Top 10 Disney Theme Park Shows & Spectaculars

Disney Parks have tons of attractions, but often overlooked are the live action shows and spectaculars that are not actual rides. There are numerous shows and spectaculars at Walt Disney World, Disneyland, Disneyland Paris, Tokyo Disney Resort, and Hong Kong Disneyland. Some of these are time-honored favorites, running for decades and still holding strong in popularity. Others are short-lived performances that last only a season or two by design. Much like attractions, not all of these shows were created equally.

Similar to my Top 10 Disney Theme Park Attractions list, I thought it would be fun to put together a list of what I consider the 10 best shows and spectaculars worldwide. As there are far fewer shows and spectaculars than there are attractions, this list was considerably easier to put together without too many snubs, but once again I’m keeping to a strict 10 show limit. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t some snubs, as Disney certainly has more than 10 deserving shows worldwide.

To keep things fair (whatever that means in this context), no seasonal shows are eligible. The main reason for this is because I haven’t seen some of the more obscure seasonal stuff, like the Bastille Day fireworks at Disneyland Paris or the Fourth of July World of Color show. This also disqualifies many of the hard ticket event shows at Walt Disney World that I happen to love, but I don’t think anything that requires a separate ticket should be eligible. Also, only shows and spectaculars that are currently running are eligible. Finally, there’s no specific scoring criteria–this is just how particular shows move me, plus analysis of their complexity, scale, and quality.

Blah, blah, blah. A lot of rules for something that’s supposed to be lighthearted and fun, right?! As this is a multi-continent list, it’s not like this top 10 has any functional utility anyway…it’s more geared at being a fun conversation piece for Disney theme park fans. I had a lot of fun doing the Top 10 Attractions list and reading all of your feedback, and I think it’s a lot of fun comparing and contrasting all of the different parks in a non-demeaning manner (in other words, posts that constructively look at interesting similarities and differences, not posts that, to paraphrase, say “OMG, WALT DISNEY WORLD IS THE BEST EVER. DISNEYLAND TOTALLY SUCKS.”).

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

Finding Nemo: The Musical, Disney’s Animal Kingdom

Sing it with me:

Finding Nemo: The Musical scores big points for its originality. Of course, if you’re looking at it from only the perspective of the show’s story, there isn’t much originality. It’s basically a condensed retelling of Finding Nemo. (If anyone at Disney is listening: this is the least effective and laziest type of show and attraction; strive for original, engaging attractions!) However, the visual means by which it tells the story is very original. When I first heard of the concept of using visible human performers with sea-creature puppets, I was a bit incredulous. Surely the human performers would distract from the puppets, or vice-a-versa. Not the case at all. The performers and puppets compliment one another perfectly, with the performers giving the puppets emotion, and the puppets adding a visual beauty to the show, and making the characters much more believable (a human performer might work as a monkey in Festival of the Lion King, but a lady in a body suit isn’t a good “sell” for Nemo). Add to that some original music, and Finding Nemo: The Musical is a real winner.

Dreamlights, Tokyo Disneyland

If you’ve never seen Tokyo Disneyland Electrical Parade Dreamlights, imagine the Main Street Electrical Parade if it were updated for the 21st Century. Dreamlights takes full advantage of the technological advancements in…uh…lights?…that have occurred since the 1970s, and culminates in a parade that is rooted in the same charm as the original Disney light parade, but that also has a wow factor unlike anything seen stateside. The “Chameleon Genie” float is the highlight, but the whole parade is top-notch. It also does a great job of appeasing both those who hate and love the Main Street Electrical Parade soundtrack, as it has a section of that parade’s music, but it’s not the entire parade. We consider this the best piece entertainment that Tokyo Disneyland has to offer. At least until “Once Upon a Time” debuts!

World of Color, Disney California Adventure

World of Color is a show that has grown on both of us tremendously since we saw the original version during its opening summer from the “cheap seats.” On a subsequent trip, we saw it from the front row, and now I won’t want it any other way. Sure, I get soaked sometimes, but it’s totally worth it for a much more immersive and technically impressive experience. I still am not wild about World of Color making no attempt at even a loose narrative thread (one of the reasons I actually prefer World of Color: Winter Dreams to the normal version), but it’s such a visually impressive show that it makes this top 10 regardless. It’s easy to see why World of Color will be one of the biggest draws at Disney California Adventure for years to come.

