EPCOT to Debut New Nighttime Spectacular & Disney100 Anniversary Celebration in Late 2023
Walt Disney World has shared details about the all-new nighttime spectacular at EPCOT during the 100 Years of Wonder Celebration, and also that the park will be the home to the Disney100 festivities in Florida. In this post, we’ll share details, new concept art, and commentary.
To bring you up to speed, a replacement for Harmonious was first revealed during the “A Boundless Future: Disney Parks, Experiences and Products” presentation at last fall’s D23 Expo There, Disney Parks Chairman Josh D’Amaro offered a sneak peek at concept art for the future in addition and teased what was to come in a few years.
Earlier this year, Walt Disney World announced that, before the new show launches over World Showcase Lagoon, EPCOT Forever will return as an interim show starting April 3, 2023. Similar to how it appeared in 2021, EPCOT Forever is a stop-gap offering while the Disney Entertainment team preps World Showcase Lagoon.
This prep work includes a phased removal of fireworks platforms following the final “Harmonious” performance on April 2, 2023. A limited-time spectacle of lasers, lighting, special effects, and fireworks, “EPCOT Forever” returns with a collection of songs that offer both a trip down memory lane and a look toward the future.
“The most important story is EPCOT’s past, present, and future. It only took one little spark, and we have a whole new world,” said Show Director Tom Vazzana with Walt Disney World Creative Entertainment when discussing EPCOT Forever during an event describing what’s on the horizon at Walt Disney World.
Vazzana then looked further down the road, after the Disney100 Celebration starts this fall at EPCOT, and discussed the permanent nighttime spectacular that’s coming to World Showcase Lagoon. “This special show through music, pyrotechnics, lasers, and lighting reflect the commonality in all of us. You can be you, I can be me, and we can all be together in this one beautiful show,” Vazzana said.
He added that EPCOT’s new nighttime spectacular will feature an original composition and evocative selections from the Disney songbook, all woven together to “remind us that we are more alike than different.” This new (still unnamed) show will debut in late 2023 on World Showcase Lagoon.
In terms of new-news from the March 15, 2023 event about the future of Walt Disney World, that’s really about it. We know that EPCOT will be the epicenter of the 100 Years of Wonder Celebration at Walt Disney World. However, there are no specifics as to what that means beyond the new nighttime spectacular, opening of Moana’s Journey of Water, and conclusion of the EPCOT central spine project.
Actually, all of that is more than enough. You’re telling me we get to fill in the Giant EPCOT Dirt Pit and we get a special event to celebrate it?!? Well, color me excited!
Joking aside, my expectation is that it’ll be similar to Disneyland, with all of the new stuff coinciding with the Disney100 festivities, and the addition of banners, medallions, and statues to celebrate the 100 Years of Wonder. It makes sense that EPCOT is the park that’ll be Walt Disney World’s home base for the Disney100 festivities given everything new and the way Walt Disney is a focus of World Celebration.
As for why the company is waiting until Late 2023 to kick off Disney100 at Walt Disney World despite starting it in January at Disneyland, it’s probably a number of little reasons in aggregate. First, the World’s Most Magical Celebration for Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary isn’t ending until April. That was an 18-month event, and the company probably wants proper distance between the two so fans don’t get “celebration fatigue.” When everything is a milestone, nothing is.
Second, it makes the most sense to have the Disney100 festivities at EPCOT, and the front of the park is currently a construction zone. Waiting until that’s in better shape and then centering the celebration in…World Celebration…just makes sense. It’ll have the “Walt the Dreamer” statue at Dreamers Point and new space for a historical showcase or tribute in Communicore Hall.
Finally, there are practical realities of timing. This is probably the smallest consideration of the bunch (if it even is one), but summer is tourist season, and this isn’t the type of thing that will resonate with the typical tourist. It’s the kind of event to kick off the fall or holiday season, when more fans are likely to make homecoming trips. Even though it’s not a milestone anniversary for the park, I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised to see the Disney100 Celebration start on October 1, 2023. (Though maybe they’ll wait for the new nighttime spectacular to be ready and start everything simultaneously.)
