My Disney Top 5 - Walt Disney World Live Shows

by Chris Barry, contributing writer

Welcome back to another Disney Top 5.

There's so much to do on a trip to Walt Disney World and there are so many things that the average person doesn't consider when they think about visiting. Sure, they think about the rides and attractions. I'm sure they think about the daily parades. And what trip to Disneyland or Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom would be complete without a nighttime fireworks show? One of the things that I don't think people are generally aware of is that Walt Disney World puts on some fantastic live shows.

Now, lots of theme parks put on live shows. But, as one would imagine, nothing quite compares to the live shows put on by the folks at Disney. I can remember sitting through a live show at Six Flags Great Adventure yeas ago with my daughter. I'm a huge Looney Tunes fan for sure, but I don't think anything could have prepared me for the "Looney Tunes Sings the 80's" show she made me sit through. Did I really need to hear and see Tweety Bird singing Culture Club's "Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?" to Sylvester the Cat? No, of course I didn't. I did it to see the perfect little smile on my perfect little angel's face.

There's a key phrase at work there that makes all the difference – "made me sit through." I was made to sit through The Wiggles live at Six Flags. I was made to sit through Big Bird's Beach Party at Sesame Place. I'm pretty sure I saw some sort of dancing chocolate bars at Hershey Park. We even went to see Care Bears Live! I could hear you shuddering at the mere thought of that travesty! There are many, many more completely forgettable live shows that I've tried to put out of my mind… or worse… ones so horrible that they are burned into my brain forever! But this is what we do for our beloved children, isn't it?

When it comes to Walt Disney World though, the live shows are an important part of the experience and I've honestly never put any of them in the "made me sit through" category. Indeed Walt's intention when he thought up Disneyland on that park bench was to create a place where kids and their parents could have fun together. That thought has carried over to the live shows. They're definitely not just for kids.

So, let's set some parameters before I start the countdown. What constitutes a live show at Walt Disney World? If it's got live people in it, and it takes place at specific times each day, on some sort of stage or in some sort of theater, then I am considering it a live show. A parade, however, for the purposes of this article—is a parade and not a live show, despite it sort of fitting into my given parameters. I'm also not considering the various Streetmosphere-type of performances that take place in the Studios, throughout World Showcase, and on Main Street U.S.A. as live shows. That's a whole other Top 5 that I'll get to someday. So for example: Dream Along With Mickey – live show, Dapper Dan's—not a live show. Yes, they're live. Yes, it's a show of sorts. Just not for my article today. With those guidelines in place, let's take a look at what I consider to be the Top 5 Walt Disney World Live Shows.

5 – Jedi Training Academy

"Learning you are, young Padawan!" Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

This one may surprise a lot of you, but let's remember… this is a personal list. I was nine years old in 1977 when Star Wars hit the theaters. I would have given just about anything to see an actual Stormtrooper or the real live Darth Vader right there in front of me back then. Because of that very fact, I am completely transfixed every time I head over to Star Tours and this show is going on. My kid's have never even participated, but the sight of those Stormtroopers in the flesh (so to speak) always stops me in my tracks. It's my childhood dream realized right there in front of me—and isn't that what Walt Disney World is all about?

4 – Beauty and the Beast – Live on Stage

Beauty and the Beast-Live on Stage in the Theater of the Stars. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

The story goes that in 1992, during an event at New York's famed Waldorf Astoria billed as "Beauty and the Beast – the Magic of the Music," Jerry Orbach, the voice of Lumiere, and Paige O'Hara, the voice of Belle, performed several songs from the film with cast members from the recently launched Disney MGM Studios live show.  After seeing the amazing audience reaction, Jerry supposedly turned to then Disney CEO Michael Eisner and said something to the extent of, "You guys should consider bringing this to the Broadway stage." I hope it's true that we have that casual moment to thank for Beauty's amazing Broadway run. It's the only Broadway show that I actually saw twice and after more than 20 years it's a still a wonder to behold at the Theater of the Stars in Disney's Hollywood Studios. I'm a sucker for the songs, as I think most people are, and the performance never disappoints.

3 – The Cinderella Castle Forecourt Stage Show

Cinderella's Surprise Celebration from 2003. Photo by Chris Barry.

This is where one of the quintessential Disney experiences takes place. The year or the particular show really doesn't matter. It's always a great thing to see and it's always relatively similar. Sitting in front of Cinderella Castle watching the superstars in the Disney animated canon appear before your eyes, you can't help but become a kid again. If you're lucky enough to be sitting there with a child, you will never forget the look in their eyes the first time they see all of them up there on that stage singing and dancing with that beautiful castle as a backdrop. It's got villains. It's got princes and princesses. It's got Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Goofy and Pluto and it's got a little bit of daytime fireworks. Its hot and there are no seats, but how many of us have sat there pretzel-legged sweltering in the Florida sun with a little one in our laps soaking up every sappy, magical moment?

