A visit to a Disney theme park is always a magical experience. Disney after dark is that much better. There’s something unforgettable about the hot night’s air combined with various theme park landmarks reaching into the moonlit sky. The view of the stars adds to that special touch as buildup begins for the most beloved of park closing events, the kiss goodnight. The events that begin this chain of events are the nighttime spectaculars, the ones with fireworks and stories. They’re a warm hug in the night, the perfect cuddle. Today, I’m going to rank the various options, and I’m even going to include one from the competition.
6. Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular
Disney’s Hollywood Studios has an embarrassment of riches with regards to nighttime shows. Both of their evening exhibitions are spectacular, something true of all nightly shows ranked here.
Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular is exactly what it sounds like, a celebration of the most beloved movie franchise of all-time. At the Disney Chinese Theater, Disney uses giant projection screens and digital technology to display some of the most thrilling moments from the franchise. They also shoot fireworks into the blackened sky.
Oddly, these fireworks are less important at some of the shows due to the story told, and A Galactic Spectacular is one. You’re here to celebrate your love of Star Wars with kindred spirits. The show is quite good, just a bit basic and predictable. The problem with this list is that everything is worthy of your attention. Something has to be last, though.
5. Rivers of Light
For many years, Disney’s Animal Kingdom lacked a nighttime exhibition of its own. That (finally) changed in 2017 when the much anticipated, long delayed Rivers of Light finally debuted. Critics immediately assailed it as not worth the wait, a complaint I consider unfair.
Rivers of Light is the brightest, most colorful show in Orlando. The lotus floats that “bloom” with giant splashes of water in the air are breathtaking to view. While I’ll cede that the story is a bit incoherent, I just don’t think it matters much. While at Disney, theme park tourists want to feel swept away by the proceedings. Rivers of Light is wonderful in doing so, reinforcing how special it is that guests can now visit a functional zoo after dark.
4. The Nighttime Lights at Hogwarts Castle
I’m going to say two things about Universal Resort Orlando. The first is that I am a huge Harry Potter fanatic, a grown man with gray in my beard who proudly owns a wand. As a muggle, I can’t use it, but I still look at it in the display case. Its presence makes me smile. The second is that I liked the previous Universal nightly exhibition, Universal’s Cinematic Spectacular: 100 Years of Movie Memories more.
Yes, I know that this sounds like sacrilege. I’m a diehard movie lover who adored the historical celebration of Universal’s greatest films. I feel the same way about Harry Potter, and I readily acknowledge that the special effects are night and day better now.
The sticking point is that the previous show lasted for 20 minutes. The Hogwarts projection show lasts maybe six minutes. Sure, it’s shiny and somehow fresher than the Star Wars offering across town. It’s just not fully fleshed out enough for me. A better Harry Potter exhibition would have competed for the top spot.