With the conclusion of Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary, the Enchantment Fireworks at Magic Kingdom and Harmonious will be replaced by their predecessors, Happily Ever After and EPCOT Forever. This post covers dates and details about the triumphant returns (well, at least HEA) of these nighttime spectaculars plus our commentary.
This was first announced last fall during the “A Boundless Future: Disney Parks, Experiences and Products” presentation at the D23 Expo. Disney Parks, Experiences and Products 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. However, no timing for the conclusions or returns of the nighttime spectaculars was given.
More recently, Walt Disney World has quietly updated its official website for the World’s Most Magical Celebration, suggesting that the Disney Enchantment Fireworks and Harmonious nighttime spectacular would conclude along with the end of the 50th Anniversary on March 31, 2023. Well, that is not quite correct, but it’s close!
Walt Disney World has now shared the specific dates and details for the conclusion of the current nighttime spectaculars and returns of the beloved fan-favorites. Here’s the official announcement:
Happy 2023! A new year means fresh memories waiting to be made at Walt Disney World Resort, and one of the best moments for many of us is watching fireworks pop above the skies to wrap up a perfect Disney day.
Well, I hope you’re “Ready to begin…” because fan-favorite nighttime spectacular “Happily Ever After” returns to Magic Kingdom on April 3, 2023. Happily Ever After will feature all-new projections down Main Street, U.S.A. “Disney Enchantment” will be offered through April 2, 2023. Whether it’s your first time, or the park is your home away from home, get ready to reach out and find your happily ever after with us at Cinderella Castle soon.
And as we shared at D23 Expo in September, an all-new nighttime spectacular is planned to debut at EPCOT later this year. Before the new show launches, we will bring back “EPCOT Forever” as an interim show over the skies of World Showcase Lagoon starting April 3, 2023.
Similar to how it appeared in 2021, “EPCOT Forever” is the perfect offering while the Disney Entertainment team preps the Lagoon, including 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.
In terms of commentary, let’s start with the conclusion of Harmonious. 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.)
Turning to Magic Kingdom, I’ve made secret that I’m not a fan of the Disney Enchantment fireworks. I’ve been openly rooting for it to flop from the beginning, with the hope that lower guest satisfaction scores that would result in the return of Happily Ever After.
Just for the record, we were always on board with Happily Ever After. From our commentary to its original announcement: “While we enjoy Wishes and the nostalgics in us will miss the show, it has a good, long run…Disney Creative Entertainment has demonstrated what it is capable of in the intervening years, fully harnessing technological innovations to create an entire new generation of nighttime spectaculars. If Wishes was Disney Fireworks 2.0, these new shows…are Disney Fireworks 3.0.”
“Magic Kingdom deserves a ‘3.0’ show like Paris and Shanghai, and we are really rooting for this to be a worthy successor to Wishes! The big question is whether it will deliver on an emotional level, because all the technology in the world is meaningless if it doesn’t have heart…We suspect Disney will deliver. They no doubt realize the stakes are high: fans love Wishes and many are going to be predisposed to favoring their nostalgic favorite over anything new, no matter how good.”
Then there was our Happily Ever After Review published immediately after that show’s debut, which put it bluntly: “Happily Ever After is the best regular fireworks show to ever grace the skies above Magic Kingdom.” Moreover, “it’s better than Wishes, and also better than the nighttime spectaculars in Paris, Tokyo, Hong Kong, and Shanghai.”
The point is that at no time were we against Happily Ever After replacing Wishes, despite our nostalgia for the latter. Likewise, in the lead-up to Disney Enchantment, you won’t find any feet-dragging on our part about the change. We went into this new nighttime spectacular with an open mind, assuming that Walt Disney World was pretty confident in it if they already announced it would not just be a temporary replacement for Happily Ever After.
With the “what” out of the way, let’s turn to the “why” and cover the company’s potential motivations for retiring Disney Enchantment so soon after its debut. Guest satisfaction is the big one, and everything else really flows from that.
At this point, I want to turn back to an article we published last July, long before fans started clamoring for its return or anyone had even seen its successor: Happily Ever After Ending “Permanently.”That post came after Walt Disney World officially announced that the beloved nighttime spectacular was being permanently retired, a statement of which we were highly skeptical at the time. (Hence the air quotes around permanently.)
