Best IllumiNations Viewing Spots

epcot-fireworks-map copy


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…)

Best Disneyland Fireworks Views

Blog post with a map of the best Disneyland fireworks viewing spots, and photos from those locations!

Watching the Disneyland fireworks can be the highlight of a trip, but crowds and other viewing obstructions can make finding the best spot to watch the fireworks (Remember… Dreams Come True, Magical!, Halloween Screams, or Believe… in Holiday Magic) difficult. Since the Fourth of July “Salute to America” Limited Time Magic fireworks parties start today in Disneyland, now seems like a good time to share some of these locations, as well as some alternate places to go if you want to avoid the heavy crowds on Main Street.

If you read my prior “Best Magic Kingdom Fireworks Views” post, you know that I cautioned to use discretion before blindly following the map, and not to do anything stupid like standing behind a tree even if it falls into a “Good” zone on the map. This is doubly true with the Disneyland fireworks. Disneyland has a lot more trees on Main Street than the Magic Kingdom, and while I’ve tried to account for some areas that I know have many trees blocking the views, I don’t have a perfect “tree-memory.” If you pick a spot that is yellow or green on the map and a tree blocks your view of Sleeping Beauty Castle or the sky above it (and to a lesser extent, the Matterhorn), that’s not actually a good spot. The trees don’t retract into the ground when the fireworks start.

Along these same lines, while I have seen the fireworks at the Magic Kingdom more times than I can count (probably well over 100), I’ve been going to Walt Disney World my entire life, and the fireworks there run nightly with few exceptions. I haven’t visited Disneyland as many times, and even when I have visited, the fireworks aren’t always shown (either due to only being scheduled on the weekends or being cancelled at the last minute due to wind). Disneyland also mixes up its shows more frequently, with the “normal” show, Remember… Dreams Come True playing for about 33% of the year. Magical! is shown in the summer; Halloween Screams runs during Halloween Time at Disneyland; and Believe… In Holiday Magic is shown during Disneyland’s Christmas season. All of these run much more than their Walt Disney World seasonal counterparts. Still, I’ve seen these shows numerous times, just not from every conceivable spot in the park. Luckily, I’ve seen them from enough locations and have enough knowledge about fireworks to fill in the gaps and offer my takes on the best locations overall.

The map plus the various sample photos from these locations should give you visual thinkers a great idea of what to expect from different fireworks viewing places in Disneyland on Main Street. Just like the Magic Kingdom fireworks, all of the Disneyland fireworks shows were designed to be viewed straight-on from Main Street, USA. Moreso than the Magic Kingdom, Disneyland’s shows were designed to be viewed from The Hub, specifically. However, Disneyland also has a number of good alternative views, which can be great to avoid the throngs of locals who show up after work and camp out at the best spots for hours prior to the fireworks (something too time-consuming for tourists with limited vacation hours). After I go over the specific Main Street, USA views, I’ll touch upon some of these quiet spots and offer my thoughts on them.

Here are some looks at what you can expect from each numbered location on the map… (more…)

Best Magic Kingdom Fireworks Spots

Map of the best Magic Kingdom Fireworks View (plus sample photos from those locations in the blog post)

Watching the Magic Kingdom fireworks can be the highlight of a trip to Walt Disney World, but due to crowds and other factors, finding the best spot to watch Wishes!, or other seasonal fireworks shows, can be difficult. I’ve watched and photographed the fireworks in the Magic Kingdom probably around 100 times, and have gotten a good idea of the best and worst spots from which to view the various shows. (Note: if you’re looking for the best spots for viewing Epcot’s fireworks, read our Best IllumiNations Viewing Spots post.)

The map above works sort of like a stoplight (with orange added). Consider yellow on the map the “stoplight” version of go, with green on the map being the cream of the crop for views (okay, that part isn’t really like a stoplight). Orange on the map is a step down from yellow, but still isn’t bad. Red is bad–you should avoid these spots. There are numerous other “quiet” spots around the Magic Kingdom where you can see parts of the fireworks, but it’s incredibly important to know that all of the Magic Kingdom fireworks shows were designed to be viewed straight-on from Main Street, USA.

Watching from elsewhere in the park may help you avoid the crowds or enable you to have a fun experience while watching (riding Big Thunder Mountain or Splash Mountain during Wishes! is awesome), but you absolutely will miss parts of the show. Due to that, I haven’t included any other spots in the rest of the park on this map. If avoiding crowds is really important to you, consider one of these other locations around the park, as Main Street, USA is crowded before, during, and after the fireworks.

As for the numbered locations on the map, since I’ve photographed Wishes! so many times, I’m sharing photos from the exact same scene in Wishes! shoot from each numbered spot. I call this scene “The Fan,” and to me it’s the most iconic part of Wishes. It occurs at the crescendo of the score approximately 3 minutes and 45 seconds (give or take depending upon when you start the timer) into the show…so get those cameras ready! The map plus the various views of this scene should give you visual thinkers a great idea of what to expect from different fireworks viewing places in the Magic Kingdom.

However, it must be noted that this map is a rough idea of the best spots. Fireworks map-making is not an exact science, and obviously consulting the map to the degree that you blindly stand directly behind a tree because the map lists that spot as a yellow (a la Michael Scott driving his car into the lake because his GPS “told him to”) would be foolish. Avoid stray trees and other obstructions, as this map doesn’t account for those except in heavily obstructed areas.

Okay, let’s get started with the specific spots! (more…)

How To Photograph Fireworks eBook!

Do you wish you could photograph fireworks better? Do you have difficulty photographing fireworks? If the answer to either of these questions is “yes,” you should check out the new eBook I co-authored, detailing how to photograph fireworks. The eBook, called Fireworks Photography, is a collaborative effort between me and those crazy hooligans, Cory and Adam, who run the excellent Disney Photography Blog.

After many months of grueling work on what can be called both a labor of love and a painstaking task (seriously, who would have ever guessed that writing a book would be so much work?!), we are proud to finally release the finished version. (more…)

Here Comes the Christmas 2012 Grand Finale!

If the Christmas season were a fireworks show, we’d be nearing the grand finale. The presents are wrapped, the food is prepared, and one of our smaller family gatherings just concluded, leaving the house empty and quiet for the rest of the night. Of course, tomorrow morning the “grand finale” will occur, in the form of Christmas morning. I no longer have the sense of anticipation for Christmas morning that I did as a child–Sarah and I don’t do much in the way of gifts for one another and we don’t yet have kids to vicariously experience the joy of Christmas gifting–but it’s still a great day for spending time with family and enjoying festivities.

It might be a tortured analogy, but I think firework shows have some parallels. Just before the grand finale is the “late Christmas eve” portion of the show, where everything quiets down to build anticipation and make the grand finale all the more poignant. The grand finale is like a series of glorious, explosive presents. Fireworks themselves are festivities. As for the family part of the analogy…well, uhh…like I said, it’s a tortured analogy.

In real life, I love this quiet time. It’s a great time to just sit around, eat a couple a few dozen cookies, and watch Christmas movies with the family. In the world of fireworks…well, who likes a “tranquil” fireworks show? Only communists. To that end, here’s a photo from the grand finale of Holiday Wishes, when the perimeter bursts, incredibly bright streaming fireworks, and Cinderella Castle Dreamlights all erase the tranquility from the night sky over Walt Disney World.

Merry Christmas, everyone.

Please click the photo above to view it large.

Technical details: shot with a Nikon D600 with a Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 Lens. See our guide for more photography equipment recommendations.

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