Monday Top 10: The Best Theme Park Shows

September 8, 2014, 11:08 AM · Great theme parks offer much more than just rides. Shows can extend a park's theme while providing some of the most memorable entertainment of your vacation. Whether they're "kisses goodnight" at the end of the evening or a welcomed respite in an air-conditioned theater in the middle of the day, these are the top 10 highest-rated theme park shows, as voted on by Theme Park Insider readers. Remember, whenever you visit a major theme park around the world, you can rate (and if you are registered, review) here on the rides, shows, restaurants, and hotels you visit. Your ratings help us build even better lists!

10. Mystery Lodge
Knott's Berry Farm

Mystery Lodge

Presented with great reverence, not to mention "how'd they do that" effects, Mystery Lodge surprises many Knott's visitors who stumble into the show looking only for a cool place to sit for a few moments. This is the sort of educational, yet effect-laden, show you'd expect to see someplace like Epcot. Check that, it's even better.

9. Disney Dreams
Disneyland Paris

Disney Dreams

Perhaps the best of Disney's castle-projection shows around the world, Disney Dreams closes the day at Disneyland Paris with a colorful, musical tribute to Disney animation, with a special focus on all the Disney movies set in France.

8. Celtic Fyre
Busch Gardens Williamsburg

Celtic Fyre

As one reader put it: "Well-written with a good (if sappy and cheesy) storyline, featuring good times, guys angry with guys, male dance-off, girls dancing, feel-good romance, a goofy drunk, and everybody living happily ever after." Sounds like a show to us!

7. IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth

IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth

The end-of-the-day spectacular on the World Showcase lagoon continues to draw and wow crowds, 15 years after its opening. (But your editor continues to insist that the original version, which played from 1988-1996, was even better.)

6. Soarin' Over California
Disney California Adventure

Soarin' Over California

Yes, we're calling this a show, and not a ride, since your seats don't actually move during the performance. But whatever it is, this filmed tribute to the Golden State remains a crowd favorite, though a replacement version ("Soarin' over the World") is on its way to Shanghai Disneyland and Epcot.

5. World of Color
Disney California Adventure

An amazing blend of fountains, lights, water-screen projections and music from Disney's animated films, World of Color offers a thrilling and inspiring end to the day at Disney California Adventure.

4. Waterworld
Universal Studios Hollywood


Recently refreshed with the production company from Universal's Singapore park taking over the show, Waterworld continues to provide the go-to argument for how movies that nobody seemed to like can inspire theme park productions that almost everybody loves. (And yes, this comment is directed at Avatar skeptics.)

3. Impressions de France

Impressions de France

If you haven't read one of our most popular blog posts before now, here it is: Why 'Impressions de France' is the best movie ever made for a theme park. So there.

2. Aladdin
Disney California Adventure


Turning it over to James Rao: "Aladdin... is a Broadway caliber, lavish, 60-minute tour de force of delightful songs, spectacular dancing, amazing props and special effects, sweeping romance, and tremendous fun." Yep. (And we still miss you, Robin.)

1. Fantasmic!


Accept no cheap substitutes, the Anaheim original remains the king of theme park entertainment. Refreshed with tech upgrades over the years, there's no better way to finish your day at Disneyland than with this trip inside Mickey Mouse's oh-so-vivid imagination.

Obviously, there are way more than 10 great theme park shows out there. Which one is your favorite?

Replies (16)

September 8, 2014 at 11:23 AM · Mystic rhythms in Tokyo Disneysea is my favorite. Most shows I would see once a.trip and only rides I redo, but this show I watched twice. Good music and lots of great effects and variety.
September 8, 2014 at 11:46 AM · Actually Robert many people (including myself) enjoyed the Avatar film. I am still skeptical however over not just the theme park land, but also over the quality of the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th films he is going to make. Do I think the land will be cool and enjoyable? Quite possibly. Do I think it will be as big of a thing Disney wants and needs it to be? No.
September 8, 2014 at 12:02 PM · Two from USF:
It may be short, but is any show as immersive as Ollivander's from the moment you walk in the door?

And the Horror Make-Up Show is still one of the funniest shows in a theme park, all the while conveying some genuine movie-making secrets for those not busy laughing their heads off.

September 8, 2014 at 12:36 PM · I thought the seats on Soarin' did actually move by tilting, leaning, etc. I've only seen half of these since I'm not really a day show person (night shows on the other hand...), but I will say that I could spend an entire day watching Aladdin and would probably want to do it again the next day. It's that good.
September 8, 2014 at 12:49 PM · Thank you for recognizing Fantasmic as #1. Too many people put Illuminations on top. Having moved from the West Coast I miss that show more than anything.

I can only hope the new Broadway production of Aladdin is as good at the California version.

September 8, 2014 at 2:47 PM · Fantasmic! @DisneySea hands-down!
September 8, 2014 at 4:20 PM · Good list overall. I would have to agree that soarin is actually a ride.
September 8, 2014 at 6:13 PM · I'm not sure about the rest of the list, but you certainly got the top two spots right. Aladdin and Fantasmic! are endlessly charming and spectacular shows.

