Finding Fireworks

by Zamgwar, ALL EARS® Guest Columnist

Feature Article

This article appeared in the November 1, 2005, Issue #319 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)

When a family researches to plan some quality Mouse time, there are always a few standard subject headings that appear on the wide variety of Disney newsgroups: "What princesses are at the Princess Breakfast?" "What is the closest supermarket to Disney World?" And the continually popular, "I'm staying onsite; do I need a rental car?" The questions, like the seasons, change when a trip is planned during the holidays: "Which hotel has the best Christmas decorations?" "Where is the best viewing of the Easter Parade?" and "How scary is the Not So Scary Halloween Party?"

Perhaps the most widely asked question, and one I've asked myself, occurs during the Independence Day celebrations at Disney World. "Which park has the best fireworks?" After four consecutive 4th of July forays, I believe I can definitively answer the question.

It depends on how you like your fireworks.

Viewing fireworks varies with personal taste and comfort levels in crowds. It's like ordering steak. Some like it rare, some like it well done, and some like it to be a chicken.

OK, maybe that's a poor analogy, by my neighbor is barbecuing and the smell wafting into my house has made me hungry.

When it comes to Disney World, the choice for me really comes down to two. Even though Disney-MGM Studios does offer Sorcery in the Sky (which in the early days of the Studios was standard fare) and Pleasure Island has a very nice expanded show at midnight, they pale in comparison to the Magic Kingdom's or Epcot's fireworks displays.

Magic Kingdom's 4th is truly a spectacular, albeit short, show. Those who live in almost any major waterfront city have seen similar ones. There are multiple launch sites set up around the Magic Kingdom and on the Seven Seas Lagoon. The simultaneous shows completely fill the sky with fireworks for a breathtaking 13 minutes. For those inside the Magic Kingdom the effect, as "She Who Must Be Obeyed" puts it, is "an umbrella of fireworks over your head." Our preferred viewing spot is the Tomorrowland bridge. The finale set to "The Star-Spangled Banner" is extraordinary. There is simply nowhere in your field of vision where there are not fireworks. It is quite amazing.

There is, however, a price to pay for the show. Crowds. The largest crowds at Magic Kingdom that you have ever seen in your life. It is one of the very few times a year that directional signs to Magic Kingdom say "FULL," sometimes as early as 11 a.m. Depending on your arrival time for the fireworks, Main Street may even be "full" VERY early, with people seated smack dab in the middle of it long before the event. When Main Street IS full (and I've done this), guests can be brought to the rear of the park by backstage via a gate to the right. This path emerges in Tomorrowland, and though it is a decidedly "un-magical" walk, it's a practical way to enter the park when it's that crowded. On one occasion I've even seen the lovable Magic Kingdom ferries operating as resort launches to get the many hotel guests queued up on the piers to the park for the fireworks.

Like I said, BIG CROWDS.

An alternate to the crowds is viewing the fireworks from either the Grand Floridian or the Polynesian beaches. The Poly is my choice. While you lose the "umbrella effect," you also lose the crowds, and at least once from my viewing point on the Poly beach, the accompanying music. The sight of seeing five unison sets of massive fireworks exploding over Magic Kingdom, and a sixth, much closer over the lagoon, is indeed a spectacle in that you can see them clearly in "full bloom."

Viewing from the hotels does, however, require distant pre-planning, as security is tight. Guests will ONLY be admitted to the hotel property with a confirmed dining reservation. At Narcoossee's in the Grand Floridian and 'Ohana in the Poly, reservations for the 4th book up very early. The California Grill also offers a special "Fireworks Dinner Package" for the night.

The view is spectacular, but so is the price.

Following the show, resort viewers are also treated to a patriotic version of the "Electrical Water Pageant" on the lagoon.

Those with small children who are afraid of the "booms" would be advised that the distance really doesn't diminish the crying. On two occasions I viewed the 4th fireworks from the Poly beaches. Both times I met a number of families who had brought their wee ones, fearful of loud noises, to the "distant" beaches. They had high hopes there would be no crying. Almost all of them left the beaches with screaming children moments into the start of each show. One remarkable exception was a parent who placed iPod headphones over their daughter's ears and cranked up Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah.

Sheer genius.

It is worthy of note that in 2005, because the 4th fell on a Monday and was considered a travel day, the identical show was also given on July 3. "She Who Must Be Obeyed" and I chose this day for our second "in the park viewing."

Epcot's fireworks are my choice for those who like a longer show, and to be up close and personal to explosions and yet not "too" crowded.

In Epcot, the fireworks are added on to the end of the regular nighttime IllumiNations show. In 2005, it came as a 12- to 15-minute salute to American music, and it really got the old peepers misting. The American Pavilion became lit in red, white and blue, with all spotlights trained on it. For those who might remember the original IllumiNations, it was reminiscent of that long ago guaranteed "shivers" moment after the solo clarinet began playing Rhapsody in Blue. The finale was set to "Battle Hymn of the Republic" and simultaneous fireworks began to be launched beside the American Pavilion. The finale is a "Grucci type" (for those aficionados of the pyrotechnical arts) with a multitude of continuous percussive blasts, which actually begin to knock the air out of your chest. It is truly a "WOW" moment. Following the show, American music is piped through all the sound systems. In 2004, amazing full-color images of National Monuments were projected on Spaceship Earth. In 2005, lasers filled the Big Ball with stars and Independence Day salutations.

Personally, if I had to choose one display, and one display only, it would be Epcot's. More bang for the buck. Literally!

The best viewing spots around the World Showcase are simple to pick out. They are opposite the way the torches around the lake are blowing. This assures your view will not be obscured by smoke. Of course, the wind has been known to turn around at the last minute. "Ya picks ya spot and ya takes ya chances."

For those really adventurous fireworks freaks, it is very possible to see both shows, as the Magic Kingdom's normally start at 9 p.m., and Epcot's at 10 p.m. It requires a bit of planning, a car, rapid movement, a good knowledge of the Disney World roadways, and a real understanding life partner. I have been able to accomplish this easily three of the last four "4ths" with plenty of time to spare.

That is, if you call "easily" bursting into the English pub in desperate need of a pint because the rapid movement has drained all the fluids from your body. My plan, however, is just that -- my plan. I'd share it with you, but my wife has said she would do a long list of unpleasant things to me if I "blabbed it all over the Internet."

She IS "She Who Must Be Obeyed."

There is, however, one other great way to see a dandy of a fireworks show with relatively few crowds. One of the most magical things about Disney World is that almost every day, no matter what the calendar says, seems like the Fourth of July. So even if your Mouse travel plans do NOT include Independence Day, you can be sure at the end of the night, the sky, and your heart, will be filled with spectacular fireworks.

That's My2Cnts, what's yours?

Office of The Rockets Red Glare
The Zamgwar Institute


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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.