What shows should I see at the Disneyland Resort?

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  • April 15, 2016
  • With lots of attractions to go on, characters to meet, and food to eat, who has time for shows? I think you should make time for at least a few shows during any Disneyland trip. The shows at Disneyland are entertaining, fun, and provide an atmosphere to the parks that adds to the magic.
    There are three basic types of shows inside Disneyland Resort parks.

    Mickey and the Magical Map Show
    Mickey and the Magical Map Show

    The nighttime spectacular.
    These shows are a great way to end a day at the parks. They always dazzle and amaze.

    The sit down show. These shows take place in a theater type setting (indoors or out), and include actors, sets, and a lot of times, songs.

    The pop up show. These are “spontaneous” (although usually listed in the parks times guides) shows. They last about 15 minutes, and take place all over the parks.

    A forth “show” the parade. Parades fall into a strange category. Not attraction, not really a typical “show” but they are entertaining.

    Princesses everywhere in the Soundsational Parade
    Princesses everywhere in the Soundsational Parade


    -What night time spectacular shows are worth staying up for?
    There are three nighttime shows. Disneyland has two, California Adventure has one. Disneyland has the nighttime fireworks display. This runs most nights during the busy seasons, and usually on the weekends during slower seasons. There are several different versions of the fireworks displays. Summer, Christmas, Halloween, New years, and “The rest of the year”. They all take place over the Castle, and are set to music. They have some great effects, and Disney has recently added new projection technology that makes the show continue all the way down Main Street U.S.A., and sometimes you’ll even have a surprise visit by a flying Disney friend. If you like fireworks, you’ll Love Disney fireworks. After seeing a Disney fireworks show, you won’t be able to enjoy your local Forth of July fireworks nearly as much. If you’re worried about the noise of the fireworks, due to Disney technology, they are quieter then your average display. I’m sure the neighbors appreciate this a lot.(Editors note: During the Disneyland 60th Diamond Celebration, there is only one fireworks show year round, even during Christmas time)

    Disneyland also has the Fantasmic show. (Editors note: Fantasmic is currently not showing due to the construction for Star Wars Land. The show isn’t expected to be back before sometime in 2017) This is a nighttime outdoor stage production. It combines, storytelling, pyrotechnics, and a host of your favorate characters. Add in Mickey and a dragon, and you have a great show. This show takes place around the rivers of America, with the center stage being the stage on Tom Sawyer Island. This show runs a lot of nights during the busy seasons, and sometimes only one or two nights on the weekends during slower seasons. This is a great show, if you happen to have seen Fantasmic at WDW, this one is much better. The storyline is the same, but somehow the setting and the way it’s done it much much better. The show takes place on the river, so there isn’t any seating other then the ground in front of the river. People used to start camping out hours ahead of time to get a good seat which I never found the best use of time. Now with the addition of fastpass for Fantasmic, you have the option of getting a reserved area to watch the show. There is still a small stand by (show up before it starts without a ticket) area. Time will tell how this system will affect the viewing experience. I used to suggest try walking up less than 30 minutes before a show. You probably wouldn’t get front row, but you could usually find something with a desent view. I haven’t tried this stragegy with the new Fastpass yet. If there are two shows in a night, go see the second one, it’s less busy. If I had to pick one nighttime show to see, this would probably be it.

    Disney California Adventure has one nighttime show, but a great one. World of Color. It’s a show that defies most descriptions. When this show first came out, I saw a video of it, and thought well that doesn’t look that cool. Then I had an opportunity to see the show, and wow it’s much better in person. So if you’ve see your friends IPad recorded version of the show and didn’t think it was that great, give the live deal a chance.
    This show uses technology to project videos onto screens of water. Add music and some very hot fire, and you have a great show. The show takes place on Paradise Pier. Because the viewing space for this show is rather small, Disney passes out Fastpass tickets for this show. They are included in the price of admission, so it’s no extra cost to you, just a little inconvenience. You need to go over to the Grizzly River Run Fastpass distribution area, and several of the machines early in the day pass out World of Color Fastpasses. These are color coded. There are sections in the viewing area are set up later in the day, and roped off. All off them offer about the same view. Some people like up close in the action, some like far back for the panoramic view. They are all good. Now that WOC is a few years old, the Fastpasses don’t run out first thing in the morning, so you shouldn’t have a problem getting a ticket. These Fastpasses aren’t connected to the attraction Fastpasses so they won’t prevent you from getting another one right away for a ride. If for some reason all the Fastpasses for one (or both shows during very busy seasons) run out, you can still stand around Paradise pier and view the show. The angles will be a little off, and there isn’t anywhere to really stand. As a note, Paradice Pier WOC viewing area also doesn’t have any seating, and they ask you to stand during the show. Although I love this show, the amount of people they crowd into the viewing area, with very little tiered space(if you’re three people back, it’s very difficult to see anything) ends up making viewing this show very unpleasant for me. I’ve even seen fights break out amongst guests over viewing spots. This show is worth seeing once, I really do enjoy the production, but the experience with the crowds, makes me skip this one more often then not. (Editors Note: A new World of Color Celebrate show is running for the Disneyland 60th Diamond Celebration. The original (Classic) WOC is not showing. However during the 2015 holidays WOC Holiday did show as well as WOC Celebrate. WOC had two scheduled shows per day, and each time was either Holiday or Celebrate.)


