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The Disney Dish with Jim Hill Ep 464: What was Epcot’s very first nighttime show like?

This episode is brought to you by: Green Chef , and TouringPlans .


Normal Open: Welcome back to another edition of the Disney Dish podcast with Jim Hill. It’s me, Len Testa, and this is our show for the week of Shmursday, January 29, 2024.  


On the show today: News! Surveys! Listener questions! Then in our main segment, Jim tells us about the opening of IllumiNations back on this day in 1988.  That thing was reinvented more times than Madonna.  


Let’s get started by bringing in the man who says all music is in 4/4 if you stop trying to count it like some kind of band nerd.  It’s Mr. Jim Hill.   Jim, how’s it going?


And we’d like to introduce a special guest for today’s show:


iTunes:  Thanks to everyone who subscribes to the show over at including Hypnostory & Panda, Erin Lewis, Jason Hoover, Friend of Bacini, Shawn Wallace, and Arno Lubbinge.  Jim, these are the Disney cast members who ensure that guests don’t get smooshed in Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway by shutting down the conveyor belt smasher in the final scene at just the right moment. They say they’re proud of their 100% safety record on the ride, and a close second accomplishment is discovering that the smasher makes excellent grilled panini.  True story.


The news is sponsored by TouringPlans helps you save time and money at theme parks like Walt Disney World.  Check us out at



  • According to our friend Alicia Stella at, Universal Orlando has filed permits for changes to the Ollivander’s Wand experiences in the parks.
  • Speculation is that this is for upgraded interactive wands, which will be coming out when Epic Universe opens
  • Alicia also mentions the rumors that Universal Orlando will be closing Springfield USA, since Disney owns the Simpsons now.  And the rumored replacement is a Pokemon land whose timeline might be moving up to be sooner rather than later
  • Jim, over at Islands of Adventure, has Universal said what they’re going to do with the Lost Continent land, now that it’s all closed?

  • Over at Walt Disney World, the Magic Kingdom is adding a second performance of the Festival of Fantasy parade, now setting off at noon and 3 pm, from February 18 on.  
  • I’m not sure if this is for Presidents Day week and, you know, Spring Break, or if this is permanent.
  • The thing that makes me think it’s permanent is that, Jim, you and I have heard that Disney’s plan to counter Epic Universe is to add more live entertainment to the parks.  And so this might be a test of that.


Our friend Kevin sends in a Disney+ survey. I know it’s not about theme parks, but Disney+ is taking up so much of Disney’s energy right now that it’s actually crowding out spending on theme parks, at a time when Disney needs more spending on theme parks:

Jim, what’s the point of asking how much you personally watched on Disney+?  Would they not run it on Disney+ based on those responses?

Some other ideas, from our industry insiders:

  • Disney owns both Hulu and Disney+. Should this content go on Disney+, Hulu, both, neither?
  • Would Disney make more money by licensing movies like this to Netflix first, then D+?  It’s unlikely, but our industry people point out that Warner is doing it.  Maybe Disney’s willing to license content to Netflix if Disney+ viewers are lukewarm about it.
  • If viewers are tapped out from Marvel and Star Wars, is Indiana Jones a franchise Disney can expand on for content?
  • There could be follow-up questions as to why viewers didn’t finish these movies.

And my favorite question:

Jim, when I read text like this, it just reminds me that the people who write surveys have seen responses that would make my brain hurt.  

And Rachel sent in an Animal Kingdom survey that asked her to use the following words to describe AK attractions:

Attractions asked about:

  • Discovery Island
  • It’s Tough to Be a Bug!
  • Africa
  • Kilimanjaro Safaris
  • Wildlife Express Train
  • Conservation Station
  • The Animation Experience at Conservation Station
  • Affection Section
  • Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail
  • Festival of the Lion King
  • Pandora
  • Flight of Passage
  • Na’Vi River Journey
  • Asia
  • Expedition Everest
  • Kali River Rapids
  • Feathered Friends in Flight
  • Maharaja Jungle Trek
  • Dinoland USA
  • Dinosaur
  • The Boneyard
  • TriceraTop Spin
  • Finding Nemo - The Big Blue and Beyond
  • Park-Wide
  • Wilderness Explorers

Len says: Animal Kingdom is one of the parks where you can ask about almost every attraction, without overwhelming the person taking the survey.  A quick look at this list and it seems like only The Oasis and the Discovery Island Trails are not included in the survey.  