2 – Festival of the Lion King

A scene from one of the last performances in Camp Minnie-Mickey of Festival of the Lion King. Photo by J. Jeff Kober

The songs of Beauty and the Beast always strike a chord for me, but the other film that affects me in quite the same way is The Lion King. This incredible show at Disney's Animal Kingdom is always a home run. As most of us are aware, it's currently on hiatus awaiting its new Harambe digs in the Africa section of the park. I'd hate to have planned a first-time visit to Walt Disney World and found this fantastic show closed! The music, the songs, the characters, the acrobats, the audience participation and much, much more all combine to create a truly dazzling live experience. I can't wait to see it when it returns to it's brand new home in Africa.

1 – Fantasmic!

The Snow White and the Prince barge from Fantasmic! Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

The mother of all Disney theme park live shows has to be Fantasmic! I remember the first time I sat in the Hollywood Hills Amphitheater and witnessed this amazing spectacle; I walked away thinking, "That's probably the most amazing live show of any kind that I've ever seen anywhere." Years later, I stand by that statement. The Imagineers pulled out all the stops with this one. The effects, the music, the water, the fire, Sorcerer Mickey, that incredible dragon, the heartwarming ferry boat full of Disney characters at the end… well… if you've seen it you know. If you haven't then, do yourself a favor and book the Fantasmic Dinner Package so you don't have to wait two hours and make sure you see what I still think is the best live show on Disney property.

There you have it. Remember, these are my selections. This is what I love to see when I'm in my happy little Disney bubble. I'm sure I've left out a few things. I'm sure I can hear many of you out there saying something about a certain little clownfish and his show in Animal Kingdom. Yes, it's pretty impressive and, yes; I have enjoyed Finding Nemo – The Musical. But, I just can't get past the visible puppeteers. I find them totally distracting. I's rather be looking at the amazing puppets than the people standing under them. That's just me. I know it's extremely popular and well loved… but just not so much in this house.

That is, however, the beauty of Walt Disney World and it's entertainment offerings: It has something for everyone; whether it's The Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular or Flights of Wonder or Disney Junior Live on Stage. Some people might even think they should skip the live shows and just concentrate on the rides. I wouldn't advise that. You'll be missing out on something special no matter what show you choose. Disney live shows aren't schlocky. They transport you and transfix you, and who doesn't need to be transformed and transfixed every once in a while? After all, that's why so many of us keep going back year after year isn't it? I can't wait for my next dose of magic and I'm quite sure it will involve one or more, if not all, of these fantastic Walt Disney World live shows.

Do you agree with the choices on this list? Did I leave out your favorite? As usual, I'd like to hear what you have to say. Click on the link below to share your thoughts and I'll see you next time with another Disney Top 5.



  1. By arnoldvb

    Great list! My top 5 live shows would be:

    5 - Voyage of the Little Mermaid

    4 - Beauty and the Beast

    3 - Finding Nemo: The Musical

    2 - Fantasmic

    1 - Festival of the Lion King

  2. By cbarry

    Hard for me to not include Voyage of the Little Mermaid. That is a favorite for sure.

  3. By DisneyGator

    Do you really count Fantasmic! as a live show? I've always categorized it as "nightime fireworks show", along with Wishes, Illuminations, World of Color, etc. I know it's got a lot of live characters in it, but it's difficult for me to place this in the same category as Beauty & the Beast or Festival of the Lion King.

    That said, Nemo: The Musical has to be in there. The songs are amazing, as are the "puppets" and stunts. I actually like this a lot more than Lion King.

    Also can't miss live shows would have to include Voice of Liberty and the World Showcase Players. There isn't a visit to Epcot where I don't see these live show once or more each day.

  4. By cbarry

    Hey Gator,

    I think Fantasmic walks an interesting line. It's clearly not just a fireworks show like Wishes. (I mean no disrespect to Wishes of course.) I think you're right. It is difficult to place it alongside Lion King, etc. But, it is in a theater. It does have lots of live characters and a storyline performed by those characters. It's more show+...I suppose. Live Show 2.0 perhaps? Live Show on Steroids?

    As I said in the article...I can't get past the visible puppeteers on the Nemo stage. They bother me. They bother my wife and my daughter too. I get it. It's a heck of a show, but I'm stuck on that aspect.

  5. By hgkelley

    I haven't had the pleasure of visiting the WDW parks, but, from what I have seen on FL videos, the CA live shows blow the others away. For example: Mickey and the Magical Map; Aladdin; Royal Street Bachelors; Mad T Party; Fantasmic; World of 5 plus one, in honor of the Firehouse street players.

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