What follows is commentary about the removal of Harmonious. Nothing new here if you already read the original announcement of Harmonious ending and Happily Ever After returning…
I was shocked when this was announced back at the D23 Expo, as Harmonious was never intended to be a temporary nighttime spectacular for Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary. The company invested a ton of money on this–Harmonious was rumored to cost north of $100 million–putting it in the same budgetary league as the Little Mermaid dark ride.
That investment was not for an 18-month nighttime spectacular, either; Harmonious was supposed to be EPCOT’s answer to World of Color, lasting a decade or more. It would’ve been Walt Disney World’s distinct nighttime draw, pulling people to EPCOT in the evenings to spend money on food & beverages, and recouping much of its investment. In fairness, it did draw people to EPCOT for a while…but largely because Animal Kingdom has no nighttime spectacular and Fantasmic took longer than expected to refresh.
Unfortunately, Harmonious garnered mixed reviews among Walt Disney World fans, us included. (Read our Harmonious Review for much more.) We have heard numerous credible reports that its guest satisfaction scores were low for a nighttime spectacular, right around the same level as EPCOT Forever–not good since that was an interim show.
Harmonious also, supposedly, was met with a mixed response by high level leadership at the Walt Disney Company. There was chatter about this prior to Harmonious debuting, with Chapek and others being disappointed with the nighttime spectacular when it was screened for them. (For all of his other faults, this actually is not the only rumor about Chapek demanding better of a notably underwhelming addition.)
This was reinforced by interviews with certain creatives, who suggested that the songs were shuffled around relatively last minute. If you’ve ever had the sense that Harmonious feels disjointed and some songs slotted in almost at random, you’re not that far off; the ordering of scenes could be changed by dragging and dropping songs on a computer. (It was also designed for future updates to keep it fresh.)
Perhaps equally as important, Harmonious appears to be maintenance-intensive. While I cannot corroborate this, it’s one of those things that sounds plausible. The infrastructure has a lot of moving parts (literally) and we’ve seen crews out working on the Stargate and water tacos many days while walking around World Showcase. That cannot be cheap.
Speaking of which, the Harmonious barges add undeniable visual blight to World Showcase Lagoon. The daytime fountains that would make the barges ‘blend in blue’ never came to fruition. Feeble attempts to conceal them with cloud-covered screens have been laughably bad. Given that the announcement to end Harmonious came shortly after a Board of Directors site tour of Walt Disney World, I wonder if that played a part in the nighttime spectacular’s downfall.
Beyond that, Harmonious doesn’t actually address the core complaints normal guests had with IllumiNations. Once you look beyond the pyro and other effects–features that would’ve been part of any new nighttime spectacular–Harmonious is not really accomplishing anything unique or impressive. That’s a problem for a show that’s elaborate and heavy-handed with its presentation.
Harmonious stumbles in some of the exact same ways as IllumiNations. It has limited viewing angles and pacing problems along with some wow-inducing segments. Like its predecessor, Harmonious feels destined to alienate some guests and partially satisfy others. It’s hard to envision this being a homerun or beloved nighttime spectacular for many guests, but it also shouldn’t be a complete flop for many guests. It succeeds more than Magic Kingdom’s new fireworks show (and fails less), but given what Disney invested in Harmonious and its higher stakes, that’s not exactly a ringing endorsement.
Rather than building the weird tribute to Kang and Kodos from the Simpsons, Disney literally would’ve been better off upgrading the infrastructure from IllumiNations, building a bigger floating globe, and swapping out the soundtrack. (As much as I loved IllumiNations, I realize it’s not what regular guests want.)
With that said, I never heard of Harmonious having the same guest satisfaction score shortcomings as Disney Enchantment. It’s been an open secret that the Magic Kingdom 50th Anniversary fireworks show is underperforming and not meeting expectations. The same cannot be said of Harmonious.
