Beyond Rides: Walt Disney World Entertainment Offerings Part 2

Yesterday I discussed how devastating the pandemic was for Walt Disney World park entertainment. Massive layoffs, and safety requirements have resulted in an uneven and stilted park experience. I touched on each park’s signature events as well as character experiences. Today I want to talk about the rest of the park offerings – parades and other shows.

Parades

Parades have become another victim of the pandemic in the world of Disney and in this case, I believe its more of a business decision, than a safety one. As I noted above, some of the evening shows have returned, but the parades haven’t. Why? Probably because parades require a lot of entertainment staff to run.

Magic Kingdom

In Magic Kingdom there were a few regular parades. The first was Festival of Fantasy which was a spectacular, puppet based parade with dancing and was an absolute fan favorite. I continue to hear grumblings from guests wondering when it will return. I agree, it would be a shame to see this parade be a victim of the pandemic or budget cuts. It was amazing with excellent costumes and choreography. Will it return? Time will tell.

The second most famous parade at Magic Kingdom was a nighttime light show parade. Originally it was the Main Street Electrical Parade, and then later with updated equipment SpectroMagic! It was a stellar and dazzling show which last ran in 2016, and I’m glad I got to see it. There is a lot of speculation about a return to a nighttime parade at Magic Kingdom, but taking a purely business view there is no argument for it since the park is already packed for the end of day fireworks display. I think this may be a case of it being lost to Disney history.

The last genre of parades at Magic Kingdom generally fall into what I would call a generic character parade. Basically the main goal being that guests see as many characters as possible, with some not even offering meet and greets in the parks. I would bet my house this type of parade returns. How TBD, but there are a few ideas. In the past, one format was a dance party format where the characters actually stopped and guests could dance with them. We did this with my daughter and it was an absolute delight. This is a simple endeavor and likely a less expensive option. The second is along the lines of Celebrate a Dream Come True, which was a float based character parade with a uniting theme. This did incorporate more fanfare and dancers than the simple dance party parade, so it may be a delayed endeavor. The existence of these parades seems directly coupled with minor classic character based shows that pop up in front of the castle throughout the day in Magic Kingdom, as I think they use the same cast members to run. My best guess is they will both return in Spring of 2022 likely with a 50th Anniversary theme.

One more add to parades in Magic Kingdom are the seasonal offering parades which are part of their after hour special events. These parades are Halloween and Christmas themed respectively, and are returning this year for their events.

EPCOT

EPCOT has not had a parade for many years, and I don’t anticipate one returning. EPCOT is currently undergoing a several year make over however, so I suppose anything is possible.

Animal Kingdom

Animal Kingdom has not had a parade since 2014 when it retired Mickey’s Jammin’ Jungle Parade. This parade was a festive one that was based around puppets and percussion. It was enjoyable. However, the park is very narrow and basically shut down traffic for the whole park during the parade. I don’t foresee any sort of parade element returning to this park.

Hollywood Studios

Hollywood Studios has never really been known for its parades. There have been a few show lived ones over the years to highlight the popular thing at the time like Frozen or Star Wars. The longest lived most recent parade was Stars and Motor Cars, a character focused parade that was revamped a few times for anniversary celebrations. I don’t anticipate any new parades for this park unless again it’s a marketing focused highlight.

Other shows

My last category here are other shows in the parks. Some are fan favorites, and are do not miss. Others are more focused on your specific tastes and age.

Magic Kingdom

Mickey’s Philharmagic is a 3D interactive movie. And it’s here to stay as it just underwent a recent update that included music from the movie Coco. There are a few other “shows” that consist of animatronic characters and to my knowledge all are open including the classic Tiki Room, Country Bear Jamboree and the Hall of Presidents with the recent inclusion of President Joe Biden.

I mentioned earlier about short daytime character based shows in front of the castle. These are still suspended as far as I can tell, but I would expect them to return.

Enchanted Tales with Belle is an audience interactive show that is a must for any Belle fan. It is currently shut down, and because of the nature of the show I don’t anticipate it opening until Spring 2022 at the earliest.

Lastly, The Dapper Dans, a barbershop quartet can be seen wandering Main Street USA. They are a Disney fan favorite.

EPCOT

The entertainment charm of EPCOT for me is the various cultural shows in World Showcase including bellydancers, drummers and acrobats. At writing, some are performing and others have yet to return. The Music of Mexico, Matsuriza (Japanese drumming) are currently available as well as the excellent Voices of Liberty in the American Pavilion. I have heard rumors that much of the international performers and cast members have not been able to come to or remain in the United States due to the pandemic. For me, as an epic EPCOT fan, this is a huge highlight of any trip and a true loss. I hope this is resolved and these cast members return soon.

Finally, American Experience is another one of those animatronic shows, as is The Carousel of Progress. Both are operating. Neither is a must, but both provide a good place to take a break in air conditioning.

Animal Kingdom

Animal Kingdom has several shows, some of which are open. A Celebration of Festival of the Lion King has re-opened and is a must see. Sadly, I watched the premier and many of the original elements that required specialized talents are missing including the acrobatic monkeys and the flying element of the birds. I suspect budget cuts, but I hope this is a temporary change. Still an excellent show to watch.

Finding Nemo The Musical an excellent production with puppets and original score remains closed. I was sad to learn that it will not be returning. However, my mood brightened when I learned they intend to revamp it. My best guess? Much of the cast was original from when it premiered and they will be replaced, instead opting for a whole new cast and show that incorporates elements from Finding Dory. Premier date TBD.

