The Light Fixtures of the Disney Parks

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.

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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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Your Thoughts…

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.

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30 Responses to “The Light Fixtures of the Disney Parks”

  1. Kayla says:

    Love this post! I notice the light fixtures on Disneyland’s Main Street the most, so it’s my favorite domestic park land for lights. The real gas lamps on Main Street might actually be my strongest memory of my first day in DL. I vividly remember looking up and seeing one while waiting at the end of Main Street for rope drop.

    Whenever we may travel there, I’ll be sure to pay special attention to the light fixtures in Disneyland Paris!

    • Tom Bricker says:

      The Main Street lamps in Disneyland are definitely the most noticeable of the Disney light fixtures, I think. Even if they aren’t as ornate as other lights, I also think they add the most ambiance to their land.

  2. Sariah says:

    Woohoo! I’ve always wanted you to do a post about light fixtures. ;)

    Sarcasm aside, great post! I would love to see pictures of doorknobs, though. Please do a post on doorknobs soon. And beautiful pictures, as always. :)

  3. Emily says:

    A lot of that Disney Magic is definitely in the details. While I appreciated the overall effect, I never really paid attention to the light fixtures. But I know the next time I go, without question, I’ll pay better attention. (And I agree with Sariah – a post/some pictures of doorknobs would be extremely interesting to see.)

    • Tom Bricker says:

      The door handle photos are generally pretty ugly (I just take snapshots for reference), so they’re not something on which I’d do a post. Thanks, though! :)

  4. Amy P. says:

    I’m glad to see that I’m not the only one with a big portfolio of light pictures from disney! However your pictures are much better!

    • Tom Bricker says:

      You never know when that portfolio will come in handy. Seriously, there have been plenty of times when I’ve wondered about something or needed reference, and I could just go back to my photos for the info I wanted.

  5. Mitch says:

    This is one of my all-time favorite posts on your blog because it’s another reminder of how genuinely special and unmatched the Disney Parks are in so many ways. Maybe the mine train walls being down will open up more lighting possibilities around the somewhat under-lit new fantasyland. I do love the lighting on Ariel’s Grotto at night, however.

    And yeah… seeing the court angels in this post… it cuts me deep!

    • Tom Bricker says:

      I’m hopeful Mine Train will bring something new to the table lighting-wise, too. My understanding is that the same Imagineer who did the lighting for Cars Land has headed up the lighting on New Fantasyland. Interesting to me as the lighting is excellent all-around in Cars Land, but not so much in New Fantasyland. Lots of oversaturated and uneven lighting.

      • maarch says:

        Now you got me even more excited about the Mine Train. Cars Land is gorgeous at night and if there’s even a slight chance the Mine Train bring this vibe to the Magic Kingdom, I’ll be like a kid in a candy store !

  6. maarch says:

    Well I must be part of the 1% of fan who upon seeing your post clicked on it without hesitation. I love disney, but I LOVE disney at night and the lighting of the park is a huge reason of it. I love these kind of details that only them can do.

    • Tom Bricker says:

      Nothing wrong with being party of the minority of fans who are interested in Disney light fixtures. My studies have shown that we’re a cool, smart, and good-looking bunch! ;)

  7. Karen says:

    Love this post, love all your photos, last time we were at Disney I took shots of the different park benches all over the property, it was awesome. Thanks. We are heading there next week and I’ll be keeping an eye out for some of these light fixtures.

  8. Wendy says:

    Love this type of post, all about the details. I’ll have to share this with my husband, who is just developing his talent in photography. He will definitely appeciate the beauty of these photos!

    As a side note, we’ve used your posts to help with a lot of purchase decisions and tips! Keep ‘em comin’!

  9. Lillian says:

    Well, I rank right up there is the geek area with you for being super excited to find this post. I’ve only been to WDW, but you highlighted two of my favourite areas for lighting (which I always notice) and that would be Adventureland and especially Morocco at Epcot (and World Showcase as a whole). Thanks for the post, and more pics are always welcome. Door hardware wood be another cool blog as well as flooring.

  10. Nate says:

    I still miss the old gas torches in Adventureland. I think the plants grew up a little too much and were causing a fire hazard.

    • Tom Bricker says:

      Wouldn’t that just make Adventureland a little more adventurous? Think of all the fun in dodging flaming plants! ;)

  11. Chloe says:

    I’ve been a lifetime fan of Disney parks but I’ve never noticed the lighting so much. Thanks for giving me something else to appreciate about the parks. I agree that the details are what make everything seem more magical. Great post as always!

  12. Tara says:

    As a architectural designer with an particular interest in lighting, I love to this post!! I love reading about the details that go into making the Disney parks so great!

  13. Eric says:

    Love the post, Tom. Always great to read about those Disney details that make the parks special. Thanks for all of the hard work that you and Sarah do for the site! :)

  14. Jess says:

    Great post! I am one of those geeks who find things like this particularly interesting. Those Coca-Cola lights are from Casey’s Corner, right?

  15. Laura B. says:

    Re: paragraph 4, I prefer the term “nerd.” “Dork” is so…juvenile. I feel “nerd” at least gives the idea of quality and quantity of brains. ;-)

    Great post, seriously. I’ve never paid much attention to the light fixtures, concentrating on other details instead. I see I have some work to do.

  16. Kirsten says:

    I’m a big fan of your photography! I’ve been looking at your pictures to get even more excited for our upcoming trip! My favorite light fixtures happen to be the spider ones at Animal Kingdom.

    • Tom Bricker says:

      Spider ones at Animal Kingdom…are those near the seating area for Flame Tree? I’m drawing a blank, otherwise…

  17. Jeff M. says:

    All beautiful, all the time! Your pictures bring joy to my geeky Disney fanboy heart.

    I do enjoy the landscape shots, but the details are often where the imagination is hiding in plain sight. You could have easily doubled the picture count for this post and I would remain captivated. From one lamp lover to another, Thank you so much.

    Now…about those door handles. When can we expect that post?

    • Tom Bricker says:

      Thanks for the kind words. The door handle photos are not quite photogenic enough for me to feature in a blog post here. I’ll work on more “artistic” photos of them going forward!

  18. Dave says:

    I’ll throw in the lights at Lumiere’s on the Disney Magic being impressive (the ones with the roses). On the flip side, the lampshades in the rooms on the ship are one of the few slip-ups. On the surface, they are nicely designed world maps, nothing at all wrong with them, but if it spins around and you look at the hemispheres and compass rose (It’s that or some sort of stamp) and….well, um, oh my that’s an …
    I’ll find my photo soon to show you.


  19. Lee says:

    Love this article! I take so many pictures at Disneyland of lighting fixtures and people look at me like I’m nuts. I’m so glad to see I’m not the only one! Some of my favorites are the Toucan lamp in the 1901 lounge, and the lanterns hanging around Critter Country with the branches on them. The Grand Californian has some great ones in the walkway from DTD as well. :)

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