With the recent news that Disney is bringing back their nighttime spectaculars, I thought it’d be an opportune time to look down memory lane. Fireworks in Disney Parks started all the way back in 1958 with Disneyland’s Fantasy in the Sky and these shows have been integral to the park experience ever since. There’s been a number of nighttime spectaculars since then and I’ve had the pleasure of seeing a few of them. In this post, I’m going to rank my personal favorites.
Since this is Wandering in Disney, I have some rules to follow. Essentially it all boils down to the show having to be a full blown nighttime spectacular to make my list. That means smaller projection shows like Tree of Life Awakenings or Once Upon A Time, however wonderful they might be, aren’t eligible. Similarly, nighttime parades are not going to be on here even if Tokyo Disneyland’s Dreamlights would nearly top the list.
The other personal rule I have is that I have to have seen the show live. While nearly everything is on YouTube at this point, that doesn’t do any of these shows justice, even the bad ones. Obviously, my list of shows that I’ve seen isn’t as lengthy as some. I’ll work on that 😉 I will rank all of the shows that I have seen though, including seasonal entertainment, and will give actual thoughts once we reach the top ten. All of these are ranked based on personal preference. You didn’t come here to read about arbitrary rules so let’s get to it!
17. Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM! – Hollywood Studios
16. Mickey’s Mix Magic – Disneyland
15. Epcot Forever – Epcot
14. Rivers of Light – Animal Kingdom
13. World of Color – Celebrate – California Adventure
12. Fantasmic! – Hollywood Studios
11. Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular – Hollywood Studios
10. Holiday Wishes – Magic Kingdom
I’m sure this show has some defenders, as fireworks set to Christmas songs is admittedly awesome. It doesn’t rise in my rankings mainly because that’s about all I got from the show. I prefer the Christmas tag to Illuminations even though that’s about a tenth as long. All that said, the perimeter bursts were awesome!
9. Disneyland Forever – Disneyland
This debuted for Disneyland’s 60th anniversary and is very technically impressive. For those that love the Disney film studios, then this show might rank even higher. I was hoping for a little more park content in it but that doesn’t undermine a very good fireworks and projection show.
8. World of Color – Disney California Adventure
The original World of Color remains the best version of the show and is quite memorable for being mainly a projection show. I’ve always loved two things about this show and they’re kind of connected. Getting a place to stand in the splash zone area is a must here. You’ll get wet but the view is undefeated. Once you do get wet, the Pirates of the Caribbean section of the show will hurriedly become your favorite moment because the fire will warm you up. Also, Wall-E is amazing.
7. Wishes – Magic Kingdom
I know this is a sentimental favorite for some and many would have it in the top three, if not the top spot. Wishes certainly is an emotional fireworks show, thanks to the narration and beautiful soundtrack. As far as recognizable songs go, Wishes tops the list. Despite it growing a little tired by the end of its run, Wishes was an extraordinary show.
6. HalloWishes – Magic Kingdom
I actually preferred HalloWishes to the original show thanks to integrating some more theme park entities and Oogie Boogie. I think the colorful pyro was great throughout it, as were the perimeter bursts. As far as seasonal entertainment goes, this is as good as it gets!
5. Fantasmic! – DisneySea
DisneySea’s recently retired Fantasmic was around a lagoon and had a few differences from the stateside versions. I enjoyed the iteration’s take on the dragon as well as being all over water with Mount Promytheus erupting in the background. While it’s not my favorite version of the show, it’s very good. I’m excited to see what they come up with next for that lagoon.
4. Happily Ever After – Magic Kingdom
Between the surprising soundtrack, that has hits and deep pulls, and the gorgeous visuals, Happily Ever After is a stunning fireworks show. There are inevitably a few moments throughout the show that will get me choked up. I adore the heroes projection (that’s what I’m calling it) that is featured prominently throughout and the sequence with I Can Go The Distance and You Can Fly tugs at the heart strings. The original song is solid as well. Coming in at over 15 minutes, this is one of the best fireworks shows that Disney has produced.
3. Remember… Dreams Come True – Disneyland
As someone who cares far more about the parks than anything else Disney makes, Remember… Dreams Come True is perfect for me. It’s also an absolute flex. From the moment Julie Andrews comes over the speakers and introduces herself, you know the show means business. After that comes a trip through some of Disneyland’s greatest attractions. It has soft moments like the riverboat projected onto the castle, mixed with the chaotic train and Haunted Mansion sequences. The show is a greatest hits album. While the pyro isn’t as distinguished as others on this list, the idea behind the show has it rank this high for me.
2. Fantasmic! – Disneyland
The top 2 on my list have a level of ceremony to them. Gathering around the river with a few thousand of your closest friends is a Disney rite of passage. Fantasmic has seen many iterations (there are 3 versions on this list) but this classic remains the best. It’s organic in setting, with Disneyland using space so well. The ships pulling through is a jaw-dropping moment. For me, nothing tops Mickey conducting, sword fighting and dreaming his way through the show. The score is phenomenal as well. Fantasmic might be the only show that I hope sticks around for as long as theme parks exist.
1. Illuminations: Reflections of Earth – Epcot
Just like guests gathering around the river is ceremonial, when the narrator says “we gather around the fire” in Illuminations it feels like life has culminated in a moment. That’s hyperbole, of course, but the show is dramatic. One of the most wonderful things about theme parks, sporting events, concerts, movies, plays or any kind of art is how it brings people together from all walks of life. Illuminations not only did that but was a show that celebrated that very idea. While that’s a fairly high concept for a theme park fireworks show, there’s no doubting the feeling of unity Reflections of Earth brought. On a personal level, it’s the first theme park ‘thing’ I remember truly loving. Between that opening narration and the Tapestry of Nations post-show loop around World Showcase, Illuminations was an experience far beyond some fireworks bursting overhead. Although it did that quite well too.
What are your favorite nighttime spectaculars? Let us know your thoughts, along with any questions you might have, in the comments below! Planning a trip to a Disney Park? Check out our Planning Guides to help you along the way! If you enjoy what you are reading here on Wandering in Disney please share this post with your friends, as well as like our social media pages. You can also subscribe to the blog via WordPress or email. All of those links are on the right side of this page. Thank you for reading, we really appreciate it!
Categories: Top 10 Lists