Tonight marks the last time Epcot guests will gather around the fire and watch Illuminations: Reflections of Earth. The long running nighttime show debuted October 1st, 1999, almost exactly 20 years ago. With the show ending tonight, I’m going to take a look back at what made Illuminations special.
The first time I saw Illuminations: Reflections of Earth it rained. Rain might be an understatement. It down poured, a storm of Biblical proportions. I have a distinct memory of my sister and I running for cover right as the show ended, completely drenched. All these years later, that memory stuck with me but the show made a lasting memory, as well.
Illuminations: Reflections of Earth is a show from a bygone era – before everything was geared to shorter attention spans and corporate synergy. While there are incredibly impressive fireworks, there’s also a long sequence of watching a globe float out to the middle of World Showcase Lagoon followed by a video sequence that isn’t all that easy to see. There’s a slow song and nary a mention of Disney. It’s the type of show that doesn’t seem possible for the company to make in 2019, probably for good reason.
All of those traits fit my ideal show. I love slow burning movies or songs that build up. Illuminations is abstract and made under the assumption that storytelling is the key to theme parks, not the brand. Oh, and there’s fireworks.
Melissa and I honeymooned at Disney World. On one of our nights at Epcot we saw Illuminations from the front of World Showcase. There must have been a little bit of a breeze blowing or something because as the show was ending, ash started raining down on us. The incredible finale with an absurd amount of fireworks, augmented by the ash raining from the heavens made a lasting memory. It was this weird sort of magical moment, never feeling dangerous but being unexpected.
My favorite part of Illuminations has become the stroll around World Showcase afterwards. A song from Tapestry of Nations play and we wander through the pavilions as the park slowly empties out. Generally, I’ll take photos and Melissa would enjoy the park’s scenery. Sometimes we’d sing along to the music. Sometimes we’d plan our next trip. Once in a while we’d just hold hands and walk.
Illuminations possesses a contemplative charge to its audience. The show gives an optimistic view of the world and future, celebrating the good in any of us. It’s a prayer for peace while also asking everyone to be better versions of themselves. While I absolutely adore Happily Ever After, Fantasmic!, and Remember… Dreams Come True, no night time spectacular is quite as contemplative as Epcot. The show isn’t dumbed down and rests in a perfect setting for the request it asks. That’s what I’m most concerned about with the eventual long-term replacement. I just don’t see anyway that the future show will be able to replicate the theme of Illuminations.
Tonight is the last time guests will gather around the fire. The torches will be blown out and then be lit in the name of unity. The lights of the pavilions will turn on triumphantly. Fireworks will be set off and maybe ash will rain down on some honeymooners. This song will play as everyone takes the slow walk out of the park. Then, Illuminations will be over. But we’ll have the memory of a show that was made for theme park fans. Illuminations was one of the first theme park ‘things’ that I absolutely loved. While it’s ending tonight, I won’t soon forget those torches, songs, fireworks, and, most of all, the message of the show.
Do you have any lasting memory of Illuminations: Reflections of Earth? Let us know in the comments below. If you enjoy what you’re reading on Wandering in Disney please subscribe to the blog and like our Facebook page. You can find both of those on the right side of this page. Thank you for reading, we really appreciate it!