Mike's Top Ten Nighttime Attractions

by Mike Scopa, contributing writer

Mike's Top Ten Nighttime Attractions

In 1990 I had finally convinced some very close friends to take their four children to Orlando to experience Walt Disney World (WDW). I was probably more excited for them than they were for themselves. I knew what was waiting for them—they didn't.

It seemed like the right time for the family—two daughters, 12 and 13, and two sons, 8 and 10—to make a trip to Florida. I was practically giddy when they drove off in their van and was even more excited anticipating their return so I could hear about their adventures.

Boy, was I in for a surprise.

They never gave WDW a fighting chance. Here is what happened.

They drove 1,500 miles and spent just three days in the parks; one day at Magic Kingdom; one day at EPCOT; and one day at, what are we calling it, or yeah, Disney's Hollywood Studios (what a misnomer—but I'm sure we'll discuss that at a later time).

Anyway, you can imagine that visiting each park for only one day would make for a hectic schedule, especially when not arriving at the turnstile until about 11 a.m. Not a good formula for success.

Did I mention that what really floored me was their answer when I asked them how they liked "Fantasy in the Sky," "Illuminations," and "Sorcery in the Sky."

They asked, "What are those?" I kind of raised my voice an octave and replied, "Why, the nighttime fireworks, of course!"

"Oh! We left the parks around 5 or 6 p.m. We didn't think it was worth going at night." I was stunned.

I started putting this all together: visiting each park only once, spending maybe eight hours at the most in each park, and never seeing the parks at night.

No wonder they were less than enthusiastic about their trip.

This is a true story. To this day this family, even the kids who are all in their 20s, have yet to return to WDW. They did not stay on property. Instead they stayed in some motel in Kissimmee and continue to rave about Old Town. Honest.

Unfortunately, I've heard several stories like this regarding people who visit Orlando and never get to experience the WDW theme parks during the nighttime hours—including one of my own family members.

There are many reasons why guests would not want to venture out at night. For one thing many people are wary about being out after dark—period, much less being out at night in unfamiliar territory.

There are also those who are just early birds and conk out in the early evening and are just set in their routine of "early to bed and early to rise." For those who visit WDW and subscribe to that saying, let me add one more line "...will cause Disney Magic to pass you by."

Today, I want to focus on the different personalities of the WDW theme parks by attempting to list what I consider to be the top 10 nighttime attractions at the resort.

I will not be including any of the nighttime fireworks spectaculars, as my objective is to point out how attractions seem different at night than they do during the day.

Split Personalities

Each WDW theme park has two personalities: A daytime personality and a nighttime one. As the sun settles and night approaches, each park takes on a special after-dark environment, which makes the theme park touring experience so much different than what it is during the daytime.

At night, the parks proudly display their majestic lights. Let's face it; there is no comparison to Main Street USA at night with all the outlined lights along the shops. And have you ever sat along the World Showcase Lagoon as dusk settles in and night follows right behind?

Getting back to lights, how about the lights along Sunset Boulevard at MGM ... oops ... erg the Studios? Finally, the next time you get a chance to walk around Disney's Animal Kingdom at night promise me you'll take a photo of The Tree of Life all lit up.

We always have heard that Walt loved to be in Disneyland at night. There was something magical about the nighttime park environment.

I think a lot of people would agree with him because there always seem to be more people in the parks between 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. than at any other time of the day.

Many people have more energy at night, especially during the summer without the sun beating down on them.

As previously mentioned, there are also such treasures as nighttime parades and fireworks spectaculars that await the night owls who visit the theme parks.

In addition to each park having its own special nighttime personality, there are also those attractions that demonstrate this change.

That's what we will focus on now. There are some attractions that just seem so different at night, so I'm ready to take a stab at listing what I think are the top 10 nighttime attractions at WDW.

You know the drill. I will count down from No. 10 and, no doubt, you will agree with me on some and disagree with me on others.

The fun is thinking about these attractions and sharing our thoughts and opinions on why we like some over others.

So let's begin.

