Light up the Night with Shamu and Ignite at SeaWorld Orlando during Electric Ocean!

I finally made it to the Electric Ocean Celebration at SeaWorld Orlando, and it was spectacular! With the never-ending rain we have had in Florida this summer, especially on weekends it seems, it took me until this past Saturday to make it for the summer seasonal special offering. And I am so glad that I did. Comparing last year’s summer celebration to this year’s, it is clear that SeaWorld Orlando stepped up their game exponentially! If you haven’t had a chance to visit SeaWorld this summer, you have through Labor Day to enjoy Electric Ocean including Shamu’s Light up the Night and Ignite at Bayside Stadium.

Before I talk about both shows, I’ve a neat story for you! After I arrived at SeaWorld, I went to Sharks Underwater Grill as I typically do in order to grab a drink (2 for 1) and slice of Key Lime Pie during happy hour! As is par for the course, I was sitting at the bar by myself at a table in the corner by the window so my phone would work. Shortly thereafter, another young lady arrived by herself at the bar. Since we were both there alone, we started chatting and struck up quite the conversation. As the restaurant got more crowded, we decided to consolidate since two people by themselves shouldn’t take up two tables. When you’re by yourself in the parks, it’s always nice when you can strike up a conversation because you never know who you will meet. Turns out she is one of the trainers at the Clyde and Seamore Show and just got off work, and was waiting for her husband and 14mo daughter! How cool is that! I enjoy the Clyde and Seamore Show a lot, so it gave me a chance to learn more about it, and develop an even greater appreciation of it. After her husband and daughter arrived, they were kind enough to invite me to join them at the Shamu show and Ignite since I was planning to go anyhow. Just when I thought I was going to enjoy both shows by myself, I was able to make new friends and enjoy pleasant company! You never know where you’ll make connections and meet new friends. So remember, even if you are alone in the parks, do not be afraid to talk to someone new. I’m certainly glad that I did.

High energy! Shamu’s Light Up the Night is a phenomenal nighttime show that is, start to finish, the most exciting Shamu show I’ve seen in a long time. Beautiful, non-stop, jaw-dropping aquabatics will entertain and inspire you! Prior to the show, the SeaWorld Shamu Stadium DJ will take you on a musical journey through the decades with familiar favorite songs that will have you dancing and singing along. Different from the daytime show, this special seasonal nighttime offering includes more performances from the orcas and less educational content. There is still a clear conservation message, but this particular show greatly increases the showmanship, which I appreciate! One of the most magical parts of the show is the quad backflip! To the best of my knowledge, never before has there been a show featuring four orcas simultaneously backflipping. It was fantastic! The music and lights that accompanied the show created a festive atmosphere filled with excitement. From beginning to end, your attention will be held by this incredible show.

After Shamu’s Light Up the Night, you’ll want to head over to Bayside Stadium for Ignite. When you arrive, you’ll be in the midst of a electric party full of lasers, fog, and colorful lights! The dance floor on the lagoon will be teaming with exuberance! With the music thumping and the lights illuminating the night sky, it will be no wonder why SeaWorld is calling the summer celebration Electric Ocean. High above the stadium seating, you’ll be mesmerized by the incredible synched choreography of the master of ceremonies. Watch as he manipulates the lasers and directs the lights. Reminds me of something you would see at a circus or Blue Man Group show. On the dance floor, party starters and movers guide the audience through an electrifying bank of songs to kick the bayside party into high gear. If you enjoy EDM, then you’re in the right place! As the DJ counts down to the start of the show, other puppeteers and character performers some out to join the party. Once the countdown ends, the choreographed water fountains put on a wonderful show! All around Bayside Stadium, fountains dance, lasers cut through the mist, and lights create magic over the water. Instead of holding off on pyro until the finale of the show, you will be in awe at the spectacular display of fireworks and other pyrotechnic effects for the entirely of the show. Fire shoots up out of the water and more! Of all the nighttime shows I’ve seen this summer, I have to say that SeaWorld Orlando is my pick for the most spectacular show!

Here are some highlights from both shows!

Although the Electric Ocean celebration has been going on for the whole summer, I am so glad that I finally had a chance to see it without fighting the perpetual state of rain we’ve had all summer. I got to make a new friend and enjoy two amazing shows. Definitely a great time! If you haven’t been to Electric Ocean yet, you have the rest of August through Labor Day weekend to enjoy the festivities.


Universal Orlando’s Cinematic Celebration Nighttime Spectacular

Last night saw the first official Cinematic Celebration at Universal Orlando Resort. Although the show has been in technical rehearsals since the beginning of the month, the official debut was Monday evening. Fortunately, the biggest difference between the show in rehearsal and the official opening is the opening narration. An excellent touch! Replacing the previous version of this show, the new iteration focusses on intellectual properties that have a presence in the parks versus a tribute to Universal Pictures’ cinematic legacy. In terms of the show technology, water fountains, and special/pyro effects, the new show is a major win!