    -What sit down shows are worth the time off my feet away from an attraction?
    There are some great sit down shows inside each park. They offer a great chance to relax and still be entertained. On a busy day in the parks, a nice 30 minute break off your feet can be just what you need to boost your energy. It’s an added bonus when the show is air-conditioned!!!

    Shade, sounds, and characters, what's not to love?
    Shade, songs, and characters, what’s not to love?

    Disneyland has several shows. Mickey and the Magical Map is in the Fantasyland theater which is out near the It’s a Small World attraction. This show is in a covered outdoor theater. The seats aren’t padded, but they are comfortable enough. You are allowed to bring any food item you’d like into the show, so it’s a great place to grab a snack or even lunch with entertainment to boot. The show is newer, and one of the best I’ve seen in a while. It combines singing, dancing, and new projection technology to create a magical show. It has a lot of different characters, so it’s a great place to spot some of your friends. This show will have you tapping your toes, and the colorful ending is a fun surprise.

    Golden Horseshoe Review/ The Laughing Stock Co.
    In Frountierland there is the Golden Horseshoe stage. Currently the Laughing Stock Co. a funny cowboy comedy variety type show is playing there. This theater also has some snacking options inside for you to enjoy during the show.

    Royal Theatre in Fantasy Faire
    This theater is outdoors, covered, with bench seating. You can bring in some snacks to enjoy during the show but no strollers are allowed inside. Two shows are offered here daily. They are both similar in style. They are short retellings of either Tangled or Beauty and the Beast. They also show the story of Frozen at this theater as a special showing from time to time. It has not yet become a permanent addition. The shows are done with a small number of actors. These are not Broadway style productions, but they are a good simpler version of the stories.

    Disney Califorina Adventure only offers two shows, but one of them is so elaborate it should count for two.

    Aladdin (Editors Note: Aladdin was retired at the beginning of 2016, with a new production Frozen set to open in May of 2016)
    This is the biggest stage show at either Disneyland Resort park. It’s held in the large indoor Hyperion Theater in Hollywood Land. It has AC and padded seats, but this isn’t a show you go to for a stealth nap, this show will have you amazed and laughing the entire show. It’s a slightly condensed Broadway style 40 minute production. It has sets, music, a large cast, and special effects. If this wasn’t enough, it has the Genie. Genie is constantly cracking jokes, some are scripted, some are not, and some are completely spur of the moment. I was in one show where a baby started crying, and Genie made a hilarious reference to that. It was so good the crowd was cheering and clapping for so long they literately had to pause the show. It was great. If you can only find time for one sit down show, I believe this should be the one.

    Disney Jr. Live on stage
    This is a show that is geared toward the tiniest Disney guests. It’s a sit on the floor, get up and dance and sing with your friends type of show. It is air conditioned, so if your kids love Disney Jr. Characters, go enjoy watching them have fun, while enjoying some AC.

    Not quite a stage show.
    These shows are considered attractions. They are basically the same each show (with the exception of Turtle Talk with Crush, because you never know what he is going to say) and run continuously, or at least very often throughout the day.

    Tiki Room
    This show is a classic Disney attraction that Walt worked on. It’s a nice indoor AC show where the birds talk and the flowers sing. Don’t forget to bring your Dole Whip inside for a nice treat.

    Great moments with Mr. Lincoln
    A classic Walt attraction. Mr. Lincoln gives a stirring address. You will almost forget it’s an Audio Animatronic! The seats are plush padded seats and its dark and cool inside.

    Turtle talk with crush
    A twist between a repeating attraction and a live show. Each show has basically the same premise, but with some added Disney magic, Crush is able to interact and talk with guests. This show seems to be mostly attended by kids, but that doesn’t mean an adult won’t enjoy some of the jokes. You never know what will happen in this show. It’s indoors in Disney California Adventure’s Animation Academy so there is an AC benefit. I went to see this show to see the cool technology used, I ended up liking it enough to see it a second time. Don’t discount it because it’s aimed at kids.


    -Are pop up shows worth going out of my way to find?
    Pop-up shows or as Disneyland calls them “Park Atmosphere” are everywhere at the parks. You can see Goofy direct musical fountains at Paradise Pier in DCA, you can see the Dapper Dans sing down Mainstreet U.S.A., listen to a piano at Refreshment Corner, see a roaring 20s swing band roll down Buena Vista street or even dance with some Cars. These events can vary by day and time of year. These shows are listed in the times guide that you can pick up by the maps at the parks. If a show sounds interesting to you, it can be worth it to aim to be in the area of where the show takes place around showtime. It’s a good time to check out a few shops in the area, or grab and snack and find a bench. When the show “rolls in” you can just find a spot and watch. These shows generally draw a small crowd, but it can be enough to block your view if you’re sitting on a bench. Most of these shows only last approx. 15 minutes, so it can be a nice way to plan a short break in your day.

