Shining For The Last Time

A mood of good cheer from delighted dancing was the norm at the youngish “Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights.”

But no more.


This year is the last as the the Walt Disney World Resort pulled the plug on the still young (RIP at the unripe age of 20 years old) Christmas attraction.

Despite its age, the attraction has proven to be among the park’s most popular yearly events.

The attendance-boosting attraction ends its welcome on Jan. 3.

But not without giant evidence of its popularity.

“Since the lights went up Nov. 6,” wrote a newspaper account, ”the park has had crammed walkways and a jammed parking lot, prompting the rerouting of some guests to park at Epcot, where they are transported to the Studios.”

Photos showed guests “jamming the streets” to see the show.

The yearly attraction regularly added to attendance numbers.

But in the end, popularity alone does not mean longevity.

The street scene, part of the park since it opened as Disney-as MGM Studios in 1989, features facades of buildings constructed as backdrops for film production.

When the Osborne event is in action, these false fronts are covered with strings of multicolored lights, which are choreographed to blink — they’re “dancing” — during select songs.

The company has not indicated what will happen to the park’s Streets of America, where the lights have been presented since 2004.

Not with theme parks anyway

So these changes, though jarring to visitors, are not without thoughts about their impact…

What about other lost rides and attractions?

What do these changes mean?

And what’s been replacing them?

In the Dancing Lights case…

Disney said its preparation for coming attractions to Hollywood Studios, including lands dedicated to the “Toy Story” and “Star Wars” franchise, would prevent it from presenting the lights in the future.

Disney became home to the display in 1995, after Arkansas businessman Jennings Osborne was ordered to discontinue his elaborate presentation with millions of lights on his property.

At first, the lights appeared along the park’s Residential Street, part of the back-lot tour.

The addition of “Lights! Motors! Action! Extreme Stunt Show” led to the closing of that area. That, in turn, moved the displays to their current spot in 2004.

In 2006, the lights began to be choreographed to music.

After the move to Florida, Disney continued to add to the light count. In 2011, the company made a complete switch-over to LED units.

A wrap for dancing lights

Disney has been selling souvenir merchandise, including ornaments and last-year-only T-shirts sporting characters and “That’s a wrap!”

Needless to say, there were many disappointed fans at the news.

Its demise obviously prompted even higher attendance.

But it was all a reminder that it has happened before.

Another one of the latest to close: Captain EO, the 3-D sci-fi musical film starring Michael Jackson with in-theatre effects. It has been entertaining visitors on and off since the mid-1960s.

Unlike other closings, this did not bring any uproars.

The Motley Fool cited several reasons.

For one, it was already living in borrowed time.

It came and went regularly. But never seemed like a permanent attraction to most visitors.

Michael Jackson’s reputation even near the end of his short life also was tarnished with scandal. He remains a great but controversial talent.

It also didn’t help that Jackson himself can be a polarizing celebrity, given the accusations levied at him later in his career. 

The Fool made the point that his replacement might uplift sometime sagging attendance at Epcot.

The new attraction will feature three of Pixar’s animated shorts not with 3-D but 4-D effects. In the meantime, the site of the Magic Eye Theater is hosting a new short film festival.

Some closings seem logical and fitting

That makes sense to boost Disney’s sometimes more obscure short animated films.

“While it’s still the second most visited theme park in Florida, I didn’t seem to rattle too many loyalists when I recently predicted that it would be Disney World’s least visited park come 2020,” writes the Fool.

The most famous episode to attract huge public attention was one that goes farther back. It was a ride primarily for children.

“Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride” was one of the original attractions at the 1971 opening.

It depicted the life of Mr. Toad from the classic Disney animated cartoon, ”The Wind in the Willows.”

Visitors boarded 1930s-style miniature motor cars to take a chaotic ride through the streets of London and the countryside.

If nothing else, this tame ride shows how our definition of “wild” has changed since record-fast and record-high roller coasters came along.

Mr. Toad was the victim of what often happens when a new attraction comes along.

In the case of Mr. Toad, it was a new Winnie-the-Pooh ride in the Magic Kingdom.

One blogger wrote:

“The 1998 departure of Toad from the Magic Kingdom was a clear signal that nothing was certain about the park’s attractions or their longevity, and also that earnest petitioning would not be enough to save favorites from destruction.”

It also showed that attractions did not have to lose their sponsors, as some did.

Or that smaller attractions can be put to sleep even if they may not have involved a huge amount of money and staff to be subject to elimination.

One prime example: “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.”

Also opening in 1971, this was an unusual adventure.

The sunken subs

The submarines were designed to resemble the “Nautilus” from the Disney classic movie, and the book “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.” Although the submarines never fully submerged, guests were seated below water level in front of portholes where they could observe all the underwater scenery.

Unfortunately, due to maintenance costs and low capacity, the ride was closed permanently in 1994. It eventually was replaced by the “Seven Dwarfs Mine Train.”

Another lost attraction years ago was the Kitchen Kabaret. “A revue that’s got the whole town cookin’!” was one comment of the Epcot attraction at the Land pavilion.

