Ranking the Walt Disney World Nighttime Spectaculars
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Big news out of Walt Disney World! We are FINALLY going to see the long-awaited debut of the long-delayed Rivers of Light in Animal Kingdom (it was supposed to debut in advance of the 2016 runDisney Star Wars Dark Side Half Marathon Weekend, but has been repeatedly pushed back, you know, #forreasons). While the long delay was disappointing, this announcement is delighting those who will be travelling to Disney World for the 2017 runDisney Princess Half Marathon Weekend.
But wait! There’s more! (Sorry, couldn’t resist). Disney also announced that Wishes, the long-running nightly fireworks show at the Magic Kingdom will be retired later this spring to make room for a May debut of a NEW fireworks show: Happily Ever After.
Given this news and all of these changes, we decided this was the perfect time to take stock of all of the nighttime spectaculars (shows and fireworks), at Walt Disney World in Florida. To do so, Team Casual Runner is once again calling in our friends Laura and Jason from Disney Good Eats to help!
Here’s what we did. Each of us ranked all of the current lineup of nighttime shows and fireworks, 1-7, with a #1 being the best. We added everyone’s votes together, and the lowest score wins. Here is the current WDW lineup:
Once Upon a Time (Magic Kingdom)
Wishes (Magic Kingdom)
Fantasmic (Hollywood Studios)
Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular (Hollywood Studios)
Tree of Life Awakenings (Animal Kingdom)
Electrical Water Pageant (Seven Seas Lagoon & Bay Lake)
#7) Electrical Water Pageant (Seven Seas Lagoon & Bay Lake) 5 + 6 + 7 + 6 + 7 + 7 + 5 = 43 points
Jason: What can you say? It started a long a tradition of Disney nighttime entertainment for which I am thankful, but it has not changed since the 1970s! It’s nice to catch a glimpse of it every once in a while.
Candace: I would never stop to watch this, but I do enjoy seeing it from the monorail or, particularly, during a monorail pub crawl.
Mike: I love the history of this show and it serves its place. No one makes a special trip to WDW just to see this and it is not worth planning your day around it, but if you should come upon it, it makes for a pleasant surprise in you day.
Tracy: This is a personal favorite of mine, but it doesn’t compare to the fireworks. I’ve always been able to see it from my resort Wilderness Lodge, so I usually catch it a few times on a Disney trip.
Laura: I have only seen it a couple times in passing, seemed nice.
#6) Once Upon a Time (Magic Kingdom)
7 + 4 + 6 + 7 + 3 + 5 + 7 = 39 points
Candace: I do not enjoy being in the Hub when it is jammed packed, especially when the people in front of me feel the need to put their children on their shoulders, which is bad enough, and then they hand them an iPad to (poorly) record the show. Just watch it on YouTube when you get home.
Mike: This show suffers from the same problem that many current Disney shows do. Despite impressive technology, I am tired of every show being a litany of Disney’s greatest intellectual properties. I would prefer a plot and story line to go along with compelling visuals and soundtracks. Side note, while the predecessor to this show, The Magic, the Memories, and You, did have earlier (i.e., inferior) technology, it was much better at storytelling, the very thing that later versions (including Celebrate the Magic) lack.
Tracy: Eh, I saw it once and that was enough for me.
Jason: I only saw 1/2 of this show. It’s enjoyable, but I preferred its predecessor Celebrate the Magic.
#5) Tree of Life Awakenings (Animal Kingdom)
6 + 5 + 5 + 4 + 1 + 6 + 6 = 33 points
Candace: I really enjoy that Animal Kingdom is finally giving us something during the nighttime hours. The best part of this show is the overall enhancements to the Tree of Life itself, even when the show is not playing. You can stand there for an hour and not see the same sequence repeat.
Laura: They improved this by actually setting a time frame on it. When it first started they were trying to do it sporadically and that was annoying. The show paying tribute to all the stage shows at AK is the best one.
Jason: I absolutely love these vignettes and the character they add to Animal Kingdom at night.
Mike: This is a nice first attempt, but if I am comparing it to other “spectaculars” this show necessarily must come in lower in the rankings. It is beautiful, and nice to see, but it is not spectacular.
#4) Fantasmic (Hollywood Studios)
3 + 7 + 2 + 5 + 4 + 4 + 2 = 27 points
Jason: While the Disney Hollywood Studios version pales in comparison to the Disneyland original, it still never ceases to entertain me! It gives me all the warm fuzzy feelings inside that a Disney show should!
Tracy: This is definitely a must-do on any trip. The music is phenomenal and the visuals still impress after all these years.
Jennifer: Even though I have Fantasmic second, I do have to say that it’s getting outdated and really needs to be updated. I almost put Illuminations above it. But…Illuminations could use an update too.
Candace: This show just is not re-watchable. I like it, but I do not want to see it every time I visit WDW.