I would rank World of Color at third place, and would have fitted Animal Kingdom's Festival of the Lion King and DHS's Fantasmic! in there somewhere.

September 8, 2014 at 8:36 PM · I've seen many Irish dance/music shows at various theme parks and Celtic Fyre was, by far, the best show I've ever seen. Nice to see it made the list.
September 9, 2014 at 5:05 AM · Normally, my opinion is that shows get in the way of riding more rides. Although I do like that they are available to attract and distract people out of the ride lines (which I am in).

I did get to see World of Color for the first time this past Labor Day and I thought it was pretty good. What was really cool is during the 10k and half marathon races, the colored fountains were on which provided a cool photo op when running through the park.

Like someone mentioned above, I'm surprised that the Horror Makeup show at Universal in Florida didn't make the cut. This is the one show I always recommend to friends when they are visiting the park. I'm also a bit partial to the Blues Brothers as well.

Waterworld is a really good show as well. Much better than the bloated movie in my opinion. It almost stands on its own to the point one would say, "there's a movie based on this show?"

Impressions of France is dangerous because my favorite drink stand in Epcot (that serves the Grey Goose orange slush) is nearby. There have been times that I've missed the show and have gone back to get another slush while I wait for the next show. Let me tell you, a couple of orange slushes makes the show amazingly better.

Speaking of drinking to make something better, this is the only way to enjoy Soar'n (Epcot version). I wouldn't consider it a show. I wouldn't consider it a ride either. I consider it a serious disappointment that is not worth the 45+ minute wait time.

September 9, 2014 at 6:23 AM · Agreed Horror Make Up Show is maybe the most underrated attraction in Orlando. It has to overcome a boring map description and is the funniest show at any of the parks. Anyone who appreciates the Jungle Cruise would love it.

Second Soarin is a ride in the same manner that The Simpsons is a ride...the only difference is the amount simulated motion. Its also classified as a ride via Disney on their website.

I'm very surprised as to not see Philarmagic make the list.

September 9, 2014 at 9:13 AM · I also don't consider Soarin' a "show". The seats not only move riders into position in front of the screen, but make subtle movements (left, right, front, and back) to enhance the sensation of motion shown on the film.

I love Waterworld, and hope that Universal finds a way to maintain the stunt show after the WWoHP opens and the inevitable expansion begins.

I'm a bit surprised that none of the Sea World shows made the cut. Blue Horizons is a pretty amazing show that deserved to make the list. Also, some of the Cedar Fair shows are pretty entertaining, but are probably hurt because they change up their shows virtually every year, while Fantasmic! has been running for 22 years.

September 9, 2014 at 4:19 PM · I agree with several of my fellow commenters: "Soarin"" isn't a show. It's a ride, and a lousy one at that, lol.

I visited Disneyland Paris this summer and agree that "Disney Dreams" is an AMAZING show! It's my favorite one that I have seen so far- better than "Fantasmic" IMO, but only by a little bit. We love Fantasmic!

I am shocked that the "Finding Nemo" show at WDW isn't on this list. Some of the best theme park singing I've ever heard is in that show. I usually hate sitting through some of the shows at WDW (the Little Mermaid one is particularly terrible). So much out of tune singing, etc. I'm a professional singer myself and i cannot stand it when that happens- the Beauty and the Beast show is hit or miss for that. Ugh. I find much of the entertainment in all the theme parks to be cheesy and lame. But "Festival of the Lion King" is pretty good and as I said- "Finding Nemo" in Animal Kingdom is great. It's so great that I actually bought the soundtrack and sing along with my kids when we drive to WDW.

Many of the others I haven't seen, so I can't comment on those.

September 10, 2014 at 6:53 AM · Finding Nemo at DAK is a very good stage show (developed by the creators of Avenue Q, who went on to help create Frozen), but Aladdin at DCA is a step above not only in terms of story, but in production values. Aladdin was good enough to be expanded and adapted to a Broadway production, so that shows how impressive that show is. The Hyperion Theater also is superior to the Theater in the Wild, and the seating is more like a traditional Broadway-style experience than the theme park-style experience you get watching Finding Nemo. However, Finding Nemo is still probably the best stage show at WDW.
September 13, 2014 at 9:41 PM · I love WaterWorld. It is my favorite attraction at ANY theme park in the world. Many thanks to Action Horizons Stunts for the updated attraction, and thanks to Universal Studios Hollywood for contacting the team to fix up WaterWorld! :)
September 15, 2014 at 8:18 AM · I am not sure how many people have seen it but the Raveleijn show at Efteling is one of the coolest productions I have ever seen, even outside of a theme park.

It's basically a medieval knight stunt show mixed with power rangers and a 5 headed animatronic dragon that blows fire and spreads out to about 20-25 feet. It's really a cool show and has a lot of neat elements. It's also one of the only shows I have ever seen with action figures and merchandise. If you ever get the chance to check it out, I would strongly recommend it.

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