This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at Six Best SHOWS at Walt Disney World. Here at the SATURDAY SIX we have done several articles looking at the best-of-the-best attractions, resorts, and restaurants at Walt Disney World, but we haven’t spent much time on one area they do better than any theme park in the world: shows. The live shows across the WDW parks range from the smaller scale and intimate experience of the Dapper Dans singing on Main Street USA, to the elaborately choreographed Trolley shows, all the way to the Broadway caliber Finding Nemo – The Musical at Animal Kingdom. So grab a seat – hopefully in air conditioning, and let’s begin the countdown of the absolute best shows starting with…
# 6 – Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular! (Disney’s Hollywood Studios)
Sorry to disappoint any Shia LaBeouf fans, but one reason for Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectaculars‘ amazing 25+ year run at Disney’s Hollywood Studios is because it is based around the iconic Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Arc film. The show recreates several famous scenes from the movie while explaining how they were accomplished. It is a fascinating look at the movie making process (one of the only things of its kind at a “studios” park) and has a fair share of good natured humor along the way. It speaks volumes to the overall quality of the show that it has remained almost completely unchanged since its debut in 1989 and regularly packs its 2000 seat stadium.
# 5 – Beauty and the Beast – Live on Stage (Disney’s Hollywood Studios)
Beauty and the Beast – Live on Stage was the first time a live stage show made its debut at the theme parks at the exact same time it’s animated counterpart was hitting the silver screen. Performing at DHS in the Theater of the Stars since 1991, the show has all the memorable songs from the movie and condenses the entire story into less than 25 minutes. Unlike the Frozen Sing-Along Celebration that uses video clips to transition scenes, Beauty and the Beast is a straight out Broadway-style stage show featuring live singing, choreographed dancing, and all your favorite characters. A not to be missed show.
# 4 – Voices of Liberty (Epcot)
Located at the American Adventure pavilion in Epcot’s World Showcase, the Voices of Liberty are an 9 person a cappella group that will have your heart swelling with pride as they belt out some of the most well known songs paying tribute to our country’s rich history. The playlist includes: “America the Beautiful,” “This Land is Your Land,” “This is My Country,” “oh, Susanna,” “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” and “Yankee Doodle Dandy.” If your heart isn’t pounded out of your chest in pride after one set, you’re doing it wrong.
# 3 – Magic Kingdom Welcome Show
There are many things that parks across the world could learn from Walt Disney World, but just one of the many things the Magic Kingdom does to make it extra special for guests is a Welcome Show performed every morning before “rope drop” (be sure to note whether or not Magic Kingdom has Extra Magic Hours on a particular day, because on EMH days the Welcome Show is performed before that and not the regular park opening.) At the front and center of the park citizens of Main Street USA welcome guests to the most magical place on Earth. After a rousing “Good Morning” song and dance, the Walt Disney World Railroad arrives with several Disney characters (including Mickey Mouse of course.) This is a truly special moment that separates Magic Kingdom from the pack and is the perfect example of The Disney Difference.
# 2 – Finding Nemo – The Musical (Animal Kingdom)
In short, Finding Nemo – The Musical is a one of a kind experience. With world class puppets (by Michael Curry, who also created the puppets for the legendary Tapestry of Nations parade at Epcot and the amazing new Tales of Beedle the Bard stage shows in Diagon Alley,) fantastic digital backdrops, and new songs created just for this show, Finding Nemo is an unforgettable attraction. The puppetry used by the actors during the show along with the voice work is hands-down the best on property. There’s also something to be said for being able to enjoy a 35 minute show in air conditioning during an average day at the Animal Kingdom when the weather hits its usual 150 degrees with 200% humidity.
Brian McNichols – of Pardon the Pixie Dust and the eGuide to WDW bars and lounges fame – has gone on the record and said that Finding Nemo – The Musical is THE best stage show at WDW. But could there possibly be something better?
# 1 – Festival of the Lion King (Animal Kingdom)
Choosing between Finding Nemo – The Musical and Festival of the Lion King is a tough one, but Lion King has a couple intangibles that Nemo can’t touch. For one, the Lion King stage show now takes place in Harambe Village, one of the single greatest “lands” at any theme park in the world. While Nemo has good songs, Lion King comes from the same era as Beauty and the Beast and contains some of the most well known tunes in the Disney songbook (in fact Lion King had three of the five songs nominated for Best Original Song at the 1994 Academy Awards including the winner Can You Feel The Love Tonight.) One of the only downsides to Finding Nemo is that the show does slow down during some parts, which could make some of the younger set restless, whereas as Lion King is always moving along at a brisk pace. You can’t go wrong with either choice, and Animal Kingdom having both is a true blessing. Once the Rivers of Light show debuts, along with the upcoming Pandora: James Cameron’s World of Avatar joining Kilimanjaro Safaris and Expedition Everest, we’re looking at Animal Kingdom becoming one of the top five theme parks in the entire world. We’ll drink a sugar cane mojito at the Dawa bar to that!
And ALWAYS remember, Animal Kingdom is NOT a “half day park.”
HONORABLE MENTION: The Dapper Dans (Magic Kingdom)
An opening day staple of the Magic Kingdom, the Dapper Dans are a Disney brand as iconic as Space Mountain or Cinderella Castle. The barbershop quartet can be found up and down Main Street USA entertaining guests with their various harmonic melodies.
So there you have it: the Six Best SHOWS at Walt Disney World. See you next weekend for the latest installment of the SATURDAY SIX, where we’ll look at something fun from the world of Disney and Universal. If you enjoyed yourself, be sure to check out The Magic, The Memories, and Merch! articles, or, for your listening pleasure, check out the Pardon the Pixie Dust podcast. You can also follow Your Humble Author on Twitter (@derekburgan)
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Special Thanks to crack staff photographer Brandon Glover, photo wunderkind Mike Sperduto, Fantasmical Brian Carey, DVC Central SUPERSTAR Morgan Crutchfield, and blogger to the stars Megan Stump for their invaluable assistance with this article. Be sure to also check out Brandon on The Park Blogger podcast with co-hosts Aengus Mackenzie and Brian Carey.
FINAL PLUG! Did you know The Unofficial Guide to Universal Orlando has a special edition of the SATURDAY SIX in it? Finally, someone came up with an actual reason to read a book. PRE-ORDER this baby now! (For every copy sold, a percentage of the profits* go towards buying a DVD of the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train rap video.)