10. Liberty Square Riverboat and WDW Railroad (tie) – I really enjoy riding the Liberty Square Riverboat about 15 minutes before the nighttime parade (presently "Spectromagic") begins. It's quite a sight to watch the parade coming through Liberty Square from the upper level of the boat. After a long day in the park riding the Riverboat amounts to a change of pace and can be very relaxing at night. Also, not as many guests will take in the Riverboat at night, so crowds are not an issue; heck there's a parade to watch you know. Yes, riding this boat at night is quite different than riding it during the day. The same can be said for the WDW Railroad. Riding through the thicket at night is much more adventurous than riding during the day.

9. Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular – In the early days of this attraction I never went to any show before 6 p.m. At night everything seemed to be a bit more enjoyable, especially the opening scene. I looked forward to entering the stadium at dusk and then leaving the show and finding the park in its entire nighttime splendor. The special effects seemed a bit more spectacular at night. Alas, I don't think you will find too many opportunities to see this attraction at night, but if you do, give it a shot.

8. Twilight Zone Tower of Terror – OK the reason why this is not rated higher is because it is only for a few seconds while on this attraction that you realize it's nighttime. The moment you pop out and look over the rest of the park is the first time you are reminded that the Sun has retired for the day. It is quite different to pop out over the park at night than it is during the day. Remember, you are 13 stories above the park—at night!

7. Test Track – Imagine whizzing around at night on this attraction. I'm sure it will feel quite different to you at night than during the day. Why? Simply because at night it always seem like you are going faster than you are during the day. Try it and you'll see.

6. Tomorrowland Transit Authority – This is one of those attractions that can help you unwind at the end of a long day in the park. If you have never tried this attraction at night you have no idea what you're missing. This attraction gives you a spectacular nighttime view of Tomorrowland and is a great attraction from which to take different type of photos of Tomorrowland and Magic Kingdom. For an even more interesting experience, try riding this attraction during "Wishes."

5. Jungle Cruise – This attraction is quite underrated as a nighttime attraction. During the day it's a fun experience but at night it's so much more. The Audio-Animatronics seem so much better at night, especially with the lighting. There's just so much more to enjoy at night: the backside of water, the journey through the "ruins," and even the old jokes seem better.

4. Aladdin's Magic Carpet Ride/Dumbo/Astro-Orbiter (tie) – This is a three-way tie simply because these three attractions are basically the same type of attraction. The slight difference is two-fold. First, they are all in different lands within Magic Kingdom (Adventureland, Fantasyland and Tomorrowland, respectively) and secondly, they are not all of the same height. Those differences do not matter. What matters here is that at night these attractions allow you to see Magic Kingdom so much differently than during the day. During the day there are too many distractions for you to key on one area. Darkness allows you to really concentrate on what you are seeing and what you are seeing is a park with spectacular lighting effects.

3. Splash Mountain – Everyone whose been on this attraction knows the view you enjoy just before the big drop on Splash Mountain. For those of you who keep your eyes open, you get to see practically all of The Magic Kingdom before plunging down. Imagine what that view looks like at night. It's the combination of the darkness and park lights that make this attraction such a different experience.

2. Expedition Everest – I think it will be at this point that some of you may find yourself disagreeing with my No. 2 and No. 1 choices. Everest, of course, is one of the top thrill rides in WDW and there are several arguments for selecting this attraction as the top nighttime attraction. First, there is a spectacular view as you climb up that first hill. Imagine the view at night. Secondly, Everest is fast. When you shoot out of the mountain and hit the dark, you feel like you are going much faster than you really are. For thrill seekers, it is probably the No. 1 nighttime attraction; but it's not mine.

1. Big Thunder Mountain Railroad – I really have no problem with anyone choosing Expedition Everest over Big Thunder as the No. 1 nighttime attraction at WDW. There is a specific reason why I prefer Big Thunder to Expedition Everest. Yes, I know Expedition Everest is higher. Yes, I realize Expedition Everest is faster. There's no denying that. However, Big Thunder is a longer attraction and that means guests enjoy the nighttime views much more than they would at Expedition Everest, and thus it just edges Everest as the top nighttime attraction; at least in my eyes. However, I reserve the right to change my mind.

Next time

You've heard the phrase (or question) "What would Walt think?"

I'm going to try and answer that question.

Class dismissed.