In particular, we shared this: “Happily Ever After’s guest satisfaction scores are through the roof…It’s my understanding that a decision about Magic Kingdom fireworks post-50th Anniversary will depend almost entirely on which nighttime spectacular scores better. If it’s close, Disney Enchantment will continue.”
I haven’t heard anything precise for Disney Enchantment, except that its guest satisfaction is considerably lower than its predecessor. Honestly, this isn’t saying a ton. Happily Ever After had one of the highest guest satisfaction scores of anything ever at Walt Disney World (it might have had the highest ever, but I’m not 100% sure about that).
Surpassing the popularity of Happily Ever After was going to be a herculean task for even a great new nighttime spectacular, which Disney Enchantment is not. This is why we were confident as far back as last summer (long before knowing Enchantment was a dud) that Happily Ever After’s fate had not yet been determined.
With that said, I do want to be fair here. Disney Enchantment is undeniably popular and reasonably well-received by first-time visitors and infrequent guests. There’s a minimum baseline to guest satisfaction for any Magic Kingdom nighttime spectacular, and even a “bad” one is still “good” relative to most other attractions.
All Magic Kingdom fireworks shows have the same core qualities, with pyro exploding over Cinderella Castle to conclude a long, memory-filled day at Walt Disney World. The music is pulled from sentimental moments in memorable Disney movies and the visuals are dazzling. The whole production tugs at the heartstrings, overwhelming the senses and emotions in the best way possible. While fans can easily compare memories of Happily Ever After to Disney Enchantment and reach the conclusion that the former is far better, most first-timers lacking that frame of reference still enjoy Enchantment.
To be sure, Disney Enchantment is still achieving respectable guest satisfaction scores…but it’s doing so relative to normal rides. That Enchantment is outdoing the Magic Carpets of Aladdin is not much cause for celebration. That’s an apples to cupcakes comparison, and almost everyone prefers the latter. (Enchantment is the dessert in that analogy, just to be clear).
However, Enchantment is not doing so well as compared to Wishes, Happily Ever After, or any of its direct counterparts. However, that was always going to be a tough task. None of the other contemporary castle park nighttime spectaculars anywhere in the world hit the same high notes or form a cohesive whole like Happily Ever After. That nighttime spectacular truly captured lightning in a bottle.
Back when Disney Enchantment added the Florida Project and Walt Disney-centric introduction, we cynically speculated that it was being done to reposition that nighttime spectacular as the 50th Anniversary nighttime spectacular. Again, the company stated that Happily Ever After was being permanently retired, with Disney Enchantment replacing it. Not just for the duration of the 50th Anniversary, but for an open-ended run.
However, adding a couple minutes of Roy and Walt Disney to the front of the show turned Disney Enchantment into the Magic Kingdom 50th Anniversary fireworks, even if that’s not what the rest of the show is in the least. That made for easier revisionist history, and claiming that Enchantment was always intended to have a limited run, concluding only a few days after the rest of the World’s Most Magical Celebration.
Ultimately, I’m pretty excited about the triumphant return of Happily Ever After to Magic Kingdom on April 3, 2023. While it’s great to see Walt Disney World evolve and bring in new things, there’s also the reality that evolution connotes progress. Disney Enchantment was not progress, it was change for the sake of change. Had it been better, we would’ve loved seeing it stick around. But that was not the case, and it’s going to be a tough task for any fireworks show to surpass Happily Ever After. So in this case, updating and expanding the projections is actual evolution of Happily Ever After.
With that said, we’d still love to see Walt Disney World continue testing out new nighttime spectacular ideas for Magic Kingdom. There will be some duds, and although disappointing, that’s the nature of the beast. What would be great is if Walt Disney World eventually has a “portfolio” of fireworks shows, a la Disneyland, that it can rotate or bring back for temporary runs to excite fans. Actually, they’re already pretty close to that–can you imagine a limited run of Wishes or the Magic, Music & Mayhem fireworks…or even Holiday Wishes at Christmastime?!
As for EPCOT Forever, I have no strong opinion on the return of that. 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.
What do you think about the permanent return of Happily Ever After and interim appearance of EPCOT Forever in April 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!