Wrote one blogger:

Presented by Kraft, this strange little show delivered a musical primer in basic nutrition and the four food groups.”  

When EPCOT Center opened in October 1982, the Kitchen Kabaret was the attraction (Journey Into Imagination’s ride didn’t debut until the following March) that most closely resembled something from the Magic Kingdom.  

Its bright colors, screwball humor, upbeat songs and Audio-Animatronic figures seemed familiar to anyone who had ever seen the “Country Bear Jamboree” or even “The Mickey Mouse Revue.” 

The greatest difference was that the Kitchen Kabaret was trying to teach a useful lesson. Cooking skills, no less.

It opened in 1982, and closed on Jan. 3, 1994.

Then, there was the less practical but visionary Delta Dreamflight.

It opened in 1989 and lasted until 1998. The ride encouraged visitors to travel (an early trend that is far more prevalent today than at that time) and perhaps sample its sponsor, Delta Airlines.

Fly with them

The attraction featured a hodge-podge of projection screens, animatronics, and pop-up storybook style sets.

Passengers waited in an area that looked like a terminal, then climbed into painted blue cars.

The guests would then “take off” and travel through the ride. The ride was replaced by Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin in 1998. 

A much scarier ride was the “Extra Terrorestrial” Encounter. Part of the threatening nature was its total darkness.

It was set in a theatre, which replaced the “Mission to Mars” in 1994. In 2003, it was replaced and became “Stitch’s Great Escape”!

This was another scary ride that generated a lot of complaints: “Snow White’s Scary Adventure.”

It was not really so scary despite the name but small children did cry at times.

After minor renovations to make the ride less scary, it reopened in 1994. However, with the New Fantasyland expansion, Snow White’s Scary Adventure closed in 2012 when it was transformed into a Fairytale Princess “Meet and Greet” attraction.

Then, there was Discovery Island. It opened on Bay Lake in 1974 as Treasure Island. It was a place to watch the state’s famous wildlife. Visitors came by boat, and saw lemurs, Galapagos turtles, exotic birds and many more animals in their natural habitat. Guides were on hand to provide information.

The island was closed to the public in 1999.

What happened to the birds and wild creatures?

Never fear

They were all sent to sanctuaries at Animal Kingdom, which had a timely opening for them.

River Country was another drowning victim.

It was the first water park here, opening in 1976.

Located near Discovery Island on Bay Lake, the wilderness themed water park was designed to resemble the “old swimming hole” of movie and book fame. It had man-made boulders, rope swings, inner tube slides, and an area called “slippery slides falls.”

The later had contained chlorinated water, not lake water like the rest of the park. That led to its downfall.

The water from the lake was filtered, but a threatening amoeba infiltrated the filtering system. River closed in 2001,

World of Motion stopped moving in 1996.

It opened at Disney World in 1982. Visitors boarded a six- passenger Omnimover (constantly moving) vehicle. They traveled through a series of humorous scenes depicting the progression of transportation from the invention of the wheel to present day and beyond.

Comic touches included a mock used chariot sale.

There was also a major traffic jam featuring life size horses and chickens escaping their overturned cages.

Another highlight was a Model T auto.

When it closed, it was replaced by “Test Track” in 1999.

Horizons opened at Disney in 1983 and was another Omnimover conveyance system ride.

Visitors rode past visions of the future.

Jules Verne was among the visionaries whose fantasies were depicted. The trip with animatronic figures predicted life in various environments.

Not predicted: an end to the ride.

The educational, entertaining, attraction closed permanently in 1999, and was eventually replaced by “Mission Space”, which opened in 2003.

More nostalgic

Do many visitors today remember the 200 foot Mickey Hand over Spaceship Earth? Probably not.

Not really a paid attraction, but it was a gigantic Mickey hand holding a magic wand on Spaceship Earth.

It weighed 500,000 pounds.

It stood over 257 feet high. That made it the tallest structure at the Walt Disney World Resort. Born: 2000. Died (or taken down): 2007.

There’ also a long list of things not seen any more at Disney.

Individual ride tickets.

Believe it or not, newcomers, these were around in 1971 when Disney opened. You had to buy a ticket for each ride.

That changed in the late 1970s with the introduction of unlimited use tickets.

There also used to be bright yellow colored ponchos to shelter from the rain. There are still ponchos sold at Disney but not the yellow ones with Mickey on the back. Phased out about three years ago.

Even more nostalgia

You also used to able to have it your way. McDonald’s Food had an agreement with Disney to sell their food in the Orlando parks. It was phased out around 2007.

Most of us may have failed to notice but the soap in bathrooms used to be pink bars. That changed sometime after 2001 when there were poison scares after 9-11. Liquid hand soap was the replacement.

Hardly an important change. But something of a lesson.

Double-decker bus service was also around when Epcot and World Showcase opened in 1982. They carried visitors around the 1.3 mile World Showcase loop.

They were later phased out and began being used for parades.

Sorry, visitors, you have to walk now.

So what is the lesson in all of this, anyway?

All things change…

Even when it comes to magical places. ###