Dueling Disney: Nighttime Spectaculars

Written by Keith Gluck. Posted in Disney Parks, Disneyland Resort, Dueling Disney, Keith Gluck, Walt Disney World

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Published on August 28, 2013 at 3:00 am with 38 Comments

One of the most iconic images that one can think of when referring to Disney is a shot of Cinderella Castle, with fireworks exploding in the night sky above it. Of course, firework shows have long been a tradition for Disney Parks. But not only are the crowds entertained by the elaborate firework displays, but a whole host of other nighttime spectaculars. In this coast to coast Disney duel, Keith and Jeff light the match for their own fireworks and battle over who has the best: Disneyland or Walt Disney World!

(As usual, Keith is representing Disneyland, while Jeff represents Walt Disney World)

Topic 16: Nighttime Spectaculars

Keith: Jeff. Do you realize that the photo of us recreating that scene from Titanic from our last Dueling Disney got more likes on my Facebook page than any other photo I’ve ever posted?

Jeff: It did! In fact, I do believe I mentioned the fact that this photo wins the Internet forever. We should just call Al Gore and tell him to close up shop for the rest of eternity. Thanks for everything, Internet, but you’ve been great. We’ve hit the apex!

Keith: I’m sayin’! So anyway, what do you say this time we finally pit our Home Resorts’ Fantasmics against one another?

Jeff: That’s not fair, Keith. We need to really include all the other stuff going on at night as well.

Keith: By George (pun intended), you’re right! Instead of just Fantasmic (I am purposely withholding the exclamation point as it drives me crazy grammatically), let’s throw in a few other nighttime spectaculars as well. No parades though. If we duel over those, they can get their own installment later.

Jeff: For every exclamation point you leave out, I’ll add an extra few to the end of my sentences!!!!! Thanks for mentioning no parades right off the bat. Otherwise, we would have gotten roasted in the comments for not talking about them! So, let’s jump into it and talk about some nighttime spectaculars, since we already have wasted 200 words, and as we know, every word counts!

Keith: Remember that episode of Seinfeld where Elaine and her boyfriend (Jake Jarmel) broke up over his lack of exclamation point usage?

Since we often like to start off with some history, I would like to tell the good folks reading this column a little bit about Fantasmic’s ancestor… Dancing Waters!

Dancing Waters debuted in its own amphitheater at the Disneyland Hotel in May of 1970. The twenty-minute miniature nighttime spectacular was free, and ran three times a night. The program consisted of 1,800 water jets dancing to music (from over 150 speakers) and changing color (from nearly 90 lamps). The water reached heights of 150 feet, thanks to 19 different motors. Only nine people in the entire country were trained to orchestrate the show.

The music of Dancing Waters ranged from Judy Garland’s “Over the Rainbow,” to Latin American music. The show changed many times over the years, so the musical selections were constantly being updated. It’s fun to see that both World of Color and Fantasmic have roots in this vintage performance. Besides the wide array of colored lamps present, part of the show entailed projecting shapes and images onto an 18-foot waterfall.

Sadly, the waters ceased to dance in 1992. That is, until, Fantasy Waters debuted that same year! Fantasy Waters included similar elements to its predecessor, but added music from Disneyland attractions (Captain EO, anyone?), as well as a brilliant light panel with colorized grids that moved with the music. There was even a Holiday version every Christmas. After a nice 15-year run, Fantasy Waters closed for good in 2007, thus ending the 37-year tradition of nighttime shows at the Disneyland Hotel.


Jeff: Since we can’t talk about parades, I’m automatically missing out on telling you about the Electrical Light Parade, which would take the Dancing Waters show and show it who the boss is (spoiler: it’s actually Tony Danza, but that’s a column for another time). So, instead, I’ll start with the Magic Kingdom, and their fireworks show that has been running for close to ten years now.

Wishes: A Magical Gathering Of Disney Dreams debuted October 8th, 2003. Developed to replace the 32 year old Fantasy in the Sky, which debuted when the Park opened, Wishes was created be a grander spectacle. The show is “hosted” by Jiminy Cricket and the Blue Fairy, and the entire show is aptly named because it deals with the good, and bad, wishes of various Disney characters.

Various lighting is displayed on the castle itself, while digital projections appear at some points, adding to the show. Tinkerbell even flies from the castle’s tallest spire at one point!