Fantasmic, Disneyland

The original is still king. Fantasmic is a great show because it combines a multitude of different effects and a loose storyline to tie together montage sequences in an entertaining show. Disneyland’s Fantasmic benefits heavily from its almost organic (or as organic as something in a meticulously crafted theme park setting can be) location on Tom Sawyer Island along the Rivers of America. Although this spot causes bottlenecks and foot-traffic nightmares through New Orleans Square at night, it’s the absolute best venue of any Fantasmic. Add to that an excellent dragon, and boat scenes on the river that are essentially right in front of the audience, and Fantasmic at Disneyland is a real winner. While I still enjoy the Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Tokyo DisneySea versions, they just can’t match the heart of the original, which is one of my favorite experiences at Disneyland.

Big Band Beat, Tokyo DisneySea

Several years after its debut, Big Band Beat remains so popular that seeing it requires entering a lottery (except for the first show, which just has really long lines). If it were a show at Walt Disney World, they long ago would have started selling $59.99 dining packages in order to see it. While we were initially surprised by the lotto system for Big Band Beat, after we saw it the first time, we totally understood why. A Broadway-style big band show fused with some Disney characters (all in English), Big Band Beat is a Broadway-caliber show. The performers are insanely talented, and the finale with Mickey Mouse is nothing short of pure Disney magic–and we don’t use that term lightly. As incredible as Big Band Beat is, for now, it’s the not even the best overall show in Tokyo DisneySea.

Legend of Mythica, Tokyo DisneySea

If you’ve thought about visiting Tokyo Disney Resort in 2014 and are having trouble figuring out when to go, my emphatic answer is BEFORE September 7, 2014 (sorry if you’re reading this in 2015…this show is ‘extinct’). Legend of Mythica is Tokyo DisneySea’s lagoon show, and it is all sorts of amazing. Unlike Big Band Beat, which is entirely in English, Big Band Beat is almost entirely in Japanese. It has a loose storyline involving the characters embodying certain mythical spirits, which I showcased in an installment of our Tokyo Disney Resort trip report, but story is not really important. Rather, Legend of Mythica is a visual tour-de-force, with incredible costumes, aerial displays, beautiful floats, and even dance sequences (on shore). Legend of Mythica is so unlike anything else anywhere, and it’s almost impossible to fully comprehend until you’ve seen it in person.

Illuminations, Epcot

Listening to the 68 minute

My love for many things at Walt Disney World is fueled by nostalgia, something I readily admit, but not something that I believe clouds my judgment. Change is inevitable, and although I’ll miss many things for which I’m nostalgic when they do leave, I understand the need to change. Illuminations is one of very few exceptions. I hope it never changes. Not necessarily because I think it’s perfect or timeless, but because I don’t think Disney would ever create a spectacular at contemporary Walt Disney World that’s so abstract, ambitious, and lacking in Disney characters. The progress of mankind told symbolically through fireworks and a beautiful soundtrack, Illuminations is my favorite nighttime spectacular anywhere. You could say that it doesn’t “feel” like a Disney show because it doesn’t have any Disney intellectual property. However, those who have been going to the parks for years know that this is exactly what makes it a distinctly Disney show. The high caliber of the show, the orchestration of the music, and the optimistic feeling it leaves you with once its over. It’s pure Disney in quality.

Mystic Rhythms, Tokyo DisneySea

Mystic Rhythms is another abstract Tokyo DisneySea show, and demonstrates why DisneySea is probably the most adult-oriented park in the Disney pantheon. Another show that is abstract in nature, this doesn’t pander to children, but it’s something kids will like because of the representation of wildlife in the show and other fun visual elements. It’s lot like Cirque du Soleil combined with tribal music in an elaborate “Disney style” environment. The stage features pools and a waterfall, fire, and other effects in a lush jungle. Mystic Rhythms is impressive in every regard, and is one of the most captivating shows we’ve ever seen in a Disney theme park.

