Remembering Our Favorite Nighttime Shows at Walt Disney World
Epcot Forever has arrived, which is fantastic news! The new nighttime fireworks presentation delighted guests with its humor, visuals, and hypnotic soundtrack. Alas, the presence of Epcot Forever means that one of our favorite nighttime shows, IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth, is gone forever. That thought makes us all a bit melancholy, right?
Don’t be glum, chums! Everything lives on thanks to the internet. Rather than feel a sense of loss, let’s celebrate all of the memorable moments from the nighttime shows that we’ve lost. Here’s a remembrance of four of our favorite lost Walt Disney World presentations.
Fantasy in the Sky
Everybody starts somewhere. At Walt Disney World, Fantasy in the Sky lit up the night from opening day in 1976 until 2003. By the time it reached Orlando, it had already run for 18 years at Disneyland.
Yes, ignoring a few fireworks haphazardly shot off from the parking lot in 1956 and 1957, this presentation was the first real fireworks show in theme park history. And while it’s evolved a great deal over the years, the reality is that Fireworks in the Sky’s main claim to fame is just that. It was the first.
The presentation was no different than one you’d see at a major July 4th celebration today save for one attribute. It featured a musical accompaniment of classic Disney music of the era, including the impossibly catchy Mickey Mouse Club theme.
Fantasy in the Sky certainly doesn’t match up to the other presentations mentioned here, but anyone who visited Magic Kingdom up until 2003 remembers it fondly. For a time, it was all people knew about nighttime fireworks in Orlando.
IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth
At the time of publication, IllumiNations has been gone less than 48 hours, which makes it challenging to eulogize. The loss still seems fresh for this, the most successful nighttime presentation in theme park history.
As I’ve mentioned previously, the Golden Ticket Awards honor the best theme park attractions in the world. IllumiNations not only won the title of Best Outdoor Night Attraction in 2004 but held it through 2015. At that point, the Golden Tickets simply gave up and retired the award. The harshest critics in the world felt only awe when they watched this show.
No one will ever forget the dazzling moment when the Earth Globe lit up for the first time, signifying the start of the show. The spherical digital display was the first of its kind and so visually impressive that park guests sometimes forgot to look up at the sky. They missed the fireworks while watching the Earth Globe’s LED screens.
I’d be remiss if I failed to acknowledge the score. Legendary composer Hans Zimmer actually passed on the project, pawning it off to a friend, Gavin Greenaway. Sometimes, everything in life works out the way that it should, as Greenaway’s work here has proven equal parts flawless and timeless.
Coming to you LIVE from the final night of Illuminations: Reflections of Earth!!! Enjoy the historic show!!
Posted by MickeyBlog.com on Monday, September 30, 2019
While I prefer some other presentations on this list, the undeniable truth is that IllumiNations is Disney’s perfect nighttime show. Everything about the project went right, and the sum is somehow even greater than the parts.
Main Street Electrical Parade
The most famous of all theme park parades has come and gone from Magic Kingdom several times over the years. The Main Street Electrical Parade debuted in Orlando in 1977, disappeared for a while in 1991, returned in 1999, and went away in 2001. Its most recent run lasted from 2010 to 2016. So, no matter how old you are, you’ve had a chance to experience the show at some point.
The Main Street Electrical Parade embodies the excellence of Disney at night. It’s Disneyland’s response to the Electrical Water Pageant that takes place on the waters surrounding Magic Kingdom. However, the parade’s popularity at the Happiest Place on Earth forced Disney officials to duplicate it in Orlando.
Everyone’s grateful that this happened because the water pageant and parade tie together naturally. One is the land-based version of the other, and any Magic Kingdom evening that ended with a bit of each one seemed like a perfect night. Even now, nothing lights up the dark at Disney the way that the Main Street Electrical Parade once did. Hopefully, it’ll return again soon.
Snig and Oopla’s Hyperspace Hoopla
This one may confuse you a bit. You only know it if you visited Walt Disney World during their unforgettable Star Wars Weekends. Since my wife and my anniversary and her birthday fall at the same time as Disney annually ran this event, we are fans of the sci-fi experience.
Star Wars Weekends ran during May and sometimes June from 1997 to 2015, albeit with a couple of gap years. Hyperspace Hoopla quickly became one of the anchor events celebrating all things Star Wars. It was a real crowd-pleaser due to the decidedly un-Disney show elements, highlighted by a dance-off between many of your favorite Star Wars characters.
Friends, once you’ve watched Darth Maul head-banging to Back in Black, you’ll never think of the Sith the same way again. Then again, you may not have seen it. The show varied each year, depending on the location of the stage. I’ve included several videos here, but the one above this paragraph is the best, as it features the famous Hey Ya dance routine.
Hyperspace Hoopla was wildly entertaining, and I sincerely hope that Disney brings it back now that Batuu is open.
Wishes: A Magical Gathering of Dreams
When I think of warm Florida nights spent at Walt Disney World, one of the strongest memories I have is of a single line of dialogue. It seems like the lyric, “And all our wishes will come true,” punctuated so many Magic Kingdom visits. Whenever I heard those words, they felt like the exclamation point on another magical park day.
Magic Kingdom hosted Wishes from 2003 through 2017, and it told one of the best stories ever for a nighttime fireworks display. Jiminy Cricket joined the Blue Fairy in exploring the power of doing “as dreamers do.” The power of this presentation stemmed from the music, as Disney selected only the most melodic pieces from their soundtrack library.
The showstopper involved a brave cast member strapped to a line. Dressed as Tinker Bell, this person soared on a wire from the highest spire of Cinderella Castle. This special effect ably accompanied the power of the music.
To me, Wishes claims the title of best Disney fireworks music. I actually pulled it up and listened to it while I wrote this piece. And that perfectly describes the power and lasting appeal of Disney nighttime exhibitions.