Disney's Nighttime Shows: Ranked and Reviewed
Our clients often ask us which of Disney World’s nighttime shows we’d most recommend. So today, we’re ranking the headliner nighttime spectaculars in each park!
Last Place: Rivers of Light (Animal Kingdom)
We really wanted to love this show, so it breaks our hearts to say this: it’s just not anything special. For months before its opening, Rivers of Light was incessantly hyped as ground-breakingly spectacular. Then came the technical difficulties and the delays and the elimination of certain special effects. Now that it’s finally running, the show feels more like an afterthought than a headliner attraction. It’s very short and anti-climactic: when it finished, the crowd didn’t react because nobody knew that it was done. Don’t get us wrong: there are beautiful parts of Rivers of Light. But it’s not nearly as amazing as anticipated.
Tip: Unless you’re on the Disney Dining Plan and you’re able to book a meal that comes with vouchers for reserved Rivers of Light seating, don’t bother with this one. Make it an early night and hit the pool instead.
Third Place: IllumiNations (Epcot)
This is a classic long-running nighttime Disney World spectacular, complete with laser lights and music and fireworks. But IllumiNations is situated relatively low to the ground, making it difficult for little ones to see everything. And while the show’s message of unity is undeniably powerful, there’s nothing decidedly “Disney” about IllumiNations, so younger guests may quickly become bored. Still, if you have a couple of days at Epcot, you won’t be disappointed if you’re able to fit IllumiNations in.
Tip: For most guests, I recommend watching IllumiNations from World Showcase Plaza (where Future World and World Showcase meet). This location provides the easiest exit after the show. Guests staying at an Epcot-area Disney World Resort (Beach Club, Yacht Club, or Boardwalk) have the advantage of walking back to their hotel from World Showcase’s International Gateway, and can therefore easily watch the show from anywhere along World Showcase Lagoon (just be sure your view is unobstructed!). Finally, if you can score a dinner reservation at the Rose & Crown around showtime, you may be able to watch IllumiNations right from your table!
Second Place: Fantasmic (Hollywood Studios)
Lasers, water, pyrotechnics, familiar Disney music, and TONS of characters…what’s not to love??!!
Seriously, this is one of our favorite Disney nighttime spectaculars: for most families, it’s not-to-be-missed. That being said, guests with younger or more impressionable children should take note that (while everything works out in the end) this show does become a little “villain-heavy” at times.
Tip: Book a dining reservation under the Fantasmic Dining Package for reserved show seating. OR try to get a FastPass for the show (after you use your first three for the day). If neither of these options are available to you, arrive 75-90 minutes early to ensure you’ll get a seat.
First Place: Happily Ever After (Magic Kingdom)
As the recent replacement to the much-beloved Wishes Nighttime Spectacular, Happily Ever After had some big shoes to fill…and it definitely stood up to the challenge! While Happily Ever After doesn’t tug at the heartstrings as much as Wishes did, the projections and pyrotechnics have risen to a new level. Add Disney characters and a heartfelt message...it's classic Disney in all its glory! If you’re only going to see one nighttime show on your Disney World trip, this should be it.
Tip: If you can swing it, book the Fireworks Dessert Party at Tomorrowland Terrace with PLAZA GARDEN VIEWING (click here for our recent blog on that). If not, get a spot near the end of Main Street as close to the center of the castle as possible (you’ll probably need to start staking it out about 75 minutes in advance during the “off-season” and 90 minutes ahead of time during “peak season”).
Looking for more information about any of these nighttime shows? Intersted in a no-obligation quote for your next Disney World vacaion? Call or e-mail us today!
Meredith McCutcheon: Owner and Disney Vacation Specialist
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