From the moment the show begins with an excellent narration setting the context for the show to the breathtaking dancing fountains, you will be awestruck by the sheer spectacle of it all! The combination of water, pyro, laser, and projection effects is outstanding. It truly feels like a cinematic experience! There is something for everyone in this show. My favorite parts were Jurassic World and E.T. the Extraterrestrial. You’ll also find clips and scenes from Trolls, Transformers (which includes scenes from the attraction), Fast and Furious, Despicable MeHarry PotterHow to Train Your Dragon, Sing, Secret Life of Pets, and Kung Fu Panda. In addition to the water screen projections, the buildings on the opposite side of the lagoon are also integrated into the show. Incredibly immersive. My sister was impressed! Which was important to me because we have been going to Universal since the early 90s, and like to experience new attractions and shows together whenever possible. She lives out of state, so we try to time it just right when new offerings open! Helps to create lasting #UniversalMoments.

Beginning with last year’s Magic of Hogwarts Castle show, Universal Orlando has been stepping up its game in the nighttime spectacular competition amongst Florida theme parks. For years, it has largely been thought, and accurately so, that Disney World was the king of nighttime shows. With the introduction of the Hogwarts Castle show and the new Cinematic Celebration, Universal shows that it is a formidable opponent in the arena of nighttime shows. Not only is the show impressive from a technological perspective, the music is fantastic and the combination of water screens, projections, and pyrotechnics is top notch. You will certainly be wowed by the dazzling array of lights, movie clips, water effects, and more. Whereas the previous nighttime show had some water effects (and of course the water screens), this show makes the famous one in front of the Bellagio in Las Vegas look like something you put together in your back yard. The water fountains beautifully dance along with the music and accompanying images from the film selections. Whereas some shows with many fantastical effects and elements can feel like many separate parts thrown together in a tossed salad, so to speak, this show seamlessly blends all the elements together to generate one show, one experience. The manner in which the show is designed allows for Universal Orlando to update it with different films as the interests of the park guests change.

Of all that this show has going for it–and it IS a great show–I cannot help but wonder why Universal fails to include any mention of its history, the fact that it essentially birthed the American horror film, and other iconic properties of the entertainment giant. Obviously, the goal was to connect the show to the in-park IPs, but the show like it was nearly all spectacle and little narrative to speak of. Thankfully, the narration at the beginning does help to add context, but the experience of watching the show leaves me wanting more. Leaves me wanting more, in that I was looking for something with more emotion behind it. In my opinion, she shows lacks a strong ability to make an emotional connection with the audience. This is often the result of a themed attraction or show that focuses so much on the spectacle of the show, that it falls short of containing a strong narrative. One of my favorite quotes is, “the greatest art is the art of storytelling” (C.B. DeMille); but unfortunately, the new Cinematic Spectacular does not live up to the art of storytelling, but instead concentrates on the spectacle of show.

Although I have highlighted some elements of the show that I am disappointed in, don’t get me wrong, it is a fun show that is well-worth the time to find a great place from which to watch. You should definitely make the time to see the show during your visit to Universal Orlando. The best place to view the show is from the Central Park area of Universal Studios. I watched it from the waterside behind the big boulders. Presently, the show begins at 9:45 in the evening and guests begin to select viewing locations about 30-45mins before showtime. As the show just officially began, you may want to allow for an hour to find a great spot from which to watch the show. Definitely a show that you don’t want to miss.

For some highlights from the show, please see our video!

“Where are You Christmas?” A Review of “Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM” at Disney’s Hollywood Studios

img_7604One of my favorite times of the year at the Disney Parks is the holiday season. And not just November through December but September through October too. The autumn and winter holidays offer so much opportunity for seasonal offerings that make the Holidays a special time of year for friends, family, and lovers. Of all the holidays, Christmastime is the generally the highest attended and most looked forward to at the Disney Parks. Whereas Universal Studios Florida is the king with Busch Gardens Tampa Bay as Queen during Halloween, the big D is arguably king at Christmas–perhaps the Jingle King? Putting a Christmas spin on Pumpkin King. For years, hundreds of thousands of park guests flood the Disney Parks to enjoy everything from Cinderella’s Castle draped in icicle lights to Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party to the late Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights and even Holidays Around the World at Epcot’s World Showcase and Jingle Cruise (the holiday overlay at Jungle Cruise). Not to even mention the elaborate gingerbread houses and other creations at the Disney Resorts. Over the last few years, we have witnessed a slow mitigation of Holiday offerings. Most notably the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights at Hollywood Studios (DHS) and Animal Kingdom’s Jingle Jungle Parade. Along with so many anxious park guests and Cast Members, I too was curious how DHS was going to adjust its Christmas offerings with the conspicuous absence of the Osborne Lights. Sunday night, I was finally able to watch the new Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM show at DHS, and if I had to sum up the experience in one word, it’d be a lukewarm “meh.” But as you know, I will provide you with many more words, haha…….