Despite being close to ten years old, Wishes still remains one of my favorite night time shows from all of the Disney Parks. They even switch it out on holidays, with HalloWishes for Halloween and Holiday Wishes for the holiday season. Overall, though, this firework spectacular really is just that: spectacular. Anyone who sees it walks away in awe of it.

Keith: I do like Wishes. But I’m about to one-up you!

Writing about Dancing/Fantasy Waters makes me realize how much I miss it. Not only was it Fantasmic before there was a Fantasmic, and World of Color before there was a World of Color, but it was also kind of a mini “Remember… Dreams Come True.”

In May of 2005, the fireworks spectacular “Remember… Dreams Come True” debuted in Disneyland to celebrate the park’s 50th anniversary. And I gotta tell ya, this is the best fireworks show I’ve ever seen. EVER. The show incorporates pyrotechnics, projection, special lighting and sound technologies, and even uses the Matterhorn as a “prop” during the performance. Narrated by Julie Andrews, the show is a celebration of five decades of shows and attractions at Walt Disney’s original Magic Kingdom. A little over four minutes into the show, an excerpt of Walt giving his Opening Day speech is played, and the goosebumps commence. Soon after, the Disneyland Railroad announcement is heard, which begins the audio grand circle tour of the park. Music from many beloved attractions are played throughout the show, both past and current. One of the cooler moments comes during the Pirates of the Caribbean sequence, when the Matterhorn is used to exchange “cannon fire” with the lands below.

The show can still be seen periodically, and according to Disneyland’s official website, “This nighttime celebration has become the biggest in Disney history.”


Jeff: Speaking of big nighttime Disney productions, let’s talk about IllumiNations next. The show was produced by longtime Disney entertainment executive Ron Logan. Ron commissioned Don Dorsey to create the show.

Performing nightly at EPCOT, IllumiNations debuted in 1999 as part of the millennium celebration for Walt Disney world. It was so overwhelmingly popular that they dropped the “2000” from the original name and kept the show on.

The show itself is a 12 minute spectacle, showcasing the various countries from all over the World Showcase in EPCOT. Combining fireworks, pyrotechnics, a gigantic video globe, and beautiful music, the show is truly a marvel to behold.

Speaking of the music, it was recorded with a 71-piece philharmonic orchestra and a 30-voice chorus. Gavin Greenaway composed the orchestration. It was so good that ABC actually used it in their 25 Hour Event for the Year 2000.

For a bit of Five Legged Goat, footage of the now-defunct Tapestry of Nations parade can be seen on the globe towards the end of the show prior to the We Go On number.

The show also changes a bit for the holidays, with special tags for the Fourth of July, Christmas, and more being added to the end. During EPCOT’s 30th Anniversary, an extra four minutes were added to celebration the Park’s history.

The show won in 2009 and 2012 for Best Outdoor Night Production Show by Gold Ticket Awards. Now tell me, Keith, have any of YOUR night time shows won any awards?

Keith: Why, yes! Thank you for reminding me. “Remember… Dreams Come True” won the 2005 THEA award (Themed Entertainment Association) for Outstanding Achievement: Best Show. In case you didn’t know, the THEA awards are international, which pretty much covers planet earth (you stay classy). It’s slightly more prestigious than the… “Gold Ticket” Award? Frankly, that award sounds made up, Charlie Bucket.

Oh, and I will discuss another THEA award-winning show later in the column! But first…

Disneyland had no new attraction set to open in the summer of 1992, so Senior Show Director Barnette Ricci was tasked with creating a very special show that could be used to bring the crowds. She felt that the Rivers of America was a unique venue, so Ricci and her team began researching water-related effects. They ended up finding an effect in France that utilized “water screens.” Once they tested that technology by projecting animation on it, they knew they had found their effect. It took months to find the right Disney film footage to use that would not only fit in with the show’s storyline, but look good on the water as well.

They named the show “Imagination.” Nobody seemed to like that name, however, so the show was ultimately renamed “Fantasmic.”

The official Disneyland website lists the show as utilizing: high-resolution digital film sequences, music, pyrotechnics, fiber optics, lasers, video projected on water and plenty of special effects. What it doesn’t list is, just how dramatically better its version is over the one at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. It’s true that DHS has its own amphitheater specifically for Fantasmic. However just like most larger things in Walt Disney World, it seems to take away from the intimacy of the show. I haven’t seen the East Coast Fantasmic in years, since my home park hosts the superior version. But the last time I saw it, the audience did “the wave” while waiting for the show to begin. Bad form, Florida.

