Theme Park Insider

Weekly Top 10: The Best Live Shows in Theme Parks

March 30, 2015, 9:50 AM · We'd bet that most people think first of rides when they think about theme parks. And while we love all the great rides in the parks, we know that top theme parks also provide some wonderful shows for our entertainment. This week, we honor the Top 10 live shows at major theme parks, as determined by the collective rating of Theme Park Insider readers. You can visit our Park Reviews page to start rating the shows, rides, and restaurants you've visited. And if you take a moment to register, you can submit reviews and photos of those locations, as well.

10. Pets Ahoy!
SeaWorld Orlando, SeaWorld San Diego (as Pets Rule!)

Pets Ahoy!

Cats, dogs, birds, and even a pig perform in this gag-filled show. Some of these four-legged stars were rescued from animal shelters, and there's usually a pitch at the end of the show encouraging the audience to adopt rescue animals.

9. Mystery Lodge
Knott's Berry Farm

Mystery Lodge

An elderly storyteller greets you from inside this Native American longhouse, where a fire burns in the middle of the room. As smoke from the fire twists into shapes, the storyteller believes to have seen an owl, a symbol of death. That prompts the man into a reflection upon his life, as he shares stories from his past, which collectively help illustrate the Pacific Northwest Native American experience.

8. Universal Horror Make-up Show
Universal Studios Florida

Universal Horror Make-up Show

Located behind a recreation of the facade of Hollywood's Pantages Theater, Universal's look at the work of special effects make-up artists is one of the few attractions that remains from the park's opening. Sure, there's a bit of gore and the gruesome in this live show, but the overall tone is mostly light, with a heavy dose of Universal's distinctive, sarcastic humor.

7. Festival of the Lion King
Disney's Animal Kingdom, Hong Kong Disneyland

Festival of the Lion King

Dancers, acrobats, singers, and costumed characters celebrate The Lion King in this musical performance in-the-round. No, it’s not the Broadway show, or even an abridged retelling of the movie plot, but more a lovely, rousing concert that tries to get the audience cheering, and often succeeds.

6. Carkitt Market Stage
Universal Studios Florida

Carkitt Market Stage

Gringotts and the Hogwarts Express much of the attention in Universal's Diagon Alley expansion, but don't overlook the live shows playing on this small stage in Carkitt Market. Those who take a few moments to watch Celestina Warbeck and the Banshees in concert or the performance of "Tales from Beedle the Bard" rave about these shows.

5. Fantasy Faire Royal Theatre
Disneyland

Fantasy Faire Royal Theatre

The clever Elizabethan musical storytellers Mr. Smyth and Mr. Jones present their slightly twisted take on some of Disney's fairy tales. Originally rotating shows of "Beauty and the Beast" and "Tangled," it's all "Frozen" these days. But it's a retelling of the story that even parents who've sat through their kids watching the DVD a million times still can enjoy.

4. Celtic Fyre
Busch Gardens Williamsburg

Celtic Fyre

This celebration of Irish music, dance, and culture plays in the Abbey Stone Theatre, featuring an impressive display of singing and tap dancing.

3. Blue Horizons
SeaWorld Orlando, SeaWorld San Diego

Blue Horizons

Blue Horizons tells the story of a girl named Marina (get it?) dreaming about the sea and the wonders within it. And, yes, those dreams do include jumping dolphins.

2. Waterworld
Universal Studios Hollywood, Universal Studios Singapore, Universal Studios Japan

Waterworld

Set in a world where the polar ice caps have melted, covering the continents in sea water, our hero Helen has discovered dry land. But the evil Smokers are after her and the secret of dry land's location. It's up the Mariner to save Helen, and fight off the Smokers. Meanwhile, stunt performers dangle from high above the stage, plunge into the water, and stuff blows up all over the place. And, oh yeah, keep your eyes open for the plane.

1. Aladdin
Disney California Adventure

Aladdin

A 50-minute retelling of Disney's animated classic, California Adventure's "Aladdin" paved the way for Disney's current Broadway hit and continues to entertainment visitors with an ever-refreshed script that allows the Genie to riff on pop culture while the rest of the production dazzles with wonderful songs and staging.