After the announcement of Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM as the special seasonal nighttime spectacular offering at DHS, I was still sad that there were no more dancing lights but I was looking forward to the new show and how it was going to play out. Taking place in the center of the park at the replica of the timeless Grauman’s Chinese Theatre serving as the show building for the opening day attraction The Great Movie Ride and icon of the park, Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM (Jingle BAM from hereon) is a colorful display of map projections, lasers, and pyrotechnics. Many of your favorite Disney and Pixar animated films are included as well as a sequence from Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas. In addition to the familiar film clips, there is a loosely integrated narrative with Santa’s elves and then a message from the big man himself. Accompanying the outstanding map projections of gingerbread men, presents, snow, and other holiday iconic images are a vast array of lasers crisscrossing the sky adding an immersive effect to the courtyard and Hollywood Blvd. No nighttime spectacular at the Disney parks would be complete without pyrotechnics. Jingle BAM boasts a fantastic finale of fireworks that dazzle the sky.

For all the wonderful potential the show has, it unfortunately fails to leave even half the lasting impression that the Osborne Lights left in the hearts and minds of park guests for 20 years. There are a few key elements that contribute to the mediocre reception of Jingle BAM: (1) DHS is not designed/laid out for a nighttime hub show (2) narrative is weak (3) plays out very flat–lacks depth (4) the fireworks are nowhere close to being centered behind the Chinese Theatre (5) fails to elicit a positive emotional response from the park guests (6) Santa’s message is generic and forgettable and (7) there is very little “Christmas” to be found in the show, period. However, it’s not all bad. The show is an outstanding combination of programming, projection technology, and brilliant lasers. The lasers greatly enhance the experience when the snow falls along Hollywood Blvd. From a technical perspective, the show is an incredible spectacle of what happens when art and science are combined.

Unless you arrive one or more hours before showtime or purchase the special dinner/dessert package viewing area, you will quickly notice that your view is most likely obstructed by anything from palm trees, to tech booths, to light poles, shoppes, or even children on the shoulders of parents. Let’s face it, the latter is unavoidable. If you’ve ever been to DHS, you’ll remember that the courtyard in from of the stage in front of Great Movie Ride (GMR) is quite small. Possibly a 1/3 of the size of the one in front of the Tree of Life at Disney’s Animal Kingdom (DAK). So, there isn’t much physical space to work with when accommodating thousands of guests in the same location for a 15min show. Although Osborne Lights moved over the years, it was a staple to the local holiday celebrations, for sure, as well as those who would travel hundreds of miles. Very quickly, for those of you who do not know the history of Osborne Lights, the show was originally on Residential Street (a street of TV houses) until it was moved to its former location on Streets of America (production standing set). Families and friends could casually stroll through the millions of lights that danced every few minutes–synced to classic and contemporary holiday hits! No showtimes. Just continual twinkling and dancing from sunset to one hour after the park closed.

Much like the hub area, the backlot area was also unable to support the majority of the park guests at any one (1) time. So, the continual dancing was important because guests could attend at their leisure. Compounding the physical space dilemma, there are also new palm trees that were installed after the hat was removed, two giant towers that are tech/electrical/equipment booths for the “temporary” stage that sits where the hat was, and several light poles. Once you back up toward Hollywood Blvd, your view is also blocked by the other trees and shoppes. Unlike Magic Kingdom, which has a low grade incline from the train station to the castle, there is no incline from the entrance of DHS to GMR; therefore, the possibility of an obstructed view is greatly increased. Never mind that GMR is less than half the height of Cinderella’s Castle. Between the level surface from the entrance to GMR, the palm trees directly in front of GMR, and the tech booths blocking the view from Hollywood Blvd, it is clear that this park is not designed for a hub show. At least a hub show that runs only once. And you know what? There is little that can be done about the layout of the park. So. The Imagineers and entertainment leadership should recognize those shortcomings and develop a way that a decent view of the show is possible from the central area of the park.

