Many people go to Walt Disney World without realizing how much it has to offer beyond theme park rides. I’ve known people who have gone to the Magic Kingdom, assuming that was all there was to Disney World! When I inquired about how they liked Animal Kingdom or Epcot, they looked at me like they didn’t have any idea what I was talking about. They didn’t realize Disney World is actually four theme parks in one, plus the shopping/entertainment complex of Downtown Disney, plus the Boardwalk, plus two water parks! So it’s not really surprising, I guess, that people are unaware of what Disney offers beyond theme park rides.
I’ve always been impressed with the free live entertainment options at Disney World. Once you’ve paid your park admission, you can go on any ride or see any show for no extra cost. Don’t get me wrong; I love the rides here. But after rushing all over a park, and standing in lines for a few hours, I just want to slow down for a little while. Shows allow you to do that.
I find going to shows as a solo traveler to be a great way to meet other people, too. It doesn’t take much to turn to whoever is sitting or standing next to you and make a comment like “Great music, huh?” Plus as just one person, you can squeeze into a seat right up front, where a party of four might not be able to. (There are advantages to going solo!) Here are just a few (my favorites, naturally) of the great entertainment options you can enjoy on Disney property, listed by park:
Disney’s Hollywood Studios
Probably the #1 entertainment show in this park for most people is Fantasmic! I feel like a bit of a Grinch saying I didn’t care for it all that much. I remember thinking it wasn’t really worth the long wait involved. Your mileage may vary. But I did love the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular, which involves some thrilling stunts—gun fights, chase scenes, big explosions; it’s like watching a live action version of Raiders of the Lost Ark, minus Harrison Ford and Karen Allen. Good stuff.
The Magic Kingdom is a classic park with some of my favorite rides, but the best live entertainment it provides is its parades, including the Main Street Electrical Parade, the Move It! Shake It! Celebrate It! Street Party, and the Celebrate a Dream Come True Parade. There’s also the Dream Along with Mickey party. If you’re not a parade person, you’ll find better choices elsewhere.
Animal Kingdom has by far my favorite live entertainment in the Festival of the Lion King show. I’m not exaggerating when I say that if you visit Disney World and don’t go see the Lion King, what a tragedy that is. The show is extremely well-done and uplifting. I’ve seen it several times, and it never gets old. Featuring characters from Disney’s Lion King (Simba, Timon, and Pumbaa), along with some outstanding singers and acrobats, and giant animatronic jungle animals, it’s a feast for the senses.
By far my favorite park for live entertainment is Epcot. It has so many great bands and other live entertainment options, I just can’t choose one. So here are all my favorites from Epcot:
Off Kilter is a celtic rock band, complete with bagpiper Jamie Holton (a founder of the group) and some badass drums and guitar from guys wearing kilts. Mark Weldon is co-founder, lead singer, and plays the bass guitar. Rounding out the “front men” is Randy Holbrook on lead guitar. People walking through Epcot can’t help but stop and watch and jam out to their music.
The British Revolution replaced the former Beatles tribute band in England, and I have say they’re a definite improvement. They play classic rock songs from a variety of British rock acts, including Elton John, the Beatles, the Police, Queen, Pink Floyd, the Rolling Stones, the Who, and more. They’re talented musicians and singers, and a lot easier to look at than a bunch of middle-aged guys wearing bowl-cut wigs. (Shallow, but true.)
Mo’Rockin is a—wait for it—Moroccan rock band with a distinctly Middle Eastern sound and a belly dancer. Technically, the kind of music they play is “world fusion”, so you’ll hear snippets of sounds from many different parts of the world. They play right outside the Tangierine Cafe, so you can grab a bite to eat and sit in the courtyard while chilling out to the sounds. I know, I had you at “belly dancer,” didn’t I?
You can hear the Taiko Drummers (“Matsuriza”) in Japan several countries away (Epcot World Showcase countries, of course). I am a sucker for taiko drums (which may partially explain my mad love for the soundtrack of Battlestar Galactica, where they’re used liberally). I never get tired of watching them, but I bet they get tired. Taiko drumming looks like quite the arm workout. I’m betting they don’t have to worry about tricep jiggle.
Japan also features Miyuki, aka “the candy lady,” who creates the most detailed figurines–like dragons and flamingos–out of soft rice dough in less time than it takes me to toast bread. It’s riveting to watch. She will take requests, too. There’s not much space around her performance area, so get there early to get a good spot.
Mariachi Cobre is a 12-piece mariachi band that plays in Mexico. You’ll probably recognize some of their traditional music if you’ve heard any Mexican music at all in your life. For some reason, Mexico always feels like the hottest country in World Showcase, so I have to hand it to these guys standing out there in the sun wearing their suits. Whew.
As you can see, regardless of your tastes in live entertainment, you should be able to find something on Disney property that appeals to you. For those of you who have been there before, what’s your favorite live entertainment?