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Foto Face-off Friday – Illuminations v. Magic Kingdom Fireworks

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As you count down the hours until your weekend begins, here is a visual treat! In this week’s edition of Foto Face-off Friday, the weekly blog that features photographs from our TouringPlans Flickr Group that are an extension of the Disney Debates we’ve been holding on our Twitter Account, @TouringPlans, we will attempt to resolve one of Walt Disney World’s “biggest controversies,” Illuminations v. Magic Kingdom fireworks (Wishes! plus special events). Since pictures speak louder than words we’ve decided to seek definitive resolution photographically for this especially hotly contested Disney Debate!

I was a bit surprised with the pointedness of some of the Twitter responses (my favorites are Eliopoulis’ and the two conflicting ‘hands down’ ones at the end) especially given how folks on Flickr were torn on the subject:

@hokielutz Magic Kingdom Fireworks show are better because of the magical setting of that park. No contest here!

@Heatherw25I prefer the party MK fireworks (esp Hallowishes), but I like Illuminations better than Wishes

@ElvinTorres easy question. Illuminations. Better music. More manageable crowds. More prime viewing spots and a grander spectacle overall.

@piratekenny nightastic is awesome with the perimeter fireworks

@beci_mousefan you know I can’t pick just one… Illum w/ christmas tag & any MK party ending w/ in the round finale!

@eliopoulos My favorite fireworks are when a kid gets really difficult and the parents go ballistic.

@dmathanas MK Fireworks, hands down. Illuminations is a bit hokey, even if their ginormous fireball is cool.

@sarahinkin Illuminations hands down, esp. with holiday ending!

As mentioned above, our Flickr group members had bit more difficulty–at least some did.  I wouldn’t go as far as to say all were torn, as some had clear favorites.  Below are the results from the Flickr entries; each Flickr poster’s personal thoughts on the Face-off are provided below their photo-entry. To view more of their photography click on their respective submission, which will direct you to their Flickr photostream.

A Celebration of Life
While the Nightastic Fireworks are ever so slowly growing on me, Illuminations possesses a certain quality that I think speaks to a broader audience. While the Magic Kingdom Fireworks entertain and perhaps have more of a “wow-factor,” Reflections of Earth speaks to the soul of the audience- this is our story being told. I think this is why so many people love Illuminations, they may just not know it.

Isabelle Boivin:
Easy one. Fireworks in the Magic Kingdom are good. But it’s only in EPCOT that the show gets me. I remember the only time I say the special “peace in the world” for christmas, I wasn’t able to take a single shot… I was too much captivated!

As the Earth Cools
I’m honestly a bit tired of Wishes and haven’t seen the Summer Nightastic fireworks. My favorite “Magic Kingdom” style fireworks show is Remember Dreams Come True at Disneyland, which starts similarly to Wishes but then goes off in a different and awesome direction. I digress…I’m firmly in the Illuminations camp here. The Reflections of Earth music is incredible. The torches around the lagoon set the stage, and once the narrator “blows out” the torches and World Showcase goes dark, the wave of anticipation moves through the audience as the drum beats faster and faster. Finally the first firework pierces the sky and makes way for a wonderful show full of fireworks, fire, lasers, fountains, and the LED globe.

Illuminations from Japan [Explore]
I’m going with Illuminations on this one. There are hundreds of spots to watch the fireworks from and each spot gives you a new and unique angle. Plus the music is great and you can really get into it. Not saying anything bad about Wishes, because it has more magic to the show, but after seeing Disneyland’s fireworks raise the bar, I have a tough time giving more credit to Wishes.

After seeing the show four times in five nights on a trip to WDW last December, I have come to realize that IllumiNations is definitely my favorite fireworks show. The music and the fireworks combine for an emotional experience much more so than the various Magic Kingdom shows. I’m not a fan of the globe-only no-fireworks portion, but the rest of the show more than makes up for it. There are times that Magical Mouse Radio plays a live recording of IllumiNations, and it never fails to bring tears to my eyes. (Very embarrasing at work!) Some of the individual shells in the Magic Kingdom shows are interesting, like the smiley faces and the Christmas packages, but overall the MK shows run a close second to IllumiNations in my book. For the ultimate treat, go to Epcot on a night when Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party is being held at the Magic Kingdom. If you stand on the south side of World Showcase Lagoon, you can see Christmas Wishes in the distance while watching IllumiNations with its spectacular holiday tag! Unfortunately, I don’t have any really good shots of IllumiNations, but that just gives me an excuse to go back again and again.