What little I’ve heard about its reception among regular guests is that it’s better-received than EPCOT Forever. Despite trying to cater to both EPCOT purists and regular guests, that show didn’t do a good job of connecting with anyone–it scored well below both IllumiNations and Harmonious.
I’m not sure how Harmonious compared to IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth. I have a suspicion that it was not substantially superior, as I think that’s the type of thing I would’ve heard. (Or that we all would’ve heard. Disney likes to boast about its successes, so silence can be telling.)
Harmonious can’t be doing that poorly, as that’s something that would be known. IllumiNations also wasn’t doing that well. At least, as compared to Happily Ever After or even Wishes. As I’ve previously shared, Happily Ever After’s guest satisfaction scores were through the roof, which is why I shared way back in July 2021 that the decision about which Magic Kingdom fireworks show would run in 2023 hadn’t even been made when Disney announced that Happily Ever After Was Ending “Permanently.”
My anecdotal perception was that Harmonious was generally well-received, especially by first-time and infrequent visitors. Between what I observed in EPCOT myself and not hearing anything about guest satisfaction shortcomings, a replacement for Harmonious was not on my radar.
As someone who very much wants to see Harmonious replaced, this is something I would’ve loved to have on my radar. I can’t believe I missed the opportunity to count down the days until now. I would’ve put it on my calendar and started crossing off the days way back in October 2021 had I known!
Ultimately, I have no strong opinion on the return of EPCOT Forever. That show actually grew on me over time, and I don’t think it was nearly as bad as some of its detractors suggest. It was a temporary show following a beloved nighttime spectacular–and almost destined for failure as a result. Some of the song remixes were a bit odd, sure, but it had some charm and fun visuals, too. I’m actually looking forward to seeing EPCOT Forever again, but I also wouldn’t shed any tears if I never saw it again.
What has me really optimistic is the next nighttime spectacular at EPCOT. I hope lessons have been learned from the failure of Harmonious, and also the success of the Disneyland Paris 30th Anniversary nighttime spectacular additions. There’s definitely a way to do something wow-inducing over World Showcase Lagoon without a bunch of hideous permanent infrastructure causing daytime blight. In a word: drones.
Planning a Walt Disney World trip? Learn about hotels on our Walt Disney World Hotels Reviews page. For where to eat, read our Walt Disney World Restaurant Reviews. To save money on tickets or determine which type to buy, read our Tips for Saving Money on Walt Disney World Tickets post. Our What to Pack for Disney Trips post takes a unique look at clever items to take. For what to do and when to do it, our Walt Disney World Ride Guides will help. For comprehensive advice, the best place to start is our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide for everything you need to know!
What do you think about the interim appearance of EPCOT Forever starting in April 2023 and a brand new nighttime spectacular for Disney100 sometime in Late 2023? Excited about this news, or wish Disney Enchantment or another fireworks show were returning? 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!
The new nighttime spectacular is “ILLUMINATE! A Disney100 Celebration”.
Same just make THICC BOI globe and new tech but same pyro and music
The new nighttime spectacular is “ILLUMINATE! A Disney100 Spectacular”
Why can’t they do something similar to World of Color for crying out loud?
I wish I could love that^ comment a million times. I completely agree. Fountains that recede during the daytime so you can enjoy the lagoon and the view, and then a spectacular nighttime show. World of Color is phenomenal. I wish they would bring it to Epcot!
I actually liked the music. Would work well with a new Disneyland Paris show…maybe at the Studios once they get the lagoon built.
First of all saying that you’re going to use music from Disney’s songbook does not give me much Hope that we’re going to get a good night time spectacular at Epcot. Harmonious used music across the Disney song book and that’s why I didn’t like it. To me it felt just like any other regular magic Kingdom firework show except it was at Epcot and on a different medium. For me for an EPCOT show to be fantastic again it needs to be 100% completely original and needs to not include any of the music from Disney’s music catalog. That’s what was so great about illuminations. It was original and different and made a mark across the Disney fandom and was able to be its own thing that could help us recognize Epcot. It’s like Disney has gotten so lazy that they rather recycle everything they already own and try to come up with something new. It’s sad because Disney used to be on top of the world and we would get excited for every new project because it was something new and original but now they get rid of the old that we love 100% and bring in some thing that doesn’t live up to the standards of the old and it’s basically just recycled material. I understand from a business perspective that that’s the easiest and quickest way to make money by recycling and using IP but for Disney it’s not the Disney way.
