SATURDAY SIX: The Six Best SHOWS at Walt Disney World

by on August 1, 2015 19 Comments

Filed under: Animal Kingdom, Dining, Drinking, Epcot, Hollywood Studios, In the Parks, Magic Kingdom, Saturday Six, Walt Disney World (FL)

This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at Six Best SHOWS at Walt Disney World. Here at the SATURDAY SIX we have done several articles looking at the best-of-the-best attractions, resorts, and restaurants at Walt Disney World, but we haven’t spent much time on one area they do better than any theme park in the world: shows. The live shows across the WDW parks range from the smaller scale and intimate experience of the Dapper Dans singing on Main Street USA, to the elaborately choreographed Trolley shows, all the way to the Broadway caliber Finding Nemo – The Musical at Animal Kingdom. So grab a seat – hopefully in air conditioning, and let’s begin the countdown of the absolute best shows starting with…

# 6 – Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular! (Disney’s Hollywood Studios)

Sorry to disappoint any Shia LaBeouf fans, but one reason for Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectaculars‘ amazing 25+ year run at Disney’s Hollywood Studios is because it is based around the iconic Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Arc film. The show recreates several famous scenes from the movie while explaining how they were accomplished. It is a fascinating look at the movie making process (one of the only things of its kind at a “studios” park) and has a fair share of good natured humor along the way. It speaks volumes to the overall quality of the show that it has remained almost completely unchanged since its debut in 1989 and regularly packs its 2000 seat stadium.

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Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular! (photo by Brandon Glover)

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Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular! (photo by Brandon Glover)

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Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular!

# 5 – Beauty and the Beast – Live on Stage (Disney’s Hollywood Studios)

Beauty and the Beast – Live on Stage was the first time a live stage show made its debut at the theme parks at the exact same time it’s animated counterpart was hitting the silver screen. Performing at DHS in the Theater of the Stars since 1991, the show has all the memorable songs from the movie and condenses the entire story into less than 25 minutes. Unlike the Frozen Sing-Along Celebration that uses video clips to transition scenes, Beauty and the Beast is a straight out Broadway-style stage show featuring live singing, choreographed dancing, and all your favorite characters. A not to be missed show.

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Beauty and the Beast – Live on Stage. (photo by Brian Carey)

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Gaston! (photo by Mike Sperduto)

# 4 – Voices of Liberty (Epcot)

Located at the American Adventure pavilion in Epcot’s World Showcase, the Voices of Liberty are an 9 person a cappella group that will have your heart swelling with pride as they belt out some of the most well known songs paying tribute to our country’s rich history. The playlist includes: “America the Beautiful,” “This Land is Your Land,” “This is My Country,” “oh, Susanna,” “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” and “Yankee Doodle Dandy.” If your heart isn’t pounded out of your chest in pride after one set, you’re doing it wrong.

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The inspirational Voices of Liberty. (photo by Mike Sperduto)

# 3 – Magic Kingdom Welcome Show

There are many things that parks across the world could learn from Walt Disney World, but just one of the many things the Magic Kingdom does to make it extra special for guests is a Welcome Show performed every morning before “rope drop” (be sure to note whether or not Magic Kingdom has Extra Magic Hours on a particular day, because on EMH days the Welcome Show is performed before that and not the regular park opening.) At the front and center of the park citizens of Main Street USA welcome guests to the most magical place on Earth. After a rousing “Good Morning” song and dance, the Walt Disney World Railroad arrives with several Disney characters (including Mickey Mouse of course.) This is a truly special moment that separates Magic Kingdom from the pack and is the perfect example of The Disney Difference.

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The Magic Kingdom Welcome Show. (photo by Morgan Crutchfield)

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The Magic Kingdom Welcome Show. (photo by Morgan Crutchfield)

# 2 – Finding Nemo – The Musical (Animal Kingdom)

In short, Finding Nemo – The Musical is a one of a kind experience. With world class puppets (by Michael Curry, who also created the puppets for the legendary Tapestry of Nations parade at Epcot and the amazing new Tales of Beedle the Bard stage shows in Diagon Alley,) fantastic digital backdrops, and new songs created just for this show, Finding Nemo is an unforgettable attraction. The puppetry used by the actors during the show along with the voice work is hands-down the best on property. There’s also something to be said for being able to enjoy a 35 minute show in air conditioning during an average day at the Animal Kingdom when the weather hits its usual 150 degrees with 200% humidity.

