, I had the opportunity to meet Nickyle in Magic Kingdom. Nickyle is a fellow Chicagoan who shared some very touching stories of the final days in the parks before everything closed down for COVID. We ended up chatting for almost an hour. It was one of the most memorable moments of the day. Meeting someone new could introduce you to a lifelong Disney parks friend (or, at the very least, give you some brand-new memories!).
10. Don’t Skip the Character Meet and Greets
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“Keep an eye out for rare characters! You never know who may show up or what festive attire the Fab Five may be wearing that day,” shares Jamie. Major milestone dates, anniversaries, and even longer celebrations like 2023’s Disney100 Celebration and 2021’s Walt Disney World 50th Anniversary mean Disney theme parks bring out some incredible character meet and greet opportunities. From your favorite classic characters in all-new outfits to characters you don’t usually see walking the parks, the characters are always one of the perks of visiting.
For example, during the Disney100 Celebration, the Sensational Six will have special outfits. For Walt Disney World’s 50th, Chip and Dale got special threads, while the Fab Five became the EARidescent 8. DIsney’s Animal Kingdom loves to bring out the rare characters each year on the park’s anniversary date. Jennifer and Woody from @disneydorksduo have spotted a number of rare characters on AK’s anniversary, including Jiminy Cricket.
But Disney isn’t just known for bringing rare characters out. Major events can also bring Disney legends! At Disneyland’s 60th Anniversary, for example, Robert Sherman performed.
11. Expect Technical Difficulties
On these celebratory dates, there will be a lot of people in the theme parks. All of those people will be using the cell signal and local WiFi to place mobile orders, use Genie+ and Lightning Lane, and make calls, livestream, and more. Plus, Disney may also be doing live streaming and broadcasting. This means getting online, sending DMs, posting, and even sending a text may be tricky.
Make sure to exchange contact info with friends and set up times and places to meet in case communications get difficult. You should expect technical issues like crashing apps, slow or nonexistent cell service, and down time throughout the day, especially when crowds peak. When I was in the parks for Walt Disney World’s 50th event, even sending text messages was a challenge.
12. Don’t Head Home After the Nighttime Entertainment Ends
If you really want to know how many Guests are in the park on the day of a major Disney milestone, you’ll get a sneak peek during the nighttime show, especially if it’s the first showing of new entertainment. Everyone will gather down Main Street, U.S.A. to check out the latest nighttime spectacular, and it’ll start to get crowded well before the first showing is scheduled to begin.
However, those crowds likely won’t stick around much later! After the show, people tend to pack it in and head home. So, don’t head towards the exit when the nighttime entertainment ends. Instead, go the opposite direction from the crowds and head deeper into the theme park.
This can be a great time to squeeze in a few rides, head to shops at the back of the park, or get some PhotoPass shots (with fewer people in the background!).
13. Plan Some Down Time
Lastly, don’t forget to step away from the crowds during your milestone Disney day. Find a quiet place to take a breath a few times during the day. Visit an attraction with the chance to sit for a bit, or maybe even have a quick nap.
At Magic Kingdom, Carousel of Progress and the PeopleMover are two great ways to stay cool and rest your legs. I’ve also found the area behind Ye Olde Christmas Shoppe in Liberty Square was quiet enough to even do a work call.
Regardless of how you choose to spend your day, being in a Disney park for a major event is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Gather up some friends, plan ahead, get a locker and follow these tips to make it the happiest, most magical celebration!