by MTT Jenny S, Jenny Stow
Day 1: Steven Curtis Chapman, Michael W. Smith, MercyMe, Skillet, Audio Adrenaline, for KING & COUNTRY, City, We As, Moriah Peters
My friend and I spent Friday afternoon in Downtown Disney, lunching at T-Rex, shopping, and checking out Disney Quest for a bit. Unfortunately, it began raining that afternoon…not a torrential downpour, but a steady, nonstop drizzle. The rain continued throughout the afternoon and into the evening, so even though we were able to enter Magic Kingdom starting at 4pm with our NOJ tickets, we held off and headed back to our room at the Contemporary to wait it out a little, hoping the rain would let up before the NOJ shows were scheduled to begin.
When we got to the Contemporary, I asked several Cast Members at the front desk if there would be any changes to NOJ due to the rain, and got several less-than-knowledgeable answers… one CM told me that the event could be delayed until the next day, one CM told me that they would relocate the concerts to indoor locations outside of Magic Kingdom, one told me that the concerts would still go on, but possibly be delayed, and yet another told me that there would be no delays, and the shows would start right on time as scheduled. Strange no one really had an answer, since it tends to rain during Night of Joy about every other year. Ah, September in Florida. Good times.
So, I decided to head over to Magic Kingdom to find out for myself. My friend stayed back at the hotel awhile longer to get some work done, and was planning on coming over to MK a little later, once I found out what was going on with the shows.
Lesson 1: NOJ definitely ties up Disney transportation. Leaving the Contemporary, armed with my umbrella, I encountered a packed line for the monorail, and waited for about 3 monorails to pass before being able to board.
30 minutes on a crowded monorail later, I arrived at Magic Kingdom. I got through the gates easily with a quick tap of my MagicBand (love those things!), grabbed a brochure with tonight’s concert line-up, and found Main Street to be teeming with a sea of umbrellas and ponchos. Right away, I noticed that the typical Disney area music had been replaced with a live broadcast from Z88.3FM, Orlando’s Christian radio station, which was pretty awesome. I walked up to Cinderella Castle around 7:45pm, and found that the concerts would definitely be delayed – Steven Curtis Chapman and Michael W. Smith were supposed to have been onstage at 7:30pm, but nothing had started yet. The castle stage had been tented, and a huge video screen was set up behind the stage. Night of Joy merchandise booths were set up all over the place, but only offered a couple of t-shirts and a few trading pins. Because of the rain, all the merchandise was wrapped up in plastic bags.
Cinderella Castle Stage: Cinderella Castle Stage is just like it sounds – a stage set up right in front of the castle. It’s definitely the easiest stage to find for those unfamiliar with Magic Kingdom, and this is where the major headliners will play. The crowd began right in front of the castle, spread all over the hub and, for this particular show, ended right about where Main Street began.
I found a decent spot next to the sound booth near the hub, and waited for the show to start. The crowd was pretty big, but not unmanageable – actually, better than the crowds I’ve encountered during Wishes at times. This show in particular was less crowded, I think, simply due to the rain and the fact the Steven Curtis Chapman and Michael W. Smith didn’t seem to be as popular as some of the other bands with the many rather young youth groups in attendance. It was pretty easy to weave throughout the crowd to get a little closer, although pictures were near impossible with all the umbrellas in the way. I called to let my friend know that the show would be going on, but was delayed and hadn’t started yet, and she hopped on the monorail and met up with me on Main Street.
Lesson 2: I’d heard that if you wanted a great view, you’d need to get there a few hours early and stake out a front row spot, but I found that this is almost entirely not the case. I wound through the crowd and walked around quite a bit during the shows, and was able to get great photos from just about anywhere. I showed up right at the beginning of almost every show, never waited prior to the show, and had no problems getting in. If you’re an obsessed fan and HAVE to be right in front of the stage, then yes, you’ll need to get in line early and wait for that amazing spot. Otherwise, you can easily get a good spot and good pictures by simply walking up as the show is starting. The exception to this: shows at Galaxy Stage. Be there or be square.
The first show finally began around 8:00pm. First, Jodi Benson (the voice of “The Little Mermaid”), walked onstage – she’s our host for both evenings, and a spokesperson for World Vision, one of Night of Joy’s sponsors. She spoke about World Vision and her love for Disney for 10 minutes or so, and then introduced Steven Curtis Chapman. He and his band came onstage, and played 4-5 songs in the rain, standing under the little tent onstage. Then, he welcomed Michael W. Smith to the stage – and these two guys seem to be best buddies, because the show really livened up then and they were clearly having a grand time onstage together. They did 3-4 more songs together, then Steven Curtis Chapman took off and Michael W. Smith played 4-5 more songs solo.