First of all, I think drones 100% should be involved in the next nighttime spectacular. That is very much on brand for original EPCOT Center with the advancement of technology. I’m still blown away by the things that can be done with drones and we’ve only scratched the surface. (Yes, there are added liabilities that come with flying objects over crowds of people, but I trust they can figure that out.)
Secondly, as much as we’ve derided Harmonious, I appreciate that Disney took the risk on it. It’s evidence to me that they haven’t become too stale and corporate. Hopefully that remains true after this failure and they use the experience as a means to continue to push their creative boundaries, but perhaps with a bit more wisdom.
Bring back the show as in the 1980s where tons of fireworks went up and all the countries lit up to a song and you cheered for yours. That show was awesome.
Your comments on Harmonious are more positive than I would have expected. Personally, I can not get behind the show at all. I hate the infrastructure sitting in the lagoon all day. Your naming it the stargate is highly accurate. Just visual blight galore. Then, there’s the actual show itself. What an absolute mess of soundtrack and visuals. For me, there is zero connection to the theme trying to be portrayed. Instead, I liken it to a bad file download on LimeWire. You thought you were downloading famous Disney songs and surprise it’s actually a bad “remix”. I can at least tolerate Enchantment because “it’s fireworks over the castle”. Needless to say, both the shows for the 50th were duds, which is in line with pretty much the entire 50th celebration minus the sphere’s beacon of magic lighting. I hope Disney World does a little better with the Disney100 celebration, and I’m so excited to have Happily Ever After back.
Given that there weren’t even whispers of rumors about ending Harmonious before the Board of Directors visited WDW, it will take a lot of convincing for me to change my assumption that the show would still be there and running if that visit doesn’t happen. While all those other things that Tom mentioned made it possible for Harmonious to be ended ridiculously early, without that visit the result would have resulted in at most a modified show rather than a full on replacement.
I don’t think you’re necessarily wrong—that the visit was pivotal.
However, my guess is that the visit provided approval or cover from the board for a decision that management wanted to make. I don’t think it came out of nowhere at the behest of the board—it would’ve been presented to them in such a way that their conclusion would’ve been relatively foregone.
I was eager for Harmonious. I never felt much love for its predecessor. The spinning globe (that reminded me of the motorcycle metal cage stunts in a circus) was past its prime. However, if they had kept the music and updated all the rest, I would have been okay with it lasting a few more years.
So I had great hope for Harmonious. For the most part, I like the show if you can fast-forward the awkward transitions. But the darn tacos during the daytime made NONE of it worth it.
I still wish they could do something like World of Color, but I think having a show that works from any angle would be best. Give us some cool drones and the fireworks we enjoy. Give us a song that moves us to tears. Give us a little less IP.
100% on all of this. Minus the IllumiNations negativity, but I can get past that. 😉
I don’t envy the show designers because it’s really difficult to capture that special something that resonates so strongly with guests. Harmonious has some really excellent moments, but is lacking in the special sauce that has come to define World Showcase Lagoon shows over decades.
For me, the soundtrack doesn’t take advantage of the amazing legacy previous Epcot nighttime shows have built. There’s been a formula for decades. First, the pre-show music is very generic and doesn’t build anticipation like the Illuminations and Reflections of Earth both had. Remember that feeling of the lights going down, torches coming on, and 30 minutes ’till showtime to grab a snack/beverage and find a spot. That momentum-building feeling is missing at the moment.
