Top 10 Disney Theme Park Shows & Spectaculars
Disney Parks have tons of attractions, but often overlooked are the live action shows and spectaculars that are not actual rides. There are numerous shows and spectaculars at Walt Disney World, Disneyland, Disneyland Paris, Tokyo Disney Resort, and Hong Kong Disneyland. Some of these are time-honored favorites, running for decades and still holding strong in popularity. Others are short-lived performances that last only a season or two by design. Much like attractions, not all of these shows were created equally.
Similar to my Top 10 Disney Theme Park Attractions list, I thought it would be fun to put together a list of what I consider the 10 best shows and spectaculars worldwide. As there are far fewer shows and spectaculars than there are attractions, this list was considerably easier to put together without too many snubs, but once again I’m keeping to a strict 10 show limit. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t some snubs, as Disney certainly has more than 10 deserving shows worldwide.
To keep things fair (whatever that means in this context), no seasonal shows are eligible. The main reason for this is because I haven’t seen some of the more obscure seasonal stuff, like the Bastille Day fireworks at Disneyland Paris or the Fourth of July World of Color show. This also disqualifies many of the hard ticket event shows at Walt Disney World that I happen to love, but I don’t think anything that requires a separate ticket should be eligible. Also, only shows and spectaculars that are currently running are eligible. Finally, there’s no specific scoring criteria–this is just how particular shows move me, plus analysis of their complexity, scale, and quality.
Blah, blah, blah. A lot of rules for something that’s supposed to be lighthearted and fun, right?! As this is a multi-continent list, it’s not like this top 10 has any functional utility anyway…it’s more geared at being a fun conversation piece for Disney theme park fans. I had a lot of fun doing the Top 10 Attractions list and reading all of your feedback, and I think it’s a lot of fun comparing and contrasting all of the different parks in a non-demeaning manner (in other words, posts that constructively look at interesting similarities and differences, not posts that, to paraphrase, say “OMG, WALT DISNEY WORLD IS THE BEST EVER. DISNEYLAND TOTALLY SUCKS.”).
With that said, here’s the list in no particular order!
Finding Nemo: The Musical, Disney’s Animal Kingdom
Finding Nemo: The Musical scores big points for its originality. Of course, if you’re looking at it from only the perspective of the show’s story, there isn’t much originality. It’s basically a condensed retelling of Finding Nemo. (If anyone at Disney is listening: this is the least effective and laziest type of show and attraction; strive for original, engaging attractions!) However, the visual means by which it tells the story is very original. When I first heard of the concept of using visible human performers with sea-creature puppets, I was a bit incredulous. Surely the human performers would distract from the puppets, or vice-a-versa. Not the case at all. The performers and puppets compliment one another perfectly, with the performers giving the puppets emotion, and the puppets adding a visual beauty to the show, and making the characters much more believable (a human performer might work as a monkey in Festival of the Lion King, but a lady in a body suit isn’t a good “sell” for Nemo). Add to that some original music, and Finding Nemo: The Musical is a real winner.
Dreamlights, Tokyo Disneyland
If you’ve never seen Tokyo Disneyland Electrical Parade Dreamlights, imagine the Main Street Electrical Parade if it were updated for the 21st Century. Dreamlights takes full advantage of the technological advancements in…uh…lights?…that have occurred since the 1970s, and culminates in a parade that is rooted in the same charm as the original Disney light parade, but that also has a wow factor unlike anything seen stateside. The “Chameleon Genie” float is the highlight, but the whole parade is top-notch. It also does a great job of appeasing both those who hate and love the Main Street Electrical Parade soundtrack, as it has a section of that parade’s music, but it’s not the entire parade. We consider this the best piece entertainment that Tokyo Disneyland has to offer. At least until “Once Upon a Time” debuts!
World of Color, Disney California Adventure
World of Color is a show that has grown on both of us tremendously since we saw the original version during its opening summer from the “cheap seats.” On a subsequent trip, we saw it from the front row, and now I won’t want it any other way. Sure, I get soaked sometimes, but it’s totally worth it for a much more immersive and technically impressive experience. I still am not wild about World of Color making no attempt at even a loose narrative thread (one of the reasons I actually prefer World of Color: Winter Dreams to the normal version), but it’s such a visually impressive show that it makes this top 10 regardless. It’s easy to see why World of Color will be one of the biggest draws at Disney California Adventure for years to come.
The original is still king. Fantasmic is a great show because it combines a multitude of different effects and a loose storyline to tie together montage sequences in an entertaining show. Disneyland’s Fantasmic benefits heavily from its almost organic (or as organic as something in a meticulously crafted theme park setting can be) location on Tom Sawyer Island along the Rivers of America. Although this spot causes bottlenecks and foot-traffic nightmares through New Orleans Square at night, it’s the absolute best venue of any Fantasmic. Add to that an excellent dragon, and boat scenes on the river that are essentially right in front of the audience, and Fantasmic at Disneyland is a real winner. While I still enjoy the Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Tokyo DisneySea versions, they just can’t match the heart of the original, which is one of my favorite experiences at Disneyland.
