Best Viewing Areas for IllumiNations
The nightly exhibition at Epcot is the best in the world. That’s not my opinion, either. I’m simply relaying the results of Amusement Today’s Golden Ticket Awards. The company is the global leader in amusement park analysis, and their Golden Ticket Awards are the industry’s gold standard. Each year since 2005, they have chosen IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth as the Best Outdoor Night Show Production.
When you visit Epcot, you’ll want to see what the fuss is about. How can one show dominate an entire industry for 13 straight years? Will you find it overhyped? Or will you agree that it’s the best and most lauded nighttime show in theme park history? To decide, you’ll need great seats to appreciate the majesty of the presentation. Here are six of the best places to watch IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth.
6. Italy Isola
First of all, let’s go over the basics. When you want to watch the fireworks, you’ll need to play ahead a bit. Epcot’s average daily attendance is 33,400. At least a third of those guests are your competition for great seats for IllumiNations.
For most of the suggested seating areas here, you’ll need to arrive at least 60 minutes early. On a day when you want to take it easy at Epcot, pick your spot 90 minutes out and then relish the scenery. It’s a great way to kick back and relax while also appreciating the beauty of the World Showcase area.
Several of the pavilions provide up-close perspectives of IllumiNations. The one drawback is that park planners have deduced the best viewing areas, too, and they sometimes have upcharge events at these locations. As an example, the Italy Isola is a gorgeous spot that actually sits on the water of World Showcase Lagoon.
From an overhead perspective, you’ll a gorgeous white deck that looks like it could host events. That’s the catch with this particular recommendation. It does. Disney provides this space to guests willing to pay more to see the show. People hold their wedding activities here (!), and businesses sometimes hold gatherings, too. Should you want to avoid the extra cost – and you really should – hang out in the area around the Italy Isola. There aren’t any great seating options, but the views from here are impeccable if you don’t mind sitting on the ground.
5. World Showcase Plaza
Some of the best viewing areas for IllumiNations are also the most obvious ones. They even offer some unique competitive advantages. Consider World Showcase Plaza one of the best for a good view followed by a quick escape.
World Showcase Plaza is easy to find. Should you walk straight from the entrance of the park, you’ll eventually reach this place. It’s the spot where Future World changes into World Showcase. You can’t miss it for a simple reason. If you keep walking forward from there, you’ll reach the World Showcase Lagoon. Ten more steps would get you wet…and arrested.
This spot is one of the best viewing areas for IllumiNations. The problem is that everyone knows it, and so it fills up quickly. On top of that, much of the FastPass+ viewing area for the event is here. I’ve previously said that this isn’t the best usage of a Tier A FastPass, something I believe. Should you come across an IllumiNations FastPass around 3 p.m. for the day, it’s an option to consider strongly. Otherwise, you’ll want to arrive early to watch from World Showcase Plaza.
4) La Hacienda de San Angel
Frequent Epcot visitors know the hidden secret to a wonderful IllumiNations experience. We can game the system, so to speak. The way to do it is by enjoying a prolonged meal at one of four restaurants. You see, all 11 pavilions at the World Showcase have multiple eateries, but some are better for this exercise than others.
You’ll want to select a place that has outdoor seating AND a direct view of World Showcase Lagoon. It’s easy to deduce which ones work for this purpose. You can sit down and look to see whether you have an unobstructed view of the middle of the lagoon. If you don’t, you’ll want to move to a different seat. You should also verify that a latecomer can’t block your view by sitting somewhere between you and the lagoon, too.
Out of the four favored restaurants for IllumiNations viewings, La Hacienda de San Angel is the most divisive choice. Some deem it the best of the bunch due to its splendid combination of appetizers and margaritas. Others lament that many of the views here are obstructed. So, you should rank it depending on A) your desire for the perfect perspective of IllumiNations and B) how much you love margaritas.
