Trip Reports

Happily Ever After’s Final Night

Happily Ever After, Magic Kingdom’s now (semi) retired nighttime spectacular, played for the final time tonight. We arrived at the park mid-afternoon and were surprised by two things. 1. The wait times were ridiculously low and 2. There were already people in the hub waiting for that night’s show. They were, at that point, 6 hours early. We later talked to someone who said people had waited all day. I love the show, as we’ll get to, but waiting 6 hours doesn’t seem ideal. Instead we took advantage of the low wait times.

As we started our afternoon there it was apparent that there was a different vibe to the park. I struggle in Magic Kingdom with the crowd at times, as the park often feels over crowded and that makes the guests seem a little entitled. That’s a gross stereotype and I’m basing it off a small number of experiences, but I have felt that way numerous times. Not today though, people were giddy!

I gave someone a high five on the PeopleMover as our cars passed each other. (I do not think this is probably allowed.) I watched a dad (I assume) eagerly tell his daughter about his favorite details in the Space Mountain queue. The crowd was as active as ever in Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor. Have you ever been to a concert where people were so excited for the main act that they enjoyed the opening act probably more than they should? That was the afternoon at Magic Kingdom and it was delightful.

HEA MK blue and gold

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The first time I saw Happily Ever After was a couple of months after it debuted. It was a warm but not unbearable late August evening, and we found our place for the show about half an hour before it began. As I set up my tripod, the group next to us started to ask a few questions, first about the camera and then about where we were from. This particular group was a little older, close to retirement they said, and traveled to Disney World together regularly.

Our subject turned to the new show and how any of us hadn’t seen it before. One of the guys was clearly a little uneasy about the change. After all, Wishes, the predecessor, had been there for over a decade and tugged at everyone’s heartstrings. The gentleman said it’d be hard to beat Wishes, shortly before the show started.

Happily Ever After won me over almost immediately, thanks in large part to a different but lovely soundtrack. For others, it might take a little longer into the show’s 18 minute runtime. As the show plowed through hit after hit with beautiful imagery, the man’s body language started to loosen up. Scene by scene, Happily Ever After was in fact winning him over. Then, the moment came. That moment where he totally let loose. As the melody ascended with “You can fly, you can fly, you can fly” and Tinkerbell appeared by the castle before coasting into the night, the man’s arms stretched to the Heavens and he let out a cheer.

HEA MK tinkerbell

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The good vibes lasted well into the evening and crowd started to fill in the hub and Main Street. We had gone through a number of Magic Kingdom’s greatest hits, Space, Big Thunder, Pirates, the Mansion and then topped it off with a raucous showing of the Country Bear Jamboree, complete with the older ladies in the back whistling at the male bears and agreeing with the females. Liver Lips was out on the balcony when we exited, the group cheered him along and he raised the roof and played air guitar. There’s no better rock star.

We found our spot, right on top of Magic Kingdom’s tiny hill, about an hour and twenty minutes before the show started. There were 10 tripods already set up around that area and I added another to the count. We sat for a while before they made us all stand up about 45 minutes before showtime to fill in the space. I went and grabbed some water before finding my way back.

Around then, we started talking to the guys behind us. One of them, like us, was there for the 50th anniversary. The other had a trip scheduled for Disneyland this week but adjusted the schedule to see the final showing. Disneyland would wait until tomorrow. They were from Kentucky, fairly sarcastic but also friendly. We talked to them for a while. The guy in front of us jumped in and out of the conversation and he was trying to save spots for people. There were two ladies who were with the two guys, who’d moved up a ways to better see over the giant photographers in front of us. There’d be a “time check” every few minutes where they’d yell the time countdown to each other. Eventually, others would join in and there was a weird “Hear ye, Hear ye” inside joke that got passed around. Finally that countdown neared zero, we did some quick moving around to see better and then the opening notes of Happily Ever After accompanied the lights going down.

HEA MK purple castle

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I was completely exhausted. Earlier in the day, I’d finished my third ever half marathon in the heat. I’m not overly fast in these long distances and probably wasn’t as in good of shape as I needed to be to run that race but I finished and so too did Melissa and our sister-in-law. We spent the rest of the day relaxing and eating before going into Magic Kingdom to watch the fireworks. It was a perfect cap to an exhausting day.

A week before we left for Walt Disney World, a snow storm hit Washington state like nothing we’d seen in many years. Our home was covered in 3 feet of snow and the final stages of training for a half marathon were in flux. We decided to hike up the hill in the 3 feet of snow to run double digit miles on a treadmill and it was terrible. I don’t think either of us completed that goal and I can’t say I was all that confident about our race. But then we did it and all the good feelings that people tell you about running a half marathon or full marathon (God bless them, I’m not at that point) came to me.

The show was great, as always, and then it reached the I Can Go the Distance. Full of runners, the crowd swelled and belted out the chorus in the most heartwarming fashion imaginable. We were the choir, the pyro our conductor and it felt as if we’d been practicing for this for months. Tears filled my eyes and I didn’t bother holding them back. Whenever I hear that song, my mind leaps back to that moment and that feeling.

HEA MK colorful

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As soon as those notes filled the Magic Kingdom sky, the girl to my right started sobbing. Frankly, most people were doing a good amount of sniffling. That’s generally a concerning thing in 2021 but on this night it felt right. Everyone sang along to every part of the show, even the instrumentals. When Quasimodo rang the bells to finish off the ‘dreams’ section of the show most of the crowd around me motioned with him.

The friendship and love sections were equally as heartfelt, with everyone joining together in song. Rapunzel’s lights floated to the top of the castle and it seemed as if the crying was as loud as the final notes of “I See the Light”. It was wonderful really, being in a mass of people who all care about the same exact thing is one of life’s great treasures. Usually there’s some disagreement about that ‘thing’ but in this case everyone just loved it.

Finally, we reached those different moments as the music swelled in I Can Go the Distance and Tinkerbell arrived above the castle. “There she is!” yelled the guy behind me. In between sobs the girl to my right urged her along by simply yelling “Fly! Fly!” Among those, Mufasa reminded us of who we are and the excellent theme song was belted along to.

Gold fireworks HEA MK

Everyone stayed for a few extra minutes after, soaking in the projections and listening to the song one more time. It was a beautiful end to a beautiful show.

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Another moment struck me in the show tonight. The narrator, Tom Kane, has a line fit for the show’s retirement:

“And so, our journey comes to an end. But yours continues on. Grab ahold of your dreams and make them come true. For you are the key to unlocking your own magic. Now go. Let your dreams guide you. Reach out and find your Happily Ever After.”

It’s cheesy and over the top like any good fireworks show should be. But it’s so full of hope and something we all need to hear after a rough year. The show may be ending, at least for now, but it’s willing us on and understanding that it’s the people that bring the magic and dreams. For one perfect and final night, I think the crowd knew that too.

HEA MK streaks

Did you have any Happily Ever After memories? Let us know in the comments below! If you are planning a trip to Disney World, then check out our planning guide. 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. You can do all of that on the right side of this page. Thank you for reading, we really appreciate it!

6 replies »

  1. I’m crying on the inside because now it’s official: I’ll never see ‘Happily Ever After.’ I haven’t been to Disney World since I was five because it’s far away from my home, meaning it’s expensive to travel to Disney World for me. I loved the story though about the guy that was sad about ‘Wishes,’ but then ‘Happily Ever After’ won him over. From youtube videos I’ve watched, the soundtrack is amazing, the storytelling is there, and the projections on the castle look so cool!

    Liked by 1 person

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