Brian McNichols – of Pardon the Pixie Dust and the eGuide to WDW bars and lounges  fame – has gone on the record and said that Finding Nemo – The Musical is THE best stage show at WDW. But could there possibly be something better?

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Finding Nemo – The Musical. (photo by Brian Carey)

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Finding Nemo – The Musical. (photo by Brian Carey)

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Finding Nemo – The Musical. (photo by Brian McNichols)

# 1 – Festival of the Lion King (Animal Kingdom)

Choosing between Finding Nemo –  The Musical and Festival of the Lion King is a tough one, but Lion King has a couple intangibles that Nemo can’t touch. For one, the Lion King stage show now takes place in Harambe Village, one of the single greatest “lands” at any theme park in the world. While Nemo has good songs, Lion King comes from the same era as Beauty and the Beast and contains some of the most well known tunes in the Disney songbook (in fact Lion King had three of the five songs nominated for Best Original Song at the 1994 Academy Awards including the winner Can You Feel The Love Tonight.) One of the only downsides to Finding Nemo is that the show does slow down during some parts, which could make some of the younger set restless, whereas as Lion King is always moving along at a brisk pace. You can’t go wrong with either choice, and Animal Kingdom having both is a true blessing. Once the Rivers of Light show debuts, along with the upcoming Pandora: James Cameron’s World of Avatar joining Kilimanjaro Safaris and Expedition Everest, we’re looking at Animal Kingdom becoming one of the top five theme parks in the entire world. We’ll drink a sugar cane mojito at the Dawa bar to that!

And ALWAYS remember, Animal Kingdom is NOT a “half day park.”

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Festival of the Lion King. (photo by Brandon Glover)

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Pumbaa at Festival of the Lion King. (photo by Brandon Glover)

HONORABLE MENTION: The Dapper Dans (Magic Kingdom)

An opening day staple of the Magic Kingdom, the Dapper Dans are a Disney brand as iconic as Space Mountain or Cinderella Castle. The barbershop quartet can be found up and down Main Street USA entertaining guests with their various harmonic melodies.

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Dapper Dans. (photo by Mike Sperduto)

So there you have it: the Six Best SHOWS at Walt Disney World. See you next weekend for the latest installment of the SATURDAY SIX, where we’ll look at something fun from the world of Disney and Universal. If you enjoyed yourself, be sure to check out The Magic, The Memories, and Merch! articles, or, for your listening pleasure, check out the Pardon the Pixie Dust podcast. You can also follow Your Humble Author on Twitter (@derekburgan)

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Step aside William Shakespeare, you HACK, there is a new author in town.

If you enjoyed this article, you will surely like the following:

The Six Best Attractions at Walt Disney World

Six Things We STILL Can’t Believe Happened at WDW

Six Most Unique Dining Experiences at WDW

Six Outrageous Food Items at WDW

Special Thanks to crack staff photographer Brandon Glover, photo wunderkind Mike Sperduto, Fantasmical Brian Carey, DVC Central SUPERSTAR Morgan Crutchfield, and blogger to the stars Megan Stump for their invaluable assistance with this article. Be sure to also check out Brandon on The Park Blogger podcast with co-hosts Aengus Mackenzie and Brian Carey. 

FINAL PLUG! Did you know The Unofficial Guide to Universal Orlando has a special edition of the SATURDAY SIX in it? Finally, someone came up with an actual reason to read a book. PRE-ORDER this baby now! (For every copy sold, a percentage of the profits* go towards buying a DVD of the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train rap video.)

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Posted on August 1, 2015

19 Responses to “SATURDAY SIX: The Six Best SHOWS at Walt Disney World”

  • I’m constantly hearing rumors of Beauty and the Beast closing “soon” but it never happens… Any insight?

    • Those rumors seem to constantly make the round, with a version of Tangled or Aladdin from California as a replacement but it’s hard to imagine with everything going on at DHS that they would also remove B&TB. Fans of Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular should probably see that show sooner that later though…

  • Thank you. Spot on. 🙂
    My extra honorable mention: Sonny Eclipse. We never miss his entire show. (“I stayed up all night to see the sun ruse…and then it dawned on me!”)

    • Sonny Eclipse has to be near the top of a list of WDW’s underrated gems.

    • Seriously, Sonny is one of my favorite details in Tomorrowland. I was really disappointed when the show was under refurbishment last February. Mostly, because there was no sign with a terrible pun announcing the closure.

  • Two words. Yeehaw Bob!!

  • I really enjoyed the Nemo show at AK. You can tell which kids’ parents skipped Chapter 1 on the DVD by the shrieking when Nemo’s mom is attacked.

