July 22, 2024

Our 10 Favorite Disney Nighttime Spectaculars & Fireworks Shows of All Time

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Over the last two decades, we've seen numerous nighttime spectaculars and fireworks shows at Walt Disney World and Disneyland, as well as in Paris, Tokyo, Hong Kong, and Shanghai. Some are guest favorites standing the test

Over the last two decades, we’ve seen numerous nighttime spectaculars and fireworks shows at Walt Disney World and Disneyland, as well as in Paris, Tokyo, Hong Kong, and Shanghai. Some are guest favorites standing the test of time, running for decades. Others are short-lived, only lasting a season or two by design. Much like attractions, not all of these are created equally.

Similar to Sarah & Tom’s 10 Favorite Disney Attractions Around the World, we thought it’d be fun to put together a list of the best fireworks shows and nighttime spectaculars worldwide. As there are far fewer shows and spectaculars than there are attractions, we opted to include both present and past offerings. We figured that’d make the list easier.

We were wrong. It made the list way too challenging, as it turns out that there are a ton of Disney nighttime spectaculars we absolutely adore. Nevertheless, it did make putting this list together a lot more fun, as it offered a nice stroll down memory lane. It also offered a great reminder that, in some regards, Disney is still at the top of its game. 

When it comes to nighttime spectaculars, it’s difficult to deny that Disney Live Entertainment has stepped up its game in the last decade-plus. Sure, there have been some pretty big missteps (looking at you, Disney Enchantment and Harmonious!), but the hits far outnumber the misses. The overall quality and production value of Disney nighttime spectaculars is only improving.

No offense to Fantasy in the Sky or its loyal fans, but seeing that (without the added special pyro) and then seeing a modern show is such a stark contrast. Of course, many fans undoubtedly have nostalgia for the older and long-running fireworks shows…and that definitely plays a role in their celebrated status. But in general, the grandeur and wow-factor of newer nighttime spectaculars puts the old fireworks shows to shame.

Before we get going, we have a few rules for this list. First, no single or two-day seasonal shows are eligible. The main reason for this is because I haven’t seen some of the more obscure stuff, like the Bastille Day fireworks at Disneyland Paris or the one-off ‘Welcome to Our World’ fireworks in Florida. There’s also the reality that the Independence Day and New Year’s Eve shows excel by virtue of volume. While I’m easily impressed by explosions, we want to focus on quality over quantity (of pyro).

Next, hard ticket event shows are also ineligible. This means nothing from Magic Kingdom’s Halloween and Christmas Parties or Disneyland After Dark. Anything that is paywalled behind a separate ticket doesn’t count. (Honestly, this is just a cop out because we didn’t have space to include HalloWishes or Holiday Wishes. Those are the only hard ticket shows that would make the list, anyway, and they’d be tied for #11.)

Additionally, night parades aren’t included. Those are their own thing, distinct from fireworks and other nighttime spectaculars. Frankly, I don’t really know why, but that seems to be the conventional thinking. (There was a draft of this that included Main Street Electrical Parade, Paint the Night, SpectroMagic, and Dreamlights all as “N/A” just to reinforce the point that night parades are important/beloved, and Walt Disney World really needs one again…but this list was already too long.)

Finally, there’s no specific scoring criteria–this is just how particular shows move us the most, plus analysis of their complexity, scale, and quality. Yada yada yada. Even with all of these self-imposed and seemingly arbitrary limitations, we found ourselves snubbing several nighttime spectaculars we love, including Symphony in the Stars: A Galactic Spectacular (Star Wars Weekends fireworks), Frozen Fireworks, Disneyland Forever, Magical, and Disney in the Stars at Hong Kong Disneyland (we have yet to see Momentous, so it wasn’t eligible).

With that said, here’s the list in no particular order!

Happily Ever After, Magic Kingdom

Happily Ever After is the fireworks show that Magic Kingdom deserves. It takes many of the best elements of modern castle park nighttime spectaculars, and integrates them into a distinctly Magic Kingdom fireworks spectacular. The sharp contrast between Disney Enchantment and Happily Ever After underscores just how different in quality and sentimentality two similarly-styled shows can be–and made us appreciate Happily Ever After even more, somehow.

