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SATURDAY SIX – The 6 Highest-Rated Shows and Spectaculars at Walt Disney World

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This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at The Six Highest-Rated Shows and Spectaculars at Walt Disney World! You may remember last week on the SATURDAY SIX where we took a look at the six highest-rated rides at WDW, as voted on by you. This week Len Testa, the grand poobah of TouringPlans, has sent down the  thousands-and-thousands of survey results for the highest-rated shows and spectaculars. We’re looking at pretty much anything that isn’t a ride outside of meet and greets. Next week we will finish with our look at the surveys by glancing at the lowest-rated attractions, but today we’re going to take a look at the shows which always bring a smile to our face, and let’s kickoff the countdown with…

# 6 – IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth

Epcot’s IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth can be a controversial subject within the Disney fan community. Here at the SATURDAY SIX we’ve had articles touting it as a one-of-a-kind experience that we’ll probably never see the likes of again, but have also made the case that the long running show could possibly use a little freshening up. One thing I personally love about IllumiNations, especially compared to just about everything else that made the list, is the fact that you don’t have to camp out an hour or more to get a good viewing location. There are so many places around World Showcase to get a good spot that lets you take everything in, including several places where you can enjoy a meal during the show. In an age of Disney where we are getting IPs shoved down our throats, it is refreshing to take in a show that isn’t trying to sell you a “brand” and is just there to deliver a powerful story (what that story exactly is, I can’t tell you, but it is powerful, or at least loud.) During the 4th of July week and around Christmas time, IllumiNations goes up another notch and becomes one of the most amazing fireworks displays you’ll see anywhere.

Overall Score: 4.4/5

IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth seen exploding behind Spaceship Earth. (photo by Brian Carey)
IllumiNations as seen from the Japan Pavilion. (photo by Mike Sperduto)
IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth. (photo by Hunter Underwood)

IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth. (photo by Brandon Glover)
Yes – at times – we here at the SATURDAY SIX have poked a little fun at IllumiNations. But, as Jeffrey Ross says, we only roast the ones we love.

5 – Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular

If Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular is our first taste of the effort Disney is going to put into the upcoming Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, we are in for a treat when the land opens. Disney has perfected the art of projection mapping, and the events of the Star Wars franchise being displayed across the facade of The Great Movie Ride Mickey’s Runaway Railway (too soon?) is just fantastic. Meanwhile you have fireworks going off, a booming John Williams score, and as Dr. Evil would say, “frickin’ laser beams” shooting all around. It is a sensory overload and it is amazing for a regular person and almost a life changing experience if you are a Star Wars fan.

Overall Score: 4.5/5

Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular. (photo by Brian Carey)
Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular. (photo by Brain Carey)
USE THE FORCE!! (photo by Brian Carey)

# 4 – Festival of Fantasy

With elaborate floats, stunning costumes, and filled with many of our favorite Disney characters, the Festival of Fantasy parade immediately joins the list of all time great Disney parades including Mickey’s Boo to You!, SpectroMagic, Tapestry of Nations, and Mickey’s Soundsational Parade. The larger than life floats will draw your attention (all themed as if they were built by residents of Fantasyland) but for us it is the wonderful detail in all the walk around characters that really make the show stand out. Many of these characters interact with the crowd, which can make every performance special for many guests. The soundtrack for the parade is top notch, using some of the most popular songs in the Disney library from movies such as The Little Mermaid, Tangled, and Brave. For us, the standout of the show is the jaw-dropping Maleficent float that breathes fire. Great characters, great floats, and a great soundtrack, the Festival Fantasy truly has it all.

Overall Score: 4.5/5

Festival of Fantasy. (photo by Brandon Glover)
A young “Gus” watches as Cinderella passes by.
A dancer on The Little Mermaid unit. (photo by Brandon Glover)
Festival of Fantasy. (photo by Brandon Glover)
Festival of Fantasy. (photo by Brandon Glover)
Festival of Fantasy. (photo by Brian Carey)

# 3 – Fantasmic!

This is another controversial pick in the world of theme park blogging, but Your Humble Author speaks for the working man and feels pretty confident that your average human being (AKA not a blogger) loves Fantasmic! This is what a nighttime spectacular is all about. Nothing against the other nighttime shows, but I’ve seen good fireworks shows outside of Disney. However, I’ve never seen anything quite like Fantasmic! This is theme park innovation at its finest and combines lasers, fireworks, flames, tons of Disney characters, and a storyline that is next level bananas. It’s the classic story of good versus evil told in the most confusing and complicated way possible, but it works.  One of the things which stood out to me the most on my first sailing on the Disney Cruise Line, was that it included a show in which Mickey Mouse got to be the hero. We like Mickey Mouse. We LOVE Mickey Mouse. In Fantasmic, Mickey gets to be the star, and it’s awesome.

