It has been one week since the final run of Epcot's Illuminations Reflections of Earth in Walt Disney World. The show premiered on October 1, 1999 and ended on September 30, 2019, completing a stunning 20 year run.
Because the show ran for such an incredibly long time, many of us grew up with it – or watched our children grow up with it. It held our hearts with the sort of nostalgic power that made saying goodbye incredibly hard – even if we did know that it was time.
The show chronicled Earth's existence – from the chaos that forged it in fire in the opening scenes, to order and meaning, and ending in the lighting of 19 torches around World Showcase Lagoon and then the opening of the massive globe to reveal the final flame representing the 20th century.
I've explained my feelings about the show and having to bid it farewell to so many people in recent weeks – but I've never shared them here.
For myself and so many others, the real pull of Illuminations was its music. When we were still living in Maryland but longing for this place, I would so often stream the Illuminations soundtrack in our house. Sometimes it would help me feel closer. Sometimes I had to turn it off because it moved me so much that the distance broke my heart.
But I noticed a change coming over me as I watched it in recent years. I went from simply enjoying it to feeling protective of it. I knew how much it meant to me – how much meaning was buried in the show's several sections – but I realized more and more how lost it was on newcomers. I found myself explaining the storyline to people who hadn't necessarily asked to try to make it sing to them the way it sang to me.
I found myself looking around during the show wishing that people would be able to appreciate it properly. I became fiercely defensive and protective of it. I looked out on the 20-year-old effects. On the globe that sometimes managed to open and sometimes didn't. On this beautiful show that I'd come of age watching with friends and family…and realizing how it looked to first time guests who had likely just seen Happily Ever After in the Magic Kingdom and were comparing it to that.
And so I knew it was time. Still…
I watched the final show at Epcot outside of the Italy pavilion surrounded by friends. Hugging a dear friend who was perhaps the show's biggest fan but who also knew its time had rightly come. And we cried. Ugly tears. When that moment hit in the 2nd act when the music hit a crescendo and the pavilions around us began to light up, I tried to make myself be fully present and soak in that I would never see it again. And I cried ugly tears.
But I knew it was time.
And so I want to thank Walt Disney World for giving us the gift of a 20 year run of this beautiful show. Letting it go was not easy but I think we've all accepted that it was time to move on.
And so for that one last time:
Ladies and gentlemen, the entire Epcot family thanks you for having been with us for ‘Illuminations: Reflections of Earth', presented by Siemens. We hope that your visit to the Walt Disney World Resort has been a truly magical experience for you and yours. We wish you a pleasant evening and a safe journey home. Thank you and goodnight.
* * * * * * * *