Best IllumiNations Viewing Spots

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This post highlights the best viewing spots for the IllumiNations fireworks at Epcot in Walt Disney World. Here we will provide some general tips about the best locations, and point out the best of these on a map of World Showcase. I’ve watched and photographed IllumiNations way too many times (actually, you can never see IllumiNations too many times–it’s by far the best nighttime spectacular at Walt Disney World) and can say that not all viewing spots for Illuminations were created equally.

Unfortunately, unlike my Best Magic Kingdom Fireworks Viewing Spots post which contained an easy to follow map with color coded areas of good, bad, and okay spots from which to watch Wishes!, the same really isn’t possible for Epcot. This is because within a span of 10 feet, you might have both an awesome and awful viewing spot, due to trees, food carts, or other obstructions.

Instead of a color-coded map that won’t really be helpful, for this post I’m going to instead highlight my 5 favorite spots, along with some alternatives to those spots, and general discussions about choosing a spot for watching IllumiNations. Choosing a prime location for IllumiNations is actually easier said than done, as certain variables, such as the direction of the wind and where there might be IllumiNations dessert parties or private events that eliminate potential viewings areas as options for regular park guests change often.

Before choosing a spot for IllumiNations on a particular day, determine which way the wind is blowing. There are all sorts of scientific ways for doing this (and there’s probably an app for it), but it should be as simple feeling the wind blow on you. If it’s intense enough that you can feel the wind, you will want to avoid anywhere that will be down-wind of the center of the fireworks in the middle of World Showcase Lagoon. The show can produce a lot of smoke, and if you’re down-wind of that, you may not see much of the second half of the show. Most nights it’s not windy enough for this to be a problem, but it’s still something to keep in mind.

The first thing you should do when arriving at any potential viewing spot is to survey the area above and around you to see if there are any torches, light poles, or trees blocking your view of the Lagoon. If so, and you still have the time to find a different spot, do so.

If you didn't blink for 103 seconds, this is what Illuminations would look like to you. I don't recommend not blinking for 103 seconds. This fireworks photo was shot with a neutral density filter.More on neutral density filters: http://www.disneytouristblog.com/neutral-density-filter-reviews-buying-guide/

Along the same lines, but easier said than done, look towards the middle of World Showcase Lagoon to determine whether you can see to the middle, or if your view is blocked by a little island of trees. There are a couple of these that can impact views of the Earth Globe barge during the show.

The good news is that, obstructions and weather aside, since IllumiNations takes place in the center of World Showcase Lagoon, if you pick a spot that can see the center of the Lagoon, you will be able to see IllumiNations. It isn’t like Wishes in this regard, as some spots that have good views of Cinderella Castle actually are poor views of the fireworks due to perspective distortion. There’s no perspective distortion here. The bad news is that IllumiNations doesn’t just take place high in the air…it also has low-level fireworks and a globe display, meaning you really will want a “front row” spot along the rails around World Showcase Lagoon.

That pretty much covers the basics, now let’s take a look at my favorite specific spots… (more…)

1-Day Disney’s Hollywood Studios “Daily Trip Blueprint”

If we were going to spend a “perfect” day in Disney’s Hollywood Studios, these are the attractions we would do, the restaurants at which we’d dine, the shows we’d see, and the details we’d try to enjoy. This post continues our series of 1-day park itineraries designed to answer the frequently asked question, “what would you do if you only had one day in ____ Disney park?” We call this series our “Daily Trip Blueprints,” or DTBs for short.

Frankly, “perfect day at Disney’s Hollywood Studios” in 2015 is sort of a misnomer. If I wanted to have a perfect day at Walt Disney World, that day would involve not going to Disney’s Hollywood Studios this year. This is because Disney closed a slew of attractions at Hollywood Studios around the start of the fiscal year, with the rumored reasoning being to save operating costs as expensive construction began to totally overhaul the park.

This overhaul is rumored to contain a massive “Pixar Place” expansion (that may or may not include elements of Cars Land at Disney California Adventure and almost certainly will include attractions akin to Toy Story Playland in Hong Kong Disneyland) and a huge Star Wars Land. Again, this is rumor, but construction is expected to begin at some point in 2015 with an announcement being made at the upcoming D23 Expo. The expansion will also include placemaking and other cosmetic and thematic changes to the park, the first of which is occurring with the removal of the giant Mickey Mouse Sorcerer’s Hat at the front of the park.

All of this, unfortunately, means that Disney’s Hollywood Studios is in sort of sad shape right now, and likely only get worse later this year and into next (and beyond) as the park becomes a sea of construction walls. If you’re planning a once in a lifetime trip and are dead-set on doing every park at Walt Disney World, by all means, go. You’ll still have a good time. However, if I were going to skip any park this year or thinking about devoting a day to Universal Orlando, well, Disney’s Hollywood Studios would probably get skipped. It’s not high on my “List of Places to Visit” for 2015.



With all of that said, this post assumes moderate crowds at Disney’s Hollywood Studios on the day of your visit; actual crowds and park hours vary. Consult our When to Visit Walt Disney World post to determine how bad crowds might actually be, or to plan your visit. If you’re looking for something more comprehensive to plan every aspect of your Walt Disney World vacation, from where to purchase discount tickets to transportation to what to pack and more, read our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide.

