Skyleidoscope & Surprise in the Skies

When EPCOT Center opened on October 1, 1982, there were no Disney characters roaming the park and few activities to keep children entertained. The Imagineers wanted guests to take the pavilions of Future World and World Showcase seriously. It was thought that Mickey and the gang would detract from the more mature atmosphere they had created in this innovative new park. However, many guests were disappointed by this more cerebral park. From day one, parents complained that there was nothing for their children to see or do. They were expecting more Magic Kingdom-type entertainment and were disappointed when EPCOT Center didn’t deliver. Something needed to be done.

One of the quickest fixes was to add characters to World Showcase and clothed them in traditional national costumes of each nation. Here you see my friend Eddie and me posing in Mexico, Norway, and China with Donald, Goofy, and Chip.

Mexico Donald

Norway Goofy

Chip & Dale China

Of course, a few characters would not be enough to satisfy parents and their children so other forms of entertainment were researched and implemented. One solution to make EPCOT Center more kid friendly came sometime in 1985 with a show called Skyleidoscope. This daytime spectacular took place on World Showcase Lagoon every afternoon. It featured airplanes, ultra-lights, sailboats, speed boats, dragon boats, colored smoke, and daytime fireworks. All of these vehicles and effects were loosely tied together with an impossible to follow story about good conquering evil. At the end of the show, thousands of helium balloons were released into the sky. (Just so you know, Disney no longer releases balloons for environmental reasons.)

The show was never a big success. I remember after I saw it, I thought to myself, “That’s fifteen minutes of my life I’ll never get back.” However, Skyleidoscope did have one redeeming feature in my humble opinion. It brought back a song entitled “There’s No Place Like World Showcase” written by the Sherman Brothers for a 1982 television special about EPCOT Center. This is a great tune that I wish would be resurrected again on a more permanent basis.

I filmed Skyleidoscope in 1986 with one of those bulky, rest-on-your-shoulder video cameras. For this blog, I have edited the show down to just over two minutes – which is plenty long enough. However, it is worth watching just so you can hear “There’s No Place Like World Showcase” which I dubbed over the original, choppy soundtrack.

Skyleidoscope closed sometime in 1987.

A second attempt to bring daytime entertainment to World Showcase Lagoon came in 1991 with Surprise in the Skies. This show also featured ultra-lights, but this time they were piloted by Mickey and the gang. You can sort of make out Mickey in the first picture. Kites and daytime fireworks also played a big part in this presentation.

Surprise in the Skies

Surprise in the Skies

Surprise in the Skies



Surprise in the Skies

Surprise in the Skies also featured a number of surprises along the World Showcase promenade. Eleven large boxes were positioned, one in front of each nation. At a given moment during the show, giant Disney character balloons inflated and towered over the pavilions. Like the earlier “live” characters, these characters were dressed appropriately for the country they represented.

Winnie the Pooh – Canada
Robin Hood – United Kingdom
Pluto – France
Tigger – Morocco
Minnie Mouse – Japan
Mickey Mouse – American Adventure
Pinocchio – Italy
Daisy Duck – Germany
Chip & Dale – China
Goofy – Norway
Donald Duck – Mexico

I apologize for my pictures. When I scanned them into the computer many years ago, a lot of clarity was lost. I’ve done my best to rescue them.

Canada Pooh

Canada Pooh

United Kingdom Robin Hood

France Pluto

Morocco Tigger

Japan Minnie Mouse

American Adventure Mickey Mouse - Italy Pinocchio

Germany Daisy Duck

China Chip & Dale

China Chip & Dale

Norway Goofy

Mexico Donald Duck

The ultra-lights used in these two shows took off and landed at a spot now occupied by the new Art of Animation Resort under construction next to the Pop Century Resort.

Surprise in the Skies only lasted one year and closed in 1992. Some critics called this show, “Mistake on the Lake.”

The first really successful daytime show to take place at World Showcase was Tapestry of Nations/Tapestry of Dreams which ran from 1999 to 2003.

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24 Replies to “Skyleidoscope & Surprise in the Skies”

  1. my love for disney did not come until later in life when i got back to the “world ” thanks for all your hard work & for bloging about the stuff i missed.

  2. Question: What are ultra-lights?

    Jack’s Answer:

    The term “ultralight aviation” refers to light-weight, 1- or 2-person airplanes.

  3. I managed to miss both of those shows as a child. I’m sure my family saw Skylaidescope, but I don’t remember it. I wonder if my father has photos in the family albums. I’ll have to take a wander through them on my next visit home. I don’t think we took any trips during the Surprise in the Sky era, but it sure would have been neat to see those big balloons! However, if Disney’s going to resurrect something for an Epcot Anniversary–I’d rather it be one of the Tapestry parades!

  4. Jack,

    Good heavens, those character balloons are HUGE. I never got a chance to see these shows (maybe I just blocked Skylaidescope out or something). After watching the video, it’s very hard for me to figure out why they thought throwing up a stunt spectacular show that you might find in one of the ‘outside’ Florida parks would be a success in Epcot.

    Anyway back to the figures – do you think the sheer size of them was a problem since it looks like they kind of messed with the forced perspective used in all the buildings?

    Jack’s Answer:

    I really don’t know why the giant character balloons were retired. Maybe the Imagineers thought they were too closely linked to the water/aerial show

  5. Thanks for bringing back so many memories! Our first visit to WDW was in ’86 and we dutifully watched Skylaidescope during the afternoon. It didn’t make much sense, but we thought the dragon boats were great and we still sing the bits we remember from the “No Place Like World Showcase” song. I remember standing by one of those big boxes when the character balloon popped out for Surprise in the Skies — scary! 🙂 I don’t miss the afternoon shows though and would rather watch the Friendships peacefully traverse the lake, but I do miss the Millennium Parade and would love to see it make a return! Thanks again for a wonderful story!