Listener Questions

A question from Chris via Patreon:


Another question from another Chris:

You guys talked to Jim Shull two weeks ago about in-ride-vehicle audio.  Doesn’t Haunted Mansion have in-ride vehicle audio?  Is that a somewhat recent change.  I seem to remember HH always had in-ride audio.  What’s up with that?

Len says: I asked around, and it seems like Haunted Mansion got in-ride audio around the time of the 2010 refurb. So it’s been a while, long enough for a lot of us - me included - to think that it’s always had it.

And speaking of Haunted Mansion, James writes in with this:

A listener had asked if the Hatbox Ghost counted as part of the 999 ghosts in the Haunted Mansion, and I feel compelled to  make a correction to your answer in order to prevent misinformation from being spread.

The Hatbox Ghost is indeed a happy haunt, and he is represented in the count of ghosts. It is the exact same way at Disneyland. I'm not sure if Disney is trying to do some weird tie-in for the 2023 film, but him being an unhappy haunt definitely seems like a shoehorned idea that they're just pulling out of thin air. I think they may be lazily trying justify the lack of care that went into the decision for his location in the attraction. I'm not entirely positive.

Len says: I included James’ email here because we went back and forth for a while on this.  My original response pointed out that Disney said the Hatbox Ghost wasn’t part of the 999 and wasn’t one of the “happy haunts”.

Research/Patents (use query "disney enterprises".as AND "theme park".ab)


We’re going to take a quick commercial break.  Then Jim tells us about the launch of IllumiNations in 1988.  We’ll be right back.

MAIN TOPIC - iTunes Show

Illuminations Feature Story
Part One of Three

The original version of “Illuminations” debuted at EPCOT Center on January 30, 1988. (That time seems weird to me. After the holidays / before what used to be February School Vacation back East).

There had been nighttime shows out on World Showcase Lagoon prior to this:

·           Carnival de Lumiere (which ran at that theme park from October 1982 – June of the following year (1983).

·           “A New World Symphony” followed “Carnival de Lumiere.” This nighttime show at EPCOT Center lasted slightly longer than its predecessor (i.e. a full year versus just eight month). But it too was gone by the late Spring of 1984.

·           “Laserphonic Fantasy” opened on June 9th, 1984 and then ran ‘til January 24th, 1988.

And while all of these earlier nighttime shows had individual elements that were successful (More to the point, improved on the show that had preceded it), the original “Illuminations” was the one that finally caught fire (And – no – I’m not talking about the Inferno Barge). This was the nighttime show that finally had the right mix of elements. That surrounded Guests with spectacle. More to the point, was now different enough from what was being presented over at the Magic Kingdom that … Well, people just couldn’t go home from their WDW vacation without first witnessing “Illuminations.”

Irony here was … When EPCOT Center was nearly complete in late 1981 / early 1982, the powers-that-be turned to WDW Entertainment team and said “Hey, we’re going to need some sort of nighttime show for the new park. You guys got any ideas?”

WDW Entertainment then cold-bloodedly looked at EPCOT Center and said “Okay. This place has to be different from the Magic Kingdom. So nothing that would directly compete with that theme park’s ‘Fantasy in the Sky’ fireworks and the Main Street Electrical Parade. So what does that leave us? We’ve got that 38-acre lagoon that World Showcase is built around. Let’s use that as our stage.”

Which -- from a late 1981 / early 1982 point-of-view – certainly made sense. By this point, WDW’s Entertainment had been staging “The Electrical Water Pageant” out on Seven Seas Lagoon & Bay Lake for more than a decade. And those bodies of water … Well …

·           Bay Lake is 450 acres

·           Whereas Seven Seas Lagoon is 168 acres

Given that World Showcase Lagoon was a relatively teeny 38 acres … Creating a show that works within this performance space is going to be a piece of cake, right? Wrong.