Magic Kingdom Fireworks

Photogineer (Doug):
Happy Memorial Day
As much as I love EPCOT. I have always had trouble shooting it. Maybe it is because it is difficult to have that Disney icon subject in the shot. SSE is so far away from the fireworks that is rarely gets into any shots. Mine included. It just seems to lack that main subject with the fireworks as the secondary subject. I think MK has more prime spots to take those magic shots with the castle as front and center. My vote MK.

Matt Pasant:
Happy Birthday Cory!
What a tough Face-off. Illuminations offers a grand sweeping unrivaled show to just about any fireworks spectacular. But… Wishes is to fireworks like peanut butter is to jelly. Wishes the the exclamation point to the Magic Kingdom. The grand theme. The fantasy. The magic.

Wishes 1
While Illuminations is grand, fireworks over Cinderella Castle has a piece of my heart.

I love both shows and my preference shifts back and forth, but I’m going to have to go with Wishes because viewing the fireworks over Cinderella’s Castle is the quintessential WDW experience. It carries a certain nostalgia that takes me back to the days of watching the Wonderful World of Disney on t.v. on Sunday nights (where fireworks over Cinderella’s Castle were part of the opening). In addition, there are also many other interesting places to shoot Wishes besides right inside the Magic Kingdom. No matter if you watch from the beach at the Polynesian Resort, the boat launch at the Transportation and Ticket Center, or from one of the Contemporary Resort overlooks, each view gives a different and interesting perspective, and really makes you appreciate the scale of this production that goes on every night.

Finally, my entry and commentary:

Walt Disney World BIRTHDAY Wishes! (Explored)

The manner by which I pick these challenges is stupid–at least if going from the perspective that I only want to challenge you all, and not myself.  I pick face-offs based on categories or attractions on which I myself am torn.  Consequently, this makes many of them very difficult for me.  This week, I went back and forth again before finally making my decision.  At first, I thought I should consider the fireworks from their “primary” shows, which would be Illuminations and Wishes!  From this perspective, Illuminations had the slight edge.  I love its score so much that it’s one of the most played songs in my iTunes library and I regularly prance around my house conducting the show when no one is around (sorry, too much information).  I think the show itself is more heartfelt and the message more sincere, whereas it seems Wishes! borders on just throwing together portions of Disney films to make a soundtrack, adding fireworks, and setting them above a Castle to elicit emotions from the viewer in a formulaic manner.  I’ll admit, it succeeds on me every time; I just mean that given the circumstances (Castle, fireworks, sentimental Disney films), it would be really difficult not to elicit some sort of emotion from the viewer.  I still think it could be better. I can’t say the same for Illuminations.  I find its standard show perfect.  It has a rich story, a brilliant score, and immersive visuals that go beyond fireworks.

However, I paused, since I knew not everyone else would be considering just the two ‘main’ shows.  Given that, I didn’t want to constrain myself to a more limited category.  When considering the additional shows the Magic Kingdom offers, it became a very even race.  The already perfect Illuminations was bolstered by its Holiday tag, the Pirate & Princess Party/Nightastic fireworks show has its palpable thrill levels, HalloWishes demonstrated its worth with catchy music and well done accompanying bursts, and Holiday Wishes emerged with a stunning combination of all of the aforementioned characteristics.  By doing everything right and appealing to my love for Christmas, Holiday Wishes! became my choice.

