With the end of the Main Street Electrical Parade on October 9, 2016 and no replacement in the works, we may be seeing an at least temporary end to the tradition of a nightly parade at the Magic Kingdom. Throughout most of the park’s existence, a light parade of some sort has been offered, whether it be the Main Street Electrical Parade, the gone but certainly not forgotten Spectromagic, or even the Electrical Water Pageant, which actually takes place outside of the theme parks. But have you ever stopped to think why Walt Disney World first introduced this tradition to begin with?
One of the most prominent goals in designing Walt Disney World was to make the destination more of a resort than a park that could be done in a single day trip. The proposed “Vacation Kingdom of the World,” would indeed need a lot more than a single theme park to keep paying guests onsite for an entire vacation rather than straying towards everything else that Florida has to offer..
Though we like to think of anything the Walt Disney Company does as simple magic and pixie dust, it is important to understand that the Walt Disney World Resort is still a major part of a business operation. As much as Disney executives love to see guests happy and enjoying the parks, they also love to see them spending money, as with any other basic business model a profit is needed to accomplish anything productive.
One way to keep guests onsite, particularly in the 1970s before EPCOT Center opened, was to offer increased entertainment at the resorts. Of course, close proximity to the Magic Kingdom was a major incentive for guests to plan a Disney-exclusive vacation in Florida, however that might not have been enough on its own to occupy most if not all rooms at the resorts. Which is where the very first electric light parade comes in...
A bright beginning
Introduced in 1971, an electrical parade of a different sort was introduced, the Electrical Water Pageant. This parade, which travels through both the Seven Seas Lagoon and Bay Lake, can be seen from the Magic Kingdom area resorts--meaning that guests without a park ticket can actually experience this performance. Rather than having full-fledged three-dimensional floats, the water pageant’s floats are actually lights representing different shapes against flat boards.
It would not be far-fetched to believe that the success of the Electrical Water Pageant inspired many aspects of the light parades that we have since seen in the parks. In 1971, the water pageant was even more popular among guests than it is today. When Walt Disney World first opened, if guests were not at the Magic Kingdom, they were at their hotels which were in full view of the water pageant. This parade may be more of a hidden gem among less-seasoned guests today, but at the time this was a main event for guests staying at the resort. It was even televised as a hit attraction on the Wonderful World of Disney’s Grand Opening of Walt Disney World special on October 29, 1971.
The water pageant also harkens back to a much simpler time, when portions of guests' vacation would be spent together at their resort as a family. Many casual visitors to Walt Disney World today are not even aware that the Electrical Water Pageant is performed nightly. In fact, it would not be surprising if more of the audience who watches this parade today is made up of guests who visit the parks often-- annual passholders, Disney Vacation Club members, as well as cast members and their families.
The primary touring style of guests visiting the parks today on a "once in a lifetime" trip is to rush from ride to ride, attempting to accomplish everything they want to do within the short window of time that they’ll actually be in Orlando. The Electrical Water Pageant was (and still is to some extent) beneficial in slowing down this mindset and allowing guests to simply relax and enjoy the moment.
While the Electrical Water Pageant has undergone a number of changes over the years, from simply becoming more of a hidden gem than a headlining resort attraction, to the music and the occasional float change, it really is a classic part of the Walt Disney World experience that has left a lasting legacy on resort guests.