Happily Ever After excels largely thanks to a fantastic arrangement paired with song and movie choices. There’s a thematic progression to the show that makes sense–it goes from adventure to friendship to romance to overcoming adversity to attaining a ‘happily ever after.’ In a sense, this is the Disney animated film archetype, but in montage fireworks show form.

Happily Ever After’s song choices are fantastic, and the pyro pairings are truly superb. The whole stretch from “Friend Like Me” to “I See the Light” is powerful stuff. “Go the Distance” is a fan favorite for people of a certain age in the fandom, and the show’s titular theme song by Jordan Fisher has already become a modern classic. Disney Live Entertainment perfected the castle park fireworks show formula with Happily Ever After, and it’s rare to capture this kind of lightning in a bottle twice. Or it was rare, until earlier this year when the next entry on the list debuted…

Wondrous Journeys, Disneyland

One of our main motivations for creating this list because we haven’t sufficiently recognized Wondrous Journeys. We loved it from the first viewing, and it somehow continues to improve in our eyes as we form more of a sentimental attachment to the show. We are now comfortable definitively dubbing Wondrous Journeys as Happily Ever After: Disneyland Edition.

Wondrous Journeys is Disneyland’s new nighttime spectacular for the 100 Years of Wonder celebration, created to pay tribute to legacy of the Walt Disney Animation Studios. Wondrous Journeys features nods to every film released by the iconic studio over the past century. This means music, characters, and iconic moments from movies including Encanto, Beauty and the Beast, Mulan, Hercules, The Princess and the Frog, Peter Pan, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, Frozen, Treasure Planet, Big Hero 6, Moana, and many more.

Wondrous Journeys is perfectly paced, has a coherent thematic through-line and semblance of story, and is brimming with powerful moments. Unlike so many recent nighttime spectaculars, it doesn’t drag anywhere. Wondrous Journeys is exceptional from start to finish, and masterfully pairs pyro with projections, music and more.

Everything about Wondrous Journeys is amazing, from the original song to the way the movie songs are weaved together to the show’s arc–everything. Suffice to say, Wondrous Journeys is to Disneyland what Happily Ever After is to Magic Kingdom. Except with Baymax, Blue Fairy, and arguably even a more cohesive narrative thread. (But minus the big ‘ole castle!)

Wishes! A Magical Gathering of Disney Dreams, Magic Kingdom

They say Tom Brokaw is the ‘voice of a generation,’ but for those of us who spent evenings in Magic Kingdom during a certain era, Jiminy Cricket was the voice of our generation…at least as it related to Walt Disney World visits. The omnipresence of Jiminy’s voice, setting the mood in Magic Kingdom at night is something I still miss.

For our first several years visiting Walt Disney World together, the one-two punch of Wishes and SpectroMagic were the defining nighttime experience in Magic Kingdom. The two mirrored one another in their orchestral style, and felt like two halves of a whole, even if they debuted at different times and are, ostensibly, dissimilar.

Wishes was the icing on the (castle) cake that is a day in Magic Kingdom for an entire generation of guests. Wishes differed from previous castle parks fireworks shows that predated it in that it used a narrative thread to weave songs together, tugging at the heartstrings of guests in the process.

It wasn’t just pyro and music. Wishes resonated emotionally on its own terms, starting with a young girl singing the lines “star light, star bright,” followed by Jiminy Cricket’s opening narration about wishes coming true and Tinker Bell flying down. By the time the character ‘montage’ of Wishes lines finishes in the opening scenes, you’re hooked. Wishes was a bit schmaltzy, but it had heart and was oozing with nostalgia value. It’s no wonder so many Walt Disney World fans still miss it.

Magic, Music & Mayhem Fireworks, Magic Kingdom

For us, one of the many “golden ages” at Walt Disney World was 2007 to 2010. Admittedly, a big part of this is personal nostalgia. We were really getting into the parks as adults, and even honeymooned at Walt Disney World. Sure, there was stagnation when it came to new additions, but it was also a time of unprecedented discounts, Extra Magic Hours at Magic Kingdom until 3 am, Pirate & Princess Parties and Summer Nightastic.

With those last two events came the Magic, Music & Mayhem Fireworks (subsequently renamed to the Summer Nightastic Fireworks during that free festivity). When it comes to this bombastic nighttime spectacular, our glasses are not rose-colored. This was truly and unquestionably one of the greatest fireworks shows that Walt Disney World has ever produced, featuring perimeter bursts and other great effects.

