OpEd: It’s Time to Save Christmas at Disney World

in Op-Ed, Walt Disney World

Osborne Lights at Hollywood Studios

Credit: simon17964 via Flickr

For over 20 years, Disney World was home to one of the most magical, majestic sights on earth – and no, we’re not talking about Cinderella Castle.

With all the Christmas announcements lately, I can’t stop thinking about one thing. Every year, Walt Disney World – like other Disney Parks across the globe – pulls out all the stops for its Christmas celebrations. Magic Kingdom typically gets the most festive touches (even if it looks like Cinderella Castle Dreamlights may be a thing of the past), but Animal Kingdom, EPCOT, and Hollywood Studios still get enough pixie dust to set the Parks apart at the most wonderful time of the year.

mickey mouse and minnie mouse in their holiday outfits at disneyland resort
Credit: Disney Parks Blog

From Christmas trees to tasty gingerbread treats, it’s hard to step into any one of these Parks and not know you’re deep into the holiday season. But once upon a time, one Park didn’t just toss around a few fairy lights and call it Christmas decor – it immersed Disney World Guests in a sea of synchronized, singing bulbs that made up the best Christmas display known to man.

I am, of course, talking about The Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights. Originally constructed by Arkansas businessman Jennings Osborne as a gift for his six-year-old daughter Breezy, these made their Disney World debut in 1995.

Osborne Lights at Hollywood Studios
Credit: simon17964 via Flickr

But this wasn’t just any old light show. The Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights was composed of over five million lights, contained by 10 miles (16 km) of rope lighting, which itself was connected by another 30 miles (48 km) of extension cords and required 20,000 man-hours to install and 800,000 watts of electricity to illuminate every evening.

In short, it was a festive electrical marvel. From mid-November to the first week of January, the display was switched on at dusk every evening – first on Residential Street, then on the Streets of America.

That was until 2016, when the lights were turned off for the last time on January 6 as Streets of America closed to make way for Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge and Toy Story Land.

Osborne Lights at Hollywood Studios
Credit: simon17964 via Flickr

In the seven years since, there have been plenty of rumors that the show could make a grand return. However, the chances of them returning in the same form are slim, considering that Disney donated most of the lights to Give Kids the World Village, a nonprofit resort in Kissimmee that provides critically ill children and their families with free “wish” vacations.

That means that any return would have to come with a whole new set of lights. Expensive, but not impossible. There’s also the question of where exactly they would go. Streets of America is now a relic of Disney World history. The only other ‘street’ setup at Hollywood Studios that seems viable is Sunset Boulevard. Yes, it’s smaller and has a much higher flow of traffic thanks to Fantasmic! and Tower of Terror, but who wouldn’t want to see the latter all lit up Osborne Family Spectacle-style?

Regardless of where it would go or the semantics of how, the biggest thing here is why it should return. Disney World may be the most magical place on earth – but sometimes free magic is in short supply. With the disappearance of Cinderella Castle Dreamlights and Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights, the most festive of Disney’s festive celebrations are now essentially behind a paywall.

Cinderella Dreamlights at Disney World
Credit: Josh Hallett via Flickr

For the families of five that don’t want to – or can’t – shell out upwards of $700 for Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, it was these magical touches that made Christmas at Disney World so enchanting. The likes of Genie+ and Lightning Lanes have already added new upcharges to the Disney experience; cutting the free experiences that bulked out the magic of your stay has been a tough pill to swallow for regular Parkgoers.

Sure, it may be a tall order to restore The Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights – especially with the actual Osborne lights out of Disney’s possession. But the return of something along the lines of the Spectacle, or the Cinderella Castle Dreamlights, is the gift Disney needs this holiday season.

What’s your favorite thing about Disney at Christmas? Let us know in the comments!

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