Meanwhile, we inched our way through the crowd, making our way over to the Tomorrowland side of the hub, and left the castle area right before Michael W. Smith’s show ended so we could catch the beginning of Audio Adrenaline’s set. Happily, Disney scheduled Audio Adrenaline for two shows in a row, which gave those of us who wanted to watch both shows an opportunity to see the first show at the Cinderella Castle Stage and still catch the second Audio Adrenaline show. Thanks, Disney!
Lesson 3: You’re not going to see all the shows. Pick your favorites, make those your priority, then check the schedule and make a doable plan. You might be able to catch a few minutes of some of the other shows as you’re passing by, but don’t get your hopes up.
The second Audio Adrenaline show was scheduled for 8:50pm, but due to the rain delay, every show that night went on at least 20-30 minutes late. We got over the Galaxy Stage around 9:10 or so, and they started playing just as we walked in.
Galaxy Stage: Galaxy Stage is located in Tomorrowland, hidden way back in the corner between Buzz Lightyear’s Space Range Spin and Carousel of Progress. This stage is rarely used nowadays, but if you happen to have attended Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party in 2008 or earlier, you might remember this as the theater where the “Mickey’s ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas” show was featured. Since then, the benches have been removed, and this is now a standing-room-only area. It is enclosed, but uncovered, and does have a more limited capacity than the other stages.
Galaxy Stage didn’t have the convenience of a tent onstage, and they played in the rain, poor guys. But they were prepared (especially lead singer Kevin Max, who looked dashing in his rain slicker). They put on a fantastic show, despite the rain. After a couple of songs, they played a video featuring their ex-lead singer, Mark Stuart, who was promoting the Hands and Feet Project. Just about then, we realized we hadn’t eaten dinner yet, and my friend graciously offered to go grab us some dinner at Cosmic Ray’s while I stayed for a few more songs. Time permitting, I would have love to see this whole show, but alas, too many shows, too little time.
As it turns out, my friend ran into long lines at Cosmic Ray’s, so she was just picking up our food when I walked in 15 minutes later. There was a DJ from HOT 95.9 radio set up where Sonny Eclipse usually is, and he was hosting an extremely loud (and as far as I could tell, not very popular) show. We ate in a hurry, and then headed back over to Cinderella Castle to see MercyMe.
MercyMe began playing right as we walked up, and we stood on the sidewalk on the outskirts of the crowd and still had a pretty decent view. Being on the right on the sidewalk this time, we noticed dozens of Cast Members pacing along the sidewalk, monitoring the crowd.
Lesson 4: Their rules are no joke. They take crowd control seriously. Listen to them, play along, and nobody gets hurt. It’s a big crowd, and while it was never unruly or crushing, the Cast Members were ever diligent in their effort to keep everyone safe. One major rule was a particular line on the sidewalk, which no one was allowed to cross if they were part of the crowd watching the show. And when I say no one’s allowed to cross it, I mean not even your little toe. As soon as your toe crosses that line, a Cast Member will be right behind you reminding you to stay behind the line. This was actually really nice, though, because it left the sidewalks clear, and it made walking past the crowd a breeze.
While MercyMe was playing, the rain finally began to let up, which was good, because the lead singer is definitely not one to stand in one place. He was constantly leaving his little tent onstage to get closer to the audience. They put on a great show, and drew a crowd pretty similar in size to the Steven Curtis Chapman and Michael W. Smith audience.
There was a bit of a ruckus during the show when a sympathetic Cast Member bent the rules and let a man with a prosthetic leg lean against the sidewalk rail for a few minutes to rest a bit. Immediately, other folks flocked over to the Cast Member, complaining about their own health problems, whining, “Why does HE get to lean on the rail and I can’t?”, and some even complaining directly to the guest who was allowed to lean on the rail. The poor Cast Member seemed a little taken aback by their behavior and shocked at how quickly he almost had a riot on his hands, but other Cast Members came over to assist and they handled it well, urging everyone to return to the crowd.
And then, just a few minutes later, a team of paramedics quickly passed by while transporting a woman on a gurney from the Rose Garden area, which just validated the importance of the “no standing on sidewalks” rule.
