When I think about fireworks, I immediately think about Disney. The nighttime spectaculars put on at the different theme parks are each unique and each unforgettable. I can’t think of a better way to cap off a magical day of Disney rides than with Disney fireworks. In today’s episode, we will discover there is much more going on at Epcot than just fireworks. Without further ado, let’s get started with our…
Know Before You Go Essential Facts
- The show is located in the World Showcase in Epcot
- Fastpass + is offered
- The fright factor is 1 out of 5
- Guests may remain in a wheelchair/ECV
- The show is 12 minutes long
- The show may be cancelled for inclement weather
- The show opened with the Millennium Celebration and premiered October 1, 1999. Since then, the show’s technology has been updated, upgraded, and refurbished many times over the years.
Those are the facts, now onto the fun!
Good evening, and welcome. We’ve gathered here tonight, around the fire, as people of all lands have gathered for thousands and thousands of years before us, to share the light and to share a story. An amazing story, as old as time itself but still being written. And though we each of us have our own individual stories to tell, a true adventure emerges when we bring them all together as one. I hope you enjoy our story tonight- Reflections of Earth.
Picture yourself standing around the World Showcase Lagoon, the calm water reflecting the flickering lights from the different pavilions. All is quiet as the crowd waits in anticipation under a clear dark sky. Suddenly, the booming narration welcomes everyone to gather around the fire. As the introduction comes to a close, the sound of a candle being blown out fills the air and the all of the lights go dark. A sea of blackness envelops the lagoon. The deep bass of drums begins to beat, slowly at first, then quickly builds into a crescendo until, boom! A single shot of light flies like a comet, illuminating the sky above. Next, two large bursts of red explode high up above and the story of IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth has begun!
Yes, this nighttime spectacular really does tell a story through fireworks, flames, water, lasers, lights, and music. This story is made up of 3 distinct chapters. The first is Part One: The Earth is Born. In this chapter, the lagoon explodes with chaotic fireworks and balls of fire. The combination of the two represent a fiery volcano. Many of the fireworks seem to explode right on the surface of the water, like lava splashing up from the mouth of a volcano below. Some break free from the low elevation and shoot higher overhead exploding in gold, orange, and red. Depending on where you stand, there is a good chance you will feel the heat of the flames blazing from the Inferno Barge at the center of the water. All of this makes for a fast, loud, and hot opening to the show.
In Part Two: The Triumph of Life, things slow down and become much more peaceful. The flames and fireworks take a break during this chapter as a giant illuminated globe makes it journey across the water. On the globe are all of the continents of the world, each bringing the story to life through brightly lit imagery. This Imagineering marvel is unlike anything else in Walt Disney World, or anywhere else for that matter. It is the world’s first spherical video display system and today consists of over 15,000 LED light clusters. The globe is 28 feet in diameter, sits on a 10 foot platform, and is piloted by an on board driver using an infrared guidance system. As this technological marvel slowly spins, you can see the history of humanity and some of the greatest achievements of mankind on display. Along with the globe, colorful lasers and jets of water combine with the tranquil music to set the tone for this chapter. Even the World Showcase pavilions themselves get in on the act here. Many of the buildings surrounding the lagoon come to life with decorative lights, turning on and off in unison with the music. As this chapter concludes, the tempo again grows more upbeat and transitions directly into Part Three: Hope for the Future.
The final chapter is a culmination of all the tricks Epcot has up its international sleeves. The story has gone from the beginning of life to the celebration of achievement, and now the promise of tomorrow. To tell this part of the story, the entire lagoon erupts in a dance of lights, lasers, water, and fireworks. The giant 350,000 pound Earth globe reveals a final surprise as it splits apart and blossoms like a lotus flower. The centerpiece of the show reveals a giant torch inside, representing the unity of humanity. This Unity Torch is the 20th to be lit, as the other 19 flame to life all around the lagoon. Each torch represents a century from the last two millennia. The giant celebration of hope for the future culminates in a blast of white light with the final fireworks filling the night sky and raining down to the water below.