    Imagine walking the around the corner and running into these guys.
    Imagine walking around the corner and running into these guys.

    I always have plans to make sure I’m in the area to catch a few of these shows, and normally I end up missing them. The line for a ride took longer then I thought, on my way to see the show as I was passing Soarin’ the wait was only 5 minutes, who could pass that up, I got hungry and stopped for food, I needed a bathroom break, you name it. Something always seems to get in my way of seeing the show. I usually end up seeing a show because I happen upon it by accident. It’s a fun little magical surprise in my day to stumble upon a green solider from Toy Story in the middle of the street. These shows can change, or come and go at anytime, so your favorite might not be there next time you go, but overall they are pretty much the same shows all the time. A lot of work is put into these short entertainment acts, they aren’t about to change them out every few months.
    If you see one listed in the times guide that you just don’t want to miss, give yourself plenty of time to get to the area on time, otherwise I suggest just stumbling on these. It adds a great surprise and a magical memory into your day.

    -Are parades worth my time?
    Oh the forth show that isn’t really a show, but it’s not your local government offices in convertibles going down your street for Memorial Day parade either, The Parade.
    You can’t just call it a parade, which brings up memories of waiting for a great spot to see some retired guys drive tiny cars down the street(which I love by the way), Disney parades are more like moving shows that take place in the middle of the street with no shade to speak of. They combine music, floats, characters, dancers and street performers. Each park has a large parade taking place just about every afternoon, and sometimes during busy seasons, twice a day.
    Most people want to see these parades on Mainstreet or Buena Vista street. The routes go all over the park, and are listed on the maps as the little dashed colored line going down the middle of several streets. People will start staking out spots hours before a parade to get a good view. Ok so the parades are great, but I am not missing out on an extra ride on Space Mountain or a round of Tiki Tiki Room to get front row viewing on Main Street. Try getting there around 20-30 minutes before the parade starts and you can usually grab a half way decent view, or go to another area other then Main Street, and you can grab a front row spot with much less waiting. I cannot say I think waiting for 2 hours on Mainstreet in the sun is worth seeing the parade up front, unless this is your 23rd time at Disneyland and you just want to people watch with a churro for a few hours, and even then I’d find somewhere shaded!
    Do I think you should skip the parade? That depends. I think the Disneyland parade (currently Soundsational) is worth seeing at least once. It’s a fun parade where you see a lot of your favorite characters, and sing along with some of the classics. If your wanting to see characters without waiting inline (or any personal interaction) or scheduling a character meal, this is a good place to do it. It’s entertaining, lasts about 20 minutes, and if you find shade and an ice cream cone, it can be a relaxing break in the day that is still high energy and entertaining.
    If your only in the park for a day or two, and its your first visit, I think there are probably better ways to spend your time if your NOT into parade shows. If you like parade shows, please make the time. It’s your trip, do what looks the most fun to you, and don’t worry about hitting every ride. If a show sounds better to you, who cares if you didn’t hit every mountain, there’s no contest to win.
    Parades can draw a lot of people, so lines can be a little less during a parade, as a note though, getting around during a parade can be tricky. Streets are blocked off so you can’t cross anywhere you’d like. There are crossing areas with a Disney crossing guard who will let you go across when its safe during the parade in scheduled breaks. One thing Disneyland does great, is keep the crowds on the edge of the sidewalk, with a walkway behind them clear. They won’t let you stop to gauke at the parade if your trying to move in these walkways (this also applies to fireworks etc,) so you can get around to other areas in the park but its more difficult then during a non parade time. I suggest being in the area you want to be in, before the parade starts, and stay there until it ends. You won’t have to push past the crowds and try to yell over the loud music. Also as the parade leaves an area there will be a rush of people leaving and looking for something to do. So when the parade finishes on Buena Vista street, they go toward the closest shops, foods, and rides. Suddenly Tower of Terror can get a burst of people. I like to be FAR away from parades if I’m not viewing one. Great time to see Paradise Pier or Toon Town or the back of Tomorrowland.


    Disneyland for the 60th Diamond Celebration has also added a nighttime parade. It’s a day time parade style show, but with the floats all lit up and a really catchy toon. It’s pretty magical. When this first came out, people staked out spots for hours in advance. It’s still really popular, but you may be able to squeeze in somewhere closer to show time. If there is a second parade offered that night, and you can stay up, the second parade was much less crowded. With less than an hour wait, I was able to get a bench seat in front of the Castle. I think this is a not to be missed Parade.

    Overall shows add a lot to a day at a Disneyland park. Plenty of people run through the park hitting up every ride they can, and completely miss the joys of being in a Disneyland park. You can see fireworks set to your favorite Disney song, check out a car who’s a DJ, watch Goofy direct a water show, or watch an almost Broadway show. I think every trip should include at least a smattering of a few shows. Pick out what sounds the best to you and make time for it. The breaks will keep you rested, you will have some great entertainment, and the memories you walk away with after a show are the point of a trip to Disneyland.

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