By Kristin Harmel
Updated: April 24, 2017
Helen Sessions / Alamy

Gone are the days when a Disney visit was mostly about the rides and character sightings. Now, Walt Disney World is as well-known for its shopping, world-class dining, and entertainment as anything else. Each year, Disney World hosts dozens of well-known bands at Epcot, but the resort’s own original shows are still some of the most impressive live performances in the Southeast. The show casts are filled with veteran actors, singers, and performers of all kinds, many with Broadway credentials. The sets are extraordinary, and the writing, choreography, costume design, and music all combine into a very special kind of Disney magic. Shows within theme parks are included in your Disney admission, so don’t miss the first three on this list. (The final two are separately ticketed performances.) The caliber of the performances—and the one-of-a-kind nature of each show—makes your Disney ticket that much more valuable. Enjoy!

Finding Nemo—The Musical

One of my favorite attractions on Disney property, this 40-minute Animal Kingdom show follows the story of the popular Finding Nemo film. The performers—including my very talented friend Christina Sivrich, a Broadway veteran—sing 14 original songs while piloting incredible larger-than-life puppets through a vibrant seascape. The show is so wondrous and captivating that I always forget I’m watching a friend and instead get drawn deeply into the absorbing underwater tale. Included in park admission.

Festival of the Lion King

Also at Animal Kingdom you’ll find this show, which is just as spectacular in a completely different way. Enjoy live songs from The Lion King in a dramatic celebration of the film’s main character, Simba. Fun audience interactions blend with gravity-defying acrobatics, impressive stunts, vibrant dance numbers, fire juggling, aerial ballet and much more in a truly memorable performance. Included in park admission.

Beauty and the Beast—Live on Stage

Essentially a condensed version of both the popular film Beauty and the Beast and the Broadway musical of the same name, this Broadway-style show at Disney’s Hollywood Studios uses creative costuming, sets and music to bring alive the world of Belle and the Beast. I get tears in my eyes every time I see it, and I always find myself singing along. Included in park admission.

Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue

This popular dinner experience at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground is a rip-roaring good time. Enjoy an Old West-style singing, dancing and comedy variety show while you dine on bottomless family-style servings of fried chicken, ribs, salad, baked beans, cornbread and strawberry shortcake. You may even get called up on stage to join in the show.

La Nouba by Cirque du Soleil

Located in a striking theater on the edge of Downtown Disney, this Cirque du Soleil spectacular is like nothing you’ve ever seen. From flying trapeze artists to stunt cyclists, and from high-wire acrobats to gravity-defying trampoline dancers, the incredibly talented performers will take your breath away. The gorgeous live music is just icing on the cake.

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