30 January 2012

Do as dreamers do

I’ll tell you something, folks, there are any number of things we look forward to and remember from a trip to Walt Disney World. From food to character meetings and first trips aboard an attraction, each holds a special place in our hearts. There are, however, perhaps no more special memories, than those of the incredible visuals that take place in and around Walt Disney World after the sun has set.

A quick aside: Since each of our memories of the nighttime spectaculars are so individual, I decided to not include any photos in the roundtable today so you can take a moment to remember what makes each show special to you!

Roundtable Topic: What is your favorite nighttime spectacular, past or present, in Walt Disney World?
Roundtable Contributors: Greg Grimsley (The Disney Obsession), Elizabeth Caran (Take the Monorail), Fiona (DF’82), Melissa Loflin (Makin’ Memories), AJ Wolfe (The Disney Food Blog), Andy Jackson (Eating (and Drinking) around the World), Eric Hoffman (Netmongrel), and yours truly.
Greg – I do not consider myself an aficionado of classical music, but I do have a deep appreciation of it. It was something that started early in life and continues even now as I work to expand my classical vocabulary. Given that background, I was captivated when I first experienced a Walt Disney World nighttime spectacular. I had settled in along the lagoon in the Mexico Pavilion and witnessed “IllumiNations”!

Mind you, I love the current IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth, and my heart swells at its various crescendos. But for me, it pales to the IllumiNations that graced the World Showcase Lagoon from January 1988 to September 1996. Yes, the lasers have improved over the years as have the pyrotechnics, but the sounds of some of the worlds greatest pieces of music have faded from the promenade. This is alright; Epcot should progress and the music filling the air now has long since entered the pantheon of classic Disney music.

The reasons making this former IllumiNations my favorite are numerous. I loved how the countries of the world were celebrated with music from a native composer and how lighting and projections were used to transform a country during their moment in the spotlight. Recall the Windmills of Montmartre in France while Offenbach’s La Vie Parisienne played? Or perhaps you’ll remember how the crowd applauded as a clarinet swooned into the opening measures of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue; the American Adventure pavilion being bathed in red, white and blue light.

In Act III, the finale, we were treated to the glorious 4th Movement of Beethoven’s Ninth, the “Ode to Joy”. We celebrated with Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite and Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. All this culminating with the triumphant 1812 Festival Overture by Tschaikovsky (the first song I could hum nearly in its entirety as a child).

For me, this IllumiNations harkens back to a simpler time. So perhaps I am draw to this version simply out of nostalgia. It is full of memories of a time when I was first introduced to EPCOT Center. And as I said, I appreciate the classics; Beethoven, Mozart, The Beatles. This edition of the nighttime spectacular allowed me to celebrate a place I love with a music that I love.

I’ll close with an opening. “Good evening, and welcome to World Showcase. Tonight we are pleased to present a visual journey, an international fantasy of music and light. We're about to embark on a sparkling abstract expedition around World Showcase. With the music as your passport, we'll discover sights and sounds from colorful ports of call. And to celebrate our journey, the countries will be united by the festive elements of water, fire, and light. And now, let your imagination be your guide, as EPCOT Center proudly presents IllumiNations.”

Elizabeth – This was a really tough one for me. Each one is so different and so great! After much consideration, I think Fantasmic shines as the winner for me. And I think the reasons are largely about comfort and view. As much as I love Wishes and Illuminations, I have rarely lucked into getting a good viewing spot. Invariably, there is a tree or a Really Tall Person spoiling the view. Sometimes it's a building or other structure that I didn't think would cause me problems. Although I am not a fan of being herded into a huge stadium and sitting fanny-to-fanny with total strangers for an extended period of time, I am grateful for the seat and the clear view Fantasmic affords. Once we move past the comfort factor, I am also a huge fan of the live aspect of the show mixed with the effects and music. I don't know why, but something about watching animation projected onto screens of water is just So. Very. Cool. To me, it embodies all the things I love about Disney. High caliber talent and showmanship, animation, fireworks, and fantasy.

Fiona – If there is one thing that Walt Disney World excels in, it’s nightime spectaculars. Whether it’s fireworks, parades or shows, I always think it’s one of the most important parts of a trip to the World! So trying to think of my favourite one has been especially difficult…but I think I have to go for Wishes. There is just something about the entire spectacle that sends shivers down my spine. I can’t think of one particular moment that stands out in the show – and I don’t want to spoil it too much for anyone who might not have seen it – but the mix of past and “present” Disney music makes me get goosebumps. Thinking of Wishes, I can feel myself being transported to the middle of Main Street U.S.A., waiting amongst a throng of people, with the sound of Jiminy Cricket and the lights dimming all around me. It’s a beautiful moment, and I know that for the next 12 minutes I’m going to be surrounded by beautiful music and breathtaking fireworks.

On a more personal level, I have such affection towards Wishes due to the memories I have attached to it. Watching it for the first time with my close family, remembering the joy on all our faces (and the tears, too, I won’t lie!), right to the present and watching it with ex-colleagues, best friends and loved ones. It’s a nightime spectacular that brings everyone closer together, and from the moment you hear the opening line right to the finale firework display, Wishes: A Magical Gathering of Disney Dreams is one firework display that this Princess can’t get enough of!