Disney Dreams, Disneyland Paris

You could say that Disney Dreams is like Wishes + Celebrate the Magic + 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. Much like Fantasmic, it’s a montage show with a narrative thread, which makes it more compelling (in my eyes). Another big plus of Disney Dreams is that it 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. Check out our Disney Dreams Tips post for more info.

Remember… Dreams Come True, Disneyland

Remember… Dreams Come True combines two things that I love, fireworks and Disney theme park attractions, to take the crown as the best fireworks spectacular in a Disney castle park. It’s the only fireworks spectacular that’s based on Disney theme park attractions rather than Disney films, and as a fan primarily of the parks, this earns it huge points from me. The fireworks themselves are a bit underwhelming (as is the case from most Disneyland fireworks shows), but “Remember…” is all about how those fireworks, and some awesome other effects, are choreographed with memorable moments from classic Disney attractions. You can see impressive “pure” fireworks shows at any state fair in the Midwest. 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!

Disneyland Resort ParisDisneyland ParisDisney DreamsDisney Dreams, the nighttime spectacular at Disneyland Paris created for the 20th anniversary, is absolutely amazing...Read more:

Hope you enjoyed my look at the top 10 shows and spectaculars at the worldwide Disney theme parks! Since it seems that, moreso than attractions, the goal of Disney shows is to provoke an emotional response from guests, it will be interesting to read how different shows (or the same ones) provoke different responses from you!

Looking for Disney trip planning tips? Make sure to read our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide and Disneyland Trip Planning Guide.

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Your Thoughts…

What are your top 10 Disney shows? It doesn’t matter how many parks you’ve been to, I’m still interested in knowing some other favorites. Do you think I missed any that should have made the list, or made any poor choices? If you have any other questions or comments, please leave them below.

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32 Responses to “Top 10 Disney Theme Park Shows & Spectaculars”

  1. Sariah says:

    I haven’t been to many parks, and I haven’t seen that many shows, but here are my top 7 (in no particular order):

    Disney Dreams (Disneyland Paris)
    Remember…dreams come true (Disneyland)
    The Tarzan show at Disneyland Paris (idk what it’s called or if it’s even still running)
    World of color (California adventure)
    Aladdin the musical (California adventure)
    AniMagique (Hollywood studios in Paris)
    The nighttime parade at Disneyland Paris (idk what it’s called or if it’s still running)

    I haven’t seen fantasmic, as I’ve never been to Disneyland over a weekend or during the summer when it’s running, but I’ve heard great things about it.

    One thing I wanted to draw your attention to: in the legend of mythica paragraph, you wrote “Unlike big band beat, which is entirely in English, big band beat is almost entirely in Japanese.” While I know what you meant, I thought you might want to fix that.

    Thanks for the article! I like these “top 10″ articles a lot.

  2. T Houghton says:

    We haven’t been to the international parks but our favorite show is the Aladdin show and California Adventure. It is such high quality and the Genie makes the show.

    • Tom Bricker says:

      My last couple of times seeing Aladdin has left me feeling like the Genie needed to watch the news (and by news I mean celebrity gossip shows) as some of the material was pretty similar to stuff heard 6 months prior.

      Maybe it was just a couple of unlucky shows, but my experiences with Aladdin in 2010-2012 were far better than recent ones.

      • Rob Stevens says:

        We went and saw Aladdin at California Adventure September 2014, and the genie’s pop culture references were definitely more recent. Shockingly so, as he even made a Miley Cyrus reference complete with sticking out his tongue.

  3. Kevin says:

    Thank you for the article; I enjoyed it quite a bit. My own take, for the US parks, is that I’d put Aladdin over Finding Nemo. And possibly FotLK over both (but definitely over Nemo). I’d also rate Wishes above Remember (better castle, better fireworks), but some of that may be nostalgia based as well.

    Illuminations is my favorite, and I’d put World of Color second. Technically, there are probably better shows than WoC but our first time viewing it we were towards the center up against the railing (one section behind the wet zone) with absolutely no one in front of us. I’ve never been that physically immersed in another Disney show, which was a pretty neat experience.

