FIRST TIMERS CORNER: DON’T MISS AFTER DARK MAGIC
Walt Disney World during the day is delightful, but the varying blues of the sky and different degrees of cloud cover—even, bless us, rain clouds—make it hard for Walt Disney World to always show at its best.
Night, though, is different. Darkness reduces distractions, and provides a different canvas for light and color to appear. Knowing this, the Imagineers show off some of their best work at night—not just the famous evening spectaculars like Illuminations and Fantasmic!, but also some lower key shows, and even some of the rides.
Here’s what First Timers ought not to miss:
THE NIGHTTIME SPECTACULARS
Each park has a keystone evening show—hollywood Studios has two—that most First Timers should add to their “Must Do” lists.
May 11 marked the last day of Magic Kingdom’s nighttime fireworks show, Wishes, which was many guests’ favorite nighttime event at the WDW parks, being replaced by Happily Ever After, a combined fireworks and projection show. Deadlines mean that I haven’t seen the new show yet as I write this, but the odds are better than 80% that it will continue to be a “Can’t Miss” show. Most of the year, such a show has been on almost every night, with times typically varying from 8:00 PM until 10:00 PM, but from late August until mid-december, most weeks, it’s on only 3-4 nights a week.
At Epcot, Illuminations: Reflections of Earth, a fireworks, video, and laser show, is on pretty much every night, most commonly at 9:00 PM, but after Thanksgiving, at 9.30 PM.
At Disney’s Animal Kingdom, the new Rivers of Light evening show is a subtle combination of light, music, color, and water. Possibly a bit dull for the youngest of kids, its loveliness grows on everyone else. It shows one or two times a night, every night during the busier parts of the year, and once or twice a night, four times a week during the rest of the year.
Disney’s Hollywood Studios has two evening spectaculars. Its Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular combines some fireworks with many Star Wars projections, and is best for Star Wars fans. Fantasmic! combines live action with characters, projections, and some minor fireworks into, perhaps, the most Disney of all the Nighttime Spectaculars.
Recently, each has been on nightly, but their timing has been such that on nights with only one Fantasmic!—which is by far most common—you can’t really see both.
OTHER SPECIAL EVENTS THAT ONLY HAPPEN AFTER DARK
Magic Kingdom and Disney’s Animal Kingdom each have other shows that only occur after dark. At Magic Kingdom, the projection show, Once Upon a Time is typically shown 45 minutes after the fireworks show, and is well worth the wait. At Animal Kingdom, the projection show Tree of Life Awakenings offers a series of subtle moments, with interludes between each evening. These can be on for as briefly as about an hour, or as long as several hours, depending on park closing hours and sunset times.
RIDES THAT SHOW ADDITIONAL DIMENSIONS AFTER DARK
For those attractions with outdoor components, darkness can change either the experience of the ride, or the views of the rest of the park—or both. After dark is the only
period when Disney Imagineers can fully control the lights and colors experienced by riders of outdoor rides, and many are simply at their best then.
Epcot and Hollywood Studios are essentially indoor parks as their attractions go (the exception is Tower of Terror at the Studios, which is great fun after dark), so most of the rides that gain new dimensions after dark are at Animal Kingdom and Magic Kingdom. At Animal Kingdom especially, do Expedition Everest after dark, and, if you have already seen it during daylight, Kilimanjaro Safaris as well. At Magic Kingdom, the top after dark rides are: Splash Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain, and Jungle Cruise, but also consider Dumbo and the Astro-orbiter.
Walt Disney World after dark presents some of its most special moments, and every visitor should plan at least one evening in each of the four theme parks!