New EPCOT Nighttime Spectacular Replacing Harmonious
Walt Disney World has announced an all-new nighttime spectacular at EPCOT during Disney’s 100th anniversary celebration. This new show will debut in late 2023 on World Showcase Lagoon. In this post, we’ll share details and extensive commentary on why Harmonious is being scrapped so soon after it debuted.
The news of a replacement for Harmonious was revealed during the “A Boundless Future: Disney Parks, Experiences and Products” presentation at D23 Expo 2022. 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.
I’ll be honest with you: Disney announcing a replacement for Harmonious was not on my D23 Expo bingo card or my radar. I haven’t heard any rumors of this, so it caught me entirely by surprise. With that said, I think there are a few potential explanations.
One explanation we can eliminate right off the bat was that this was the plan all along. It was not. Harmonious was intended to be EPCOT’s answer to World of Color. It would long outlast Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary, having an extended run just like Fantasmic or other purpose-built evening entertainment.
Most of our potential explanations as to why Harmonious is being replaced mirror those discussed in our (expanded) commentary to Happily Ever After is Returning to Magic Kingdom. That’s because the underlying rationale is undoubtedly similar.
Like Disney Enchantment, Harmonious has garnered mixed reviews among Walt Disney World fans, us included. (Read our Harmonious Review for much more.) In that, I acknowledge that EPCOT Center purists are a hard audience to satisfy, and that this never could’ve lived up to IllumiNations for me.
I also point out that Harmonious doesn’t actually address the core complaints regular 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. 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.
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.
While I have not heard specifics about guest satisfaction for Harmonious, one thing I did hear early on was that high level leadership was not satisfied with the nighttime spectacular. There was chatter about this prior to Harmonious debuting, with specific names you’d recognize being disappointed with the nighttime spectacular when it was screened for them around this time last year.
This was reinforced by interviews with certain creatives, who suggested that the music was rearranged (as in the order of songs–not the actual arrangements) relatively last minute. If you’ve ever had the sense that Harmonious feels like it’s a nighttime spectacular on shuffle, you’re not that far off; the ordering of scenes could be changed by dragging and dropping songs on a computer.
None of this really fazed me. It wouldn’t be the first or last time that executives were disappointed by a nighttime spectacular and meddled at the last minute. Bob Iger famously intervened with World of Color days or weeks before its debut and substantially changed that nighttime spectacular. That was so close to being finished that there are actually videos shot from the Grand Californian and source audio of the pre-premiere World of Color.
Despite those woes, World of Color has enjoyed immense success and incredible guest satisfaction scores. As much as I personally prefer the pre-premiere music, Iger was absolutely correct in pushing for more contemporary music and movies in the show. Executives aren’t (always) evil stuffed suits–sometimes they have their finger on the pulse of the average audience better than creatives. The same might apply with “remixing” Harmonious, or at least, that’s what I figured until now.
The above mostly concerns the way Harmonious sounds–how the music connects with guests. Another possibility is that high-level leadership isn’t pleased with the way the nighttime spectacular and its infrastructure looks.
Honestly, I’m not sure how or why executives weren’t happy with Harmonious. My assumption based on the remix rumors was that it was the soundtrack and flow of the show, but it was just that–an assumption.
Personally, if I were Chapek or D’Amaro and had just let my team spend World of Color level money to build a nighttime consisting of a giant Stargate and water tacos with limited viewing angles, I’d be fuming. They literally would’ve been better off upgrading everything from IllumiNations and just building a bigger globe.
To me, the Harmonious barges comes across as a solution in search of a problem, or a contrivance. An instance of the tail wagging the dog, with technology unnecessarily dictating the show presentation. There’s no good explanation for the presentation choice–it’s unintuitive and unnecessarily limiting. It feels like something aliens who had never seen a nighttime spectacular would build–just a totally nonsensical look that doesn’t serve any practical purpose.
When they come alive during the show, the Harmonious barges look like a tribute to Kang and Kodos from the Simpsons. I guess that’s a cool bit of Disney+ synergy, so it’s not entirely awful. Just weird. And there is a certain coolness to the weirdness if you watch Harmonious from the right angle.
During the day, there is no “right” angle. 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.
It’s entirely possible that Disney executives were upset by how World Showcase looks during the day with Harmonious sitting out on the water. Maybe Chapek or D’Amaro recently went on a tour of the parks and specifically complained about that. It’s also possible this raised eyebrows when the Board of Directors spent time in the parks during their late June 2022 visit to Walt Disney World.
Finally, it’s not outside the realm of possibilities that guest complaints about the Harmonious barges have been sufficient for Disney to take notice. As I’ve shared many times recently, Walt Disney World is paying acute attention to guest satisfaction right now–I’ve heard this in the context of other areas (certainly not sightlines), but maybe it applies there as well.
Ultimately, I truly do not know what’s up with Harmonious and its replacement–I’m just speculating.