In our last installment of Dueling Disney we talked about watercraft, and it is that very topic where the DHS version falters the most. The Sailing Ship Columbia portraying Captain Hook’s Pirate Ship is a huge point for Disneyland. Not to mention the fact that we use the Mark Twain for our finale, whereas you guys have thrown together what may be the most generic-looking water vessel I have ever seen.

In fact, I think you owe all of our readers an apology, Heimbuch.

Jeff: You want an apology?

Fine, let’s do this.

I won’t lie: I don’t LOVE Fantasmic at Walt Disney World. I dislike how everyone is crowded in like sardines, and how the story itself is kind of lackluster.

However, you cannot deny the sheer spectacle of the entire thing. It’s an engineering feat to be able to pull off a show like this, night after night, and still wow the crowds. And wow the crowds it does! Fantasmic consistently has people flocking to its shores, sometimes waiting up to 3 hours to get a good seat. It truly is a nighttime spectacular, in every sense of the word.

Keith: You’re right. It truly is a spectacle to behold! At Disneyland.

Let’s get back to those THEA award-winning nighttime spectaculars, shall we? On June 11, 2010, World of Color debuted in Paradise Bay at Disney California Adventure. Disney hosted a special “blue carpet” premiere the night before, and many celebrities were in attendance, like Geena Davis, Vanessa Hudgens, John Stamos (I mentioned him for you, Jeff) Jason Segel, and more.

The show was a technical marvel upon its debut, featuring: seven differently designed nozzles on over 1,200 fountains, 600 grid nozzles, nearly 200 swiveling nozzles, including “water whip” nozzles giving the water a dancing effect (dancing waters–that sounds familiar), 12 swiveling cannons shooting flames 60 feet high, and a back mist screen 380 by 50 feet thanks to some of the largest fan nozzles in the world, developed specifically for Disney.

When World of Color first premiered, it brought the much-needed “kiss goodnight” to California Adventure. Steve Davison, show director and a Walt Disney Imagineering vice president of parades and spectaculars, commented, “It brings what Disney is all about – a big, over-the-top spectacle.” He also issued a bit of advice for folks who may want to stay dry during the performance, “You are always going to get the spray in the front row. It’s going to be the fun zone.”

On November 16, 2010, World of Color took home the prestigious THEA award. Sayre Wiseman, director of show production of Walt Disney Imagineering Creative Entertainment, said in a statement, “We are thrilled to be recognized by our peers in the themed entertainment industry with the Thea Award for Outstanding Achievement – Nighttime Spectacular.” The show was cleverly designed so that it could be updated and extended seamlessly, which constantly keeps performances fresh for audiences.

Now Jeff, Ima let you finish, but DISNEYLAND RESORT HAS THE GREATEST NIGHTTIME SPECTACULARS OF ALL TIME. In all seriousness, I will happily admit that IllumiNations has one of the most gorgeous soundtracks of any Disney production in the history of the parks. I adore it. But, sorry bud. This should be another easy victory for Disney West!

Jeff: I’m pretty sure I’ll take Jason Segel over John Stamos any day. I mean, have you seen Forgetting Sarah Marshall!? One of the best movies, ever!

Anyway, as much as I like everything you guys have to offer, I’m still going to stick it out over here. I noticed you didn’t mention your current fireworks at Disneyland (because Magical is terrible, and Wishes can take it any day of the week). But that’s OK. We’ve both got a selective memory when it comes to what we mentioned.

If only I could have mentioned the Electrical Water Pageant…

What say you, folks? Does Keith take home the gold for Disneyland Resort’s night time spectacles? Or does Walt Disney World trump it? Let us know in the comments!