Second, the lack of a new core orchestral theme makes Harmonious seem like a bunch of IP greatest hits — which is too bad, because the way the individual songs are arranged and performed is a fantastic concept and very well-done. Yet Happily Ever After, Wishes/Remember Dreams Come True, Fantasmic, Spectromagic, etc all have that one unique new theme that is undeniable, with adaptations of Disney songs sprinkled in. Coming on the heels of Reflections of Earth, which was 100% it’s own soundtrack, Harmonious doesn’t have that “glue” of a new theme. The lack of narration hurts, too. A few key lines that hit guests on the heads about the global community and whatnot. Soarin’ without that instantly memorable theme isn’t Soarin’, and thus Harmonious doesn’t sound like an Epcot lagoon show.
Finally, the festival atmosphere captured by the Illuminations post-show music is a big loss. Arranging whatever the new core show theme is to carry guests to the exists is essential. Leave on a high, celebratory note. For some reason, the parks are trying to keep things mellow and calm with exit music. Forget that…this is Disney. Let the guests get sugared up, stay up way too late, and be-bop to music ’till the bitter end. You want to leave Epcot feeling energized and alive with faith in humanity restored…not wrapped in a warm hug of nostalgia and pixie dust like at the MK. Actually, using some of the new world music-style Harmonious Disney song arrangements as pre-show or exit music might work well.
As for the visuals, it’s always been an issue. I couldn’t tell the difference between a rhino and a famous person on the old globe, so anything was going to be an upgrade. I agree with Tom 100% that drones are the way to go. Drones, tons of pyro/fireworks, and submerged fountains akin to World of Color. I’m not even convinced central projection imagery is necessary. Use the pavilion show buildings, colorful fountains/lights/fireworks/etc, immerse guests like never before, and call it a day. I don’t need to see Miguel and Dante to know when the show is featuring Mexican music and culture. Enough with the ill-fitting Aladdin/Morocco and Frozen/Norway combinations. Just stick with your symphonic theme, arrange it to showcase different world cultures, sing about being one big global family, give some oooooh and ahhhhhh visual moments, and send everyone off rejuvenated.
And stop closing down the snack/drink/merch stands until guests are gone. It’s such a buzzkill.
Armchair Imagineering, I know. But fun to think of nonetheless.
Yes Yes Yes!!!! I LOVED Illuminations so much and a huge part of that was the bizarre global hype music before the show and melodramatically singing along with the exit music to the embarassment and joy of whoever I was with on that trip.
I love the idea of ‘World of Color – EPCOT’. if they need screens, a few water screens making a circle in the middle of the lagoon would be visible to everyone. or what if they do projection mapping onto the facades of the country the song is from?
100% agree that they need narration and a song to tie it all together.
How late 2023 Tom? Like October? What are your feelings about a date? Planning a trip and would love to see this.
I feel like there might be some disconnect for me. I really love HarmonioUS! I mean, I don’t like the limited viewing angles or the horrific eye sore that is the stargate & water tacos during the day. But for the show itself, I really like it. I definitely prefer it to Illuminations (never saw Epcot Forever). I dunno, HarmonioUS feels like a nice marriage between the need to include IP and the message of Epcot. Using “Music is My Language and The World Es Mi Familia” to thematically tie the Disney songs to the idea of world harmony, and then playing each of the songs in both English and the language of the culture the story is from is so perfect for the world showcase. I know I’m not NEARLY as much of an Epcot purist as a lot of Disney fans, but I really enjoy HarmonioUS. I will look back fondly on many evenings in Epcot over the past year or so and hearing that song kick things off. But I trust Imagineering, and I’m sure the 100 Years of Wonder show will be amazing.
not sure I buy that illuminations was doing poorly. I think for many or most it was a major highlight. certainly compared to harmonious…
In the end, a rough estimate would be that it cost the company 5.5 million a month to run Harmonious? That is a lot of money for very little return. This seems like the theme park equivalent of the Raiders taking JaMarcus Russell. Given Disney’s capacity/crowding issues it’s depressing to think about what could have been done with that cash.
Just bring back the Millennium Parade already!! Best original music and festive parade Disney EVER created!!