Laura: (Or at the bottom of any list of Disney night time shows) I don’t say I hate a lot of things, but I hate this one. With a passion.
Mike: I once read a Broadway review that described Les Miserables as old and a little tired, but if it closed and reopened without any changes, it would instantly win the Tony for Best Revival. This is how I view Fantasmic. It is a tremendous show, and should be on everyone’s must-see list if they are only travelling to WDW once every few years. But, it is in serious need of some updating and variety to get repeat visitors to come back again and again.
#3) Wishes (Magic Kingdom)
1 + 3 + 4 + 3 + 5 + 3 + 4 = 23 points
Tracy: Such a classic and tear-inducing show (every damn time). There’s something magical about watching fireworks over Cinderella’s Castle. Any MK fireworks show will take top place for me.
Laura: It is time for them to do a new show, but this is still very enjoyable.
Candace: I actually prefer the holiday versions of this show to the standard one. I also prefer to watch it outside of the park. The crowds on Main Street and the Hub really detract from your ability to enjoy the show.
Mike: This show is beautiful, but really needs to go into retirement. This show HAS to be watched from Main Street or the Hub, and everyone knows it, which is why the crowds are so bad most nights in those places. Magic Kingdom is a large park but it has the biggest crowds. Turning the show into a 360-degree experience would open up more viewing locations throughout the Kingdom and create a much improved guest experience.
Jason: Don’t get me wrong, this is a great show, but I am so over it!! In the 14 years since it premiered, Disneyland has debuted 3, yes that’s 3 all new fireworks shows that blow Wishes out of the water!
#2) Illuminations (Epcot)
2 + 1 + 1 + 2 + 6 + 1 + 3 = 16 points
Mike: I make it a point to try and see this show on every visit. The soundtrack is phenomenal and it is unique. It is rare to find a Disney experience that is distinct from every other on property, and this is it. Bonus points as there is nearly a mile of fencing along World Showcase, affording plenty of good viewing locations. Now, if only we could get Disney to trim back some of those trees and bushes to make even more great viewing locations.
Jason: This show will always be my favorite for sentimental reasons as it premiered while I was on the Walt Disney World College Program. It brings back fond memories of that time in my life. Plus, it is spectacular and the 3 holiday renditions are even more amazing!
Tracy: I’ve always watched this on NYE, so I have a lot of wonderful memories ringing in the new year to this show. Plus the whole production is incredibly moving.
Candace: There is so much going on in this show that I can focus on something different every time I watch it.
Laura: I have a lot of sentimental ties to these fireworks. I have loved them since I first saw them back in 2000.
And now, for the #1 overall nighttime spectacular at Walt Disney World, as voted on by our panel:
#1) Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular (Hollywood Studios) 4 + 2 + 3 + 1 + 2 + 2 + 1 = 15 points
Laura: A Galactic Spectacular (Hollywood Studios) I prefer the first Star Wars Nighttime show to this one, but anything with Star Wars and Fireworks has to be high on the list for me.
Candace: If I am only going to spend one evening at a Disney park, this IS the show that I am going to watch. Confirmation bias: BB8 wins me over every time.
Tracy: A Galactic Spectacular: I love Star Wars and I LOVED this show when I saw it. That said, I like the classic feel of the other fireworks shows, and while this show appeals to my Star Wars nerdy side, it doesn’t hold the same nostalgia for me.
Jason: This show ranks high because it is shiny and new! I like it more each time I see it!
Mike: The Imagineers took the best technology from every other nighttime spectacular, applied brilliant visuals and lots of fireworks, and then set them to the best movie score of all time. They really hit this one out of the park. PLUS, the technology platforms are such that they can easily evolve the show over time to prevent it from growing stale…IF they want to do so.
Some Additional Thoughts
Jake: Disneyland shout out (and my personal overall favorite): World of Color.
Tracy: I’m also throwing Fantasy in the Sky into the mix (Star Wars is a new generation of that show). It is an AMAZING firework show, especially on New Year’s Eve with the circular fireworks.
Candace: [Another] Disneyland shout out: It seems like, lately, all of the Disneyland nighttime spectaculars are outdistancing their east coast cousins. Hopefully the new shows will give Walt Disney World a chance to get back in the race!
Jason: [Yet another Disneyland shout out] Candace got that one right. None of the current Florida shows measure up to any of the Disneyland shows for the last decade and a half. Also, any list of top nighttime spectaculars at Walt Disney World cannot go without a special shoutout to my favorite retired show, Sorcery in the Sky at Disney MGM Studios!! This show really upped the game for Disney fireworks. It was beautifully choreographed to an outstanding score and I would love to see it again!
Methinks we are seeing a bit of a trend developing in this commentary?
Well folks, there you have it, the definitive rankings of current nighttime spectaculars at the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida. How will the 2 new shows stack up? Check back with us as we will be sharing our thoughts and impressions with you soon!
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Enjoy the freedom of going wherever your feet, imagination, & determination take you!