A Guide to Disney World Nighttime Spectaculars

Rivers of Light at Disney Animal Kingdom
Rivers of Light at Disney Animal Kingdom - Photo by Steps to Magic

From the moment that the sun sets at Walt Disney World, you’re wishing and waiting for the iconic evening entertainment that Disney is known for. Fireworks, lagoon shows and projection mapping are all part of the lineup in and around the theme parks.

Here are the questions that you may be asking:

  • Are they all worth seeing?
  • Should I book FastPass reservations?
  • Where are the best viewing locations?

Let’s take a look at one of my favorite parts of a Disney World vacation!

A Guide to Disney World Nighttime Spectaculars


Experiences by Park

Magic Kingdom

  • Happily Ever After
  • Once Upon a Time
  • Electrical Water Pageant (Seven Seas Lagoon)

EPCOT

  • EPCOT Forever

Disney’s Hollywood Studios

  • Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular
  • Fantasmic

Disney’s Animal Kingdom

  • Rivers of Light
  • Tree of Life Awakenings

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Types of Experiences

Fireworks

  • Happily Ever After
  • EPCOT Forever
  • Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular

Requires Seating 

  • Fantasmic
  • Rivers of Light

Projection Mapping

  • Once Upon a Time
  • Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular
  • Tree of Life Awakening

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Ranking the Highlight Nighttime Spectaculars

  1. Happily Ever After
  2. Illuminations: Reflections of Earth
  3. Fantasmic
  4. Rivers of Light
  5. Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular

Details and Thoughts

Happily Ever After

  • Park: Magic Kingdom
  • Duration: 18 Minutes
  • Replaced: Wishes: A Magical Gathering of Disney Dreams

This is a fireworks & projection mapping show that’s performed nightly at the Magic Kingdom and is by far the most “Disney” of all the shows that’s currently offered on property. It’s a “Must See” show that’s worth prioritizing into your schedule without hesitation.

EPCOT Forever

  • Park: The World Showcase @ EPCOT
  • Duration: 14 Minutes
  • Replaced: Illuminations: Reflections of Earth
  • Will be Replaced By: HarmonioUS

I’ve got a special place for EPCOT shows in my heart, as I heard Illuminations every night that I worked in the Canadian Pavilion. The soundtrack is catchy, the technology that’s used to bring the show to life AND the knowledge that you’ll actually shed a tear at the end…it’s well worth sticking around until the end of the day at EPCOT.

The best location for viewing EPCOT Forever is actually in the Italy/Germany Pavilion, towards the back of the World Showcase. This is due to the crowds that hang out at the front of the park, by Canada & Mexico, so there’s more of a chance to get a good spot up-close to the water.

Most of the show takes place in the sky, but there are a few sections where you should try to get a view of the centre of the water.

Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular

  • Park: Disney’s Hollywood Studios
  • Duration: 14 Minutes
  • Replaced: Symphony in the Stars – A Galactic Spectacular

Featuring music, fireworks, lasers, searchlights and projection mapping, Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular is probably the most underrated yet underwhelming fireworks experience on property. This isn’t because of the technology used, but more because the subject of Star Wars is polarizing for a lot of the guests who don’t know (or want to know) the storylines.

I’m a fan of anything that happens when the sun goes down as it allows the show designers to play with all the toys available, but as the park is going through a transition from a theme park focused on the “making of” to “immersive experiences”…this may be a short-lived stopgap for Hollywood Studios.

Remember, this is only MY opinion…but it’s worth checking out a YouTube video before setting your heart on choosing this over the next entry.

Fantasmic

  • Park: Disney’s Hollywood Studios
  • Duration: 22-30 Minutes
  • FastPass+ Reservations Available

The first time I saw Fantasmic was actually over at Disneyland Resort back in 1995, but once you’ve heard the soundtrack…you’ll be hooked.

Opened on October 15th, 1998 at Disney’s Hollywood Studios (Disney MGM Studios at the time), this is actually one of the experiences that sells folks on the “Disney Parks” brand…because it’s all about Mickey’s imagination.

Is it worth seeing? Absolutely! Just make sure that it’s actually performed the night you want, as Fantasmic isn’t performed each and every single night.

Rivers of Light

  • Park: Disney’s Animal Kingdom
  • FastPass+ Reservations Available (but not needed)

Of all the nighttime spectaculars, this is probably the most disappointing experience bar-none. There’s no connection to Disney and the budget chops have already started, as the live actors have already been pulled.

Skip it and spend more time over at Pandora: The World of Avatar!


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Other Nighttime Fun at Disney World

Once Upon a Time

This is a projection mapping experience that happens nightly before Happily Ever After at the Magic Kingdom. Thumbs up!

Tree of Life Awakenings

When the sun sets at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, there’s a ceremony that takes place at the Tree of Life…and then continues to happen throughout the evening. Definitely a magical experience that you should check out at least once, especially because of the level of detail that you get from the projection mapping.

Electrical Water Pageant

Hang out at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort during the nighttime fireworks show at the Magic Kingdom and you’ll be treated to an opening day “show” that happens in the Seven Seas Lagoon.


Future Expansions and Experiences

HarmonioUS (coming 2020)


Hope this was helpful! If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out via our Facebook page!

A Guide to Disney World Nighttime Spectaculars - #StepstoMagic
A Guide to Disney World Nighttime Spectaculars – #StepstoMagic

Written by Dustin Fuhs

I’m Dustin Fuhs, a theme park fanatic that has created this platform to showcase my passion, tools and opinions to create a fun and interactive experience for everyone who visits. My goal is to help you and your family have the most magical experience at Walt Disney World. In reading my articles and ideas, I hope that you can find some fantastic ways to bring your dreams into reality! If you want more Theme Park fun - listen to the We Like Theme Parks Podcast at https://welikethemeparks.podbean.com/

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