Hard, hard, agree. That was the BEST night time spectacular EPCOT has ever had. That one little moment in EPCOT Forever where they play some of the music from that show made me love EPCOT Forever. 🙂
I am super sorry because I have been to Epcot so many times and sadly I have to say it’s impossible because crowds
I am super sorry because I have been to Epcot so many times and sadly I have to say it’s impossible
I get why they wanted to wait until after the “let’s pretend we just did stuff for the 50th” event to end, but I’m still confused why they’re not starting the 100th stuff until “late 2023” when TWDC’s 100th year will almost be over. Obviously the nighttime show is different since there’s infrastructure work, but what about everything else? It seems like they’re just trying to justify the Epcot delays by acting like these changes were meant for the 100th instead of the 50th and not really doing anything that wasn’t already planned for the 100th at all.
Also, I’m confused by this new show. In addition to the barges, a certain group of people complained about the view being confined to one area and the music being “too Disney” for Epcot. (For full disclosure, I’m not one of them. Harmonious is my favorite Disney nighttime show EVER). Based on this description, this just seems like Harmonious minus the barges and with a new but similar soundtrack. Is that enough to appease the Disfluencers?
Hello fellow Harmonious enjoyer! Honestly, I think the “certain group of people” you mention won’t be happy with anything Disney does at EPCOT. Nothing will live up to their memory of what the park was like in the 80s and 90s. I doubt Disney is actually trying to appease those people, they just want something that scores highly with guests and management likes (I agree with Tom that management’s dislike is what ultimately got Harmonious axed).
I’m one of the people that disliked Harmonious. For the record, I thought the music was great in harmonious, my problem with it was there were still long breaks without pyro (which was one of the big reasons i heard for people disliking illuminations) and I felt like there was no real good show arc. It was just a collection of good songs which was fine, but absolutely not worth the blight of the water tacos during the day.
Also i’m sure they’re starting in late 2023 so that they can start the celebration without the great epcot dirt pit.
First, I don’t think Disney does anything to appease “Disfluencers.” Unless it’s merchandise or food & beverage. We get lots and lots of that!
Despite common complaints in some circles, I think most fans are reasonable at the end of the day. Any change is met with resistance upon announcement–that’s just the nature of the beast–but look at how many fans come around on things and have their minds changed. I was not the biggest fan of Cosmic Rewind upon announcement, and I love it now. Still not wild about the location and big box behind it, but oh well.
Anyway, with Harmonious, I think it’s a little of everything that did it in–not any single one fault or failure. The new show will obviously feature Disney music and movies–there’s no unringing that bell–but I don’t think that means it’ll be the same. There’s a massive difference between Happily Ever After and Enchantment despite both being similar ideas, in theory. Execution matters, and for me at least, Harmonious is way too uneven.
(I updated the post with added commentary to address your first question about Disney100.)
@ Jared. Ha! I love knowing I’m not the only one. And that’s exactly why I’m confused about this announcement. It sounds like a toned down Harmonious with new music (RIP that phenomenal soundtrack) and no barges. There were some people who have been saying the like the show, it’s just not with the visual blight during the day, so I guess they might appreciate this. But it’s not going to satisfy the other Harmonious haters, and now it’ll underwhelm the lovers (which I think there are more of than the Internet makes it seem) without fixing what I see as the most valid concern (limited viewing locations). I guess we’ll see.
Disney actually turns 100 on Oct 16th, 2023, so WDW isn’t really late to the party at all. Disneyland was just a really early! The WDW Disney100 celebration could last until 2024 by the east coast anniversary standards.
“Rather than building the weird tribute to Kang and Kodos from the Simpsons, Disney literally would’ve been better off upgrading the infrastructure from IllumiNations, building a bigger floating globe, and swapping out the soundtrack.”
this was my very first thought upon reading the header, then i got to this line. they could have just upgraded the technology for illuminations, kept the spirit of the show, and potentially hit a home run. instead they hit what amounts to a swinging bunt, and the runner is stuck between 1st and 2nd in a pickle.