FastPass+ is somewhat important for Disney’s Hollywood Studios (read more about FastPass+ in our MyMagic+ FAQ), especially if you want to do Toy Story Mania. The Studios uses a tiered system for FastPass+, and my top picks for each tier are as follows: Toy Story Mania (Tier A) plus Tower of Terror and Star Tours (Tier B). For the plan, we’ll assume you are able to make the recommended FastPass+ selections. At other parks, you want to make FastPass+ reservations for earlier in the day so you can get more FastPass+, but it doesn’t really matter here, as the other FastPass+ at Disney’s Hollywood Studios (besides Rock ‘N’ Roller Coaster) are sort of worthless.

We’re also going to arbitrarily assume that you want to stay in a hotel that’s most convenient to Disney’s Hollywood Studios, which is also a hotel convenient to Epcot, as the hotels in the Crescent Lake Resort Area are within walking distance of both parks. If you’re spending several nights at Walt Disney World, this area may not be your priority, but if Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios are your “most important” parks, and you might want a hotel in this area. My top picks here are BoardWalk Inn or Beach Club. While these are a bit pricey, the good news is that you can save money at them by Renting Disney Vacation Club Points. The Swan & Dolphin are also good options if you don’t need to use Disney’s Magical Express.

Once you wake up from wherever it is that you are sleeping, here’s what to do…

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Star Wars Weekends 2015 Tips & Tricks

Star Wars Weekends 2015 are held May 15-17, May 22-24, May 29-31, June 5-7, and June 12-14, 2015 at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Walt Disney World. This post covers when to visit, our tips for visiting, and more. Star Wars Weekends are geared towards all things Star Wars (from Episode 7: The Force Awakens, to Star Wars Rebels to merchandise like “Her Universe” to the animated TV show, Star Wars: The Clone Wars). Celebrities who have played a part in the Star Wars expanded universe are in attendance, there’s a special parade, shows, and every day ends with fireworks. It’s a lot of fun whether you’re a hardcore Star Wars fan or just a fan of fun (we fall into the latter camp).

If you’ve been to Walt Disney World countless times (and it’s probably not a bad assumption that you have if you’re reading this blog), you might be looking for ways to see the place a-new. One way to to find new experiences is to visit during a seasonal festival or weekend event. One such weekend event is Star Wars Weekends, held in May and June at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

This post has been updated for 2015 to reflect changes to Star Wars Weekends, including the return of the character meals, potential tie-ins with Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, as well as new strategy and tips. It also reviews the extensive changes that occurred last year. We attended Star Wars Weekends last year on the weekend of May 23, 2014, and did everything that was new for last year.

With those housekeeping notes out of the way, let’s take a look at what Star Wars Weekends have to offer, whether they might be for you, and how to make the most of your time at the event. We’ll start with why you should visit, and then cover the best weekend for Star Wars Weekend, and move on to other strategy from there…

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Tips for Buying Discount Disney World Tickets

Money-saving Tips for Buying Discount Walt Disney World Tickets (from authorized sellers!)

Walt Disney World offers a wide array of tickets. These tickets are expensive, but luckily, if you shop right, you can find good discounts on Disney tickets to save money. When it comes to a Disney vacation, the tickets are likely going to be your second-most expensive expenditure after your hotel room and perhaps airfare. For some people, they might actually be the most costly portion of the trip! Disney raises its ticket prices about once or twice per year with the last increase occurring in February 2014, so it’s best to buy your tickets as early as possible, before your trip. Given that there was an increase last year around this time, we would not be surprised to see another price increase in February 2015.

Given their cost, and the myriad of different ticket options, it’s important to know as much as you can about the different types of tickets, and what your family will probably need. Purchasing Walt Disney World tickets can be overwhelming, as there are many different choices and add-ons. If you’re willing to do a little homework, all of the options are a good thing, as you can buy exactly what you need and not waste money on unnecessary extras.

In this article we sort through the different options and give you recommendations on what types of tickets are best for you, plus where you can save money on Walt Disney World tickets. (If you’ve come looking for info on discount Disneyland tickets, you’ve come to the wrong place–but we do have an article on that, too.)

If all you’re looking for is where to safely buy cheap, legitimate Walt Disney World tickets from an authorized reseller and don’t need to read this entire article, click here.

Ready to get started? Here are our tips and tricks for saving money on 2015 Walt Disney World tickets! (more…)

Tips for New Year’s Eve at Disney World

A lot of people will visit Walt Disney World for New Year’s Eve 2014, and there are festivities and great fireworks shows justifying the parks as one of the top places in the world for New Year’s. Unfortunately, Walt Disney World is also one of the busiest places in the world for New Year’s Eve, and judging by many emails and comments we’ve received the last few days, many people visiting for the holidays don’t know this.

If you’re already in Walt Disney World and are looking for ways to avoid the crowds, and for the best experience on New Year’s Eve, this post is here to help you out. If you’ve wanted to visit for the holidays but have always been afraid of the crowds you’d encounter, this post might just present a game plan that makes the visit more appealing.

We’ve visited Walt Disney World for New Year’s Eve, and while it was incredibly busy, it also was incredibly fun, and something we’ll definitely do again. While the crowds are a downside, additional entertainment to help with crowds (parades, characters, fireworks, shows, etc.) are a plus-side. Here are some tips for making the most out of a New Year’s Eve (or Christmas to New Year’s) visit to Walt Disney World based upon our experiences. (more…)