The show was hosted by the Fairy Godmother of Cinderella with the three good fairies from Sleeping Beauty ‘fighting’ over the colors of the fireworks. Magic, Music & Mayhem also had a lot of instrumental music medleys from those movies, plus Beauty and the Beast and The Little Mermaid, with dialogue to weave a narrative together.

The highlight was when pirates stormed the Magic Kingdom, with characters from Peter Pan, music from Pirates of the Caribbean, and what seemed like a New Year’s Eve level of pyro as the pirates attacked Cinderella Castle. That single scene might be the best in the history of Magic Kingdom fireworks.

Celebrate Tokyo Disneyland

Celebrate Tokyo Disneyland is my favorite castle park nighttime spectacular of all-time. This nighttime spectacular was a brilliant love letter to the park, starting with an appearance by Mickey Mouse in Cinderella Castle’s balcony to conduct Tokyo Disneyland is Your Land against an opening montage of park attractions. It was a powerful start to the show, and fitting for Japan. Every time we saw it, there was a collective gasp from the audience when seeing the actual Mickey Mouse in that balcony, and not a projection. A little touch, but one that had a big impact.

From there, Celebrate Tokyo Disneyland hit the ground running. The show started in Adventureland with a strong scene from the Tiki Room before continuing to Jungle Cruise and building in intensity to Pirates of the Caribbean. Celebrate Tokyo Disneyland then moved on to Westernland, and where the best scene of the show happened: a goat and the Country Bears, riding around in a Big Thunder Mountain Railroad train helmed by Mickey Mouse.

I don’t recall what happened after, because I was always too busy picking up my jaw from the floor. Celebrate Tokyo Disneyland was a nighttime spectacular for theme park fans with great tributes to the park, its characters, and attractions–it was the perfect anniversary show. I wish that U.S. Disney Parks leadership had the good sense to do a nighttime spectacular like this for Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary, instead of a glorified Disney+ sizzle reel.

Disney Dreams, Disneyland Paris

Disney Dreams is like Happily Ever After plus World of Color, plus some other stuff thrown in for good measure. The show simultaneously has fire, fireworks, projections, lasers, and fountains–all of which make it one of the biggest draws at Disneyland Paris, and more substantial than fireworks shows at Magic Kingdom or Disneyland in California.

Guided by Peter Pan’s shadow, guests take an extraordinary journey during Disney Dreams as scenes are projected on Sleeping Beauty Castle and iconic iconic songs play from Disney and Pixar fan favorites Beauty and the Beast, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, The Lion King, Tangled, and many others. Disney Dreams leans heavily on Parisian-influenced Disney films, which means movies that normally don’t receive much attention are more prominent, and the standard ‘go-to’ films play second fiddle.

Disney Dreams was the first fireworks montage show of the modern era (also including Happily Ever After and Wondrous Journeys) and, like Happily Ever After, it has returned by popular demand following a subpar replacement that didn’t garner the same stratospheric guest satisfaction scores.

World of Color, Disney California Adventure

Featuring projections, fire, and other amazing effects, the dancing fountains of Paradise Bay present a jaw-droppingly beautiful montage presentation of Disney animated classics in World of Color. There’s no story to speak of and the vignettes arguably drag on a bit too long, but you will be so blown away and entranced by the colorful fountains, projections, and other visuals that you’re unlikely to notice.

My favorite way to watch World of Color is from the very front row, dead center in the wet zone. This spot is surprisingly easy to obtain during the second showing, especially on chilly evenings in Southern California (more often than you might expect for those who haven’t visited). From the front, World of Color is a sensory overload in the best possible way, a veritable feast of fountains, lights, colors, and music. From that perspective, the lack of story and narrative cohesiveness don’t much matter. Vibe-wise, World of Color is the perfect way to end a day at Disney California Adventure.

Fantasmic, Disneyland & Hollywood Studios

The king is dead, long live the king. Although not presently being performed at Disneyland due to a dragon who got carried away with her fire breathing, a new version of Fantasmic has debuted at Disney’s Hollywood Studios to replace Pocahontasmic! The new heroes sequence with an Aladdin chase, Elsa’s “Show Yourself” song, and stirring moments with Pocahontas, Moana, and Mulan is now the best segment of the show, and far superior to what it replaced (“the boring part”).