Let’s start with their first bad decision. Which was to limit the size of the viewing area for this “Festival of Festivals” (That was the name early on for “Carnival de Lumiere”). I mean, WDW’s Entertainment wasn’t expected to create a new nighttime show that could then be viewed from all angles around the full circumference of the promenade around World Showcase Lagoon. That thing is 1.2 miles long. Trying to create a show that would play to a space that big is just … Well, crazy talk.

So the WDW Entertainment took what they knew from the “Electrical Water Pageant” playbook (i.e., 14 boats – each 40 feet long viewed from along the shoreline in front of the Poly, the Magic Kingdom, the Contemporary and the Fort Wilderness Campground [You have to remember that this was 1982. Before there was a Grand Flo or a Wilderness Lodge]).

That then translated into a performance space / “stage” roughly the size of an Aircraft Carrier. (Just in case you’re wondering, we’re now talking about a performance space of roughly 1,100 feet across.

The WDW Entertainment now looks at World Showcase Lagoon and decides “Okay. For maximum viewing opportunities, we’re going to orientate our performance space in such a way that … Well, picture that aircraft carrier parked between the Mexico pavilion and the Canada pavilion. With the longest broadest side of this ship facing towards Future World. This area – back then, anyway – was known as Showcase Plaza.

But – again – remember the plan was to create something that was deliberately different from what was going on at the Magic Kingdom at night. So no “Main Street Electrical Parade out on the water” (Which eliminated creating a next generation version of Disney World’s “Electrical Water Pageant” that could then parade around World Showcase Lagoon) and no “Fantasy in the Sky” -like fireworks show.

WDW Entertainment looked at that idea and then said “Okay. So no enormous fireworks shells bursting high in the sky above Cinderella Castle. But using low level pyro in this show – something that would look pretty when it was reflected in the water of World Showcase Lagoon – would be okay.”

Using this as their template, WDW Entertainment then began filling that over-a-thousand-foot-long performance space between the Mexico Pavilion & the Canada Pavilion that faced towards Showcase Plaza & Future World. They first built several dual function barges.

What was interesting about these dual function barges was that … Well, they could be used for launch locations for low level pyro. But they also doubled as fountain stations that could pump water from World Showcase Lagoon high in the air. Which – when combined with theatrical lighting – would then create something else that could be reflected in this 38-acre lagoon and look pretty.

Mind you, separating these pyro / fountain barges … Because (let’s remember) EPCOT Center is supposed to be WDW’s new science and discovery park (I mean, half the place is called Future World. Back then, anyway) … Well, this new nighttime show had to involve some sort of cutting edge tech.

Well, separating these pyro / fountain barges (there would be four of those) would be five floating platforms. And each of these five floating platforms were then outfitted with four project surfaces. Which then made use of rear projection.

Now where this gets genuinely complicated is that each of these four rear projected screens could be used to project one small image OR they could work in tandem to create one big image. They could even – at select moments in “Carnival de Lumiere” – sync up with the other four rear projection barges in this nighttime show and create … For lack of a better term, this thousand footage long banner that then ran from the Mexico Pavilion all the way to the Canada Pavilion.

Have to remind you that this was late 1981 / early 1982 when WDW Entertainment was stitching together this new nighttime show for EPCOT Center. So to coordinate all of the show elements that they were planning for “Carnival de Lumiere,” they purchased a bunch of Apple Computers.

The other important choice that WDW Entertainment made … Again, looking to differentiate EPCOT Center’s new nighttime show from what was going on over at the Magic Kingdom … Well, Epcot was supposed to be Disney World’s theme park for adults.  Which is why WDW Entertainment decided that the score for “Carnival de Lumiere” would primarily be made up of brief pieces of classical music.

Mind you. Because – again – half of this theme park was (at that time, anyway) made up of Future World … Well, they opted to have “Carnival de Lumiere” ‘s classical music score played on a Moog. Which is the same device that the score for the “Main Street Electrical Parade” is played on.

Interesting thing about this particular decision was … Well, the use of that Moog created a teeny bit of connective tissue between EPCOT Center and the Magic Kingdom. The folks at WDW Entertainment were especially hoping that little kids – who’d seen the “Main Street Electrical Parade” at the Magic Kingdom – would then hear the same distinctive electronic musical sound as “Carnival de Lumiere” got underway and … Well, because of their fond memories of the “Main Street Electrical Parade,” decide to give “Carnival de Lumiere” and its largely classical music score a try.