After a few songs, it was nearing 10:30pm, and my friend decided to go ahead and head back to the room. I stuck around, because I was determined to see the for KING & COUNTRY show at 12:10am. She walked off down Main Street toward the monorail, and I opted to go a ride a few attractions, since I had about an hour and a half until for KING & COUNTRY started.
I walked around through Adventureland (which was practically a ghost town) and over to Frontierland. And there, I discovered where all the youth group kids had been hiding. Before this trip, I’d read that out of all of Disney’s special events, the attendees of Night of Joy were the most obnoxious. I was prepared for shrieking groups of unsupervised pre-teens, and hadn’t seen any yet – most of my fellow concert-goers had been older adults. Also, there were very few families with young kids, and almost no strollers in sight.
Turns out, the youth groups WERE in the park, and many of them were just enjoying the rides until it was time for the bands they were there to see. However, every youth group I encountered was polite and well-behaved. Some were a little hyper and over-excited, maybe, but what kid with free rein in Magic Kingdom wouldn’t be?
Lesson 5: Almost all the rides were open! I know this is a change from years past, where only a few rides were operating. Most rides had little to no wait – even Peter Pan’s Flight was a walk-on. There were much longer lines at the Mountains at times, but practically no lines and no people anywhere else. The exception to this is Tomorrowland – there are two stages here, it’s one of the closest Lands to Cinderella Castle, and the majority of the crowds spent their time in Tomorrowland. Not many people seemed interested in walking around the park, and seemed to stick with the attractions close to the stages, so Space Mountain and Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin definitely had the longest waits.
I hopped in line for Big Thunder Mountain Railroad with only a 10 minute wait, and then decided to walk over to Tomorrowland to ride Space Mountain. As I was passing through Frontierland, I noticed that the Diamond Horseshoe had been turned into a “Talent Spotlight Stage”, which featured amateur performers. It seemed pretty crowded, but I didn’t stop in. Down the street a bit, Liberty Tree Tavern had been designated as the Group Leader Lounge. Also, there were World Vision information booths all over the park, hoping for sponsorships. I moved on through Fantasyland (another ghost town), and into Tomorrowland.
I got in line for Space Mountain, which had a 30 minute wait. Not ideal, but there were no FastPasses, and I didn’t know if I’d have another chance to ride it, so in I went. The line was almost entirely full of loud teenagers, but Space Mountain is totally worth the wait. When I exited the ride, I headed over to Galaxy Stage, walking past an empty Rockettower Plaza Stage on the way.
Rockettower Plaza Stage: This stage hosted the lesser-known of the artists playing that night. It’s right in front of Space Mountain, where the Club 626 Dance Party is held some nights. I didn’t catch any shows at this stage, but it had plenty of room for a good-size crowd.
Galaxy Stage was about ¾ full when I walked in, and I was able to make my way toward the middle of the crowd. The show started about 12:15am, just a few minutes later than scheduled, and was phenomenal. Thankfully, for KING & COUNTRY was blessed with clear skies, and a really enthusiastic, dedicated crowd – I’d say that most people left in the park were over at the 11:55pm Skillet concert on the Cinderella Castle Stage. For KING & COUNTRY played until a little after 1:00am, and I stayed until the very end of the show.
Afterwards, we were all funneled towards Main Street by Cast Members who stood in a line and formed a human barrier from the rest of the park. Night of Joy was obviously running later than they had anticipated, due to the rain, but they still seemed to at least want everybody contained in the Main Street area after 1:00am.
I headed towards Main Street, taking my usual shortcut through Tomorrowland Terrace, and found a major World Vision booth there. Tomorrowland Terrace had also been reserved as a “World Vision Lounge”, and actually offered a fantastic view of the Cinderella Castle Stage from the terrace. They were packing up and let me step in for a few minutes to watch the show. I watched Skillet do a couple of songs (the concert was still going at full force), got some pictures, and left Magic Kingdom for the night. Skillet was the only band who incorporated fireworks in their show that night, and I caught a glimpse of fireworks from the monorail on the way back to the Contemporary.
Lesson 6: Good views of Cinderella Castle Stage, if you can get it – try Tomorrowland Terrace, as well as the path in front of Crystal Palace. Much less crowded, and set a little higher than the crowd, so you can see over everybody. These spots are a little farther away, but that’s not a problem if you have a camera with a good zoom, or don’t care about pictures. You can hear the show very clearly from anywhere surrounding each stage.
Night of Joy is returning September 5-6, 2014. Part of next year’s lineup has already been confirmed, including Matthew West, MercyMe, and Hillsong United.
– Jenny S.