  6. Hi Jack

    The character bus that has been referred to may be the one that they used for “Character Carnival” that used to enter World Showcase through the gate at the UK and travel round to Showcase Plaza where they used to dance to “Hot, Hot, Hot”.
    All the characters used to change on a daily basis, although Roger rabbit and Chip n Dale were always constant.
    I used to watch it every day from the UK Tea Cart and would be humming that song for the rest of the day!!

  7. HI Jack,
    I always find your blogs to be incredibly interesting.

    I don’t actually remember those shows at EPCOT, but I do remember a bus filled with characters that would ride through the countries.

    Do you have any information or pictures about that?

    Jack’s Answer:

    In the early years of Epcot, double-decker buses were used to transport guests around World Showcase. Eventually, these buses were deemed unncessary and retired. I know that one of these buses was then used to transport characters to the entrance of Future World for opening ceremonies and Meet-&-Greets. This may be what you’re referring to.

  8. I never did see either of these shows, and although they don’t seem to compare to any I have seen – I still like those dragon boats! :)Would love to drive one around a lake!

  9. Jack,

    Great blog, as usual. I do have a question. Do you have any idea what happened to the giant characters? I never saw the show, but they look pretty incredible!

    Jack’s Answer:

    I have no idea what happened to the giant balloons. Personally, I wouldn’t mind seeing them return for a season or two if they still exist and are stored away someplace.

  10. Jack, just an aside to the dragon boats…there were about a half dozen dragon boats tied up by the Saratoga Springs dock. I don’t know if these may have been the same boats from the show or if they are just there temporarily but I happened to notice them when riding the ferry back to Port Orleans last weekend.

    Jack’s Comment:

    I haven’t seen the boats you’re talking about, but I somehow suspect they are not the same. They’d be over 20 years old. But you never know.

  11. Thank you so much for the excellent blog about skylaidescope, I never had the oppurtunity to see either show but absolutely loved Tapestry of Dreams. Would love to see it come back, It always brought tears to my eyes. Thanks again I always love reading your blogs.

  12. I remember seeing Surprise in the Skies on one of my earliest trips to WDW with my then two young children. I thought it was great, partially because it was such a surprise. I remember thinking: “Is this place great or what?” It’s hard for me to imagine that people thought it was a mistake. I also remember the double decker buses loaded with characters, which was also a thrill.

  13. Hi Jack,

    It almost freaked me out when I opened your blog. Two days ago, I was trying to explain “Surprise in the Sky” to my father. He remembered seeing something on TV with the ultra-light parasail craft, but didn’t know about the boxes with the huge inflatable Disney characters. I tried to explain the size of these characters, but he didn’t seem to “get” it. Thanks to your photos, he now knows what I was talking about.

    I moved to Orlando in 1991, and always enjoyed “Surprise in the Sky.” Of course when I moved down here I was on such a “Disney high” that it didn’t take much to please me. I spent almost all of my days off, usually Tuesdays and Wednesdays at “The World.”

    Thanks so much for the great and as it turned out, “timely” blog. 😉

    (BTW, I can’t believe that we were ever that young or thin. LOL!)

  14. Hi Jack,

    I unfortunately (?) didn’t get to see these shows but I did see Tapestry of Dreams. It was beautiful. I really wish they would bring it back – maybe for Epcot’s 30th anniversary next year?


  15. Hi Jack,

    It is a good thing you mentioned the first pictures were of you and your friend. I thought you happened upon hall and oates while at Epcot and I was going to ask you if you got their autographs. Good Blog again. Thanks. Short shorts….why did those ever go out of style????

  16. Hi Jack,

    I really enjoyed the post. It is always great to see some of the good and, in this case, bad of Walt Disney World. Some of this I missed when I was a kid. Personally I loved Epcot without the characters and kids attractions. It has always been my favorite park.


  17. I have always enjoyed the music from Surprise in the Skies. It’s very much “of the time”, especially with the screaming guitar. And I love that its spirit lives on through the Fountain of Nations water shows. Any word on who wrote the score?

    Jack’s Answer. Sorry. I don’t know, I didn’t find this information in my research.

  18. Saw fantasy in the sky on a hot august day in 1992! It was a difficult show to watch. Jack are those some of the show props in the Backlot Express Restaurant at Hollywood Studios?

    Jack’s Answer:’

    I have no idea. It’s possible. But I didn’t come across any information to this fact in my research. I’ll have to check it out sometime. I do know that one of the Dragon Boat used to be displayed in the lake next to Downtown Disney.

  19. Thank you for another great blog. This was excellent for me because I have not seen either show. I love the pictures and the video.

  20. hey jack
    this was before my time so i didn’t know anything about it but it is always fun for me to learn about things that disney had before i started visiting. can’t wait for your next blog and as always keep up the great work.

  21. Hi Jack! This was a neat blog. I don’t remember any of those shows. The first time I visited Epcot was in 1995. I remember The Living Seas pavilion was my favorite. I don’t even think I saw Illuminations until 2003. Thanks for the history.

  22. Hi Jack

    This blog has really made me laugh!
    I worke in Wprld Showcase from ’92-’93 and was there for the final death throes of “Surprise in the Skies”. At the UK pavillion, prevailing winds meant that at the end of the fireworks you couldn’t see five feet in front of you due to the smoke from all the fireworks.
    Other nick names were “Flop on the Dock” and “Languish Over the Lagoon”