Anyway …  The world premiere presentation of “Le Carnival de Lumiere, the International Festival of Festivals” was held on Saturday, October 23, 1982 (which was right in the middle of EPCOT Center’s grand opening weekend). And while the celebrities & dignitaries who were invited to this exclusive soiree …

Fun side story here: Prior to the world premiere presentation of “Le Carnival de Lumiere,” event attendees were invited to spend the earlier part of that evening strolling around World Showcase Promenade visiting the various pavilions, watching performing groups from 24 different nations (including some countries that Disney hoped one day would build additional pavilions around World Showcase) as well as sampling international food & drink.

But remember Walt Disney World is located in Central Florida. Which is world famous for its changeable weather. That night (October 23, 1982), the skies open up mid-party and the rain just pours down. But all event attendees could talk afterwards was … Well, as the first drops began to fall, hundreds of Cast Members – all armed with big black umbrellas – suddenly poured out from backstage. They immediately escorted all of the party guests undercover into the nearest World Showcase pavilion. And that night’s party continued without a hitch.

Alice Davis (who was at that party that night) witnessed this happening and then told me – after the fact – that “Only Disney could have done that. But that was old Disney. Peak Disney. Not like the Company is today.”

Anyway … The rain stops in time for the world premiere of “Le Carnival de Lumiere” to happen. And all of the celebrities & dignitaries who are in attendance (5,000 people) are able to fit in that space between the Mexico pavilion and the Canada pavilion along Showcase Plaza near Future World. And they like this theme park’s nighttime show.

It’s the people – those paying customers who show up to EPCOT Center on Monday, October 25th i.e., after the grand opening weekend for WDW’s second gate is over) who start to complain about “Le Carnival de Lumiere.” Mind you, this was typically when – at the end of the day – 30,000 people were crowded into that same chunk of World Showcase Promenade where those 5,000 celebrities & dignitaries stood.

Long story short: A lot of people couldn’t see EPCOT’s nighttime show. And they then marched over to the Parks’ Guest Relations Office and complained loudly about it.

This was when WDW Management turned to the Resort’s Entertainment team and said “Hey, you know that thing you said was impossible? Creating a nighttime show that would then play to people standing about around the full 1.2 mile circumference of World Showcase Lagoon? Well, Walt once said ‘It’s kind of fun to do the impossible.’ And you guys are about to have a TON of fun. Because you need to fix this show fast.”

In the next installment of this three part series, we’ll get into the specifics as to how “Le Carnival de Lumiere” first mutated into “A New World Fantasy” and then “Laserphonic Fantasy.” Which – SPOILER ALERT (And let me channel my inner Doctor Evil here) is going to involve frickin’ lasers.



That’s going to do it for the show today.  You can help support our show by subscribing over at, where we’re posting exclusive shows every week.   This week’s video is bonus content on Space Mountain with Jim Shull. And Jim Hill, you’ve got a new podcast out that looks forward to Epic Universe, right?  Check it out at

Patreon: That’s going to do it for the show today.  Thanks for subscribing and supporting the Disney Dish.

ON NEXT WEEK’S SHOW:  Jim continues the story of IllumiNations.

Then … tells us how the Imagineers handled Walt’s decision - in January of 1955 - to add Tomorrowland to Disneyland’s opening-day lineup, giving them just six months to get it done.  I’ve seen archival footage of the last week of prep work for Tomorrowland, and it’s mesmerizing in the same way that violating any modern workplace safety regulations is mesmerizing. Can’t wait to hear Jim’s story.


You can find more of Jim at, and more of me, len at


iTunes Show:  We’re produced spectacularly by Eric Hersey, who’ll be singing Suspicious Minds, Blue Hawaii, and Jailhouse Rock on the opening night of the Myrtle Beach Elvis Festival this coming Thursday, February 1, at the Hilton Myrtle Beach Resort, on Beach Club Drive, in beautiful, oceanside Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.


While Eric’s doing that, please go on to iTunes and rate our show and tell us what you’d like to hear next.

For Jim, this is Len, we’ll see you on the next show.