Beacons of Magic at Epcot: Disney World’s 50th Anniversary Highlight!
The Beacons of Magic are a new addition during the World’s Most Magical Celebration at Walt Disney World. These special effects light up and transform all four park icons: Cinderella Castle at Magic Kingdom, Spaceship Earth at Epcot, Tower of Terror at Hollywood Studios, and Tree of Life at Animal Kingdom.
Of these, only Spaceship Earth at Epcot is truly interesting and worthy of its own post. The others are varying degrees of “neat but unremarkable.” You’re not missing much if you don’t see them; even if you do witness the transformation, you may not realize it.
At Epcot, new lights have actually been installed in between the reflective panels of Spaceship Earth, connecting to one another and resembling stars in a nighttime sky. Unlike the other Beacons of Magic, these are the only permanent new lighting that will continue beyond “The World’s Most Magical Celebration” as a defining feature of the reimagined Epcot.
In fact, one of my favorite experiences of Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary kick-off is seeing the Beacons of Magic for the first time. It’s one of those memories that is already ingrained in my mind, a true Walt Disney World wow moment that I will never forget.
It actually came before the start of the World’s Most Magical Celebration, on September 29 when Harmonious had its soft opening at Epcot. I was standing in the ‘front of house’ viewing area towards the rear of World Showcase Plaza, with my back to Spaceship Earth. After Harmonious ended, there was an inexplicable audible reaction among the crowd–like oddly delayed excitement over the grand finale of the new fireworks show…
Of course, that made little sense. Despite being a letdown for many Walt Disney World fans, Harmonious nevertheless garnered the standard fireworks response to its grand finale (c’mon, who isn’t going to cheer for a bunch of explosions?!). But it was not receiving an ‘encore applause’ or anything of that sort.
This was something different entirely. It was almost like the crowd at Epcot doing the wave, but with gasps and “whoas” instead of waving of arms. As people turned around to head for the exit, they saw Spaceship Earth for the first time, illuminated in brilliant points of light. It was jaw-dropping. I swear it was way brighter than what’s reflected in these photos, but perhaps I’m already building up this moment in my mind.
In retrospect, I wish I would’ve captured a quick photo to memorialize that moment, but I was singularly focused on one thing: getting to the front of Epcot to see Spaceship Earth up close!
Of course, every other guest had exactly the same idea (the park was closed and everyone was heading for the exits, regardless). That coupled with the sea of construction walls around Future World or whatever they’re calling those “neighborhoods” these days made for an excruciating trudge. It was probably only 10 minutes, but it felt like it took 10 hours.
No words, photos, or even video can do justice to the Beacons of Magic at Epcot. As beautiful at it might look online, it’s even better in person.
Anyone who has seen the Beacons of Magic on Spaceship Earth from inside Epcot will tell you that it’s an absolute show-stopper.
There are two “modes” to the Beacons of Magic at Epcot. One is the standard brilliant glowing of the lights, which punctuate the standard lighting package on Spaceship Earth and make it look even sharper from a distance.
The other is a show mode, which rotates Spaceship Earth through a variety of different color schemes and patterns over the course of several minutes. There’s even a nod to IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth during this show.
The Beacons of Light illuminate around dusk and run until after Harmonious, reverting back to normal (meaning the pre-Beacons of Magic look of Spaceship Earth) around 30 minutes after Epcot’s closing.
The show mode occurs every 15 minutes or so.
In terms of things to know or viewing tips for the Beacons of Magic at Epcot, that’s really about it. Even though we use the word “show” here, it’s more like a diversion–and an easy to see one, at that.
You really don’t need to plan around it or devote time to see the Beacons of Magic display light up Spaceship Earth. It’ll happen as you walk around Future World or, at the very latest, exit the park. Spaceship Earth towers above you, so it can be easily seen from anywhere around the front entrance.
While I certainly cannot complain about my wow moment first witnessing the Beacons of Magic at Epcot, I think there’s an even cooler and more awe-inspiring option: riding the monorail to Epcot shortly after dusk.
In general, this is just a grand reveal to Epcot’s grand and miraculous Spaceship Earth. That’s doubly true when the Beacons of Magic are going through their show mode. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend jumping through hoops to make an evening monorail ride into Epcot your first exposure to the park. If it requires minimal additional effort, it’s definitely worthwhile.
Above is our video of the very first Beacons of Magic “show” on Spaceship Earth.
Apologies for the quality–I was also shooting photos and taking in the show. It should only be used for illustrative purposes to give you an idea of what this is like. Truthfully, you shouldn’t watch the video at all. Wait to see it in person!
Ultimately, the Beacons of Magic at Epcot is the highlight of Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary. That might seem faint praise or a backhanded compliment that underscores the disappointment of Harmonious or Disney Enchantment. And to some degree, I guess that’s the end result.
However, that’s entirely unintentional. The reality is that Spaceship Earth is normally one of the most majestic, awe-inspiring sights in all of Walt Disney World. Even after gazing up at its splendor thousands of times, leaving Epcot and walking under the geodesic sphere never gets old. It amazes and impresses every single time. Even if the two new nighttime spectaculars were exceptional, the Beacons of Magic on Spaceship Earth might’ve still upstaged them.