Sounds like a pretty good story huh? Well, if you have never seen the show, trust me when I say it is amazing! I don’t think I have ever left Epcot after watching IllumiNations and not felt a surge of optimism, hope, and joy. In the library of WDW fireworks shows, it is truly one of a kind. The lasers, globe, and surrounding pavilions give this show a unique feel. The Magic Kingdom may have the best showstopper in it’s nighttime fireworks performance Wishes. After all, it is hard to beat the backdrop of Cinderella’s Castle. However, that show is meant to be viewed a little distance back from the castle. IllumiNations is a more encompassing show. No matter where you are on the World Showcase promenade, there are pavilion buildings coming to life with lights coordinated to the music. At many points in the show you may catch yourself looking around just to see all that is going on. So, with that said, where is the best viewing spot for IllumiNations?
You can search this question online and probably find at least a dozen different answers. Because the show takes place in the round, and there are multiple viewing areas where you can clearly see the center of the lagoon, there are many great spots for viewing the show. That is actually one of my favorite things about IllumiNations. You don’t have to camp out an hour early like you do at Wishes or Fantasmic. Instead, you can enjoy a nice evening stroll around the World Showcase, eat some great food, explore the pavilions, and then find a spot with a clear view about 15 minutes before IllumiNations begins. Now, I’m not saying that all viewing spots are created equal, some are clearly better than others. So, let’s take a few minutes to discuss some areas you will want to have in mind when you visit.
First things first, you need to have an exit strategy when selecting your viewing spot. Do you want to leave and get back to your resort as quickly as possible? Are you staying at the nearby Yacht Club, Beach Club, or Boardwalk Resort? Are you a night owl who doesn’t mind being out late? Your answer to these questions will help you determine where to set up camp.
Let’s start with the night owls. You take your time enjoying all the pavilions have to offer, you value a premium viewing spot, and hey, who cares how long you have to wait in line for the bus back to the resort. If that sounds like you, then my number one pick is the Italy Isola. The Italy pavilion is located on the far side of the World Showcase meaning you will have a long walk after the show is over. However, there is little island that juts out into the lagoon, it is slightly elevated, and offers completely unobstructed views of the show. Plus, you will have the iconic Spaceship Earth globe as a backdrop for all that is going on. This is a fantastic vantage point! It is important to note that the spot is so good, sometimes it is closed for private parties. Even so, there are a couple of spots on either side of the Isola that will be open to the public and offer almost the same view. You could have a romantic dinner in Italy and then head outside to take in the fireworks. Or, have a romping good time at the Biergarten next door in Germany and then take the short walk to the Isola for a great view. Speaking of dining, there are actually some good spots all around the lagoon where you can watch the show right from your table.
That brings us to our second strategy, which is making a dining reservation for a restaurant with a view of the fireworks. This goes hand in hand with those not in a big hurry to leave the park. Click here for a link to an excellent article by our friend Shannon Albert over at WDW Prep School. Shannon breaks down each restaurant that offers a view, and covers the pros and cons of each offering.
For this podcast, I’m going to give you my top recommendation for combining dinner with a view. That honor goes to the Rose & Crown Pub at the United Kingdom pavilion. This restaurant offers what many consider to be the best view of IllumiNations. You will need to make an Advanced Dining Reservation, and will want to do so for a time about an hour before showtime. When you arrive, you will need to request a table on the patio. Now, even if you grab a reservation during the preferred time slot, there is no guarantee that the patio won’t already be full. This is a very popular spot because of the great view. Just make your request and hopefully the Disney cast member will help make this a magical evening for you!