Overall Score: 4.5/5

Fantasmic! (photo by Travis Terrell)
Fantasmic! (photo by Brian Carey)
Fantasmic! (photo by Travis Terrell)
Maleficent. (photo by Travis Terrell)
Fantasmic! (photo by Brandon Glover)
Fantasmic! also has an E-Ticket souvenir cup, which is better than IllumiNations cup, so take THAT Tom Bricker, Len Testa, and all the IllumiNations devotees. (photo by Brandon Glover)

# 2 – Happily Ever After

We mentioned earlier that the projection mapping in Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular is just plain amazing. Well, a funny thing happened. Happily Ever After came along and said, “hold my beer.”

Using artwork created specifically to interact with Cinderella castle, Happily Ever Show is the nighttime spectacular you always wanted, and then some. What that means is the castle isn’t just used as a giant movie screen anymore, and instead has the story woven into the nooks and crannies of the actual architecture itself. It is a triumph of Imagineering and shows exactly why Disney is the big dog in the theme park world.

We get the classic Disney characters in HEA, but it was a nice surprise not only to see characters we’d never expect to see in 2017 (such as Quasimodo from The Hunchback of Notre Dame), but many others from newer films that just don’t have a huge presence on property (such as The Princess and the Frog, RatatouilleWreck-It Ralph, and Zootopia.) Like Festival of Fantasy, many of our favorite songs are played such as “You’ll Be in My Heart” (Tarzan,) “The Bare Necessities” (Jungle Book,) and “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” (Toy Story.)

Then come the fireworks.

By now you know that Disney knows how to do fireworks, and they combine with the show in front of you to be a mesmerizing performance. You’ll need to work for a great view of Happily Ever After (or spring for a dessert party with reserved viewing) but it’s worth it. Don’t take our word for it: here is Len Testa’s review!

Overall Score: 4.6/5

Happily Ever After. (photo by Travis Terrell)
Happily Ever After. (photo by Travis Terrell)
Happily Ever After. (photo by Travis Terrell)
Happily Ever After seen from Tomorrowland. (photo by Travis Terrell)

# 1 – Festival of the Lion King

Don’t send the hate mail, but I’m in the camp which believes that Festival of the Lion King isn’t even the best show at Animal Kingdom (I’m in the Finding Nemo: The Musical camp.) That said, I’m also the only one in my family that feels that way, as all the rest all agree that Lion King rules them all. I will also admit that 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, and getting a sugar cane mojito at the nearby Dawa Bar before the show is one of our Must Do’s. While Nemo has some very good songs in its show, 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 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.

There is a wide mix of stuff going on during Lion King, with acrobats and fire twirling mixed in-between the singing and dancing. Throughout Lion King there is a ton of audience participation, including kids walking around with the performers at the end of the show. Other theme parks put on shows, but none of the them put on one with the pageantry and overall scope of Festival of the Lion King.

Festival of the Lion King. (photo by Mike Sperduto)
Festival of the Lion King. (photo by Brandon Glover)
Tumble Monkeys with Timon. (photo by Tim Grassey)
Fire twirler at Festival of the Lion King. (photo by Brandon Glover)
Festival of the Lion King. (photo by Mike Sperduto)

NOTE: We made the parades and nighttime spectaculars at hard ticket events ineligible for this particular list, but do know they all rate extremely high on TouringPlans surveys. Something to consider when looking at the high prices of a ticket to Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party and Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party.

So there you have it:  The Six Highest-Rated Shows and Spectaculars at Walt Dsiney 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 E-Ticket Report podcast. You can also follow Your Humble Author on Twitter (@derekburgan).

The Little Mermaid squad is a
personal favorite during Festival
of Fantasy
. Love it’s clever mix of
“Kiss The Girl.”

If you enjoyed this article, you will surely like the following:

The FOUR YEAR ANNIVERSARY of the Disney Outlet Store Photo Report

Six Reasons We LOVE Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground

Six Reasons We Love Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge

Six Reasons We LOVE Disney’s Festival of Fantasy Parade

Six Things We STILL Can’t Believe Actually Happened at WDW

Six Most Unique Dining Experiences at Walt Disney World

Special Thanks to crack staff photographer Brandon Glover, my personal protege Hunter “Elvey” Underwood, Mr. ‘Ohana Tim Grassey, the new King of Theme Park Instagram Travis Terrell, photo Wunderkind Mike Sperduto, the Sommelier of Tony’s Town Square Brian Carey, 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 goofballs co-hosts Aengus Mackenzie and LitemAndHyde , while fellow Potterheads may enjoy Meg’s work on the Central Florida Slug Club.

