Epcot's famous nighttime show may soon be replaced


  • Photo via Disney

Back in March
, it looked like a replacement for Epcot’s Illuminations: Reflections of Earth was just around the corner. Now, less than three months later we have even more details regarding this yet to be announced replacement.

With the recent TEA/AECOM numbers pointing to Animal Kingdom now surpassing Epcot as Walt Disney World’s second most visited theme park (it should be stated the TEA numbers are not official but are widely used within the industry) and with Star Wars land at Disney’s Hollywood Studios likely to pull even more guests away from Epcot the edutainment fair focused park is looking for new additions to help keep guests visiting.

Two new rides, themed to Ratatouille and Guardians of the Galaxy, are both under construction at the park. But multiple insiders, including Tom Bricker of the Disney Tourist Blog, are saying resort leadership is now worried about the lengthy time it will take before those open, likely in late 2020 or early 2021 nearly a year to year and a half after Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge opens at DHS. Recognizing that the festivals, which in recent years have acted as an attendance band-aid for the aging park, are nearly maxed out of their potential leadership is rumored to be now looking to fast-track the new Illuminations show to fix the issue with the gap between the opening of Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge and the opening of Epcot's new rides.

In recent weeks numerous insiders have noted an increase in speed for the new nighttime show and new leaks, typically a sign of third-party contractors being involved, have begun happening more frequently. For the show to be at the level of outside contractors being involved means that this show is much further along in being realized than anyone expected in March.

Initially planned for 2021, the rumored show was already pushed up once with most insiders reporting it was slated to open in 2020. Now it looks like Disney wants to shave another year off that timeline.

Jim Hill, known for his inside knowledge of the Disney company, also pointed out in an episode of his Disney Dish podcast to the land clearing currently taking place behind the Japan pavilion. Some had thought that this was for the upcoming high-end restaurant announced for the pavilion but the clearing is beyond both the service road and a set of trees, so it’s apparently not the new restaurant. Hill hints at this area being the staging area for drones that will be used in the new show.

Disney debuted its first drone show two years ago with a temporary holiday show at Disney Springs featuring Intel designed drones. In the weeks prior to this show, Disney received special permission from the FAA for drone use across the resort, including inside official no-fly zones at the Magic Kingdom. That FAA approval is good through November 2020.  Since that test, the Intel drones have become much more sophisticated with impressive showings of the technology stretching across the globe from Coachella to the Olympics in PyeongChang.

If this new area is the drone staging area that means the drones will have to fly over at least one guest area. With Disney having strict rules in place on how close drones can get to people this would mean part of the pathway, possibly between Morocco and Japan, would be closed at least at the beginning and end of each show while the drones fly into and out of the performance space at the center of the lake. Another possibility, as Hill suggested, could be flying the drones directly above The American Adventure pavilion, with outside pathways being closed to guests as the drones fly over.

Bricker also stated that he has heard other effects, including some initially planned for Animal Kingdom’s Rivers of Light nighttime show, ill be included in the new Illuminations show. Rivers of Light was bogged down by numerous delays, pushing the show’s debut back by more than a year. Once it did open many of the effects announced for the original show had been pulled, including drown powered floating lanterns on the water. It’s unclear if this is the effect that Bricker was referring to though it's widely believed that even after Rivers of Light opened Disney continued researching this effect for future use within its parks.

This lines up with the speculation reported on here in March about the show possibly including boats and other activities on the lagoon in a similar fashion to the Fantasmic! show at Tokyo DisneySea. That show, along with other Disney hits like World of Color and Disneyland Paris’s Illuminations, were designed under the leadership of Steven Davison, Vice President Parades and Spectaculars at Disney. Davison is rumored to be taking an extremely hands-on approach to the new Epcot show.

As reported in March, the name still seems to be “Illuminations: Windows on the World” and Disney still looks interested in adding multiple Disney characters to the show.

In a recent post regarding the new show, Bricker also stated that a temporary show might be used as Disney preps Epcot infrastructure for the new show. According to Bricker, this interim show would possibly include throwback music, from former Epcot shows and attractions. This model of adding a temporary show as Disney preps for a larger new show isn’t uncommon. Disney did a similar thing at Disneyland with their Fantasy in the Sky show and at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

If the currently rumored timelines are correct we may see the interim show opening by the end of this year and the new Illuminations: Windows on the World opening sometime next year. An announcement for the new show is expected sometime this summer, well ahead of Disney’s big Star Wars land push that will begin this winter. 

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