Next up, let’s talk about the lucky ones that are enjoying a stay at the nearby Yacht & Beach Club Resort, or the Boardwalk Resort. One of the best pros to staying at these beautiful Deluxe level resorts is the proximity to Epcot. In fact, you can even walk from the International Gateway back to the resort if you fancy a little stroll. If not, don’t worry, boats are constantly running between the docks. With that in mind, the perfect spot may be on the bridge to France next to the International Gateway. Not only is this a terrific place to watch the show, but it puts you right at the exit when the show is over. Only guests staying at one of these resorts will be exiting this direction, everyone else has to head to the front of the park to catch the bus or find their vehicle. Play your cards right and you could be back at your resort before the huddled masses even board their bus!
Let’s say you aren’t staying at one of the Epcot area resorts and you don’t feel like standing at bus stop for 30 minutes or more. In other words, you are like me! You want to enjoy the show and then get out of dodge as quickly as possible. Well, you will want to be on the side of the lagoon closest to Future World and the park’s exit. You could go as far out as the United Kingdom on one side, or Norway on the other. Of course, the closer you stay to the World Showcase entrance, the quicker you can leave and the less crowd you will have to contend with. My favorite spot for a quick exit is just between Norway and Mexico. This area has pretty ample viewing, only minor obstructions, and offers a close walk back to the World Showcase entrance. The last time we visited, Rachel and I spent a nice evening working our way around the World Showcase in a counter clockwise manner. About 15 minutes before IllumiNations began, we walked past Norway and found a good spot just before Mexico. We enjoyed a good view of the show, then quickly made our way out of the park. We were one of the first ones to arrive at the bus back to our resort and waited less than 5 minutes. If you have small kids and need to get out quickly this is a good strategy.
Finally, there are a couple of other alternatives to all this scheming and planning. You can elect to use a Fastpass+ or make reservations for an IllumiNations Sparkling Dessert Party. Let’s begin with the dessert party. This is a paid reservation that includes delectable desserts and a reserved viewing area that puts you front and center at the entrance to the World Showcase. It is important to know, there are not seats provided at the party so you will be standing outside in an uncovered area. You can arrive an hour before the show begins and enjoy a variety of desserts hailing from the different pavilions. Offerings may include Pistachio cannoli from Italy, traditional baklava from Morocco, warm Irish Cream Chocolate Pudding, and more! Sparkling wine is offered along with lemonade, tea, and coffee. The cost is currently $49 for adults, and $29 for children ages 3-9. The dessert party is not available for all showings of IllumiNations, so check the calendar before planning out your day. Reservations are highly recommended and can be made up to 180 days in advance.
Or, if you really want to go all out and watch in style, there is an even more exclusive option. You can actually rent a pontoon boat over at the Yacht & Beach Club marina. The boats will hold up to 10 people, and run about $400 for the evening. The cost includes a driver who will park your boat near the International Gateway for the fireworks viewing. You can call 407-WDW-PLAY up to 180 days in advance to make a reservation.
If shelling out the extra cash doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, you can make a Fastpass+ reservation for free! This reserved spot is right next to the dessert party, but sadly does not include the yummy food. If you are having a hard time using up all your Fastpass+ reservations at Epcot, this could be a good use of that resource. For me personally, I would much rather skip the line at Test Track, Soarin’, or the new Frozen Ever After ride in Norway. Put the Fastpass+ to use on a ride and just find one of the many spots we have already talked about today for IllumiNations.
So, that is an introduction to IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth. I say introduction because we could do another podcast on just the technology behind this show. The Inferno Barge, the Earth Globe, the lasers, the fireworks, the control booth, each holds fascinating details. I haven’t even mentioned the fountain barges which can each pump 4,000 gallons of water per minute! Look at me sneaking in a little extra factoid for you. Well, that will have to wait for another day and another podcast.
What I want you to take away from today is the wonderful story behind this show. Originally this show was created for the millennium celebration and only designed to run for a limited time. However, it was so well done and so well received that Disney wisely decided to keep it going. Since then the show has dazzled millions of viewers and received the Golden Ticket Award for Best Outdoor Show Production 11 years in a row. Next time you are in Epcot, be sure to make plans to catch IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth.