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Review – Illuminations: Reflections of Earth

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Illuminations (1)Illuminations: Reflections of Earth, the long-running nighttime spectacular at Epcot, is beloved by many. But is it really that good? Let’s break it down.

Backstory: The first incarnation of an Epcot nighttime show premiered in the fall of 1982 and was called Carnival de Lumiere (no relation to the candelabra from the not yet conceived Beauty and the Beast film.) This small scale fountain show was replaced a year later by A New World Fantasy and that show was replaced yet another year later by Laserphonic Fantasy. Both of these shows used fireworks, lasers, lights, and projection screens on barges all set to classical music. The first version of the show actually titled IllumiNations began in 1988 and continued with some variations until 1999 when it was replaced by the current show Reflections of Earth. This version of the show was originally conceived as a signature attraction of the Walt Disney World Millennium Celebration but has been showed continuously ever since with the only variation being a special ending for the Christmas holiday season.

Touring Strategy: The show takes place at the center of World Showcase lagoon so it can be seen in full from anywhere around the lagoon, with the fireworks visible from many parts of Future World as well. The really good spots for IllumiNations do go early, however, especially in busier times of year. Without a reservation at a restaurant on the lagoon, your best walk-up locations to see IllumiNations are the raised area in front of the Italy pavilion and the area in front of the Yorkshire County Fish Shop in the United Kingdom pavilion. If these areas are being used for special events, consider the bridge between France and the United Kingdom and the area between Mexico and Norway. Just keep in mind that these locations can fill up by 45-minutes before showtime. If you don’t mind being partially blocked by a tree, a fence, or a guy taking selfies in front of you, then you can grab a location at pretty much any point before the show begins. (FastPass+ is not recommended but if you choose to use it, you will be positioned between the gift shops at the front of World Showcase and should arrive at least 20 minutes before showtime.)

Pre-Show: There is no pre-show, per se, but the mood around World Showcase begins to shift around an hour to a half-hour before the show. Large torches around the lagoon light up, a special music mix begins to play, and some guests might begin to appear increasingly drunk.

Show: A booming voice welcomes everyone to Epcot’s World Showcase where people from all lands have gathered around a metaphorical fire, just as men have for thousands of years. Around the fire these people are to share in a story as old as time itself: the story of Earth.

With this the lights around the World Showcase go dark as a constant banging is heard moving closer and closer until it erupts in fireworks on the lagoon. These fireworks represent the big bang and the creation of our planet. As fireworks continue to erupt on the water and in the sky, bursts of flame come from a barge parked in the middle of the water. This barge is soon flanked by colored fountains as the music and fireworks build to a crescendo.

At this point another barge, topped with a globe representation of the fully formed Earth, moves to the center of the lagoon. On Earth’s continents, moving pictures are displayed. The pictures show fleeting images of life from all around the globe. They are images of nature – horses, jungles, birds of prey – and images of mankind – the Roman Empire, galleons, airplanes.

The images swirl with the spinning globe, representing the passage of the years, and the fountains return to grow higher and more colorful as the music builds. Eventually the pavilions of World Showcase begin to light up en tune with the music. Fireworks once again begin to shoot out from the lagoon and soon fill the night sky. The globe itself begins to open up to reveal a giant torch evocative of both the torches lit up around the lagoon and that metaphorical fire that all of humanity was to be gathered around at the beginning of the show.

The classical score gives way to a song about the promise of mankind and our ability to thrive and “go on” through the years. The song makes illusion to making “another thousand circles around the sun” – a reference to the show’s original purpose as a showcase of the Millennium Celebration. One final burst of fireworks brings things to an end. The narrator says goodbye and a longer version of the “We Go On” song plays as guests exit the park.

Thoughts: I have always been hesitant to write a review of IllumiNations because the show is so close to my heart. Objectively it is probably the least spectacular of the three nighttime shows at Walt Disney World. The story is not as pronounced as Fantasmic! and the fireworks themselves are not as impressive as Wishes. However the show is also very appropriate for the park with themes of human civilization and is in many ways the perfect “end” to a day at Epcot.