Big Band Beat, Tokyo DisneySea
Several years after its debut, Big Band Beat remains so popular that seeing it requires entering a lottery (except for the first show, which just has really long lines). If it were a show at Walt Disney World, they long ago would have started selling $59.99 dining packages in order to see it. While we were initially surprised by the lotto system for Big Band Beat, after we saw it the first time, we totally understood why. A Broadway-style big band show fused with some Disney characters (all in English), Big Band Beat is a Broadway-caliber show. The performers are insanely talented, and the finale with Mickey Mouse is nothing short of pure Disney magic–and we don’t use that term lightly. As incredible as Big Band Beat is, for now, it’s the not even the best overall show in Tokyo DisneySea.
Legend of Mythica, Tokyo DisneySea
If you’ve thought about visiting Tokyo Disney Resort in 2014 and are having trouble figuring out when to go, my emphatic answer is BEFORE September 7, 2014 (sorry if you’re reading this in 2015…this show is ‘extinct’). Legend of Mythica is Tokyo DisneySea’s lagoon show, and it is all sorts of amazing. Unlike Big Band Beat, which is entirely in English, Big Band Beat is almost entirely in Japanese. It has a loose storyline involving the characters embodying certain mythical spirits, which I showcased in an installment of our Tokyo Disney Resort trip report, but story is not really important. Rather, Legend of Mythica is a visual tour-de-force, with incredible costumes, aerial displays, beautiful floats, and even dance sequences (on shore). Legend of Mythica is so unlike anything else anywhere, and it’s almost impossible to fully comprehend until you’ve seen it in person.
My love for many things at Walt Disney World is fueled by nostalgia, something I readily admit, but not something that I believe clouds my judgment. Change is inevitable, and although I’ll miss many things for which I’m nostalgic when they do leave, I understand the need to change. Illuminations is one of very few exceptions. I hope it never changes. Not necessarily because I think it’s perfect or timeless, but because I don’t think Disney would ever create a spectacular at contemporary Walt Disney World that’s so abstract, ambitious, and lacking in Disney characters. The progress of mankind told symbolically through fireworks and a beautiful soundtrack, Illuminations is my favorite nighttime spectacular anywhere. You could say that it doesn’t “feel” like a Disney show because it doesn’t have any Disney intellectual property. However, those who have been going to the parks for years know that this is exactly what makes it a distinctly Disney show. The high caliber of the show, the orchestration of the music, and the optimistic feeling it leaves you with once its over. It’s pure Disney in quality.
Mystic Rhythms, Tokyo DisneySea
Mystic Rhythms is another abstract Tokyo DisneySea show, and demonstrates why DisneySea is probably the most adult-oriented park in the Disney pantheon. Another show that is abstract in nature, this doesn’t pander to children, but it’s something kids will like because of the representation of wildlife in the show and other fun visual elements. It’s lot like Cirque du Soleil combined with tribal music in an elaborate “Disney style” environment. The stage features pools and a waterfall, fire, and other effects in a lush jungle. Mystic Rhythms is impressive in every regard, and is one of the most captivating shows we’ve ever seen in a Disney theme park.
Disney Dreams, Disneyland Paris
You could say that Disney Dreams is like Wishes + Celebrate the Magic + World of Color, plus some other stuff thrown in for good measure. The show simultaneously has fire, fireworks, projections, lasers, and fountains–all of which make it one of the biggest draws at Disneyland Paris. Much like Fantasmic, it’s a montage show with a narrative thread, which makes it more compelling (in my eyes). Another big plus of Disney Dreams is that it leans heavily on Parisian-influenced Disney films, which means movies that normally don’t receive much attention are more prominent, and the standard ‘go-to’ films play second fiddle. Check out our Disney Dreams Tips post for more info.
Remember… Dreams Come True, Disneyland
Remember… Dreams Come True combines two things that I love, fireworks and Disney theme park attractions, to take the crown as the best fireworks spectacular in a Disney castle park. It’s the only fireworks spectacular that’s based on Disney theme park attractions rather than Disney films, and as a fan primarily of the parks, this earns it huge points from me. The fireworks themselves are a bit underwhelming (as is the case from most Disneyland fireworks shows), but “Remember…” is all about how those fireworks, and some awesome other effects, are choreographed with memorable moments from classic Disney attractions. You can see impressive “pure” fireworks shows at any state fair in the Midwest. What makes Disney fireworks spectaculars special is how they utilize fireworks in emotive shows. For this theme park nut, nothing accomplishes this better than Remember… Dreams Come True!
Hope you enjoyed my look at the top 10 shows and spectaculars at the worldwide Disney theme parks! Since it seems that, moreso than attractions, the goal of Disney shows is to provoke an emotional response from guests, it will be interesting to read how different shows (or the same ones) provoke different responses from you!
Looking for Disney trip planning tips? Make sure to read our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide and Disneyland Trip Planning Guide.
For updates on Walt Disney World, the latest news, discount information, and tips, sign up for our free monthly newsletter!
What are your top 10 Disney shows? It doesn’t matter how many parks you’ve been to, I’m still interested in knowing some other favorites. Do you think I missed any that should have made the list, or made any poor choices? If you have any other questions or comments, please leave them below.
I have been kind of obsessed with your blog the last couple weeks (having just found it… what rock was I under, you may ask), and this is the first time that I simply canNOT agree with you! I think that leaving off Wishes and the Lion King show at WDW is a travesty… especially when you include Illuminations, which I consider to be the red-headed stepchild of the Disney spectaculars! 😛