I was skeptical of this addition, wondering whether the appearance of the lighting fixtures during the day would be worth the payoff at night. They absolutely, unquestionably do. They’re barely noticeable during the day and add a ton at night. (If anything, I might dial down the static mode just a tad or have it fad in shortly before the show so it’s even more impactful–but that’s a minor quibble.)
The Beacons of Magic have, somehow, elevated the grandiosity of Spaceship Earth even further. This caps off the Epcot entrance transformation, a project that has enhanced the mood, atmosphere, and aesthetics of this area. This new Spaceship Earth lighting really punctuates that, making the front entrance of Epcot a place where you’ll want to linger and soak up the ambiance. We’ve been critical of many aspects of Epcot’s transformation, but this is an unequivocal homerun. Kudos to Imagineering on doing an incredible job evoking the spirit of EPCOT Center while leveraging innovative technology and modernizing this space.
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Have you seen the Beacons of Magic at Epcot or any of the other parks? What do you think of the new lighting? Is this show on Spaceship Earth one of–or the–highlights of Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary for you? Do you agree or disagree with our assessment? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback–even when you disagree with us–is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!
I just got back from Disney, and WOW this was amazing. I was able to see this several times while I was there and it never got old. It is truly breathtaking.
There is a bench by the water, in front of the Germany pavilion, that I call my happy place. It’s got a straight-on view of Spaceship Earth, and my favorite thing to do in Epcot is sit with a pretzel, beer or caramel apple and watch the view transform as dusk fades into evening. I wouldn’t have believed that view could improve, and I can’t wait to see this show!!
While not exactly the same, that purple, pink, orange combo makes me think of our striped EPCOT Center mug from a 1984 family trip. Best kind of time travel!
This is the Disney magic we like to see. Well done, Imagineers! ‘Can’t wait to see it in person.
The prospect of this new lighting has been the single thing I have most been anticipating in the anniversary celebrations. I adore Spaceship Earth and can’t get enough nightime images of it! Based on photos and videos, I have been disappointed in the new lighting. I feel it gives SE a join the dots effect, or as if a net of lights has been thrown over it. I actually prefer the old lighting that, as Maggie says, highlights the wonderful shape and materials of SE and gives soft, nuanced, metallic looking colours.
However this write up gives me hope that perhaps, in person, I will just love it 🙂
I can definitely understand that perspective, and I think over time it’s one I might come to align with (if this becomes the dominant lighting style), but to actually SEE Spaceship Earth go into its new lighting show is something special. Truly a wow moment.
Maybe it’ll lose its luster over time, but right now, it blows me away.
Cant wait to see in person –
I’ve been very hesitant to return to Disney with the hassle of Covid, and this makes me want to buy tickets tomorrow.
I was there last wk and was mesmerized. It was stunning and I couldn’t take my eyes off it. My husband and daughter had to pull me out of there and even then I kept turning around to burn that image into my mind so I’d never forget. We’ll done, Disney!
This report is perfect. Spaceship Earth stopped me dead in my tracks. Love it! I never thought about it but this might be the best new thing at WDW since last January.
This new addition is by far the best thing I’ve seen (remotely), and is the deciding factor to my dilemma of choosing one WDW park to visit on our next trip. It seems so “simple” compared to other additions, but is so impactful.
I saw the new lights for the first time on October 2 (I was in Magic Kingdom on the 1st, natch) and I couldn’t agree more that they may be the highlight of all the 50th anniversary “bling.” I first noticed the blue/green glow they have in between (shows) and thought “That’s nice,” but then as I was trudging toward the exit with the rest of the crowd they went into their show mode and I just had to stop and stare. Disney so overuses the word “magical” that it loses meaning, but it actually applies here!
When are the shows ? Only once a night or many times? YOUR Video was about four mins or so is that how long is the full show? We will be the Oct 18th thru 22 .
Heading to the exit at Epcot at the end of the night is always one of my favorite things (not the leaving part, I mean, but the atmosphere). Some of my best memories/photos are of my family in the area around Spaceship Earth at night. Glad to hear this only enhances that experience.
I always thought it would be cool if they replaced the panels with some LCDs that way they could display whatever they want on SSE without having to use projectors.
I was there that first night (Sept 29) right next to the American pavilion, and when Harmonious was over it started doing its ‘post show.’ It took us a second, but we all realized that the song that was playing was ‘Magic is calling’ and right as soon as we did, Spaceship earth started lighting up slowly from the bottom to the top. It gave me goosebumps then, and even thinking about it now I have goosebumps. That’ll be a special memory for me, too.
Strangely though, as much as I generally agree with your assessments, the lights on Spaceship Earth don’t really do it for me. I like the soft color blending from the spotlights and how they highlight the unique geometric shapes on its surface. Thankfully, I can still see my favorite version before Harmonious starts so I’m not sad in the least that this is a new option…and I am excited for the possibility that they can change up the lights for special occasions, too.