Description And Comments

IllumiNations is Epcot's great outdoor spectacle, integrating fireworks, laser lights, neon, and music in a stirring tribute to the nations of the world. It's the climax of every Epcot day.

IllumiNations has a plot as well as a theme and is loaded with symbolism. We'll provide the CliffsNotes version here, because it all sort of runs together in the show itself. The show kicks off with colliding stars that suggest the Big Bang, following which "chaos reigns in the universe." This display is soon replaced by twittering songbirds and various other manifestations signaling the nativity of the Earth. Next comes a brief history of time, from the dinosaurs to ancient Rome, all projected in images on a huge, floating globe. Man's art and inspiration then flash across the globe "in a collage of creativity." All this stimulates the globe to unfold "like a massive flower," bringing on the fireworks crescendo heralding the dawn of a new age. Although only the artistically sensitive will be able to differentiate all this from, say, the last 5 minutes of any Transformers movie, we thought you'd like to know what Disney says is happening.

Getting Out of Epcot after IllumiNations
(Read This before Selecting a Viewing Spot)

Decide how quickly you want to leave the park after the show, then pick your vantage point. IllumiNations ends the day at Epcot. When it's over, only a couple of gift shops remain open. Because there's nothing to do, everyone leaves at once. This creates a great snarl at Package Pick-Up, the Epcot monorail station, and the Disney bus stop. It also pushes to the limit the tram system hauling guests to their cars in the parking lot. Stroller return, however, is extraordinarily efficient and doesn't cause any delay.

If you're staying at an Epcot resort (Swan, Dolphin, Yacht & Beach Club Resorts, and BoardWalk Inn & Villas), watch the show from somewhere on the southern (The American Adventure) half of World Showcase Lagoon and then leave through the International Gateway between France and the United Kingdom. You can walk or take a boat back to your hotel from the International Gateway. If you have a car and you're visiting Epcot in the evening for dinner and IllumiNations, park at the Yacht or Beach Club. After the show, duck out the International Gateway and be on the road to your hotel in 15 minutes. We should warn you that there's a manned security gate at the entrances to most of the Epcot resorts, including the Yacht and Beach clubs. You will, of course, be admitted if you have legitimate business, such as dining at one of the hotel restaurants, or, if you park at the BoardWalk Inn & Villas (requiring a slightly longer walk to Epcot), going to the clubs and restaurants at the BoardWalk. If you're staying at any other Disney hotel and you don't have a car, the fastest way home is to join the mass exodus through the main gate after IllumiNations and catch a bus or the monorail.

Those who have a car in the Epcot lot have a more problematic situation. To beat the crowd, find a viewing spot at the end of World Showcase Lagoon nearest Future World (and the exits). Leave as soon as IllumiNations concludes, trying to exit ahead of the crowd (note that thousands of people will be doing exactly the same thing). To get a good vantage point between Mexico and Canada on the northern end of the lagoon, stake out your spot 60-100 minutes before the show (45-90 minutes during less-busy periods). Conceivably, you may squander more time holding your spot before IllumiNations than you would if you watched from the less-congested southern end of the lagoon and took your chances with the crowd upon departure.

More groups get separated and more children get lost following IllumiNations than at any other time. In summer, you'll be walking in a throng of up to 30,000 people. If you're heading for the parking lot, anticipate this congestion and preselect a point in the Epcot entrance area where you can meet in the event that someone gets separated from the group. We recommend the fountain just inside the main entrance. Everyone in your party should be told not to exit through the turnstiles until all noses have been counted. It can be a nightmare if the group gets split up and you don't know whether the others are inside or outside the park.

For those with a car, the main problem is reaching the parking lot. Once you're there, traffic leaves the parking lot pretty well. If you paid close attention to where you parked, consider skipping the tram and walking. If you walk, watch your children closely and hang on to them for all you're worth. The parking lot is pretty wild at this time of night, with hundreds of moving cars.

Good Locations for Viewing IllumiNations and Other World Showcase Lagoon Performances

The best place to be for any presentation on World Showcase Lagoon is in a seat on the lakeside veranda of the La Cantina de San Angel in Mexico. Come early (at least 90 minutes before IllumiNations) and relax with a cold drink or snack while you wait for the show.