To be clear, the scope and scale of the “new” nighttime spectacular at EPCOT is…entirely unclear. It might be a basic drag and drop remix of Harmonious, swapping out new songs and scenes to feed the Disney+ synergy beast. Maybe it’ll get a new intro and finale for Disney100 and a few poorly-performing portions of the soundtrack will be replaced. It could be as simple as that–a way to refresh the show, give it a new name, and market it as something “new.” Given how much money Disney invested in the infrastructure on Harmonious, that would be the safe and smart bet.
It is not my (admittedly uninformed) prediction. Disney made the first Harmonious soundtrack remix in, literally, weeks. If that was the intent here, there would be no reason not to debut the reimagined Happily Ever After and new EPCOT nighttime spectacular simultaneously. It would be a good way to close the book on Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary and start the next chapter. Instead, the company isn’t debuting the Harmonious replacement until “later” in 2023. From my perspective, the most likely reason that would happen is out of necessity–that a longer turnaround time is required for removing/replacing infrastructure. But I guess we shall see–I never expected Harmonious to be retired so quickly, so I’ve already been surprised once just by virtue of this announcement!
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What do you think about Harmonious being replaced? Excited about the announcement of a new nighttime spectacular at EPCOT, or wish IllumiNations were returning? What’s your expectation for this–a remix of Harmonious using the same lagoon infrastructure, or a totally new show that scraps the Stargate and water tacos? 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 want classic epcot music undiluted as was. And if you do screens have them closer to the audience, in a 360 circle and transparent or low lying so you see over them until you choose to focus on them.
The difference between watching World of Color and Harmonious is like standing right in front of the Las Vegas Bellagio for the fountain show vs. seeing it from your hotel room window a block down the street. I think the Stargate and water tacos could have worked in a much smaller lagoon with a distinct viewing area but on Epcot’s massive scale the sense of awe & spectacle for the water components is totally diminished.
Harmonious is the only Epcot fireworks show I’ve seen. The kids liked it well enough. That being said – those barges are atrocious during the day- surprised it was greenlit at all honestly.
I’m in the minority. I don’t pay that close enough attention to know that this show is better than that show. Fireworks are fireworks. We’re not in the group that feels a need to waste an hour or more of precious park time squatting on a spot to be able to see the show front and center. We’re content to just watch the fireworks, which can be seen from pretty much anywhere in the parks (almost). Fantasmic is the only fireworks show that we enjoyed for the show just as much as the fireworks, but it’s been MIA for two years now. If you don’t tell me that a fireworks show has changed, I wouldn’t know. So, it’s all good for us.
I mostly agree with you, we’d rather be hitting evening rides than staking out and defending a viewing spot. The majority of park goers are in the same boat, either casually watching fireworks, in line for attractions, eating, or already on their way home. The problem with Harmonious is that it’s not a neutral change because all of the monstrous floating scaffolding in the lagoon diminishes the experience all day long for everyone, whether they ultimately watch or care about the nighttime spectacular. If they’d have figured out a way to hide the massive eye-polluting infrastructure I really wouldn’t have any reason to form the grudge I currently hold against the show!
Sorry but I truly wish they had just made the Illuminations globe larger and kept Illuminations! The score, the singing and the fireworks were one of a kind. Now sadly, new generations will only be able to enjoy it on YouTube or from someone else’s home videos. You cannot even compare the new shows with Illuminations. That was one of my family’s favorite nighttime shows.
I’m in the camp of loving HEA and loathing Enchantment and Harmonious. I think part of the loathing if Harmonious is just the utter damage done to Epcot by the construction waste that is the presentation barges. It ruins the view the entire time for a twenty minute show that is not worth the cost given up for its apparatus. Harmonious has no flow and does not connect with the guest in any way. I realize that is just my opinion. The only part I actually enjoyed from the show is when they shoot the fireworks toward the center of the lagoon at the end. They can do that without the junk in the water which will only look worse each year as it ages. As for Enchantment, the addition of Walt, Roy and Mickey to the show was a major boost but again the show does not move the heart or soul. I’ve seen HEA countless times and it always brings a tear. That show hits the way Disney wants it to hit. You feel the magic. The good thing with Enchantment is that you don’t mind leaving early to beat the crowd to the busses. The roar that went up in the D23 room when Josh made the announcement tells you everything you need to know about Enchantment. Unfortunately, I’m sure some people have lost their jobs or damaged their careers over both shows. For that I am not happy but I’m ecstatic that they have seen the light and brought HEA back. Maybe some reclamation company can come in and buy up the barges in Epcot for scrap.
We have just returned to the UK and I was underwhelmed by Harmonious. We got a good spot in Japan too.
the music was stop start all the way through and never flowed to a finally. We though the best bit was in the middle (coco) when usually these shows build to a finale. Also singing the songs in different languages does not work at all. The crowd cannot sing along if they want to, as many do.
plus having only limited angles to watch from makes it a disaster.
glad to hear it being replaced and i hope they make it a 360 show so it doesn’t matter where you stand and that it builds to a finale. Is that too much to ask?
