The Spectacular History of the Electrical Water Pageant
This article originally ran on July 6, 2019. The Electrical Water Pageant is not currently running due to the pandemic, bit we can reminisce…
Over the years, The Walt Disney Company has presented a great deal of nighttime entertainment.
Their longest-running and arguably most famous presentation of this ilk is at Walt Disney World. Specifically, it takes place on the waters of Bay Lake and Seven Seas Lagoon. Here’s a look at the development of the Electrical Water Pageant.
The Beginning of the Electrical Water Pageant
The turbulent early days of Walt Disney World proved challenging for Disney executives. Their leader, Walt Disney, had died in 1966, almost immediately after he’d purchased the land for the Florida Project. He’d been the visionary with the plan for the development of this swampy area.
In Walt Disney’s absence, his brother, Roy, empowered several Imagineers and corporate bigwigs to construct the plan for Walt Disney World. Since their canvas was blank, these park strategists had free reign to try daring new initiatives.
One of these Disney executives was Bob Jani, a go-getter who had become the first head of the Guest Relations Department at Disneyland in 1955. He was 21 years old at the time. Obviously a prodigy, Jani developed a reputation as an events planner, eventually planning the 1976 U.S. Bicentennial Celebration in New York Harbor.
Bob Jani’s Big Idea
While working at Walt Disney World, Jani innately understood the difference between the bright lights of Disneyland as opposed to the darkness of the waters of Bay Lake. Jani turned the lack of development in Orlando into a positive by developing a nightly presentation. Amid blackest night, this man produced a nighttime parade filled with the soft, warming glow of electric lights.
The incongruity of the Electrical Water Pageant is one of its greatest strengths. When it arrived in 1971, no one had ever seen anything like it. In fact, the nighttime exhibition was so impressive that Disneyland executives felt compelled to create their own show. Yes, the Main Street Electrical Parade exists solely because the Disneyland crew was jealous of the Electrical Water Pageant at Walt Disney World!
Developing the Electrical Water Pageant
Imagine if you cut out a cardboard caricature of a sea creature. How easily could you turn it into a nighttime float? The answer is much more straightforward than you’d expect. All you need is to run lights into the cutout and then provide them with power. Voila! You’ve got an illuminated sea creature that can light up the night!
The entirety of the Electrical Water Pageant is built on this premise. I’m not even joking. Jani asked a few cast members to build a prototype for his idea. And his idea was a glowing float that would be visible in the dark.
Starting with a whale, these Disney employees constructed a few modest “floats” to which they attached lights. Really, the premise is no different than a heavily decorated Christmas or Halloween lawn.
What differentiated Jani’s plan is that nobody had thought of it before, at least not on that stage. When he glanced at the dark waters of Bay Lake, he realized that the resorts Disney had created would all share this same view. They’d see the nothingness of the lake and feel disappointed. By adding floats, however, Jani could turn this void into a meaningful amenity at the expensive resorts.
The Electrical Water Pageant was born from this inspiration and this prototype. The glow-whale caused a buzz among cast members who saw it. Once it was sea-worthy, its nighttime electric glow dazzled observers and served as proof of concept for an entire parade of floats.
Jani and his team labored to develop more of these constructs, eventually settling on 14 glow-in-the-dark floats. Each of them was 25-feet tall, making them impossible to miss, even from across Bay Lake. They were akin to a shooting star in an empty sky. From day one, the Electrical Water Pageant was a blockbuster hit.
Explaining the Electrical Water Pageant
Of course, the visual of the pageant is only part of the story. Jani created show elements worthy of an aquatic nighttime show. First, he solidified the presentation of the floats by giving each one a personal generator and 800-watt speaker system. Through this tactic, he gave each float independence so that when one broke down, the others could continue the performance.
Next, Jani chose musical accompaniments and styling for the pageant. He commissioned a special version of a classic tune for the show. Yes, Baroque Hoedown got its start with the Electrical Water Pageant before becoming better-known as an integral part of the Main Street Electrical Parade.
One of the reasons why Jani later earned the Bicentennial gig was that his version of the Electrical Water Pageant was so patriotic. He incorporated red, white, and blue stars and lighted decorations in the shape of flags in the processional.
The Sea Parade and Its Music
Each float in the parade has a particular purpose. I’ll write a detailed explanation at a later date, but the gist is that each boat represents an aquatic creature. Sure, some of them are fictional like mermaids and sea serpents, but most are creatures that you can also see at The Seas with Nemo & Friends.
In the modern version of the Electrical Water Pageant, floats feature whales, turtles, crocodiles, and sea horses. There’s even a brachiosaur, whose primary purpose seems to be as a cheap excuse to play Walk the Dinosaur by Was (Not Was).
All of the floats receive their own musical accompaniment, of course. Disney ended Baroque Hoedown’s usage on this presentation back in 1977. Today, classic Disney films like The Little Mermaid, Peter Pan, and Pete’s Dragon provide the soundtrack for the parade.
Longtime fans of the event can tell which float is next simply by hearing the music. The sounds of the Electrical Water Pageant are every bit as important as the lights and the float designs.
How to Watch the Electrical Water Pageant
The water parade isn’t quite like the Main Street Electrical Parade, which you can find easily as you roam Disneyland or Magic Kingdom (assuming that it’s currently being performed). You’ll need to know where to look for it.
The best spots are along Bay Lake, particularly at the monorail resorts. Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort is the best place to catch the event since the event always starts here. Generally, the first opportunity to watch the Electrical Water Pageant is at 9 PM EST, but it’ll run at a different time when the fireworks at Magic Kingdom are scheduled for that time. Check the online schedule at your resort to find the exact start time.
Four other resorts will have beachfront views of the parade. Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa and Disney’s Contemporary Resort are the other monorail resorts with phenomenal views of the festivities.
Disney’s Wilderness Lodge and The Campsites at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort are the other two Magic Kingdom hotels that are part of the pageant’s path. Finally, the parade will arrive at Magic Kingdom itself during Extra Magic Hours on some nights.
You’ll always know when the Electrical Water Pageant is in your area. The unmistakable musical accompaniments are recognizable from across the water. When you hear them, you should always stop and listen/watch.