Replies (22)

March 30, 2015 at 10:24 AM · Great shows on this list and a few I'm anxious to check out! Does anyone know, however, if the Aladdin flying carpet is working right now? I saw the show a week or two ago and the carpet was a no-show. Without it the whole thing kind of falls flat. I can't believe Disney doesn't have a better plan in place for shows when the carpet isn't operating, especially after the extended time the carpet wasn't flying after the malfunction. Just hearing the voiceover while the landmarks move by is rather dull on its own. Can't they just change the carpet lift in the stage to stay up for the whole song? Thankfully a good genie can mostly save the show when there's no carpet.
March 30, 2015 at 10:26 AM · I expect Sea Lion High to be in this list next year!
March 30, 2015 at 10:26 AM · I'd list Lion King and Horror Make-Up a little higher, but overall this is a good list from what I've heard about all the shows. But I do have to go on my soap box about one thing.....Blue Horizons.

I've made my thoughts about SeaWorld and captive marine mammals known before -- it's a complicated situation and there's no easy answer....I'm not going to get into that now, but I have to say that I was APPALLED the first (and hopefully last...) time I watched Blue Horizons.

I remember when that show was used as a platform to educate the audience about dolphins, belugas and false killer whales. The show as great, but you also learned something. BH, on the other hand, teaches nothing and is just an excuse to put aerial actors in the dolphin pool. The two main actors -- I hesitate to call them trainers -- didn't even look comfortable with the animals.

I don't know -- maybe the day I saw it was just an "off day" for the show or maybe I'm just over-sensitive about the issue in general. But I really thought this particular show was horrid. And this is coming from a long-time fan of everything Clyde and Seymore have ever done :-).

March 30, 2015 at 10:32 AM · Fantasmic, mystic rhythms, and Mickeys magical map blow away half the shows on this list.
March 30, 2015 at 10:54 AM · I'm completely shocked that Finding Nemo the Musical could not crack this top ten.
March 30, 2015 at 11:06 AM · Great lesson from the continued success of The Lion King show: you don't need to re-tell the story to have a great IP-based theme park attraction. Wish that insight was used more often, not just for shows, but other attractions, too.

@Russell: thanks for getting "In the Big Blue World" stuck in my head. What an ear worm, from the same duo that brought us Frozen a few years later. I'm surprised it's not in the top 10, but can't really quibble with this list.

March 30, 2015 at 11:25 AM · No Nemo or Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular?
March 30, 2015 at 12:59 PM · The only one I have seen is waterworld. And I can say, it's pretty darn good.
March 30, 2015 at 1:39 PM · No Fantasmic? :( :((

:((((

March 30, 2015 at 2:03 PM · There are only two theme park shows I consider an absolute must-see, no exceptions: Aladdin and Waterworld. I'm glad to see that these two topped the list. Waterworld is the absolute best stunt show I've seen as it is 5 minutes of set-up followed by 10-15 minutes of non-stop action, and I know people who say Aladdin is just as good as, if not better than, many of the shows currently playing on Broadway.
March 30, 2015 at 2:06 PM · The Shamu show easily tops "Pets Ahoy". I guess we are politically correct these days.

I watched #5 fantasy faire a few weeks ago. Excellent show, but it is rather modest in production values.

The Lion King show is well done, but over done. There's nothing interesting about it. The staging and storyline is so dull after repeat viewing. I wish they will do a non-traditional staging to make it more interesting. I can't deal with hearing that same song over and over again.

