VIDEO: Tom’s Honest Review of World Celebration and ‘Luminous: The Symphony of Us’ at EPCOT

Shannen Ace

VIDEO: Tom’s Honest Review of World Celebration and ‘Luminous: The Symphony of Us’ at EPCOT

On December 5, Walt Disney’s birthday, World Celebration Gardens opened and “Luminous: The Symphony of Us” debuted at EPCOT. The gardens are the new center of the park, including Dreamers Point and the Walt the Dreamer Statue. “Luminous: The Symphony of Us” is the park’s new permanent nighttime spectacular. With these two offerings, the years-long reimagining of EPCOT is nearly complete, although CommuniCore Hall and Plaza will open next year. Read and watch Tom’s honest review of World Celebration Gardens and “Luminous” below.

World Celebration Gardens

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This space was once the heart of Future World, with the Fountain of Nations, Pin Central, and — way back in the day — reflecting ponds. The new World Celebration Gardens are broken up into Dreamers Point, a Creations Garden, a Connections Garden, a CommuniCore Garden, and an Inspiration Garden, surrounding the EPCOT logo made up of light-up rings and a planter.

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Our first stop was Dreamers Point, where there are two plaques. The one closest to Walt the Dreamer has the date of December 5, 2023. And the plaque on the other side has… half a quote by Walt Disney about EPCOT: “…always be in a state of becoming.” We aren’t entirely sure why they didn’t just put the whole quote. But it’s a nice sentiment.

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We already critiqued the statue’s backdrop here on WDWNT and on News Today. It’s a very different look from the original concept art, putting him on a giant concrete bench with an obscured view of Spaceship Earth. Something cool, though, is that the designs on the pavement and bench pay homage to Walt’s original EPCOT city design. That does tell the story of Walt the Dreamer’s original dream. We would have liked it if the gardens branching out from that point had continued to travel through time from there, paying homage to the different versions of EPCOT from over the years. But we like the idea that Walt is surrounded by the EPCOT he dreamt up and is looking out lovingly at the EPCOT that is.

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That said, we still don’t like the bench. Things change from concept art to final product, that’s true, but all these additional layers between Walt and Spaceship Earth degrade the quality of the photo op. This includes the building behind Spaceship Earth that houses Project Tomorrow and, at least in the past, a corporate lounge. The original plans for the EPCOT reimagining included Spaceship Earth: Our Shared Story, a new version of the attraction that would have likely seen changes to this building, which may have made it a better backdrop for Walt the Dreamer. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Disney made major changes to their plans, re-designing much of World Celebration and delaying the Spaceship Earth reimagining (maybe canceling it forever). But we still don’t understand why this giant bench was necessary.

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Regarding the rest of the gardens, our first impression during the day was that it was bland. Except for some blue and green stripes on the ground in the Creations Garden (which we believe are a reference to the blue and green sides of Innoventions), the area is gray, black, and rust-colored. It looks like a college campus. When EPCOT was constructed, the buildings had a unique design that told a story (the geodesic Spaceship Earth sphere, the wave-shaped Seas building, etc.). But everything in World Celebration Gardens looks like something we’ve seen before.

What is the theme of World Celebration? Are we celebrating the world? Isn’t that already what World Showcase is doing? World Nature and World Discovery are a little more clear.

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The center of the park achieves some things. There is a lot of nice outdoor seating for Connections Cafe (Starbucks). The Creations Garden has space for festival kiosks, which can take pressure off World Showcase. The CommuniCore Garden also has some seating with counters. And there is entertainment space in Inspiration Garden, where there are the big rust-colored metal canopies? Trees? This area doesn’t immediately look like an entertainment space, but we saw Daisy and Pluto do meet and greets there. We also saw the JAMMitors perform in a couple of different spots.

JAMMitors in World Celebration Gardens during the holidays

So there is a lot of room to grow and a lot of flex space. During the day, it feels like a boring empty space, so it’s up to EPCOT management to figure out how to bring it alive. The Fountain of Nations used to bring that kinetic energy, but there are no water features or other moving pieces now.

Now, at night, it’s a different story.

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At night, a lot is going on as everything is lit up. All of the lighting in World Celebration Gardens syncs up with the light shows on Spaceship Earth. There are light-up poles, pavement, and “grass” — although the latter unfortunately doesn’t interact with everything else. There are dozens of little dots in the pavement at Dreamers Point. Everything can change color. This could become a primary spot for some to view the Spaceship Earth light shows because, although the icon is less visible, there is more going on around you.

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So World Celebration Gardens looks way better at night. It’s standard during the day but it’s elevated above standard to something special and interesting at night. It will be interesting to see how much life CommuniCore Hall and Plaza breathe into the space, too.

Something else important about World Celebration is that with the opening of the gardens, we finally got new original background music composed by Pinar Toprak. A few years ago, Toprak composed a new EPCOT theme, which debuted at D23 Expo and was later incorporated into Spaceship Earth light shows. That theme is now finally playing in the rest of World Celebration as part of this new music loop. We like the park having a theme song that creates a thread through different experiences (it is also used in “Luminous”). It’s a good music loop that sets the proper uplifting tone for EPCOT.

