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IllumiNations Cruise: Celebrating with a Bang!

Happy Fourth of July!

I can’t think of a better day to talk about my favorite nighttime activity in Walt Disney World: IllumiNations. I know, I know. It’s been around for a million years, but I can’t help but love it and watch it as many times as possible during a WDW trip. For me, it’s the music that makes it stand out. It’s so powerful and gorgeous. I could listen to it for hours. (And just ask my husband, I do.)

One of my favorite memories from past vacations was booking an IllumiNations Cruise with my family and two other family friends. It was a gorgeous August evening on the water as we drifted toward Hollywood Studios and all around the BoardWalk area before landing under the International Gateway Bridge between UK and France. The captain of the ship shared the story of Illuminations with us while the fireworks went off and the globe came into view.

Since 2007, I’ve been dying for an excuse to do it again.

Fast forward to last November when James and I went on a trip with my best friend and her fiance. They had just gotten engaged that August and I thought it would be nice to commemorate it somehow. I don’t know why I didn’t think of the IllumiNations Cruise sooner but luckily, there was a spot open for a [BLANK] night during the last weekend of Food & Wine.

It worked out perfectly because a) we would be spending our day at Islands of Adventure and wouldn’t have to buy a WDW park ticket for that day, and b) my best friend’s fiance wasn’t that fanatical about Disney so it was a good non-Disney Disney activity to partake in.

The thing to know about November is that the weather in Florida can be pretty unpredictable. Two years ago my best friend and I went to WDW during the same weekend and we were surprised by how cool it was during the day and changed into jeans and sweaters every night. This time, James and I were swimming every night. It was odd. But of course the evening we booked this particular cruise was the coldest of all evenings. Luckily, our ship captain, Todd, was prepared and there were blankets provided!

We picked up the boat at the Yacht & Beach Club Marina, where we had an early dinner. (This trip, we were staying at Saratoga Springs so we took the boat to Downtown Disney and the bus to the Boardwalk.)

Another factor I hadn’t considered was that the sun would be setting earlier than it did in August and it would be darker out most of the time. It didn’t mean we didn’t get some awesome views. (Although it was a terrible time to have a new camera. I had the hardest time getting good shots.) Most of the parks were already decorated for Christmas and when we drifted past Hollywood Studios we got a great view of their holiday trees all decked out in lights. (As someone who is a little Christmas obsessive, this was a highlight.)

While our lovely captain toured us around, he shared some stories of Disney trips when he was younger (which I found to be adorable). As we took in the sights (and snuggled closer to our significant others), we snacked on a cheese plate and fruit plate that I ordered from Yacht Club Private dining, in addition to enjoying some beer. (These were extra charge, and if I had known our dinner was going to cut it close with the cruise — it was really crowded in the BoardWalk area that evening – I probably would have just ordered the beer. The cruise does come with sodas and assorted chips.)

The great part of the entire cruise was the discovery that the pontoons could now move closer to the center of the lagoon while IllumiNations was happening. Depending on the wind, of course. If possible, IllumiNations is even more of an experience up close. The cruise really makes you feel like a VIP with a front row seat.  And that’s after seeing it over 50 times in my lifetime. (It might be closer to 100 but I will never know.)

This might be one of the pricier events to book while on property but for a special occasion or a change of pace for those WDW veterans, it’s more than worth it. Sure, the price tag is pretty steep at $346.13 (for a cruise of up to 10 people) but you do receive a 10% Disney Vacation Club discount. And if you want to get a little festive, the crew will decorate for an extra $25.

The rare picturesque moments, the privacy, and not having to camp out for a spot around the lagoon are part of what make this activity so stress-free and fun. You just sit back and let someone else take the wheel. (Don’t they say something similar on the WDW buses now?)

I’m already thinking ahead to the next special occasion so we can book another IllumiNations Cruise!

Looking to do something special? Seriously. Do not hestitate. It is suggested to make a reservation 180 days in advance, but for the record, I did get lucky and booked very close to our trip. Call 1-800-WDW Play. You’ll have to put a credit card down as a deposit and can cancel up to 24 hours before your booked date. And if you’re interested in finding out about the Yacht Club Private dining options, call (407) 934-3160.

About Estelle Hallick


Estelle is a Disney enthusiast with a soft spot for Muppets, theatre, and small details. She thinks Animal Kingdom is a full day park, the BoardWalk feels like home, and nothing is better than watching Illuminations. When she's not writing about Disney, she's taking out a record number of books from the library and reviewing fiction at Rather Be Reading Blog.

Melissa SueJuly 6, 2012 - 10:13 am

This is such a fabulous idea. I would never normally consider it, but it’s really not that expensive at all!!

AmandaJuly 6, 2012 - 12:59 pm

The cruise was a fabulous gift idea. Having seen Illuminations numerous times around Epcot, it was a fun new way to experience the show from that close of a spot with no one blocking your view. Plus, our boat driver was very friendly and informative as he drove us around. It was a very fun experience and I highly recommend it! (Plus, thank you again Estelle & James!)

[...] we linked them above, head to This Happy Place Blog to read Estelle’s account of a magical IllumiNations Cruise. Now we want to go on [...]

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