FINAL PLUG! Did you know The 2017 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. ORDER this baby now!

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11 thoughts on “SATURDAY SIX – The 6 Highest-Rated Shows and Spectaculars at Walt Disney World

  • While I do agree with you about Illuminations, the “E-ticket souvenir cup for Fantasmic is slightly misleading. After all, the cups are from all the unsold spots at the Villains Soiree during the Halloween Party in 2014. Too bad, since it was actually a pretty fun event…even if it ended up doubling the price spent at the party.

  • Sorry, I gotta strongly disagree with the Star Wars show ranking and praise. Just to clarify, I love Star Wars, I grew up on the original trilogy and those movies shaped so much of my life(my entire professional career stems from the inspirations from the films) that I can’t even imagine where I’d be without them. I absolutely love Star Tours, the Jedi Academy bits are a kid’s dream come true, and I’m beyond excited to see the new Star Wars land (so much so that I’m planning a trip just to see it alone once it opens), nearly every move Disney has made with Star Wars has brought a smile to my face.

    But I felt the show was mediocre at best. I don’t really understand why it rates so highly on everyone’s list? Is it because it’s new?

    Yes, there are great parts (the combat scenes with the AT-ATs and the dog fights in particular), but it is nothing more than an clip show of existing artwork and scenes. A clip show without any sort of story and sembelence of logic. It reminds me of an old Windows 95 screen saver with fireworks. And the fireworks ARE cool, but then it’s disney fireworks…show me one that *isn’t* impressive (tip: you can’t). Illuminations at least has a sembelence of plot (even if no one seems to know what it is. Hahah). I would put the Star Wars Fireworks exactly where I put the Galaxy Far Far Away show: mildly interesting hold overs until the SW Land debuts that are good for a single viewing, but not worth rearranging plans for.

    Even worse, the fireworks of the show end up interfering with the Fantasmic show’s final act, ruining some of the illusions of Fantasmic.

    That sounds curmudgeonly, I know and I wish I didn’t feel that way, and I know Disney puts out a ton of money to pull it off nearly every night, but when compared to everything else on that list, I’m amazed it is as well received and ranked as highly as it is.

  • I agree with these ratings. I haven’t seen Happily Ever After and Festival of Fantasy yet, but I have heard enough to know we will love them as much as the others we have seen.

    I disagree with you completely about Nemo though. I was SO VERY disappointed with it. Especially since it replaced Tarzan Rocks which we loved. I have seen the Nemo show three times giving it another chance, but it is just a boring show for me.

    The Lion King is definitely the best show at WDW IMHO.

  • I always love the Saturday Six blog’s description of Fantasmic and paraphrase it whenever I’m describing it to anyone! And yes, I love Fantasmic.

  • I am with you: I think Nemo is at least the best show at Animal Kingdom. I was absolutely transported the first time I saw it, and I continue to love it. However, part of my awe came as a response to the amazing simultaneous singing, dancing, floating, acting, and puppet-manipulating of the performers, and I could see kids not caring much about that and also getting lost in the slower parts, so I could see it not ranking as highly with kids, but I still think it is spectacular.

  • On our very first day at ThevWorld, my two sons (then ages 10 and 9) were very upset that I made them get in line for the Festival of the Lion King as all they wanted to do was ride rides, and they were determined to not like the show. They loved it! The spent the rest of the day talking about the Tumble Monkeys. The only bad news was that they saw the best in park show Disney has to offer first, and the shows the rest of the trip were a bit of a let down.

  • Wow! Fantasmic was the only show on this list we saw at our first trip in 2014. We loved it. We will be back next month and pan on seeing all of these. Thanks for the review Derek. We can hardly wait!

  • “In an age of Disney where we are getting IPs shoved down our throats, it is refreshing to take in a show that isn’t trying to sell you a “brand” and is just there to deliver a powerful story”
    exactly why fans don’t want to see it changed. We know that the replacement will be “A salute to all nations, but mostly Arrendelle”

    Also, no love for Rivers of Light?

  • I’ll never understand the hate for IllumiNations, which is by far my favorite fireworks show. I love its understated, classy nature, and the bit where the countries are lit up takes my breath away every time. Then again, Epcot is my favorite park, so I’m clearly an outlier in more ways than one.


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