Melissa – As with most of my favorites at Disney World, there is a sentimental reason attached as to why. My favorite nighttime show is easily Illuminations Reflections of Earth in its current form. Illuminations was my first nighttime spectacular experience ever, and it was on my honeymoon. I will never forget enjoying my hot chocolate from France with my new husband as I was completely taken aback by this amazing show. The combination of the music with the globe imagery, the lasers and fireworks engulfs you in the magic of the moment. It was more than I had ever expected. One of my favorite parts is when the countries "twinkle" and light up in the dark night sky. Years later I was even more emotional over the opportunity to share this wonderful experience with my in-laws and to see their reactions to it as well. It is always a must do on my birthday and usually we see it more than once each trip. I cannot wait to share the experience with more members of my family in the years to come.

AJ – Not sure if this counts or not, but my favorite “nighttime spectacular” is the Electric Light Parade at the Magic Kingdom. I used to stare at those glowing costumes and think how lucky those cast members were to be wearing them (I was pretty young then, but I still kind of feel that way!).

But the best thing about the parade was – and is – the music. It's boisterous and fun and addictive. It just brings a smile to my face every time I hear it.

Seeing that parade with my family during our marathon open-to-close days in Disney World when I was a kid will always be one of my favorite memories! There may not be any fireworks, but it sure is spectacular!!

Andy – In a word: Illuminations.

It’s not only my favorite “nighttime spectacular”, but perhaps my favorite thing in the World (at least in the top three for sure…).

Other shows? Yes I do love Wishes, the Summer Nighttastic fireworks were incredibly spectacular, Fantasmic is fun now and then, but a bit overdone and busy for me. The depth and beauty of Illuminations tops them all (and of course it doesn’t hurt that it’s also viewed at my favorite place, the World Showcase in Epcot… and yes, there can be cocktails…).

The story, the music, the emotion it evokes… I rarely leave a viewing of Illuminations without at least a few tears…

Eric – This is an easy one for me to answer. Of all the myriad parades, fireworks, and other nighttime events that regularly or seasonally take place at Walt Disney World my hands down favorite is Mickey's Boo to You Halloween Parade. This parade caters to the "dark side" of Disney featuring not only Disney villains and scoundrels, but numerous tributes to Disney films and park attractions.

All of your favorite and expected characters are found from the Fab 5, Peter Pan, and the Hundred Acre Woods crew to an appearance by Captain Jack Sparrow and the Country Bears. Everyone is dressed for Halloween and ready for a fun night of trick-or-treating!

There are a few stand-out favorites in this parade for me however. First of all I love the tribute to the Haunted Mansion. Leading the way is the frightened graveyard groundskeeper and his trusty hound. Next, the waltzing ghosts materialize before your eyes as they continue their eternal dance. An elaborate float featuring the iconic hitchhiking ghosts follow and sets the stage for the truly spooky grave diggers. They grave diggers perform a macabre dance in unison with real shovels. Sparks fly in the night as the shocking and grating sound of their shovels being dragged across the street fill the air. What ghoulish fun!

Heralding the arrival of any and all of the Disney villains you might expect to see is a funky skeleton band banging out one of the theme songs of the parade, "It's Good to be Bad". These guys are pretty creepy looking as they dance and perform and seem to be taking this song to heart!

My favorite part of this entire parade however is at the very beginning. In a chilling and very realistic homage to the classic horror short story by Washington Irving, "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow", the parade starts off as the headless horseman himself rides down the parade route, jack-o-latern head in hand, presumably on his way to Sleepy Hollow to claim another victim. In the still before the parade starts, the clip clop of the horse as it carries its evil rider on a dark journey gives you chills.

If you find yourself in Walt Disney World when this parade is running you owe it to yourself to see it, you will not regret it.

Ryan – As a child, I could not dream bigger than the Main Street Electrical Parade. As a young adult, I found culture and a bond to the world with IllumiNations. Wishes puts a tear in my eye and reminds me of movies with my family. And Fantasmic! reminds me that magic is real and all around. Yet, none of these are my favorite nighttime shows.

Silently drifting through the Seven Seas Lagoon and Bay Lake, invisible save for a few red and green safety lights, the Electrical Water Pageant tugs at my heartstrings like no other. When the music pipes out from out on the water, especially if I happen to be on the beach at Fort Wilderness, you know something special is about to happen. Part whimsical parade of sea creatures, both real and imagined, and part patriotic display, there is something about the Pageant that just makes me smile.

While this could be said for almost any spectacle, the fact that I have unique memories of this show with my family as a child and now with my wife just endears it to me more.

Wishes that sparkle along with fireworks, Mickey facing down a bevy of villains, the world united against the night, blinking lights and flashing music that spread smiles, no matter what parade or fireworks display burns brightest in your heart, it is well deserved. Where does the night find you in Walt Disney World?

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