Saturday, October 10, 2009

Tip Of The Tail - Getting the Most Out Of Illuminations

There are 3 incredible end-of-the-night fireworks shows at Walt Disney World: Wishes at Magic Kingdom, Fantasmic at Hollywood Studios and Illuminations: Reflections of Earth at Epcot. All three are extremely popular events with some important things you might want to consider before attending. In this first of three installments, we offer some tips about how to best enjoy Illuminations.

1. Find a spot upwind around World Showcase Lagoon
This might be the most important tip. There is a tremendous amount of smoke (and sometimes little bits of debris) as a result of the fireworks and the fire barge in Illuminations. These relatively low-lying effects can create a low cloud that can blow almost directly in your face on a windy evening if you're downwind. It can be very uncomfortable, so find a spot upwind on the World Showcase lagoon. An easy way to determine wind direction (aside from finding a free-flying flag as visual refrence) is to pick up a few blades of grass and release them into the wind. Stand on the side of the lagoon the grass blows away from. It will result in a much more enjoyable experience. The smoke generally isn't a problem - but it can be, as I've personally experienced this in the past - so you might as well play it safe.

2. Arrive early
If you haven't seen Illuminations, it's a good idea to get a spot that has as unobstructed a view as possible. This will entail arriving a good 30-45 minutes before show time. Some people camp out on a bench even earlier than that (especially during very busy days), but unless you need to sit down for an extended period of time, all you really need is a spot right up against the fence to ensure nobody will stand in front of you.

3. Get a spot as close to the "Globe" as possible
There are three spots around the lagoon that I have found are extremely close to the "globe" when it comes to its stopping point during the show:
- The Italy pavilion gondola pier
- Opposite side of the lagoon from the American Pavilion between the two merchandise stores
- The lower seating/table area in the UK behind the Yorkshire County Fish & Chips counter service stand.

This is important because the closer you are to the "globe", the easier it will be to see the images that are on its surface - and it makes that part of Illuminations much more interesting. Now, there's a hitch to all three of these spots: they are very popular spots for parties and group events. They are often reserved, so you may have to find the next best thing...

4. The best of the rest
If you can't get to any of those three, there are several other great spots you can find. A few offer a higher perspective of the show:

- The patio at the top of the stairs at the Canada pavilion
- The bridge at the International Gateway area between the UK and France pavilions
- The walkway/deck at the top of the stairs above the Mitsukoshi Department Store and outside the Teppan Edo/Tokoy Dining restaurants in the Japan pavilion.

Also, the walkway just before you approach the Mexico pavilion (going clockwise around the lagoon) is a quality viewing spot with few obstructions. One other spot that provides a truly interesting vantage point is on the Japan side of American Gardens Theater, between the American and Japan pavilions. This provides a close view of the globe and also has a fireworks "cannon" by the walkway - which is very cool to have shoot off right in front of you during the show.

5. Worst spots for viewing
There aren't many "bad" spots to view Illuminations, but many have obstructed views. Most of Germany, Norway, Morocco, France and the areas between Canada and the UK have tall trees, kiosks and boat docks along the walkway making viewing very challenging. Don't waste your time trying to find a quality spot in these areas as they are few and far between. Save these for if you're desperate and there's nothing else available.

All in all, Illuminations is a fantastic end-of-night fireworks show, and not to be missed if it can be helped. Personally, it is my favorite of the 3 that Walt Disney World offers. The music is wonderful - its score is extremely beautiful and powerful. Take in the sights, sounds and audience reaction during Illuminations: Reflections of Earth and envelope yourself in the atmosphere.

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