According to Disney, the IllumiNations firework show encapsulates what it means to be human at all moments in time. But what does that mean for your trip to Walt Disney World, and should you take the time to fit it into your schedule?

What is IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth?

Not to be confused with Disney’s previous light show, titled simply IllumiNations, Reflections of Earth consists of both fireworks and light display. What started as a celebration of Beauty and the Beast’s dancing candlestick, Lumiere, in 1982, quickly transformed throughout the years, going through five iterations before settling on Reflections of Earth as their main show in 1999.

The show is broken up into three sections:

  1. The Earth Is Born
  2. The Triumph of Life
  3. Hope for the Future

As far as Disney night shows go, this follows a basic three act plot structure. Compared to longer shows, which normally boast five acts, Reflections of Earth favors large bursts of energy over the slow burn of traditional fireworks shows. Though it’s shorter than most other displays, it manages to fit three full themes into the structure.

The past, present, and future of humanity are all represented equally, speaking to the overall theme of the importance of humanity’s relationship with Earth. The three acts of the show will be detailed below, but for now, know that the spectacular lasts about 12 minutes and includes a score meant to arouse excitement and understanding in the viewer.

Epcot hosts the show at the World Showcase daily at 9:00 pm. It is probably best to spend your day elsewhere, then arrive at Epcot an hour or two before the show starts. You can grab dinner before you watch the show—there are plenty to choose from at the Showcase—then spend some time finding a good spot to watch the show. Anywhere along the inner perimeter of the park near the water should give you a clear view. Just make sure to get to a spot before the crowds do!

What are the three acts?

Lulling you into a false sense of peace, the lights all around the World Showcase turn off. A small speech is given on the overhead speakers while soothing music plays. The show begins loudly with intense music. One firework soars through the air like a meteor, then explodes above the water. After this, fireworks go off nonstop. This is the “The Earth Is Born” portion of the show.

Meant to simulate Earth’s creation, red and orange fireworks accompany an original score akin to Fantasia’s final scene. It isn’t quite so ominous but conjures similar feelings. Though the smoke makes it hard to see the chains of fireworks, it gives the right effect. Just be aware that the smoke is supposed to be there, and that the fireworks haven’t caused any kind of fire. Little ones may find this part of the show most frightening, so be sure to pack some earplugs or noise-cancelling headphones if your child gets scared around a lot of high intensity action.

After “The Earth Is Born” comes “The Triumph of Life,” where things start to calm down. The colors shift to blues and greens, and the music turns to a delicate flute and peaceful strings. A lit globe floats to the center of the water while strobe lights flash behind it. This globe weighs a whopping 350,000 pounds and is the world’s first spherical display system.

The strobe lights can be a bit overwhelming if you look at them for too long, so try to shift your gaze as much as you can. For the moment, it is safe to take the headphones off. From this point on, the show drops in intensity tremendously, shifting into a peaceful display of lights. Admittedly, the show starts to lull here. The Earth spins as small water fountains spray jets of lit water in the air, but that’s about it. It is a good time to explain to your kids the importance of the event and how it relates to them if they are old enough.

A string of fireworks will go off to signify the shift about to come. The denouement of “The Triumph of Life” section consists of a more synchronized fireworks display. Again, the smoke occasionally overwhelms the sky, but for the most part the show is entertaining. It isn’t nearly as intense as the beginning and gets you ready for the big finale, “Hope for the Future,” which is signaled by the opening of the globe into a flower with a lit torch in the center and more meteor-like fireworks.

The show ends with a song called “We Go On,” and ends on one final burst of fireworks. It is truly a beautiful display and unlike any other Disney night show. This show tells a story with its fireworks, leading the viewer from the past into the present, and from the present into the future. The world sits in the center, symbolizing the Earth’s constant presence through every hardship time presents. It is a reminder of our impact on Earth, and that we have the power to make a better tomorrow for all. What more could you want from a fireworks show?

How to fit Illuminations into your day?

The best way to visit Disney World is to have a general idea of which parks you’re going to and on which days you’re going. Planning two park trips in one day is certainly feasible if you are up to the task. If you and your family prefer to float around the parks with no set plan, it might be best to spend the day relaxing at the pool before heading out to Epcot in the evening.