Besides the whole “Christmas” thing, which is fairly self-explanatory (and if not, will certainly be covered in the subject of a subsequent Foto Face-off), Holiday Wishes edges the other shows due to its ability to thematically incorporate fireworks so they fit not only the name of the show, but more importantly, with the accompanying song lyrics.  Who among you, when you first heard and saw the “O Christmas Tree” portion of Holiday Wishes! didn’t melt a little inside?  While the fireworks play an important role, the lyrics truly deserve more than just a passing mention.  When I mentioned above that it seems regular Wishes’ lyrics just sort of throw together elements of Disney animated classics? Well, perhaps I arrived at that opinion after hearing how well Holiday Wishes’ soundtrack was assembled.  I am not exactly musically-inclined, but I would like to think I know something well-done when I hear it.  From its opening, with “Spirit of the Season” (which coincidentally is one my most played Christmas songs on iTunes; if you like Christmas music, you owe it to yourself to pick up the Holiday Wishes soundtrack from eBay, Amazon, WDW Mail Order, or WDW the next time you’re there) to the conclusion, the soundtrack is perfect.  Its transitions are wonderfully done, as it often goes from drastically different songs without seeming forced.   Plus, as I mentioned above, there’s the Christmas theme of the show that really makes it even more endearing for me, but I won’t go into that for fear of rambling on for paragraphs.

Next week’s Disney Debate subject of the Foto Face-off Friday is going to mix it up a bit; a few weeks back, the co-moderator of the TouringPlans Flickr Group and co-founder of the excellent photo blog,, Cory Disbrow, suggested that a good challenge would be EPCOT Center v. Epcot. Thinking the idea would be wonderful, I put it in the queue for the next week. When typing up the challenge, however, I found that I couldn’t quite succinctly demarcate between EPCOT Center and Epcot. So this is going to be a matter of interpretation. Fear not, I will provide my basic interpretation for guidance. The park now known as Epcot went by the name of EPCOT Center until 1994. Around this time, it experience a shift from strict “edutainment” to a park containing educational aspects and more thrilling aspects. Obviously, anything existing in 1982 would fall on the EPCOT Center side of the versus, while newer attractions such as Test Track, Soarin’, and Mission: Space are Epcot-side attractions. Although it’s debatable, I would contend that Livin’ with the Land, SpaceShip Earth, all of World Showcase, and most pavilion exteriors are EPCOT Center-side attractions. However, it’s really all up to interpretation, so I’m hoping the entries this week will be accompanied by persuasive rationales. Please note that you don’t need an “old” picture to vote for EPCOT Center. You could take a picture today of any EPCOT Center-era aspect of the park, and it work definitely work! Hopefully my explanation here is somewhat helpful! As always please, help us settle the debate on Twitter by voicing your thoughts to @TouringPlans and entering your submissions in the TouringPlans Flickr Group discussion entitled “TouringPlans’ Foto Face-off Friday Blog – EPCOT Center v. Epcot.” You could have your comments and picture chosen to be featured in next week’s blog, so please head to the Flickr group and post!

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Tom Bricker

Tom is an amateur Walt Disney World photographer. He recently married his princess, Sarah, to whom he became engaged at WDW on the beach of the Polynesian Resort in 2007. Tom and Sarah have a miniature dachshund named Walter E. Dogsney and a yellow cat named Yossarian the Cat. Together, Sarah and Tom run the website Tom's photography can be found on his Flickr page ( and he can be contacted via Twitter (@wdwfigment) and Facebook (

2 thoughts on “Foto Face-off Friday – Illuminations v. Magic Kingdom Fireworks

  • Does there have to be a winner? It’s Disney World, do I have to choose? Yes, sometimes in life there are winners and sometimes there are losers. It’s just that it never occurred to me that we would categorize Iluminations as one and the Magic Kingdom fireworks shows as another. To answer the question Illuminations or Magic Kingdom, I say “yes.” Yes, I see them both each trip. Yes, I like to take pictures of each. Yes, sometimes I get good shots of each. (And sometimes they are blurry messes, I would never claim to be a great photographer.) Yes, the World (and the world) is a better, more magical place for all of us with both of them. And yes, I do enjoy seeing all of the pictures in these articles. So, thank you for the wonderful pictures.


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