You’ve found the perfect resort, booked your Fastpasses, and ordered your Magic Bands. You’ve purchased plane tickets, researched touring plans, and had and matching t-shirts printed. With all of the work that goes into a Walt Disney World vacation, it’s easy to succumb to the urge to drive your family into high gear, and keep them there, once you’ve arrived at the most magical place on earth, bound by a strict mission to do it all.
But even if you start the day eating breakfast with Mickey and end it watching the fireworks over the castle, it’s important to make time to slow down long enough in between to take in the smaller bits of Disney magic along the way.
For Walter Elias Disney, everything was about the show. Visitors step into a world of fantasy from the moment they enter the parks, where staff are cast members, attractions have backstories, and everyone is a part of the production. Quintessential rides like Space Mountain, Tower of Terror, and Pirates of the Caribbean will always remain high on most guests’ list of priorities. However, it’s the little things that make the parks truly special. The Disney parks are positively packed with talented performers of every variety whose roving acts truly help bring the magic of Disney to life through the concept of Streetmosphere, Disney’s take on street theater. With this in mind, here’s a park-by-park guide to some of the best, and often overlooked, Disney entertainers.
Days in the Magic Kingdom begin each morning with a dose of pure Disney magic, opening with a ceremony in which the Mayor of Main Street welcomes guests to the “most magical place on earth.” The Mayor is accompanied by the singing, dancing Citizens of Main Street and a steaming, whistling train packed with Disney characters. On Main Street, U.S.A., guests are treated to pop-up performances by the Main Street Trolley troupe, the Main Street Philharmonic brass marching band, and the Dapper Dans barbershop quartet several times throughout each day.
Heading into Frontierland, the sounds of the Notorious Banjo Brothers and their tuba blowing buddy Bob fill the western-themed streets. Later in the afternoon there’s a chance that you could find yourself dancing the Hokey Pokey with Brer Fox, Brer Rabbit, and the Country Bears along with other residents of Frontierland in the Hoedown Happening.
Meanwhile, over in the tangled jungle of Adventureland, Captain Jack Sparrow and his first mate give lessons in swordplay and general skullduggery at the Pirate Tutorial. And of course, there are always the fabulous Magic Kingdom parades. Disney’s newest, the Festival of Fantasy, heads through the park every afternoon at three and is definitely not to be missed!
Walt Disney’s passion for creativity, innovation, progress, and celebrating global cultures led to the creation of Epcot in 1982. With Future World in the front and the World Showcase in the back, Epcot is a park that inspires, educates, and entertains.
In Future World, which honors human advancements in science and technology, the Innovention Fountain Show dazzles guests with dancing shoots of water synced to a variety of musical selections. The spray from close to 350 nozzles, some that launch water 150-feet into the air as it flows in time to the music and is lit at night by 1,000 colored lights. People are constantly walking right past the fountain in the midst of this spectacle, but it offers a great opportunity to relax beneath the cool mist and rest your feet.
Roaming throughout Future World is a troupe of comedic custodians known as the Jammitors, who hammer out a cacophony of rhythms on a trio of trashcans-on-wheels using an odd assortment of tools – my favorite is the plunger. The Jammitors launch into impromptu spectacles near Innventions Plaza, banging on their pails in an energizing percussive performance.
But the crème de la crème of Epcot’s entertainment magic can be found spread throughout the World Showcase, Walt Disney’s tribute to the World’s Fair. Tucked into 11 different country pavilions you’ll find some fabulous performers from jugglers to musicians, and from acrobats to comics, dancers, artists, and thespians. Some of our favorites are the British Revolution in the UK Pavilion, Mariachi Cobre in Mexico, and the Voices of Liberty in the American Adventure.
The Studios, as it’s known, is probably the park with the least in the way of roving performers. That said, with its focus on Hollywood legends and the magic of the silver screen, the entire park is really one big theatrical production.