If you prefer planning out your trip down to every bathroom break, try going to a lower maintenance park in the day, then head over to Epcot after a short break back at the hotel. Hollywood Studios is usually a safe bet. Magic Kingdom has the most people at any given time, and the Animal Kingdom can get crowded around midday; Hollywood Studios remains steady over the course of the day. Plus, there’s plenty of shows you can see—The Little Mermaid easily has the most times available—and a variety of kid-friendly foods to choose from.

Keep in mind that there will never be a completely dead day at Disney, so always come prepared to take on large amounts of people. Luckily, Reflections of Earth is a daily show, so you can fit it anywhere in your schedule. It is probably best to pick a day where you do not have much else going on. Going to fireworks after a busy day in the parks can put a damper on the experience, especially if you find yourself rushing from place to place. Reflections of Earth lends itself best to a calm mindset, so try your best to relax leading up to the show.

The best way to manage a double-park day is to make it back to your hotel well before the dinner hour. That way, you’ve got plenty of time to recharge before heading back out to see IllumiNations. Try to put your kids down for a nap around now, too. There’ll be a lot less protesting later in the night if they sleep off the morning’s activities. Epcot has plenty to do in the evenings; most of the attractions close around 8:40 pm, so there isn’t much down time between activities and finding a good spot for the show.

Because the show is so short, it might be nice to get some ice cream from L’Artisan des Glaces in France, or some fresh gelato at Gelati in Italy. For the grown-ups in the group, Gelati also serves Italian wine and hot espresso.

A FastPass+ is offered for the show, but you don’t need one to watch. All you need is a valid park admissions ticket. Having a FastPass+ is not necessary for this show. It’s an open area with no lines, and you can see the fireworks from anywhere in the park. You can even see them from the Boardwalk, though you may miss some of the finer details.

What should I bring?

The length of the show is both a pro and a con. It doesn’t last very long, but because of that you shouldn’t need to bring anything other than what you’d take along with you for an average day out at a park. Here are some good items to keep in mind for the occasion:

Water. This one is a given. Always keep yourself hydrated traipsing around in the Florida heat! Even the cold days are still considered hotter than most.

A stroller. If you have little ones, a stroller can be extremely helpful for firework shows. You can set up shop pretty much anywhere there is room. At the World Showcase, your kids should be able to see everything from where they are sitting.

Some earplugs or headphones. As mentioned earlier, the beginning of the show gets loud. Kids should have some ear protection for a normal firework show, but this one in particular gets incredibly loud.

A light jacket or blanket. Florida is hot, admittedly, but it can get chilly in the evenings, especially next to the water. It doesn’t need to be anything excessive, just plan on it being a little colder than during the day.

A stuffed animal. If your child gets scared by fireworks, it can be helpful to bring along one of their stuffed toys. It’s always nicer to go through something scary with a soft object in your hands. It will save you some tears if your child has a hard time around intense situations.

How can I take the magic home?

If you can’t get enough of the show, then there are ways to take bits of the show home with you. The soundtrack is available to purchase online at various retailers as well as in the park. It should be available at any of the shops at Epcot. The country-specific shops may not have it, but the general Disney stores probably will.

The final song of the show, “We Go On,” is performed by Kellie Coffey. The song sums up the entire show beautifully with its message of humanity’s contribution to the future. Of all the songs in the show, “We Go On” is the only with lyrics, but it doesn’t feel out of place among the rest. As previously mentioned, videos of the show are everywhere, so reliving the magic is just a click away.

Disney also advertises many glow-in-the-dark accessories. From glowing Mickey ears to Sorcerer Mickey’s wand, there’s a souvenir for everyone. Of course, there are the regular accessories available, too. Glow sticks are usually available at night time events. The ears are likely more expensive than the glow sticks, but they are a great reminder of your time watching Reflections of Earth.

Is it worth the trip?

All in all, IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth is worth the experience if it’s something you really want to see. It’s the perfect end to a relaxing day. Like with any set of Disney vacation tips, if you can’t find the time to fit it into your schedule, then you can probably find something similar that checks the same boxes.

IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth is a great show to go to if you’ve exhausted the Magic Kingdom fireworks shows, and it takes half the time. But if you find yourself too tired after your days out at the parks, it is not a detrimental miss. There are plenty of videos of the show online that you can watch. Although, seeing it in person certainly is a magical experience.

Reflections of Earth takes the traditional fireworks show and breaks the mold. The original score sends you on a journey through chaos and lands you safely in an ordered world. It is an experience for the ages.

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