  • Leave off the list: Lion King; It’s regularly a very long wait on the very uncomfortable bleacher seat. The acrobatics are cool though.

    Put on: Fantasmic; fireworks and mickey and beer sales right there;

    Leave off: Beauty and the beast; they’re not really singing!! It’s just the main actors singing; the chorus doesn’t. And it can be really hit or miss on the dancer synchronization quality

    Put on: The stunt driving show Lights, Motors, Action! Extreme Stunt Show
    They’re really driving fully customized cars and doing jumps and motorcycle tricks etc… This one can be hot and a long walk. But get your FP+/ (or find a way to talk yourself into FP+ line) and some drinks/ snacks.

    Touring tip: The shows where they allow food or don’t actively police eating (because it’s outdoors) are a great place to eat without taking any time out of park touring.

    Another “show” to put on: Any EPCOT special concert series. Those are really good usually.

  • It really seems like I’m in the minority on this one, but we (2 adults, 30ish) did not enjoy the Nemo show. The puppets and sets were very impressive, granted. But we found the writing and music were SO bad and cheesy (yes, even for a Disney park show), we just couldn’t help but mock it. That movie just doesn’t work in a half hour.

    Lion King, however… I was absolutely AMAZED at everything going on in that show. The costumes, dancing, sets, singers. I’ve performed in theme park shows before, and I very rarely am as thoroughly impressed by anything as much as I was with this show.

    I definitely agree with Ron on doubling showtime and mealtime, and Beauty and the Beast is a good opportunity for that – lots of open seating and turkey legs and barbecue nearby. However, it seems that he and I have very different tastes in shows. Fantasmic just confused me – it was like they were trying to make a plot but just didn’t have enough to fill the time so they just added fluff (the water screens are cool for like a minute, but why are they the only thing going on for so long?) from a fairly obscure franchise (I felt like half the show was based on Pocahontas, which I haven’t even seen, and had nothing to do with the primary Mickey/evil plot). I found the Disneyland version much better, though that may have had a lot to do with being able to sit so close, allowing a more engaging experience. Also, LMA felt like something from a state fair – not in quality (it was well done) but just in content. No plot or anything (though to its credit, it didn’t try for one), just cars and explosions. If you like Fast & Furious movies, you’ll probably like that show. I’m sure it’s popular (they’ve made like 12 of those movies) but (like anything else) it’s not for everyone.

    BUT, one major detractor for both Fantasmic (@WDW) and LMA that will probably make me never see them again – getting out! Those are both HUGE audiences with few performances in a park that doesn’t have all that much else going on (and seemingly less by the week), and they both only have one way out of the seating area. Expect 15 minutes of shuffling out like herded cattle.

    I’m also a fan of IllumiNations (as a firework/pyrotechnic show; I don’t see it as having any kind of story), but I know that’s a whole ‘nother discussion…

  • Great article Derek, and I agree with all selections except placing Finding Nemo at #2. Sorry but I have to agree with Tom on this one – the puppetry is amazing but the songs – the songs are terrible. Finding Nemo is not a musical, and adding some very (I cant even say mediocre) poor songs to make it into such was a big mistake. I would go again and again to see the show, if it were just the puppetry and storytelling, but with the songs in place I wont be going again, its just TOO cheesy.

    • agree on Nemo – when it started, my wife and I were excited by the puppets and set design. Then the music started. So loud, both my children were covering their ears screaming. We were crying for a different reason. Agree on Lion King though, and that in spite of having high expectations from a friend’s recommendation.

      But my tastes otherwise lean toward all the Epcot street performers.

  • by Ruth Woodhouse on August 4, 2015, at 8:47 am EDT

    I am with Tom on this (wish we were 30ish) – didn’t like the Nemo show much but we absolutely love the Lion King especially now its in its new situ. I have been looking out for the Dapper Dans every time we go and saw them for the first time last December – they were fantastic! Have yet to see the Welcome Show but its on my bucket list! I am slightly worried that lots of things might have gone by the next time I go (13 months to go). Must make sure I do and see everything just in case its the last time lol.

  • I hereby call to order the first meeting of the “It’s OK to Dislike the Nemo Musical” support group. 🙂

  • Our favorite show from our last visit was Flights of Wonder if you count that

  • Does anyone know how the welcome show at MK works when the train is being refurbished? We have never made it to the park prior to rope drop (close, but not quite!) but are going to attempt on our next trip in November. . .while the train is going to be down for refurbishment 🙁 Hoping it is still a cool experience for my kids!