Feathered Friends in Flight! is an educational and entertaining bird show. Many skip this but it’s something, in its older iterations, that my family has always enjoyed. It runs a few times during the day and is open.

I already mentioned the new kite show called Disney KiteTails! that is open but experiencing multiple issues at the moment. It’s a brief 10 minutes and may make for a good mid-day break, though I don’t recall much shade there and it could be very hot.

Lastly the Tam Tam Drummers of Harambe are always great. I don’t see evidence of them on the Disney website, so at writing they don’t seem to present. I hope they return.

Hollywood Studios

Beauty and the Beast Live! on Stage is a fan favorite and recently returned to Hollywood Studios. As has the comical and entertaining For the First Time in Forever: A Frozen Sing-a-long Celebration. I would recommend seeing both unless you aren’t a princess fan.

For those with little ones, Disney Junior show is occurring multiple times a day with an emphasis on dancing with characters.

Voyage of the Little Mermaid was a puppet based and live action experience. It has its fans, but has become quite dated over the years and I don’t anticipate it opening again.

Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular is just as described, and a lot of fun, but currently remains closed. It has been reported that the cast has been called back and there is an anticipated opening in late 2021.

TL/DR

In all, although more is opening, there is still a lot missing from the Walt Disney World Parks in the entertainment category including two end of day shows and most character experiences. For me, it’s enough to hold out visiting until things return to “normal” and hope that the parks don’t permanently close some of my favorites.

Beyond Rides: Walt Disney World Entertainment Part 1

One of the most difficult things during the pandemic park re-opening is the lack of entertainment offerings. Some of it is practical, for safety measures. Others seem to be offline indefinitely due to business decisions. There were massive layoffs during the park shutdown and they have not brought back many of the cast members. For this reason, I would caution against a park visit at this time until at least more of these offerings have returned. Here are some of my favorite entertainment highlights and their current or predicted status in each park.

Character Experiences

Character meet and greets as well as character dining have been suspended. This to me is one of the most heartbreaking park casualties of the pandemic. Character experiences are some my most treasured memories and I honestly can’t imagine a trip without them. From my daughter comparing her wings to Tink’s, to a restaurant wide Princess parade these are some of my most magical park moments.

What Disney has offered instead is a sort of socially distanced wave scenario from balconies as well as character cavalcades, basically a small parade where characters walk down the street. They are brief with little fanfare. Good in a pinch, but not exactly an adequate replacement.

It’s not a matter of if, but when these experiences will return. At writing, the virus has mercifully begun to wain and I am optimistic for a return of character interaction in the Spring of 2022.

Signature Shows

Each park has and end of day nighttime spectacular to cap off your visit. Each is unique from display to medium, making each one a must see.

Magic Kingdom

In Magic Kingdom there is the fireworks at the castle. On October 1, 2021 Walt Disney World premiered their new 50th Anniversary Celebration fireworks show called Disney Enchantment. Using a number of projections on the castle and surrounding spires, as well as Main Street USA buildings, the show combines music, pyrotechnics and images to dazzle crowds. Die hard Disney fans have given the new show a mixed review, with many citing that a historical celebration should give a nod to Walt Disney and Mickey Mouse – neither of whom appear in the show – but I think most guests will enjoy the display. This show will presumably be in place for 18 months during the 50th Anniversary Celebration which places it all the way through 2023.

EPCOT

In EPCOT, they launched a soft opening of a new nighttime spectacular called HarmoniUS that takes place in the World Showcase Lagoon. Reception to this show has been universally warm, and having watched the live stream myself it is indeed, impressive. The show uses large floating barges with LED screens and fountains, along with pyrotechnics and music to celebrate all the cultures and continents in the World Showcase. In my humble opinion, it is a worthy replacement to the much beloved IllumiNations show.

Animal Kingdom

In Animal Kingdom, Rivers of Light is a nighttime show also on water using a series of boats, and fountains that are utilized as screens. Combining lights and music it’s truly a spectacular display that I saw myself and loved it. This show has not returned since re-opening however, and it was recently announced it is being discontinued. My best guess is there is a new show in development, unless Disney has entirely given up on their nighttime experiment at Animal Kingdom that seemed to have never really taken off. In the meantime, they are offering guests a short ten minute daytime kite based show in the same venue called Disney KiteTails for the 50th Anniversary Celebration. Unfortunately, the show is off to a rocky start with kite entanglements and wave runner accidents. Watch this space. At writing there is no evening show at Animal Kingdom.

Hollywood Studios

Which brings me to the final park, Hollywood Studios. On our last visit Hollywood Studios was offering not just one, but two separate nighttime shows. The first is Fantasmic, which was really Walt Disney World’s first attempt of combining water and storytelling. It’s a Disney classic and remained in high demand ever since its premiere in 1998. This makes it the most dated of all the nighttime shows. Since it is not expected to return until 2022 at the earliest, I think it’s safe to say it will return with some updates, if it returns at all. Seems logical after this prolonged, multi-year shutdown to re-imagine the show into something else that better reflects the direction that the park is now going, which was entirely different in 1998.

The second show was a pyrotechnic spectacular with projections on the Chinese Theater that was Star Wars themed. This was always intended to be a short lived show, but I’m glad I got to see it. The new pyrotechnic show is entitled Wonderful World of Animation which premiered in 2019 and returned in August 2021. It combines animation from both Disney and Pixar with music and pyrotechnics.

Tomorrow I will continue this discussion including parades and other shows.