Illuminating IllumiNations:
Reflections of Earth

by Rose Folan
ALL EARS® Feature Writer

Feature Article

This article appeared in the August 6, 2002, Issue #150 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)

Earth's creation and evolution in just under 15 minutes -- presented in so spectacular a manner that you will never forget it. A show so impressive that you will want to see it at every opportunity, and each time you see it you will discover something new and amazing. What is it, you ask?

IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth.

You may also be asking, what makes this show so special?

More than Fireworks

First of all, IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth (RoE) is not just a display of fireworks or special effects. It tells a story -- the story of the world.

The story begins with the torches lit up around World Showcase once night falls. There are 19 of them, each one representing a century of the last 2000 years. As the show begins, a narrator tells us the story that's about to unfold and sets the stage for what's to come. By the way, while you may not recognize the narrator's name, Jim Cummings, you'd likely recognize some of the other voices he does for Disney, among them Winnie the Pooh and Tigger, too. Jim's true voice lends itself perfectly to the production, as our wise and trusted storyteller.

After the narration, the torches are blown out, signaling the start of the show. Suddenly, the night sky is ablaze with fire and fireworks, representing the "Big Bang" theory of creation, the birth of the world. A giant globe gradually floats out to the center of the lagoon and a video display is projected on it, portraying the history of mankind. At the end of the show, the globe opens, revealing a 20th torch. And all of this is set to the stirring, inspirational score of composer Gavin Greenaway.

Behind the Story

As far as those special effects go, they are unique and amazing in a way that only Disney's Imagineers can create. RoE seamlessly weaves together pyrotechnics and fireworks, as well as fountains, lasers and music in a magical production.

Here are just a few facts you may find interesting:

- Earth Globe, the centerpiece of the production, weighs 350,000 pounds and is powered by four 260-hp jet engines.

- 15,500 miniature video screens cover the Earth Globe. This is the only time anyone has wrapped video around a globe and made it turn. Even more amazing is the fact that this spherical television also floats, spins and explodes.

- The inferno barge, the center of the spectacular fire effects during the production, contains 4,000 gallons of liquid propane, set to explode through a variety of nozzles that each produce a different type of effect.

- Air-launch technology, used during the opening of RoE, is only used in one other place in the world -- Disneyland.

In a recent interview, Don Dorsey, the show's director, explained this technology to me. "Air-launch is used only twice in 'Reflections of Earth,' but both shots combine to form a single effect: at the very beginning of the show while the 'meteor' flies in from UK, a second shot rises from the inferno barge. The two (when the cues and product are properly coordinated) meet at the same point in the sky at the same time. The resulting effect is to appear as though the meteor flew in and then exploded overhead, but this is actually two pieces of product coming together. Disney safety does not allow explosives to be placed anywhere directly over guest areas; if we tried to accomplish this effect with a single firework, that would mean shooting an explosive from UK over lagoon center. The 'meteor' product does not qualify as an explosive because it is a continuously burning effect that is ignited throughout its entire flight and then just burns out without a terminating effect. The shot from the inferno barge provides the explosion, and air launch allows us to precisely coordinate the placement and timing of the two effects so that they appear (on good days) as a single effect."

Staged nightly in the center of World Showcase Lagoon, IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth is the only nighttime spectacle done "in the round" to provide everyone with an outstanding view of the entire production. This of course leads to the next logical question -- Is there a "best" place to view the show?

Favorite Viewing Spots

Since the show is done "in the round," most anywhere around World Showcase affords a good view of RoE. If you want to see absolutely everything, be sure your view of the lagoon isn't obscured by trees or buildings -- there are a few spots near the UK pavilion that trees are especially bothersome.

If you want to be sure of a prime viewing location, you'll have to arrive early, just like you might for a parade. But don't worry -- it will be worth it!

Here are some suggestions from ALL EARS® readers:

From Simoniz: "Our favorite spot is right under the speakers on the right of the American Pavilion!"

From Jason: "I do have to say that World Showcase Plaza is my favorite viewing point."

From Mark Savitt: "We found a great spot near Paris. A little enclave surrounded by park benches, gave us privacy and a great view area for the parade and fireworks as well."

Everyone has their favorite spot, but mine is from a table at the Rose & Crown in the United Kingdom pavilion. This restaurant/pub offers not only outstanding food and beverage, it has one the most incredible views of the show. The experience is breathtaking. You feel that you are in the midst of the action. While you feel the heat from the fire effects, the force of the fireworks resonates through you, and you're bathed in white light from the "1,000 points of light" in the grand finale. One word of warning, though: If the wind is blowing toward the UK pavilion, you might see more smoke than show -- you might want to take that into consideration on the night of your viewing!

Another way to enjoy a unique vantage point of the show is to take one of several IllumiNations cruises that are offered. Boats leave from the Yacht and Beach Club marina and usually take guests for a cruise around Crescent Lake before parking beneath the International Gateway bridge in Epcot.

Disney parks end each day with a special "kiss goodnight." IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth at Epcot is, in my opinion, the most spectacular and moving "kiss" you will ever experience.

To read more about IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth, and see some photos:

For information about the IllumiNations cruises:


Editor's Note: This story/information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all current rates, information and other details before planning your trip.