When people think of vacations at Walt Disney World in Orlando, the first thing they think of are the rides! The Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean, the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, and it’s a small world are all practically household names! However, each of Disney World’s 4 parks has much more to offer in the entertainment department. All of the parks are home to multiple live shows featuring all sorts of different acts! With how busy the parks are nowadays, and with the cost of Genie+ and Lightning Lanes, shows can be a great way to see the best of what the parks have to offer without waiting hours in lines. The following article contains my picks for the best live shows at Walt Disney World. I’m counting a show as anything with live actors, so this list will exclude most nighttime spectaculars and animatronic-based attractions.
#1 Fantasmic!, Hollywood Studios
Fantasmic! (and Disneyland’s World Of Color) carried the flags as Disney’s best nighttime shows for a long time. Fantasmic! was my go-to show, and I used to watch it at least once a week for a couple of years while working at Disney. The soundtrack, mixed media, and live action make it a truly one-of-a-kind experience that is a must-do for all visitors.
The show follows Mickey Mouse, as guests are invited into his dreams. After a brief period of magic, his nightmares start to overwhelm him, and he needs the help of classic Disney heroes to fight them off. It truly is a “journey beyond your wildest imagination.” The finale of the show is sure to send shivers down your spine for how incredible it is.
I’d be remiss not to mention that Disney’s new version of Fantasmic! “2.0,” has taken away a lot of the flow from the original show. Show segments featuring scenes from Pocahontas were replaced with Moana and Elsa (to the surprise of no one), and the fight scenes don’t quite have as much gusto as they did before. Though the added segments aren’t bad, they muddle the plot of an already somewhat confusing storyline.
The last thing to mention in regard to the show is that despite a stadium seating capacity near 10,000, it fills up quickly. During busy times of the year, the show can be completely full 20-30 minutes before showtime. Disney does, however, sometimes offer two nightly shows, which makes getting in far easier. If there are two shows, the second is always less busy, so you will easily be able to find a seat, even if you show up late. If you want to guarantee a spot, Disney offers a Fantasmic! dining package, where you effectively pay slightly more for a sit-down meal during the day to guarantee a spot in the middle of the theater once nighttime comes.
#2. Festival of the Lion King, Animal Kingdom
Next up near the top of the list is the best overall show that isn’t a nighttime spectacular at Walt Disney World. Festival of the Lion King is located in the Africa part of the park and has performances (normally) starting at 10:00am every hour on the hour. It’s an amazing amalgamation of singing, dancing, visual effects, excitement, and comedy. There’s something in the show that everyone is sure to like.
The show starts out with the entrance of Simba, Timon, and Pumbaa aboard large parade floats before performers swarm the floor and start the celebration. The performances are divided into acts, each featuring a different type of entertainment. Many visitors will name the dancing/aerial act as their favorite, while others might go for the gymnastic feats of the Tumble Monkeys. I personally love the sword and fire twirling (since I’m a big fan of the “Be Prepared” song performed during the segment).
Keep in mind that the show is deservedly very popular. As such, seating can run own 10-15 minutes prior to show time, so it’s good to try to show up a little before that. If you’re catching the first or last show of the day, you might have a little more wiggle room. Seats are set up in 4 different sections surrounding a center stage, so there aren’t really any bad viewing areas. If you end up in the very front, your kids may be able to participate in the show!
This is the most unlikely high tier show of them all. Before I get into an explanation on why it’s good, I’d like to preface the reasoning with a simple fact: I don’t like Frozen. I think the first movie is ridiculously overrated with a lackluster plot, unlikeable characters, and a particularly annoying sidekick. I liked Frozen even less after it took over the Norway Pavilion in EPCOT. I do admit that Frozen 2 is pretty good and was a vast improvement from the first.
That being said, the show is just hilarious, and I’ve seen it enough times to know most of the jokes. Though it’s billed as a sing-along, I’d say it’s more of a stand-up comedy show. The kids will love that they can sing along to the songs and watch movie clips on a huge screen (and see Elsa create some snow), but parents will love the two narrators on stage. Between clips, they quip back and forth with witty and sometimes off-script remarks. The actor pairs usually have amazing chemistry, and they change it up so much that every show is different.
The Frozen Sing-a-long Celebration show is performed inside a large theater, so most of the time, you won’t need to get there too long before show time. Usually shows are on the half hour throughout the day but check to make during your visit!
Staying in Hollywood Studios, next up on the list is the stunt show featuring Indiana Jones and some behind-the-scenes looks at how films are made. This show is extremely popular, and although it’s done on the floor in front of huge stadium-style seating, it can fill up. Be sure to get there about 15 minutes prior to the show to ensure a seat!
Overall, the stunts make this show one of the best, but it’s dropped down a couple of spots on the list because Disney has removed references to guns in the show because they are… dangerous? This change was made after Alec Baldwin shot and killed a director on a movie set. Certain action scenes really relied on firearm action, so the change was a bit abrupt and disruptive. Nevertheless Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular is a must do.
There’s no better to show to quickly see all of your favorite Disney characters and princesses than this magical stage show in front of Cinderella Castle at Magic Kingdom. The show features the fab five (Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Goofy, Pluto), favorites like Elsa and Anna, Rapunzel and Flynn, and Tiana, and all of their corresponding musical numbers. Though the show doesn’t offer all that much in the story or plot departments, it’s still a great way to see lots of characters in a short amount of time. Plus, the show runs throughout the day, offering lots of opportunities to watch!
This show is most in line with a typical musical theater performance than anything else Disney has on property. The show features a cast of singers who pilot puppets of Finding Nemo characters to tell the story of the movie. The theater is all indoors and has some cool sets and props which make the experience a solid one. After leaving, you are guaranteed to have the songs stuck in your head and will be singing them the rest of your day! Since the theater is located between Asia and Dinoland, it’s a great spot to catch a rest during the middle of the day while waiting for a Lightning Lane for one of the rides. Normally, you shouldn’t need to show up too early to still get a decent seat.
As a final inclusion on the list, I’d like to bring a little attention to the live stage performance on Sunset Boulevard. I personally don’t find the show to be the most impressive or special, but many guests will love to watch a stage play of the Beauty and the Beast film. It has all of the singing, choreographed dancing, set changes, and fun costumes. Its location is great because it gives those scared of riding the Tower of Terror or Rockin’ Roller Coaster something else close-by to do while other members of your party enjoy the thrill rides. Keep in mind that the theater is outdoors, so it doesn’t offer quite the same respite as an indoor show might!