A woman from Pasadena, California, nailed down the seat but missed the relaxation. She writes:

Stake out a prime site for IllumiNations at least 2 hours ahead, and be prepared to defend it. We got a lakeside table at the Cantina de San Angel at 6:30 p.m. and had a great view of IllumiNations. Unfortunately, we had to put up with troops of people asking us to share our table and trying to wedge themselves between our table and the fence.

La Hacienda de San Angel in Mexico, the Rose & Crown Pub in the United Kingdom, and Spice Road Table (opens late 2013) also have lagoon-side seating. Because of a small wall, however, the view isn't quite as good as from the Cantina. If you want to combine dinner at either location with Illuminations, make a dinner reservation for about 1 hour and 15 minutes before showtime. Report a few minutes early for your seating and tell the host that you want a table outside where you can view IllumiNations during or after dinner. Our experience is that the staff will bend over backward to accommodate you. If you aren't able to obtain a table outside, eat inside, then hang out until showtime. When the lights dim, indicating the start of IllumiNations, you'll be allowed to join the diners to watch the show.

Because most guests run for the exits after a presentation, and because islands in the southern (The American Adventure) half of the lagoon block the view from some places, the most popular spectator positions are along the northern waterfront from Norway and Mexico on around to Canada and the United Kingdom. Although the northern half of the lagoon unquestionably offers excellent viewing, it's usually necessary to claim a spot 60-100 minutes before IllumiNations begins. For those who are late finishing dinner or don't want to spend an hour or more standing by a rail, here are some good viewing spots along the southern perimeter (moving counterclockwise from the United Kingdom to Germany) that often go unnoticed until 10-30 minutes before showtime:

  1. International Gateway Island.The pedestrian bridge across the canal near International Gateway spans an island that offers great viewing. This island normally fills 30 minutes or more before showtime.
  2. Second-floor (Restaurant-level) Deck of the Mitsukoshi Building in Japan. An Asian arch slightly blocks your sight line, but this covered deck offers a great vantage point, especially if the weather is iffy. Only Hacienda de San Angel in Mexico is more protected. If you take up a position on the Mitsukoshi deck and find the wind blowing directly at you, you can be reasonably sure that the smoke from the fireworks won't be far behind.
  3. Gondola Landing at Italy. An elaborate waterfront promenade offers excellent viewing. Claim a spot at least 30 minutes before showtime.
  4. The Boat Dock Opposite Germany. Another good vantage point, the dock generally fills 30 minutes before IllumiNations. Note: This area may be exposed to more smoke from the fireworks because of Epcot's prevailing winds.
  5. Waterfront Promenade by Germany. Views are good from the 90-foot-long lagoon-side walkway between Germany and China.

Do these suggestions work every time? No. A dad from San Ramon, California, writes:

Your recommendations for IllumiNations didn't work out in the time frame you mentioned. People had the area staked out 2 hours ahead.

None of the previous viewing locations are reservable, and on busier nights, good spots go early. But speaking personally, we refuse to hold down a slab of concrete for 2 hours before IllumiNations as some people do. Most nights, you can find an acceptable vantage point 15-30 minutes before the show.

It's important not to position yourself under a tree, awning, or anything that blocks your overhead view. If IllumiNations is a top priority for you and you want to be certain of getting a good viewing position, claim your place an hour or more before showtime.

A New Yorker who staked out his turf well in advance made this suggestion for staying comfortable until showtime:

Your excellent guidebook also served as a seat cushion while waiting seated on the ground. Make future editions thicker for greater comfort.

Related blogs:
Best Epcot IllumiNations Viewing Locations
Foto Face-off Friday: IllumiNations vs Magic Kingdom Fireworks
SATURDAY SIX: Six Things We Wish Theme Park Fans Would Stop Complaining About (featuring "IllumiNations Needs to be Changed"

Touring Tips

Using FastPass+ on Illuminations grants you access to a preferred viewing section located in "Showcase Plaza" (that's the area between the two gift shops as you enter World Showcase from Future World. While it may be tempting to guarantee a spot with FastPass+ keep in mind that there are plenty of good viewing spots around World Showcase Lagoon. Also, Illuminations is a Tier 1 FastPass+ attraction. That means if you use a FastPass+ on Illuminations you will not be able to use one for Test Track or Soarin'.

Special Comments

A classic.

Special Needs

Other Attractions in World Showcase

Touring Plans with IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth

What is a Touring Plan?