3) Spice Road Table
Fun fact: If you google the name of this restaurant, one of the autofill recommendations is “IllumiNations.” This statement should tell you all that you need to know about the situation. The Morocco Pavilion is one of my favorites at the World Showcase due to its authenticity. The ruler of Morocco had a hand in its construction, and so everything from the bazaar-styled stores to the restaurants have that special touch.
Spice Road Table is a Table Service restaurant with a floor-to-ceiling window on one side AND some exterior seating. It sounds perfect for IllumiNations, right? Well, that’s not entirely true. Critics are quick to point out that only a handful of tables enjoy direct line of sight to World Showcase Lagoon. The rest are either partially or entirely blocked. In other words, when you book a table here, you’re rolling the dice.
Should you get a poor view, you’ll be out of luck. You’ll be left with no other options but to eat quickly and then head outside to watch the show with the masses, largely defeating the purpose of this article. My suggestion for fans of Moroccan food is to reserve a table here the moment that your 180-day window opens. Target the 7:30 timeframe for your Advanced Dining Reservation (ADR). If you can’t get it, you should probably skip Spice Road Table. If you do, however, it’s arguably THE best view for IllumiNations.
2) Japan Pavilion’s Second Floor
The Japan Pavilion is THE best pavilion to watch the nightly exhibition. It has a couple of competitive advantages that differentiate it from other options at the World Showcase. The main one is that the architecture here works to the advantage of guests. Why? It’s covered, meaning that you will still get to watch the show on a rainy night. The other one is that it has a second floor. From this height, you’re unlikely to have obstructed views. Even if you do, you can move a few steps to avoid them.
You’ll even have multiple options of where to watch IllumiNations. Tokyo Dining is the preferred spot. As with Spice Road Table, you’ll need to book an ADR to ensure that you can watch the show, though. It has a larger number of tables with unobstructed views, but the same negatives still apply. You must book early to get the best view.
Disney pros know that you don’t need a reservation, though. Instead, just head over to Mitsukoshi Department Store. The second floor of this gigantic shop is the same place where Tokyo Dining is. You don’t have to go inside, though. There’s a balcony on the second floor that provides jaw-dropping views of IllumiNations. You can just lean on the railing and watch the show. It’s the best spot for free, non-FastPass viewings.
1( Rose & Crown Dining Room
When you want the ultimate IllumiNations experience, however, there’s only one choice. I’m devout in the belief that Rose & Crown Dining Room is the end-all, be-all place for IllumiNations viewings. My family has done this many times over the years, and we’re as comfortable eating here during the show as we are at Thanksgiving dinner at mom’s house. It’s become that integral to our family’s Disney vacations.
Rose & Crown Dining Room is a tremendous restaurant that serves the best Fish & Chips in North America. Oh, and the Sticky Toffee Pudding is divine, too. The dining experience here is simply wonderful from start to finish, as a team of impeccably trained cast members ensures that your meal times perfectly with the fireworks.
You’ll want to book an ADR for 7:15 p.m. Then, order appetizers and desserts, making it a three-course meal experience. You’re doing this to schedule your meal with IllumiNations. When you do it right, the desserts will reach your table almost simultaneously with the start of the exhibition.
As for the view, you’re right by the World Showcase Lagoon, sitting outside with an unobstructed view. The barge that sits in the middle of the lagoon is closer to your table than anyone else in the world at that moment, meaning that it’s THE BEST seat at Epcot. The only downsides are that you’ll have to spend two hours on your meal, and you’ll need that ADR. Otherwise, you’re out of luck.
Rose & Crown is an open secret in Disney circles. The IllumiNations meal is in such demand that ADRs for this time of the evening are more difficult to book than dinner at Be Our Guest. When you are one of the lucky few who gets to eat on the patio by the lagoon, however, it’s the most magical experience imaginable. The combination of this meal and an IllumiNations viewing should be on your bucket list. For my family, it’s a critical part of a Disney visit. We feel like our trip is incomplete without it.