Dueling Disney
 is written by Jeff Heimbuch & Keith Gluck

If you have any questions or comments, feel free to email us at [email protected] or [email protected]

You can follow us on Twitter: @DisneyProject and @JeffHeimbuch

About Keith Gluck

Keith Gluck writes for and volunteers at the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco. He also runs a Disney blog called thedisneyproject.com, and travels to Disney Parks as often as he can. A fan of many facets of The Disney Company, Keith's main interest is the life and legacy of Walt Disney. For questions/comments, or to request a certain topic be covered, please send an email to: [email protected] Twitter: @DisneyProject Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Disney-Project/194569877288847

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  • danyoung

    It’s pretty easy to vote for Disneyland on this one. Although I really enjoy IllumiNations, the combination of DL’s Fantasmic! and DCA’s World of Color put the west coast over the top. But I have to say, whatever your personal grammatical preferences, that the show is called Fantasmic!, not Fantasmic. Now if you’ll just learn the difference between expert and excerpt, we’ll be doing good!

  • DLRXMonorailPilot

    First and Foremost- Disneyland wins. Illuminations is lovely but WOC is still better. And the Fantasmic!’s…there is no question. Whoever updated the show for WDW did not understand what made the Disneyland one so charming. There is just something missing. It is actually sad since it has a dedicated theatre. I think if I had never seen the Disneyland one I would have loved it. Basically, in the amazingly put words of my sister: We should rename the show in World Fantasmish~.

  • Susan Hughes

    I am a bit puzzled as to why Disneyland’s Tinkerbell flies up and down, left and right. starts and stops, but Orlando’s only goes from Point A to Point B courtesy of gravity.
    Obviously, the technology is there for Florida’s Tink to do more than just fall down along a zip line. I wonder if there’s some sort of safety regulation by the state that doesn’t allow for it.
    I find it hard to believe they’ve been doing the low tech, un-amazing version for years simply because they don’t want to spend the money.

  • Tshaman

    I have worked in many different roles in Disneyland’s Fantasmic! for over 15 years. All the kind words that I’ve read in these posts makes me appreciate my job even more. I’m am very excited and proud to work on the show especially after what you’ve written. I cannot wait to be a part of the show this weekend. Thank you mice chatters from a Fantasmic! CM. You guys have pumped me up!!!!

    • billyjobobb

      a couple years ago I took my husband to Disneyland. I didn’t say anything about Fantasmic!

      We went to see it, and I just watched his face. It just doesn’t seem possible they could do THAT there?

  • ralfrick

    I never understand why people add the word Light to the name of the night parade. A nd what completely baffles me is that it isn’t just newbies but lifelong fans, podcasters and micechat columnists. No one says Splash Log Mountain or its a small boat world. There is no such thing as the Elictrical Light Parade. There is a Main St Electrical Parade, which is sometimes now called Disney’s Electrical Parade.

    This Kindle keyboard is far too frustrating to get into my out of control psychotic rant about why MM takes so long to slay the Dragon after saying This is my dream in Florida.

  • OprylandUSA

    Does this column solely exist so Disneylanders can spew their superiority over Walt Disney World? A Napoleon complex perhaps over your castle?

    • OprylandUSA

      (by the way, I LOVE Disneyland but find this constant Walt Disney World bashing on Micechat insulting).

      • The Lost Boy

        I like both Parks as well. I’m going to a farewell party at Disneyland tonight and I’ll be at the Animal Kingdom Lodge on Monday.

    • The Lost Boy

      No, there are also a bunch of disgruntled Comic Book Guys that need to go back to Homer Simson Land.

  • Monoautorail

    You invoked one of my biggest pet peeves (sorry to anyone who already caught this): The Main Street Electrical Parade, later Disney’s Electrical Parade, has never been the Electrical Light Parade. Not ever. So stop it.

    • Jeff Heimbuch

      I am referring to the Electrical Light Parade, which takes place every night on the waters of Bay Lake. NOT the Main Street Electrical parade!

      • OprylandUSA

        That would be the Electrical Water Pageant.

    • CCS

      I think it’s close to the Electric Light Orchestra band (ELO) and it just slips off the tongue. No harm done.

  • Dreamagineer

    “Magical” is a beautiful show. I don’t know why everyone hates it so much, other than the fact that it takes the place of “Remember…” for a part of the year. Tinkerbell’s entrance at the beginning is so beautifully timed and the music is perfect. The finale for “Magical” with Eden Espinoza belting at the top of her lungs always makes me tear up.

  • Chadanooga

    Just like the watercraft duel, I’m going with Disneyland on this one. Fantasmic!!!!!! on the west coast takes the cake!!!! And one of the main reasons for this is the Sailing Ship Columbia!!!!!