    • Tom Bricker says:

      Snubbing Wishes was a tough call, but it just feels long in the tooth, and needing of an update. Truthfully, Celebrate the Magic was closer to making this list for me than Wishes. And I love a good fireworks show!

      As for Festival of the Lion King: “Also, only shows and spectaculars that are currently running are eligible.” ;)

      • Rob Stevens says:

        I’ve seen World of Color from two different sections, once from the front of the reserved area for Carthay Circle guests (this is center, but middle of the viewing area), and once from the very front row of the “Blue” section, as close to the middle as we could get. Both sports were incredible, and it’s hard to say which I liked more. I will say that an advantage to the Carthay Circle area is that there are also additional surprises that happen in the planters, which if you’re unaware of it ahead of time, makes you feel like you have your own little part of the show. Also, if there are lots of Glow with the Show ears in the crowd, further back lets you see more of them.

      • Kevin says:

        Good point about FotLK. And I had forgotten about Celebrate the Magic. Definitely an “honorable mention” at the least.

  4. Tim says:

    I’m cautiously optimistic that Rivers of Light will bring some of the original and abstract spirit of Reflections of Earth back to Walt Disney World. While I’d imagine AVATAR will be represented in some fashion the artwork doesn’t appear to feature any specific Disney properties/characters (except for maybe the Brother Bear-esque Northern Lights). We’ll see what happens.

    • Tom Bricker says:

      This is an excellent point! If there is any US park where Disney shows a willingness towards abstract, less character-driven stuff, it’s Animal Kingdom. I think if Joe Rohde has influence over Rivers of Light, it could be excellent.

      As far as Avatar goes, I wouldn’t expect it in Rivers of Light at all. I’ve noticed in recent articles, they’ve been more keen on mentioning “the world of Pandora” than “Avatar.” I think the new land will be more “inspired by…” than “based on…,” which is definitely a good thing!

  5. Lauren says:

    Our favorite is Lion King at Animal Kingdom. We LOVE this one. It was my husband’s favorite part of our last trip. Definitely a must-do for us. We enjoyed it more than Nemo!

  6. Susan says:

    Great list – thanks! My list would include Aladdin.

  7. Kelly M says:

    Great list, I can’t wait for my first Disneyland trip in September as I simply can’t wait to see World of Color & the original Fantasmic.
    One show that is ‘extinct’ that I always think is the finest WDW ever produced… The Hunchback of Notre Dame musical show.
    It was a thing of beauty I will never ever forget.

  8. Tyler Bliss says:

    Great post! I am salivating over hearing about the TDR shows! They sound incredible.

    FYI I think you may have mistakenly used a picture of Remember…DCT in place of Fantasmic.

    I know this list doesn’t include any DCL entertainment, but if it did I would definitely include Disney’s Believe, now showing on the Fantasy and the Dream. This show is WONDERFUL. Pure energy with fantastic special effects, toe tapping dance numbers, and a heartfelt story line.

    • Tom Bricker says:

      D’oh! Thanks for the heads up on the pic.

      Actually, Disney Cruise Line entertainment is eligible. They’re a division of Parks & Resorts…so I guess they’re like floating parks? ;)

      In any case, I haven’t seen that show. I’ll definitely have to check it out!

  9. Jennie says:

    I’ve seen Remember… at Disneyland 50+ times and every time, it makes me cry. Every time. Just breathtaking. :)

  10. Adrian says:

    So happy to see mystic rhythms on here, great show and great music.

  11. MarkWDW85 says:


    Kidding (obviously). Great list! I would agree with almost of them, though I have to take your word on Disney Dreams as I’ve not seen that one yet.

    The only change I’d make is replacing World Of Color with Festival of the Lion King. I’ve never been a huge fan of WOC and I’ve never really gotten the hype. I think WOC has some very impressive tech, but I strongly agree with your point about it “making no attempt at even a loose narrative thread,” to the point that it totally kills it as a show for me. I’d describe it more as an incredibly disjointed tech demo. I have yet to see Winter Dreams, but I’m looking forward to seeing that version as I think the technology could be put to much better use than the current year-round show.