I love the concept of storytelling–in all forms. So, naturally I was curious as to how a story was woven into Jingle BAM. Even now, I am attempting to piece together what the story was. Essentially, the elves are looking for Santa because he is missing. Turns out that he has been captured by Oogie Boogie from The Nightmare Before Christmas. After Boogie’s song number, Santa is rescued. Following Santa’s rescue, he has a message about friends and family. More specifically, he directs the message to the City of Orlando. But, it just doesn’t strike an emotional tone. It plays off as canned and generic. Tiny Tim’s closing remarks “God bless us, everyone” from Charles Dickens’ masterpiece A Christmas Carol packs much more meaning and impact. Interestingly, it is the other bookend and answer to the novel’s opening line “Marley was dead to begin with, there’s no doubt about that.” I think a holiday message about friends and family is very important, but this one just plays off as forced–like other elements of this show. There is definitely a story and message there, but it is weak. Perhaps it would have been more effective to include some holiday spirit or nostalgia in his closing remarks. I think the show would play out just as well–if not better–if the plot of rescuing Santa wasn’t present. Not that I think the show should be without a story, but the story should be more coherent. Stories, such as this one, should also attempt to elicit an emotional response from the audience but it does not extend its reach beyond the surface level.

The over all experience of the show lacked depth. It felt very flat–like a projected image, ironically enough. All surface level and spectacle but no substance. One of the major attractions to and benefits from Osborne Lights was the total immersion into a winter wonderland. Immersion is so incredibly important in themed entertainment. The Osborne Lights provided more than a show–an experience! Even more importantly than immersion is the concept of experiential attractions. And this was an experience like no other. Jingle BAM lacks these all too important elements of immersion and experience. Instead of experiencing the seasonal holiday offering, park guests watch as third party spectators. The only time it becomes mildly experiential is when the Florida snow begins to fall. One of the most important elements to the experience of the Osborne Lights was the park guests’ ability to go from spectator to participant. The transition from spectator to participant is a popular trend in themed entertainment attractions because it offers a much more visceral experience. But what about the other nighttime Disney shows??? Aren’t they more of a spectacle than experience? Short answer: yes. Wishes, Illuminations, Fantasmic, and the Tree of Life are all about the sheer spectacle of it all. And there’s nothing wrong with that…provided that is how it’s always been. However, Wishes is set apart because of the strong emotions the music and pyro evokes from the park guests. It truly is a magical experience. But the problem occurs when the park offers a participatory experience and replaces it with something more along the lines of a glorified short film.

Most Disney nighttime spectaculars offer a phenomenal dazzling array of pyrotechnics and fireworks. Keeping in line with the tradition of magical Disney fireworks, Jingle BAM also offers an impressive choreographed firework display and dynamic finale. Unfortunately, those fireworks are not behind the Chinese Theatre–not even close. The majority of the pyro and entire firework finale is way off stage left (house right). illuminating the sky above the Animation Courtyard, the fireworks cause the park guests to turn their heads 90-degrees (away from the center of the show). Although DHS would have to close the Pixar area during the Galactic Spectacular (Star Wars nighttime show) in order to keep guests safe from the falling debris, the fireworks shot off above the Chinese Theatre making for a phenomenal nighttime show that was truly spectacular whether you are a Star Wars fan or not. The show was incredibly impressive. With the fireworks way off to the side at Jingle BAM, it feels more like a distraction than the finale.

Lastly, the show simply does not have that holiday spirit. Other than Santa and a couple Christmas songs, the show has a very generic feel. So much so that, take away Santa and replace a few other elements and the show could silly be modified to run as part of daily operations. That certainly displays efficiency, but this is a seasonal offering during Christmastime and should feel special. Guests should have the impression that they cannot get this experience anywhere else. As it stands, this map projection show is not unlike the one at Magic Kingdom. Since Disney has two popular versions of A Christmas Carol as part of its IP, I was shocked that neither make appearances in the show. What is more Christmassy than the timeless classic??? The lack of Christmas music is compounded by the absence of Jack Skellington’s lyrics in the song What’s This? from The Nightmare Before Christmas. As part of the score for Jingle BAM, the accompaniment from What’s This? can be heard, but no lyrics. Although many people celebrate the holiday season differently and various elements are held more dearly than others, there should have been a mixture of classic and contemporary holiday hits to create a festive atmosphere. The magic of Christmas is very much lacking in this seasonal show. Where are you Christmas?

Over all, Jingle BAM is a cute show. Is it a replacement for the late Osborne Lights? No. Is it filled with holiday cheer? Not particularly. But perhaps this is the start of something that will grow to become nostalgic for guests that are just now experiencing the Disney parks for the first time. With map projection shows taking the place of more practical effect shows, we could simply we witnessing the next evolution of nighttime spectaculars at Walt Disney World. As I recognize the need to evolve and develop new ideas in order to keep the parks relevant to current generations, perhaps Disney Imagineers can find a way to combine both the Osborne Lights and the map projection concept in a new dynamic show–a new experience. In the short term, if Disney Imagineers could find a way to modify the current Jingle BAM to go from a one (1) showtime to something more continuous like the Tree of Life at Animal Kingdom, then that would quickly solve the physical space and adequate viewing dilemma.