Strolling along the park’s fictional Hollywood and Sunset Boulevards, you’ll likely encounter a smattering of entertaining characters known as the Citizens of Hollywood. From glamorous stars to aspiring actors, talent scouts to police officers, these flamboyant personalities engage with guests and one another, periodically breaking into spontaneous bouts of Hollywood schtick. Stop and chat with Hubert Hayseed, a young comic from Idaho looking to hit the big time, or observe the colorful antics of leading lady Tootsie du Jour. Officer Manly will give you a ticket if you double park your stroller while gossip columnist Ruma Hasit might pick your brain for the next juicy tidbit of celebrity scandal. These folks are a ton of fun, so if you see them in the vicinity be sure to stop to join the show.
Another way to immerse yourself in the action at Hollywood Studios is to take a walk to the Star Wars Launch Bay, but watch your step. Stormtroopers are on the prowl here and will grill you about your identity and destination in the event that you might be a spy for the rebel alliance. The Stormtroopers are definitely a bit freaky and my 12-year old kept scurrying behind my back whenever they appeared. And if you want to take your Star Wars love to the next level, don’t miss Jedi Training, an interactive experience that takes place several times each day by Star Tours.
What Hollywood Studios lacks in the way of street acts in comparison to the other parks, it more than makes up for through its six live productions, including Beauty and the Beast, Disney Junior Live on Stage, A Frozen Sing-Along Celebration, and the classic Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular where you might even be chosen as an extra.
Like all of the Disney parks, Animal Kingdom is organized into several distinct “lands;” however, Disney’s Imagineers took the theming here to another level and the attention to detail is just phenomenal. In keeping with that authenticity, the performers staged throughout the Animal Kingdom connect deeply to their particular areas of the park.
Upon entering the Animal Kingdom, travel through the Oasis, where if you look closely you may to encounter DiVine, a performance artist who has brought nature to life. On Discovery Island, the Viva Gaia Street Band delights with a colorful infusion of sights and the rhythmic sounds of a Caribbean celebration.
Moving deeper into the park finds you on the winding streets of Anadapur, Animal Kingdom’s fictional Asian village, where DJ Anaan spins a fusion of Bhangra and Punjabi music at a Bollywood street party complete with dancers who teach Indian-inspired moves to adventurous guests. Beneath a stone temple on a leafy path, Chakranadi plays traditional eastern music on the sitar and tabla.
The African market town of Harambe pulses with the dynamic Afro-pop sounds of Burudika, which is Swahili for “to be refreshed.” Grab a Safari Amber on draft at the Dawa bar and cool off for a while. Also in Harambe, the Tam Tam drummers bring the cultural energy of West Africa to life with rhythmic beats and authentic dances. Feel free to sit back and relax or join the party.
Of course, the main stars at Animal Kingdom are the wild critters that call the park home. Becoming a Wilderness Explorer at the entrance to Discovery Island is a great way to learn more about Animal Kingdom’s plant and animal life. Cast members acting as Troop Leaders are stationed throughout the park and are there to guide explorers to make discoveries, answer questions, and dole out badges. It’s a great way to delve more deeply into the conservation efforts of this beautiful park.
4 Helpful Tips for Discovering Disney Performers
1. Make street performances a part of your plans
Allow for downtime in your touring schedule when making your park plans. Try not to rush from attraction to attraction in spite of the clock ticking in your head. Sit on the curb on Main Street to listen to the dulcet tones of the Dapper Dans or clap along with Sergio the juggler in Epcot’s Italy. These are the moments you’ll remember most
2. Pick up a Times Guide
At the entrance to all of the Disney theme parks you’ll find a printed Times Guide next to the park maps. This guide lists all of the performance times for all of the acts mentioned in this post. Steve Soares website, Walt Disney World Entertainment, is great planning resource for showtimes and other performance information. Check it out before your trip.
3. Use performances as a time to rest
Walt Disney World is a fabulously fun, yet sometimes overwhelming experience. Frequent breaks throughout the day—for a cool drink, a Mickey Bar, or just to relax in the shade—are good for everyone in the family. Pairing a street show with some R and R is a way to keep everyone fed, watered, and entertained all at the same time.
4. Join the fun!
You’re sure to embarrass your kids—I know I always do—but don’t hold back when given the opportunity to participate. Play along with these cast member’s tongue-in-cheek skits, join the band, dance along to the music, or sing along on a favorite tune. Lose yourself in the magic of Disney—it’s one of the only places left where it’s still okay to let your inner child reign supreme.