There is a long tradition of IllumiNations at Epcot but does this Reflections of Earth show really need to continue fifteen years past the Millennium Celebration it was created for? This I don’t know. Crowds certainly still build for it nightly and many longtime visitors love it but the World Showcase lagoon is such a perfect location to bring a show like World of Color to Walt Disney World that nostalgia shouldn’t be the only factor keeping it running. Perhaps a show that combines the fountain technology of World of Color with the barge-launched fireworks of IllumiNations can debut. I will personally cry a little bit inside to see Reflections of Earth go but a new show that carries the overall theme of IllumiNations and Epcot and combines it with newer more impressive technology would be a worthwhile addition to Disney’s nighttime entertainment mix.

All this having been said, it is important to note that there has been no indication from Disney that a change to IllumiNations is imminent. I guess the only thing we should really be asking is “should it be?”

Overall Rating: **** ½

(Ed – Neil’s Review and Rating of Illuminations: Reflections of Earth do not necessarily reflect those of TouringPlans or the Unofficial Guides. Although they are shockingly similar…)

 What rating would you give to IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth? Is it one of your must-sees or would you rather see it updated? Thoughts in the comments are always welcome!

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Neil Trama

Neil is a radio and podcast host from Scranton, PA. He's a husband of one and father of two (one human; one dog.) When not visiting Walt Disney World he can be found at home drinking craft beers, eating pizza, and watching old school pro wrestling.

9 thoughts on “Review – Illuminations: Reflections of Earth

  • Reflections of Earth is one of the few reminders of what Epcot once was. Back before WDW became the place to see Princesses and the Fab 5 and Pixar, Epcot could try artistic pursuits that revolved around big ideas and required the audience to think to appreciate it.
    I’d be OK with a new show that was equally high concept, but current Disney practice is way more likely to be some character-driven show indistinguishable from any of the other parks’. (Ooh, I know, let;s have a projection mapped Tow Mater straighten the Leaning Tower of Pisa)

    • I agree that Illuminations is an excellent example of a great Disney production devoid of “cartoonishness” but I also think a “Disney Around the World” type of theme for a new show might not be implausible or inappropriate.

  • Illuminations is my favorite. Fantastic is too hokey with Mickey and all of the other characters. Wishes is great but it is so castle centric. The music and lights and fireworks of Illuminations are just perfect. Plus where else can you get the Walter Cronkite voiceover at Christmas? World of Color at DCA is great but it would be hard to replicate without the giant Ferris wheel. Plus it’s too much like the water shows in Las Vegas and at the Burj Khalifa. I’ll take Illuminations over all of them.

  • I find it strange that you feel the fireworks for Wishes are more spectacular, as I feel the opposite, the 360 degree feeling of World Showcase lagoon and the way the music swells makes Reflections of Earth feel bigger than the sum of its parts for me.
    Whereas Fantasmic might have more plot, but less “wow”.

    But everyone will like a different show and with Rivers of Light coming next year there is plenty of choice!

    • While the actual moments that the fireworks erupt during Illuminations come at pivitol points in both the score and the story being conveyed, not very much of the actual runtime of the show is filled with fireworks. In contract, fireworks are constantly blowing up over the castle throughout Wishes. It’s not that I think the actual fireworks are better but that Wishes uses its fireworks in more of the traditional sense of a “fireworks show.”

  • Three stars.

    Four stars for the first three quarters of the show, and then zero stars (because I can’t go any lower) for that truly awful, meaningless, soul-less, sentimentalist, manipulative dreck that concludes the show.
    I will give the atmosphere in the hour before the show five stars. World Showcase at night, with the marvelous lighting, the water,the music, the people enjoying or anticipating dinner, is one of my two or three favorite experiences at WDW.

    • The replacement show has allegedly already been written and blocked. Rumor is that it may be announced as early as this coming spring. Not looking forward to the unsightly mess that the lagoon will have to become during the development.

  • IllumiNations is perfect, from the pre-show music right through to the extended “We go on.” And the holiday additional finale makes it even better. Many nights we’ll stop what we’re doing To turn on MouseWorld Radio and enjoy the show sans fireworks.

  • Your rating is woefully low.

    7 STARS!!!!!

    (out of 5)


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