March 30, 2015 at 4:48 PM · I'm honestly just glad that Lion King, my favorite show, is somewhere on the list. Admittedly would've liked to see Fantasmic and One Ocean, but I'll take what I can get
March 30, 2015 at 9:26 PM · No Indy in the top 10 is shocking, it's better that most on the list. I'm assuming Fantasmic! is not included as an oversight because it would top the list otherwise. Jedi Training Academy should probably make this list.
The dolphin show at Sea World is neither educational nor entertaining. At least Shamu didn't make the list with its "story" consisting almost soley of fin-flipping audience soaking. Pets Ahoy! is cute but a bit too cheesy to make the top 10 of the world.
Nothing from Dollywood? Probably enough people haven't visited to give reviews on TPI.
March 30, 2015 at 10:16 PM · Surprised that Fantasmic didn't make the list.
March 31, 2015 at 12:16 AM · The irony is that Blue Horizons and any and every Shamu show variation have probably done more to increase the general public's awareness of, and sensitivity, to marine wildlife endangerment issues than all the PETA and animal activist preaching combined.....

If you don't like that sort of thing then don't go to see the shows. But I for one will be grateful that I saw the original Shamu show for the rest of my life. It gave me an admiration for and an awe of those amazing creatures that I will carry with me forever. Before that it was an intellectual awe and concern. Having seen them in the flesh and watched them interact in the water with their trainers it was something real and emotional and personal and it left an impression no amount of educative videos could ever have done.

Sometimes good things happen because of less than perfect actions.

March 31, 2015 at 2:12 AM · I have harped on about how last year was my first time in SoCal after 25 years visiting Orlando but...
Waterworld and Aladdin blow away just about anything that that I have seen before in Orlando parks. Truly brilliant shows, especially after not having a clue what to expect from Waterworld.
The plane... oh the plane. Just go ahead and make my jaw drop USH!

Glad to see Mystery Lodge there too, which was a must-do for me at Knott's after the reviews/articles on TPI about it.

March 31, 2015 at 10:48 AM · This list is the top shows in North America.

Raveleijn in Efteling has...well just watch the video.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N-uJdLfQUos

Very fun and cool show :)

March 31, 2015 at 11:10 AM · Glad to see Horror Make Up Show make the list. Maybe the attraction in Orlando with the worst map description, as it never mentions 'funny'.

Very Surprised to not see Nemo or Sea Lion Show on the this list

As for Shamu Show debate one simple fact answers the question for me: SeaWorld saves Animals and PETA executes animals

March 31, 2015 at 12:11 PM · I have seen 3, 4, 6, 7, 8 and 10. Very good selection out of a hundred shows available. 4.Celtic Fyre at Busch Gardens Williamsburg was the best Irish music song and dance show I have ever seen. Fantasmic is a finale fireworks show, not a several shows a day show so it isn't the same. Jedi Training Academy is cute but totally boring after 2 minutes if you don't have your children on stage. Blue Horizons amazes me every time with the music and acrobatic action, the dolphins part is minor and they just swim and jump around the pool. The dolphins push swimmers around the pool also, quite dangerous for the swimmers but no danger to the dolphins.
March 31, 2015 at 4:33 PM · I agree with both of you, David and Robert, about the Shamu shows vs PETA.... 100%!! My complaint about BH is just the fact it's silly and dumbed down from the educational show they used to have in that theatre.

But then I am sort of wishing I could have the shows from 25+ years ago back. SeaWorld's shows peaked for me with the old Black & White Shamu show and the Night Magic show that used the theme music from Ladyhawk.... Yeah, I'll always sort of be stuck in the late 80's where SeaWorld is concerned :-).

April 1, 2015 at 11:40 AM · How on earth did Fantasmic! miss this list? The Disneyland version should be in first place.
April 3, 2015 at 9:52 AM · I'm amazed that I've seen almost half of the shows on this list. I agree; where's Fantasmic? The possible answer is the east coast slant of the readers here. DHS's Fantasmic doesn't hold a (roman) candle to DL's.

@Tony Duda: On busy days, Fantasmic! (DL) plays two and sometimes three times a day.

I agree with most of the list; I haven't seen the Fantasy Faire version of Frozen yet despite several tries (and conflict of times) and, although I love me some Mystery Lodge, the last three times I've tried to see it, the "computer was down". This after going through the pre-show and waiting around in the main room. :(

There's a chance I've seen one or both of the SeaWorld San Diego shows. Not that memorable to me.

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