Home » 4 Fascinating Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Walt Disney World’s 8-Minute Parade

    4 Fascinating Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Walt Disney World’s 8-Minute Parade

    Later in the evening, you’re relaxing at your hotel room after a magical day at Walt Disney World. Suddenly, you hear a noise from outside, a tinny musical sound that captures your attention. You open the drapes and stare with wonder at the odd menagerie in front of you. It’s Disney’s naval tribute to guests. My wife lovingly calls the display the “noisy boats,” but you’re familiar with them by their real name. o

    The oldest parade at Walt Disney World!

    Image: DisneyWhen theme park tourists discuss the parade at Walt Disney World, the presumption is that the subject is Disney’s Main Street Electrical Parade. The nighttime parade is an illuminated marvel of Imagineering wizardry, one beloved by guests around the world. The first iteration of it was at Disneyland in 1972, but the most famous one is at Magic Kingdom, where it started in 1977.

    These in-park parades weren’t the origin of the idea, though. The Electrical Water Pageant has a longer history than all of its successors. In fact, its genesis traces all the way back to the first month of Walt Disney World’s existence. Yes, it’s also as old as the park itself!

    Guests at Disney’s Magic Kingdom resorts will see the noisy boats whether they want to or not. The show passes by Disney’s Wilderness Lodge, Disney’s Contemporary Resort, Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa, and Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort. Everyone else catches the show in the area around Magic Kingdom. Back in the 1970s, however, only the Polynesian and Contemporary were open. The waterfront exhibition had a limited audience during its first years.

    The first Electrical Water Pageant

    Image: DisneyOn October 25, 1971, park officials celebrated Dedication Day at Walt Disney World.  The new theme park had opened only 24 days before, and Disney executives wanted to laud Imagineers and cast members for their effort in bringing Uncle Walt’s dream into existence.

    The most novel part of Dedication Day was a fleet of boats that glowed in the dark. These vessels set sail on Bay Lake and Seven Seas Lagoon, the most important bodies of water at Walt Disney World at the time. They looked like a homecoming parade on water, albeit with Christmas lights added to make them stand out in the night.

    Disney sailed 15 boats that first night, 14 of which were from the Electrical Water Pageant fleet. A 15th boat wasn’t illuminated, but Disney needed it to shoot all the desired fireworks for Dedication Day. The rest of the fleet shot fireworks as well, giving the pageant hidden utility.

    The first Electrical Water Pageant followed a performance by hula dancers from what we know as the Spirit of Aloha show at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort. Technically, it was a dedication of the Polynesian Luau. Guests shuffled down the beach from the dancers to the water, where they had an optimal view of the illuminated vessels.

    The boat creatures

    Image: DisneyIn 1971, the noisy boats had several different mythological and nautical characters on display. Three boats mimicked jumping dolphins, three were flying fish, three were goldfish, and three boats combined into a single sea serpent.

    Other creatures in the first Electrical Water Pageant were a clamshell complete with mermaid joined by three red-haired mermaids in an accompanying boat and four seahorses. There was also an octopus, a whale, a pair of sea lions bouncing a ball, and King Neptune.

    Over the next five years, Disney would remove or repurpose several of the original boats. They also added a turtle and some shrimp to the festivities. The lineup still included 14 visible boats, and some of the 1971 ones remained in the group. Disney also updated the octopus to make it more attention-grabbing.

    Image: DisneySince we’re discussing a pageant that’s more than 45 years old, Disney’s made plenty of other changes to its fleet over the years. The current iteration has remained relatively stable since 1996, though. The current lineup includes a sea serpent design spread across four boats, a brachiosaurus, a crocodile, an octopus, a turtle, and a whale. There are also three frolicking dolphins and seahorses. Still overseeing the parade is King Neptune, just as he has done since 1971.

    When you look at these creatures, you’re seeing more than 50,000 light bulbs. The show is so demanding that Disney replaces hundreds of bulbs each week to keep the lights on. The 14 floats are actually two sets of seven connected barges. Each one is 40 feet long and has 25-foot tall walls that display the lights.

    From a Baroque Hoedown to…Walk the Dinosaur?

    Image: DisneyMusic was an integral part of the parade going all the way back to Dedication Day. Disney did something a bit different for the pageant. Rather than commission a new musical piece for the show, they acquired the rights to a 1967 song by Moog artists Jean-Jacques Perrey and Gershon Kingsley.

    As a musical act known as Perrey and Kingsley, they popularized the Moog synthesizer, which would later become a staple of 1970s mood music from artists like Gordon Lightfoot, the Beach Boys, and Kraftwerk. Their synthesizer had a weird tin sound that sounded robotic. Disney executives believed it was the perfect sound for the show, although they hired their own artist to remake their favorite Moog song. It was called…Baroque Hoedown.

    A musician named Paul Beaver performed the first Electrical Water Pageant version of Baroque Hoedown. He had two claims to fame as an artist, having played the Moog organ for some band called The Beatles for some album called Magical Mystery Tour. He also recorded musical effects that literally everyone knows. Beaver created many of the sound effects for the original Star Trek.

    While Disney loved Beaver’s version of Baroque Hoedown, their park changes necessitated a re-recording a few years later. The song was to become a staple of the Main Street Electrical Parade at both Magic Kingdom and Disneyland. To avoid confusion, park planners took a different approach with the Electrical Water Pageant, one that’s still in use today. They gave each participating boat its own song.

    This change occurred in 1977, although the first version of musical accompaniments was rather silly. For example, the turtle boat played I’m a Turtle while the octopus boat offered Up in Arms. Even by 1970s musical standards, the whole thing was pretty cheesy.

    The version of the Electrical Water Pageant that you know today is cheekier in nature. The boats play songs that generally have a Disney movie theme. Here’s the current lineup:

    • Quartet of sea serpent floats — Boo Bop Bopbop Bop (I Love You Too) from Pete’s Dragon
    • Whale float – A Whale of a Tale from 20,000 Leagues under the Sea
    • Octopus – Poor Unfortunate Souls from The Little Mermaid
    • Crocodile – Never Smile at a Crocodile from Peter Pan
    • Brachiosaurus – Walk the Dinosaur by Was (Not Was)
    • Quartet of sea horse floats — Under the Sea from The Little Mermaid
    • King Neptune — Under the Sea from The Little Mermaid

    Some floats have no music. Those are the turtle one (come back, I’m a Turtle!) and the trio of jumping dolphin floats. The oddest choice of the bunch is also the funniest. The Brachiosaurus playing a song from one-hit wonder musical act, Was (Not Was), never fails to put a smile on my face.

    One part of the Electrical Water Pageant has remained the same since 1971. As the performance winds down, the musical accompaniments change from melodious to patriotic. The floats change into flags and stars as a trio of American classics plays. The songs are You’re a Grand Old Flag, Yankee Doodle, and America the Beautiful. It’s a lovely touch at the end of the eight-minute parade.