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Live entertainment makes the theme park experience – DePaoli on DeParks

by Jeff DePaoli

As much as I love the rides in theme parks, I’d probably be lying if I didn’t admit my favorite part of the experience is the live entertainment. Whether it’s a parade, stage show, “streetmosphere,” or even a nighttime spectacular, I just love the energy that a live performance can bring to a space. It is not uncommon for me to visit a theme park and go on one ride (or maybe none) and spend the rest of the time just enjoying the atmosphere and performances.

live entertainment
Photo courtesy of Walt Disney World

There’s something about live entertainment that feels so fragile and temporary. No matter how many times I ride an attraction, I’m primarily having the same experience. But with live entertainment, it constantly changes. Sure, the songs or sets may be the same, but the performers are regularly rotating and every individual brings their own touch to the show. Even when things go wrong in a live situation, I find it fascinating to see how it’s covered, as well as how many audience members might have noticed. There is an impressive art to fixing errors, or sometimes even bringing attention to them and making it a comedic moment.

But because these live performances aren’t bolted to the ground and are extremely malleable, they are often the first thing to get removed from the parks when there are budget cuts. As much as I understand this business decision, it feels shortsighted. The parks simply don’t feel alive when live entertainment is missing. Without it, a theme park is just a bunch of people walking quickly (no running, of course) from one ride to the next.

Disney Princesses Appearance at Magic Kingdom

We are certainly living in an unprecedented time, but I’m happy to see that theme parks have found creative ways to make sure there is some sort of live entertainment done in a safe way. Most parks are having their characters and performers visible from a distance.

One of my favorite examples of this was shared by @Attractions on Twitter, where Winnie the Pooh was frolicking around Epcot and trying to catch a butterfly. This is such a great example of what can be done with characters and live entertainers in a time when the “norm” isn’t possible. Seeing characters in their “natural habitats” makes these fantastic worlds feel more real. I honestly hope that these special moments remain once it’s safe for the meet-and-greets and close-up interactions to return.

Mickey and Friends Cavalcade at the Magic Kingdom

I’ve also enjoyed seeing these “random” character cavalcades happening in the parks. This feels like a happy compromise to avoid large crowds standing around waiting for parades to begin. The fact that the parks have gone above and beyond to ensure we still get to see our favorite characters, I believe, proves how integral characters and live performers are to the theme park experience we all know and love.

I was thrilled to see that the Actors’ Equity Association recently reached an agreement with Walt Disney World, hopefully meaning that we’ll begin to see more live performances back in the parks sooner rather than later. If you’re not familiar, Actor’s Equity Association is a union for performers ensuring the well-being of their members. All performers you see on Broadway are part of this same union and certain shows in the Walt Disney World parks employ A.E.A. members.

Where does live entertainment in the parks land for you? Is it something you go out of your way to see or would you not miss it if it were to go away? If you are a fan of the live performances, what are some of your favorites?


Jeff DePaoli is a producer and voiceover artist living in Los Angeles. He can be heard as the voice of Disney Trivia on Alexa as well as the host of “Dizney Coast to Coast,” the ultimate, unofficial Disney fan podcast. Get your FREE gifts of “America’s Hidden Mickeys,” “On the Rohde Again,” “Theme Park Comfort Kit” and more at DizneyCoastToCoast.com.

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2 comments

Rick Nelson August 14, 2020 - 8:11 pm

Totally agree with your comments Jeff. We went to Epcot this week and thought the experience was somber and sad…it lacked so much magic. No characters to be seen…no live shows (except for a very short Jamminators show in a nearly empty America Gardens Theater. Many shops and restaurants were closed. Very glad to hear they’ll be bringing back some live entertainment soon.
The Citizens of Hollywood are the best…and love to see Frozen Sing-a-long. We mostly like the parks for the atmosphere and live performances.

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Bob Hoke August 14, 2020 - 9:17 pm

Just had to comment! I love live entertainment. There are so many different kinds of shows. The song and dance revues are my favorites. Man for almost 50 years I would see the wonderful presentations in the parks. Just to list most of the parks brings back so many great memories. Gosh of course there are the grand Disney parks…..and Busch Gardens, Sea World, Six Flags, Hershey Park, Dollywood, Kings Island and Dominion, Carowinds, Knotts Berry Farm, Universal Studio…. Absolutely some of the best moments of my life. Those broadway type shows…outstanding…to say the least! The 100s of shows, parades, themes!! just the best. Special theme shows like water ski shows, holiday themed shows, gymnastic and diving shows, pet shows. And once again the broadway shows with phenomenal dance and song skills so greatly appreciated. How I love!! the themepark live shows.

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