(and get rid of the unsightly barges)
I’m glad they’re redoing Harmonious. The soundtrack is nothing new, just rehashed Disney songs that you can hear anywhere. There was a message in Illuminations and the new show misses that entirely. As for the technology, I was impressed during the evening show, but agree the fountains are an eyesore during the day.
The barges are terrible, it’s true. I mean, how they failed to understand this boggles the mind—imagine if someone said “let’s put enormous black scaffolding around Cinderella’s castle so we could shoot fireworks off it.” But the more common complaint I hear from novices is that they couldn’t see it very well. Unless you are dead center, the views of the show in the loooong stretches when the fireworks aren’t happening leave a lot to be desired. World showcase practically begs to incorporate a 360 degree show—it’s almost like the people who designed it never visited the park.
I don’t see how any of this is fixable without a totally new show concept.
I do think re-recording the audio is a good start. Some of the signing feels really pitchy. But I hope 5 years from now they will replace the whole thing and we will able be laugh-cry about “barge-gate” as a thing of the past.
EPCOT is a huge park, and trying to find a good spot for the night show has always been an issue. They need to take a lead out of Disneyland’s book. I remember when we went there they had projections happening in other areas of the park during the fireworks show to spread the crowds.
It might be expensive (probably less expensive than the tacos and Stargate) but a better solution would have been projection mapping on the pavilions themselves with maybe just the Stargate in the center–rotating, so guests could view the show decently from any part of World Showcase. It would certainly give the show a much higher rewatchability factor, since you could get an up close look at the projections in a different country each time. It would also release some of the limited availability of the restaurants during showtimes, as you might not have as good a view from inside restaurant at the projections (Rose and Crown outdoor seat would likely still be premium).
I doubt they’ll go that far to fix the show, but we can dream right?
How much did they spend on the eyesores? I would love to see the whole lagoon filled with Bellagio/World of Color fountains that are hidden and gets the view back. Imagine the powerful Bellagio center fountains in the center of the lagoon…would be incredible.
I was shocked after seeing the barges under development that they never lowered them further in the water. they looked so much to me like that black block on the bottom of each one was eventually meant to be submerged once they were done testing them (and could be raised again if maintenance was needed) . I feel like that wouldn’t save them from being an eyesore, but it would at least make them look better and easier to hide with fountains
I’d agree that the main complaint with Illuminations is probably that the globe was hard to see. A larger globe would have cost far less than the show and the daytime barge pictures do look really bad.
I saw the Disney+ Harmonius special and I actually liked the show, but we already have a superior nighttime show that’s a montage of Disney movie songs over in MK. I’d really like for the Epcot show to be something different.
I’m doing cartwheels LOL. Nothing could compare to Illuminations for me anyway, but Harmonious was literally a punch of IP songs slapped together, (not what Epcot is was supposed to be about) cheap and not creative, but using the excuse that some of the songs were in other languages makes it ok for Epcot. It doesnt:)
The cynical part of me wonders if Harmonious isn’t being sacrificed at least partly as a way of “softening” the admission that Enchantment isn’t working on any level. Nothing to see here! We’re changing all the nighttime shows!
I know it’s just me, but I love those water tacos. They bring some personality to things.
I’m, at best, indifferent to Harmonious, and that’s taken a few viewings. And even then, I think the only spot worth viewing it from is the front of the house, which just doesn’t make sense for a show on a lagoon with viewing all around. A lot of it seems like something someone put together on their Windows 95 PC. I won’t be sad to see it go, especially if we get rid of the barges, I just hope whatever replaces it is worthy of Epcot.
With the disclaimer that I have been one of those rare Harmonious superfans since day 1, even in the context of the executives not feeling it, this rushed timeline still doesn’t make any sense to me. They spent such an insane amount of money on this, and there are multiple things at Epcot that need fixing asap. Like are the barges really a bigger issue than the giant dirt pit that they somehow still did not announce any plans for? Or the main icon of the park containing a ride that breaks down constantly and is in desperate need of an upgrade? This is a very surprising priority. Plus “late 2023” is already only a year away. It would have made more sense to me if they just let Harmonious keep chugging along for a few years to get their money’s worth while they took the time to start from scratch. I don’t know that I feel much confidence in a rush job. Lastly, one of the other main criticisms of Harmonious was that it became an IP fest and had little to nothing to do with Epcot’s core message (I disagreed with that, but it’s a reasonable critique). While a show celebrating TWDC 100 is exciting, Epcot is the last place that should go. Anyway, I’m just going to book a million Epcot trips between now and March so I can get plenty of time in with my underrated favorite.
Hopefully the change coming is that the Stargate and water tacos are being removed entirely, and can just be a “remember those unsightly things” joke. It would be so nice to have the beautiful daytime World Showcae views back.
I’m a fireworks/night time show fan and I absolutely LOVE Harmonious and Enchantment!
Illuminations was good the first few times and then we tended to skip it. I enjoyed Happily Ever After, but prefer Enchantment.
I hope they don’t mess it up.
It’s the day time tacos. What a blight.