We’re back with another Walt Disney World rumor; this time, an update on the IllumiNations: Windows on the World nighttime spectacular coming to Epcot. We shared vague rumors about this a few months ago, which focused on the possibility of a new show in 2020 with an interim fireworks show prior to then due to the recording of soundtrack demos for the new show.
An IllumiNations replacement has been rumored for ages, but we previously expected the new show to debut simultaneously with the substantial completion of Epcot’s re-imagining in 2020 or Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary in 2021. An interim show prior to then would be of necessity, with a smaller-scale offering enabling necessary infrastructure before the debut of the replacement nighttime spectacular.
Well, it would appear that the timeframe has been moved up on the IllumiNations replacement significantly as the rumor mill has gone into overdrive the last few days concerning the replacement, which has been dubbed IllumiNations: Windows on the World (it’s unclear whether IllumiNations will be in the final name). Here’s what we know thus far…
This rumor is not even new as of this year. Three years ago, when we first reported on the plans for a $3.5 Billion Expansion of Walt Disney World, that was one of the specific plans. While many of the specifics of that plan have changed, the scope and scale were accurate, and so to was the rumor of an IllumiNations replacement. As other high-profile projects have been announced, that news has taken center stage, but an IllumiNations replacement has remained in the cards.
There are a few bases for the surge in this new rumor. First, for the last few weeks, land clearing has been occurring south of the Japan pavilion at Epcot. Your first reaction might be that this is for the Japan pavilion’s new high-end restaurant, but that’s definitely not the case. Check out this photo of where the cleared area is located.
On Episode 165 of the Disney Dish Podcast, Jim Hill indicates that this land clearing will be used as a staging location for drones in the new IllumiNations show. As you might recall, there was a drone show at Disney Springs for Christmas two years ago, which was largely considered a proof-of-concept test at the time. (Those same type of drones were used to much greater effect at the PyeongChang 2018 Olympics.)
In terms of using drones, Walt Disney World has gone back and forth with the FAA to receive waivers on its own no-fly zones, which Disney generally has received upon showing a plan to mitigate risks. One such waiver was predicated upon the drone’s having flight paths 100 feet away from guest areas at all times, that they would primarily fly over water and restricted areas, maxing out at 150 feet above the ground.
I haven’t kept track of whether there have been other waivers further easing these restrictions, but even without that, it was long-assumed that World Showcase Lagoon would be the ideal location for a drone show because of the clearance the center of the lagoon provided away from guest areas. Logistically, it’s not clear how this staging area would work in light of those restrictions (assuming they’re still even in place).
Second, there has been a precipitous spike in chatter about the IllumiNations replacement in the WDWMagic thread about the rumor, with many insiders chiming in to corroborate both the accelerated schedule for this project and the detail about drones being used. (Separately, we’ve heard that other effects, aside from drones, originally planned for Rivers of Light that didn’t work out will be integrated into Windows on the World.)
One thing we don’t know is to what degree intellectual property and characters will be featured in the new show. At one point, their integration was rumored to be a sure thing. Now, there’s some inconsistency about whether that’ll be the case. Personally, I’d love to see something abstract and authentically cultural a la IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth. Knowing that’s really unlikely, I’d compromise with a similarly original (non-IP) soundtrack, and drones forming the shape of characters, or something like that.
Finally, there’s the matter of attendance. If TEA numbers are to be believed (and we’d encourage a healthy dose of skepticism), Epcot is now the third-most attended park at Walt Disney World, with Animal Kingdom having surged past it thanks to the opening of Pandora last year. With Toy Story Land opening this summer, Disney’s Hollywood Studios is very likely to close that gap.
When Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge opens in Late Fall 2019, Disney’s Hollywood Studios will blow past every park that isn’t Magic Kingdom, leaving Epcot in dead last. Of course, one of the Walt Disney World parks has to be the least-attended (that’s just how it works!), but Epcot’s recent stagnation could become something worse with increased construction in the next two years. Expanding “Festival Season” has been a useful band-aid, but it can only do so much.
Even with the timeline for Windows on the World moved forward, it remains unclear when, exactly, it will debut. We would still expect at least 6 months between the time of the announcement and the debut of the new show. However, that does not mean we won’t see something sooner, potentially as early as this fall.
It remains possible that Epcot could unveil an interim “IllumiNations 5.0” show as an interim replacement ahead of Windows on the World. We wouldn’t expect this interim show to be a big budget production or a huge marketing draw. Rather, like Fantasy in the Sky at Disneyland, it would be the type of skeleton production that would allow infrastructure refurbishment to occur while a fireworks show still runs.
From an attendance perspective, fall is the perfect time for the interim show, as Epcot doesn’t need any help getting people through the turnstiles then. Total speculation, but we wouldn’t be surprised if, like Fantasy in the Sky, this is a throwback show, at least in terms of the score. That’d be an easy way to score a win with hardcore EPCOT Center fans.
With all of that said, we should know very soon what’s going to happen. An announcement is expected by the end of this week or early next, and that should clarify at least a little of what we don’t already know. Given the popularity of IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth (along with past precedent), we’d expect an end date for the current show to be announced so fans have a chance to say their goodbyes to IllumiNations. Whether there will be an announcement concerning the drones, soundtrack, or other features of Windows on the World remains to be seen. I have some very strong feelings about IllumiNations being replaced, but I suppose I’ll save those for when this is officially announced, or my inevitable tribute to IllumiNations.
What do you think of the prospect of IllumiNations: Windows on the World? Are you ready to say goodbye to IllumiNations? Would a nighttime spectacular featuring drones be a welcome addition to Walt Disney World for you? Any questions about Windows on the World or Epcot’s re-imagining? We love hearing from readers, so please share any other thoughts or questions you have in the comments!