“Luminous: The Symphony of Us”

Back in 2019, the EPCOT nighttime spectacular “IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth” came to an end after 20 years of performances. A temporary show, “EPCOT Forever,” was performed for the next year before “Harmonious” finally premiered. And while some loved the show and some hated it, almost everyone could agree that the show’s barges — which sat in the lagoon all day instead of only coming out at night — ruined the view of World Showcase. Disney also had financial issues which led to the end of “Harmonious” in April 2023, when the 50th anniversary celebration of Walt Disney World ended. The temporary “EPCOT Forever” came back, with the promise that a new upcoming fireworks show would celebrate 40 years of EPCOT and 100 years of Disney. Thus, “Luminous: The Symphony of Us” was born.

Ultimately, “Luminous” premiered well after both the 40th anniversary of EPCOT and the 100th anniversary of Disney and it really has nothing to do with either, it just happened to debut the same year as the latter.

Disney learned their lesson from “Harmonious” and “Luminous” barges won’t sit in the lagoon all day. They also fixed other problems with “Harmonious,” avoiding screens and projections. Unlike “Harmonious,” pretty much every spot around the lagoon has a good view of “Luminous.”

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The “Luminous” barges are similar to the “Harmonious” ones in that there are several taco-shaped barges. They surround a central barge, and then there are a bunch of smaller barges throughout the lagoon. In some ways, it reflects “IllumiNations,” but it also charts its own course.

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The opening features chanting similar to “Harmonious,” but the use of the lanterns, perimeter fireworks, and greetings from different countries goes back to versions of “IllumiNations.”

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There are the standard EPCOT fireworks that we expect, as well as cutting-edge pyro. There are also a lot of fountains and lights on the big barges, which are in the center of the lagoon. The fountain game has been upped and the lights are used effectively. They’ve found a way to do something similar to “World of Color” at Disney California Adventure without building an underwater platform.

The secondary, smaller barges also have fountains and lights, so a lot is going on with this show. The lagoon is pretty busy and that’s exciting.

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The first original song in the show is “Heartbeat Symphony.” It’s a great nighttime show theme song that gave us chills. The show also includes Disney IP songs.

The story of “Harmonious” was kind of incoherent. “Luminous: The Symphony of Us,” however, explains its premise through the name, song, and narration. Your life is a symphony and here are all the parts of the symphony including birth (“You’ll Be in My Heart” from “Tarzan”), family (“Proud Corazon” from “Coco”), friendship (“You’ve Got a Friend in Me” and “Friend Like Me”), love (“So Close” from “Enchanted”), and loss (“When She Loved Me” and “Remember Me”), but emphasizing you are never alone. It’s a great through line and thematically similar to “Momentous” at Hong Kong Disneyland.

The beats of the show are similar to “Happily Ever After.” When Disney hit success with that formula, they kept using those beats, so it can get repetitive. “Luminous” even uses the same two friendship songs as “Happily Ever After.”

They did a little bit of what “Harmonious” did with music, incorporating versions of the songs in different languages. This could be jarring because you would start singing along with a song you knew, only to realize it’s a language you don’t know. But it’s used less in “Luminous” and one of the non-English songs is “Recuérdame,” the Spanish version of “Remember Me” from “Coco” which is already on the film’s soundtrack, so it’s still familiar even if you don’t speak Spanish.

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“So Close” is a good underrated song to use. We like that the show has emotion, with that song leading into the sadder section that includes Disney’s ultimate sad song — “When She Loved Me” from “Toy Story 2.” And then we’re lifted up by “Into the Unknown,” a song that feels like it was written for fireworks shows and is incorporated into many of them now. It works thematically after the loss section because, after loss, you can feel like you’re in the unknown. And then it transitions nicely into “I See the Light.”

Admittedly, there are a handful of slow moments where screens or projections would have filled the space. Unlike “World of Color,” these fountains aren’t close, so a mist screen might have improved some moments. But we respect the decision to use no screens or projections.

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The finale has an impressive and unique effect. A device at the center of the barges sends a series of low-level fans of pyrotechnics in all directions. And then the barges shoot beating hearts out toward guests during the second original song, “Beating of Our Hearts.”

“IllumiNations” was a spectacle. And compared to that, “Luminous” feels a generation behind. It’s a stronger show than “EPCOT Forever” but it still feels temporary. They did a good job, especially for how little time and budget they had, but outside of the effects at the end, “Luminous” doesn’t feel new and innovative.

“Luminous” is a good show that creates emotions. But will it be discussed in the same breath as shows like “Wishes,” “Happily Ever After,” “IllumiNations,” “Fantasmic,” or “Main Street Electrical Parade”? We don’t think so.

Hear more of Tom’s thoughts in the honest review video below.

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