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Walt Disney World’s Newest Ambassadors

A new crest honoring the 50th anniversary of Walt Disney World Resort adorns Cinderella Castle at Magic Kingdom Park in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. The crest completes the castle’s royal, EARidescent makeover, joining gold bunting, sparkling embellishments and other new enhancements leading up to “The World’s Most Magical Celebration” beginning Oct. 1, 2021. (Kent Phillips, photographer)

The Ambassador Program has been a Disney tradition for over 50 years. Chosen from more than 800 applicants, Ali Manion and Raevon Redding are excited to be representing Walt Disney World and its cast members as “Emissaries of Goodwill.” Manion and Redding recently spoke to Orlando Family Magazine about their new roles, as well as The World’s Most Magical Celebration, an 18-month long commemoration in honor of Walt Disney World’s 50th anniversary.

What can you tell us about Walt Disney World’s opening day back in 1971?

Raevon Redding: Well, we are a learning company and we have learned a lot since the beginning. One of those things being, when Disneyland first opened, so many guests arrived that Walt and the cast members were completely overwhelmed. So, although Oct. 1, 1971 is when Walt Disney World opened the gates to our first guests, we did not officially dedicate the park until Oct. 25 of that same year. We learned as a company that celebrating the opening and dedication on the same day can be too much. So, we waited a few weeks until we officially dedicated the park. Walt Disney’s brother, Roy, was actually the one who dedicated the park, which is quite significant because Walt had unfortunately passed away before he could see the completion of the park. After Walt’s passing, Roy came out of retirement and he was the one who saw everything through to completion. Roy knew how important his brother’s dream was to him so when he did the dedication, he called over Mickey Mouse as a representative for his brother and Roy dedicated the park not as Disney World, as it was originally to be named, but as Walt Disney World to honor his brother and his dream. We are the only park out of all of the Disney Parks that have Walt in our name.

Over the last 50 years, Walt Disney World has seen tremendous growth and numerous changes. What are some things, both tangible and intangible, that have stayed the same since 1971?

RR: I think the No. 1 thing that has stayed the same is the passion and dedication of our cast members and their ability to bring that Disney magic to life. So many of our cast members choose to work here at Walt Disney World because of magical interactions they have had with previous cast members.

Ali Manion: As we near our 50th anniversary, we like to say that the cast members are at the heart of our celebration. We are really excited to celebrate that heritage and the magic that they bring because they have been an integral part since the beginning and we look forward to seeing what that magic looks like going into the next 50 years.

RR: As for the original attractions, Dumbo the Flying Elephant, It’s a Small World, The Haunted Mansion, Country Bear Jamboree and Peter Pan’s Flight are just a few of the many that are still here from opening day.

Can you tell us about the colorful renovation of Cinderella Castle and any other WDW makeovers to look out for?

AM: The theme throughout our 50th anniversary is that of EARidescence. Disney wanted to make sure to capture that sparkling EARidescence, so the castle is now fully decked out with a stunning 50th crest. Cinderella Castle has been decorated for other celebrations throughout the years but we are especially proud to be part of this castle for our 50th anniversary.

RR: Another new addition to Walt Disney World is the “Disney Fab 50” statue collection. There are 36 gold sculptures depicting 50 beloved Disney characters sprinkled around all four of our parks.

AM: Also, beginning Oct. 1, cast members will be debuting new name tags for the 50th anniversary. It has that gorgeous EARidescent sheen to it and features the castle decked out in gold and their name and hometown highlighted in blue. Our legacy cast members will wear a special EARidescent name tag as well which will have the castle in gold with a 50 on it.

RR: Our name tags are so iconic to the Walt Disney World brand and so this will be the first time, in 25 years I believe, that we have gotten a new name tag. Ali and I recently had the opportunity to meet some of our 50-year cast members and they were among the first to receive these name tags. Our name tags are a part of who we are. They really signify the completion of our costumes.

AM: It’s a really special touch and our cast members take so much pride in their roles and are so proud of this name tag. As ambassadors, we always like to remind our cast members that it’s the magic that they bring to that name tag when they put it on and that makes for a truly magical Disney experience.

What types of events and celebrations will be taking place over the next 18 months?

AM: We have a number of things coming. One of the big things we are really excited about is the nighttime spectaculars coming to our parks on Oct. 1. At Magic Kingdom, we have Disney Enchantment that will bring to life our love of Disney and that magical pixie dust that we all know and love. It will feature music, fireworks, and for the first time there will be immersive projections that will extend from Cinderella Castle all the way down Main Street U.S.A. Over at Epcot, we have our nighttime spectacular Harmonious, also debuting Oct. 1. This is an incredible celebration of Disney music. Nearly 240 artists contributed to this show, and to have the songs portrayed in different languages from all around the world is going to be amazing. On top of that, there are going to be lights, fireworks and lasers, everything we love about a Disney spectacular with that special Epcot touch. In addition to that, we also have “Beacons of Magic,” which will be appearing nightly for our guests at all four of our park icons that really captures the character of each park. This includes enchanted fireflies gathering at the Tree of Life at Animal Kingdom and pixie dust sparking around Cinderella Castle at Magic Kingdom.

Are there any new attractions that guests can look forward to?

RR: One great new attraction that our guests can look forward to is Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure over at Epcot, in the France pavilion. Not only is it a great family attraction but it is also such a cute ride. Ali and I recently had an opportunity to experience it with some of our cast members. Nearby, there is La Crêperie de Paris, which will be serving authentic crêpes as well as galettes, which are more of the savory crêpes. Guests will have the opportunity to sit down and enjoy or they can pick it up at the quick service window that is right next door.

AM: Something else very exciting that is coming next spring is the Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser which is a Star Wars-themed experience. I say experience because it is more than just a resort to stay at, it is a truly an adventure for our guests. Whether they are a lifelong Star Wars fan or are new to it, they are going to love having the chance to embark on this incredible two-night journey where they get to choose their own adventure along the way. It’s unbelievable, and all lines of business are partnering together to create this incredible experience that will open in 2022.