At both Walt Disney World and Disneyland, Fantasmic is an evening extravaganza unlike fireworks shows or other nighttime spectaculars. It combines various elements–fire, water projections, lasers, and fireworks–for a show that uses dreaming and the power of imagination as a jumping off point for montage scenes with various heroes and villains.

The latter characters turn Mickey’s dream into a nightmare, and the little mouse uses the power of his imagination to overcome them. Along the way, Fantasmic races through a number of Disney stories and the elaborate production features dozens of live performers, massive sets, and rousing music to tell its larger-than-life story.

The story is largely the same at Walt Disney World and Disneyland, with a variety of differences that give each the edge in various places. The biggest difference is the setting. Disneyland’s Fantasmic benefits heavily from its almost organic location on Tom Sawyer Island along the Rivers of America. That Fantasmic feels like it comes out of nowhere, and puts guests in the middle of the action.

By contrast, Fantasmic is in a colossal amphitheater, making for a more impersonal production that doesn’t pack quite as much punch. From a practical perspective, it’s also much easier to see at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and doesn’t result in the same bottlenecks. In the end, both versions of Fantasmic are fantastic–and they definitely were not equals prior to the reimagining of the DHS version.

Illuminations, EPCOT

I knew its days were numbered for years, but I still haven’t come completely to terms with losing IllumiNations. We saw it so many times that I can still play the soundtrack and be instantly transported right back to those summer nights at EPCOT when IllumiNations provided such a satisfying end to the day. It’s like it never left. For me, the retirement of IllumiNations closed the book on classic EPCOT Center and also on that era of entertainment from when we’d started visiting Walt Disney World.

If you never saw IllumiNations, it’s impossible to explain. Photos, works, or even video do not do it justice. You simply had to be there. But even then, plenty of people found IllumiNations to be boring. IllumiNations is very much an if you know, you know type of thing. It was timeless, abstract, ambitious, powerful…and also completely lacking in Disney characters.

The progress of mankind told symbolically through fireworks and a beautiful soundtrack, Illuminations was my favorite nighttime spectacular anywhere, ever. You could say that it didn’t “feel” like a Walt Disney World show because it didn’t have any character IP. However, those who have been going to Walt Disney World for decades know that this is exactly what made IllumiNations a distinctly Disney show. The high caliber of the show, the orchestration of the music, and the optimistic feeling it leaves you with once it’s over. IllumiNations was quintessential Disney from a different generation.

Remember… Dreams Come True, Disneyland

“Good evening, this is Julie Andrews. Once upon a time, there was a magic kingdom made of hopes and childhood fantasies. A timeless place, where every land was filled with wonder. A place where everyone who entered its gates would be given the gift of the young at heart: the power to wish upon a star and unlock its magic. Are you ready to wish upon a star? Then it’s time to open your heart and remember… dreams come true.”

I still get goosebumps when hearing the above opening for Remember… Dreams Come True. Same goes for the next segment, lifted from Wishes, and the one after that with Walt Disney’s 1955 Disneyland dedication speech. Oh, and the one after that, boarding the Disneyland Railroad for a grand circle tour of the original magic kingdom. And the one after that, and so on and so forth.

Remember… Dreams Come True combines two things that I love: fireworks and Disney theme park history. (RDCT also features a lot of great effects, such as the Haunted Mansion Stretching Room and Star Tours lasers.) The show is a tribute to the visionary man and the monumental place he built, which changed the course of history…and all of our lives. Those things are exponentially more meaningful to me than any animated movies.

What makes Disney fireworks spectaculars special is how they utilize fireworks in emotive shows. For this theme park nut, nothing accomplishes this better than Remember… Dreams Come True or Celebrate Tokyo Disneyland. As the park-centric fandom grows with each passing year thanks to Disney Vacation Club, Annual Passholders, and fanbases locally and spread out across the globe, I hope we start to see more shows like this in the future at Walt Disney World and Disneyland.

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Your Thoughts

What are your top 10 Disney theme park nighttime spectaculars and fireworks shows? It doesn’t matter how many parks you’ve been to, I’m still interested in knowing some other favorites. Do you think we missed any shows that should have made the list, or made any poor picks? Any questions? Hearing feedback about your experiences is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!

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