Lighting is an integral part of the Disney theme park experience. The parks come alive at night as a result of meticulously arranged lighting schemes, and without this attention to detail in terms of lighting, instead of the great kinetic energy and beauty the parks have at night, they would instead feel dark and empty. Most of this is accomplished via hidden show lights–the lights themselves are not noticed by guests, only the illumination is. A good example of this would be Cinderella Castle, where the light fixtures around the Castle provide very little illumination. Rather, the Castle is illuminated by dozens of LED lights located around the perimeter of Cinderella Castle and at the edges of the moat that shine onto the Castle. This type of indirect lighting is used widely in every Disney theme park to provide much more lighting–and more complex lighting–than “on-stage” light fixtures ever could.
As an avid photographer of Walt Disney World, Disneyland, and the other Disney theme parks, I am probably more cognizant of lighting than the average theme park guest. Lighting and the quality of light are often the difference between a mediocre photo and a great one. In terms of quality of light, the Disney parks are typically the equivalent of shooting fish in a barrel when it comes to photography. The typically excellent lighting schemes makes the Disney parks a photographer’s playground, with a few exceptions. (I’m looking at you, awfully-lit New Fantasyland!)
While out-of-view show lights are incredibly important to the way the parks look at night, just as important are the on-stage light fixtures. These lights do provide some illumination to the parks, but they’re more for thematic enhancement than anything else. After all, light fixtures are prevalent in the real world, and it would be pretty odd to have a perfectly illuminated theme park without any visible light sources.
I primarily post landscape Disney photos online, but these landscapes actually are just a small percentage of the photos I take. Most never see the light of day beyond my computer, as they are geeky, seemingly insignificant things like door handles, supplementary decor flourishes, and light fixtures…the exciting topic of this post! Light fixtures may not be of interest to 99% of theme park fans (if you clicked this post with a sense of great enthusiasm, you clearly are wise and have exceptional taste…or are dork just like me, depending upon one’s perspective) but they are really important to the overall tone, theme, and ambiance of each land in the parks.
I haven’t always been this keen on light fixtures. One of the great things about Disney parks, I think, are that they work on a multitude of levels. What’s also great is that there is a community of incredibly passionate individuals who focus on a range of diverse topics. As we’ve visited the parks more and more, I’ve become interested in the academic and artistic side of the parks, and have read books and blogs to greater understand and appreciate the work of the Imagineers. One such blog post that really blew my mind is this two-part post concerning the Lighting of the Magic Kingdom on Passport 2 Dreams. (I’m fully aware of how much of a geek I sound like by saying that a post on lighting blew my mind…I get points for self-awareness, right?) Until reading that, I had never paid a ton of attention to light fixtures in the parks. Sure, some especially beautiful ones caught my eye, but I never went out of my way to investigate lighting choices.
Now, I actively make a point of looking at all light fixtures I come across in the parks. For this post, I thought it would be fun to take a look at a range of light fixtures from Walt Disney World, Disneyland, Tokyo Disney Resort, Disneyland Paris, and Hong Kong Disneyland. Consider this “Disney Parks Lighting 101,” as it just scratches the surface, but hopefully gives you a newfound appreciation of the lighting in the parks!
The most notable light fixtures in any Disney theme parks are the light street lamps on Main Street, USA. Above is one from Disneyland, which (to my knowledge) is the only park that uses actual gas lights for its Main Street lamps.
If I had to pick one land in all of the parks worldwide that I think has the most lavish light fixtures, it would probably be Adventureland at Disneyland Paris. Not only do the gorgeous lights above line the path leading into the land, but it seems that every light is ornate. The top photo in this post is also from Paris’ Adventureland.
In the photo above, the sun is acting as nature’s light fixture to shine through the beautiful frosted glass on the Golden Horseshoe at Disneyland, but there’s also an interesting gas light inside a lantern reflector case. How light is reflected is incredibly important in the parks.
That fact is demonstrated spectacularly in this landscape shot. Notice the lone lamp in the middle of the scene? Now notice the light on the ground? That single lamp has its light diffused and reflected down to the ground, giving incredible texture to otherwise ordinary pavement. This type of lighting is used a lot in Frontierlands and Adventurelands the world over, where lighting can be used to give an added wrinkle (almost literally) to the aged look of the buildings and environments.
No matter which is your “home” set of parks, you have probably seen these stained glass Coca-Cola lamps. Do you know where they’re found?
Here’s an illustration of the Cinderella Castle point. These beautiful lamps are found around the perimeter of Cinderella Castle, but quite clearly, they are not what is illuminating the Castle itself.
Rancho del Zocalo has a seating area with a variety of lights like this that really give the place a romantic vibe. They’re why I called Rancho a great place for a cheap romantic date in our review of the restaurant!
I think there’s a reasonable chance that when Disneyland Paris was being constructed, its budget for light fixtures was greater than the entire budget for the construction of the Walt Disney Studios Park. A variety of beautiful stained glass lamps like this are found in Cable Car Bake Shop on Main Street.
I’m almost hesitant to open the can of worms that is the light fixtures of Tokyo DisneySea. Moreso than any other park, these light fixtures are used to enhance mood, theme, texture, and the overall beauty of the park. These lights are found in Aquasphere Plaza, the park’s entrance area.
Most lighting in attractions is accomplished via hidden show lights. To my knowledge, these odd tail lights in Radiator Springs Racers are actual lights.
Carthay Circle Restaurant is beautiful in a variety of ways, but lighting is one of the greatest. Last time we were there, I counted 7 different types of light fixtures. These large lights on the ceiling of the lobby are my favorite.
I’m sorry. I know for some of you, this photo is like salt in a wound. At least, that’s how it feels to me. But, I’d be remiss if I didn’t include the now extinct/private(?) Court of Angels, which had a variety of gas light fixtures that added both texture and romantic ambiance to this quiet courtyard in New Orleans Square.
Each of the ornate light fixtures in this photo of Arabian Coast at Tokyo DisneySea is unique. Just look at the texture they provide to the walls here.
The light fixtures in Hong Kong Disneyland’s Adventureland really intrigue me. There are a lot of unique and well done lights here, but they are used very sparingly for actual illumination. Overall, the land is dark at night and feels much more like untamed jungle than the other Adventurelands, which are more cheeky about “adventure.”
Much like Arabian Coast, Morocco in Epcot’s World Showcase has a variety of textured light fixtures. Overall, the use of light is exceptional in the World Showcase.
That just touches upon some of my favorite light fixtures around the Disney theme parks. Hopefully this taste of the different light fixtures has piqued your curiosity, and the next time in the parks you’ll take some time to inspect the lighting. Trust me, it (probably) seems less weird if we’re all staring at the lights and taking photos of them!
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Do you pay attention to the light fixtures in Disney theme parks? Do you have any favorites? If you don’t normally pay much attention to them, does this post give you a new appreciation for the lights of the Disney parks? If you have any other questions or comments, please leave them below.