    Three other thoughts:
    -I’m surprised to see that Disneyland Fantasmic! beat out TDS Fantasmic! for this list. I haven’t seen TDS Fantasmic! myself yet so I don’t have any kind of opinion on it, but it’s kind of surprising to me that Tokyo’s version isn’t the best worldwide. Then again, DL Fantasmic! is probably my favorite Disney nighttime show ever, so for me it’d probably be pretty tough for anything to dethrone it.
    -Really bummed to hear Legend of Mythica is going away. The spectacle and scope of that show is mind-blowing. The fact that that’s TDS’ “normal” equivalent of the 3pm parade is just insane and is a great example of how Tokyo does things.
    -Can’t believe that Big Band Beat requires a lottery to enter now! I don’t know what happened between when I visited (summer 2008) and when you visited, but we didn’t have to deal with any of these insane wait times. I guess it’s also possible that the ridiculous heat of the week we were there was keeping the locals away, but when we wanted to see Big Band Beat we just walked in the theater 30-45 mins. before it started – got great seats too.

    • MarkWDW85 says:

      Actually, scratch what I said about replacing WOC with FotLK. I think I’d have to give DCA’s Aladdin the nod instead.

    • Tom Bricker says:

      While a lot of things grow with me over time, Tokyo DisneySea’s Fantasmic is one show that impresses me less and less each time I see it. There are some great effects, but I just think Disneyland’s is the superior version.

      It really is too bad that Legend of Mythica is going away. Given its continued INSANE popularity, I wonder what, if any, consequences that will have with guests. Tokyo guests are very loyal to those parks, which hopefully doesn’t come back to bite them in the collective asses if the OLC realizes they can start cutting corners (given the announced $5 billion investment over the next decade, I’m guessing we don’t have to worry too much about this).

      • Duy says:

        For me the area to see The Legend of Mythica is very important. There are 5 assigned areas around the harbour where dancers perform the show, and I found that it is less impressed if I dont see the show at these area. Especially, this is very important for first-timer.

  12. KCmike says:

    Wow only one from WDW? Nice to see three from Disneyland. To bad Spectromagic isn’t still running at MK in Florida.

  13. Kerry says:

    Illuminations – Reflections of Earth. Can’t leave without tears in my eyes and my heart soaring :)

  14. Rob says:

    Great list. I think big band beat is my favourite Disney stage show ever.

    If we are including extinct shows I’d definetly have to add Scorcery in the Sky to the list, IMO it’s Disney’s best ever fireworks spectacular

    • Tom Bricker says:

      I don’t really recall Sorcery in the Sky. I do love the occasional fireworks shows they do at the Studios now, though.

  15. Angela says:

    Where is Festival of the Lion King? It should be on there. It’s a wonderful show and we never miss it when we go to WDW. What about Beauty and the Beast – Live on Stage?

  16. Robyn says:

    I think our last trip to DL we went for four days and I made my family watch Fantasmic six times.

    It’s been my favourite since I first saw it in 1996, and even just seeing a pic of it gives me goosebumps.

  17. Darolyn says:

    I completely agree with you on Illuminations. We’ve watched Illuminations in the same spot everytime we’re at Epcot in the evening ever since I was a child. When I was younger, it didn’t really appeal to me but now as a much more mature adult in my early 30′s, I absolutely love it! I can’t watch it without the waterworks flowing. If it ever does change, I don’t want Disney characters or movies integrated in it. It’s perfect without them!

    Saw World of Color for the first time last month and LOVED it the first go round and even more the second. We got FP for the blue section but arrived a little too late to get right up front so while we were against the railing, we had to turn so there were quite a few people in front of us. Remember…. was also an amazing show! Any show that includes Walt’s opening day speech is a winner in my book!

  18. Jen says:

    I’m heading to Disneyland in March, so I expect there will only be one showing of each nighttime show. 6 of us are going, aged 4-69. Which show should we see? I’m leaning towards Fantasmic, but worried about the long wait ahead of time. And no seats. Would we be better off going to World of Color?

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