Cinderella Castle Christmas Scenes: Crowds, Photos & Info
Magic Kingdom has debuted special projection effects to give Cinderella Castle a festive look for Christmas, providing a scenic backdrop for holiday photos. This post will shares photos of each design, our experience with crowds & physical distancing, and more.
This continues our resources about Magic Kingdom’s modified holiday offerings. Be sure to check out our Christmas Character Cavalcade Guide for best viewing locations, tips & info about that daytime entertainment. Once the sun has set and Santa and his reindeer have made one last “flight” down Main Street, these projections begin.
To quickly recap, these holiday projection backdrops are occurring in place of the Cinderella Castle Dream Lights, which were cancelled for 2020. Those brilliant icicle lights have become an icon of Christmas-time at Walt Disney World since they debuted 13 years ago, and hopefully this is only a single-year absence…
In explaining the decision to suspend certain offerings for the year, such as Candlelight Processional and Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, Walt Disney World indicated that “holiday experiences that draw big crowds will be on hiatus this year.”
Walt Disney World did not expressly state that was the reason the Cinderella Castle Dream Lights wouldn’t happen this year, but it was the implication. Even prior to the announcement, we guessed that the Dream Lights wouldn’t happen in our “Christmas Conjecture” post.
Regardless of crowds, there were several other reasons not to have the Cinderella Castle Dream Lights, from installation to park hours (which have since been extended pretty significantly across the board). While it could be another cost-cutting measure, we’re willing to give Disney the benefit of the doubt here and chalk it up to timing.
Installation of the Cinderella Castle Dream Lights normally starts in early September, before an official announcement about Christmas at Walt Disney World was even made this year. It’s possible everything was up in the air until the last possible minute, and by that point, it was too late to do the Dream Lights. In which case, something is better than nothing.
Before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s start with the basics.
Per Walt Disney World, there’s a rotating kaleidoscope of designs including festive stripes and dots (top photo), a whimsical Christmas sweater look (two photos down), a jeweled winter castle (pictured below), and a regal overlay of red, green & gold ornamentation (pictured immediately above).
Each of these is essentially an animated backdrop featuring scenes of Christmas. There are some moving elements and details, but it’s definitely not a projection show. There are also spotlights and trees around the Central Plaza are bathed in lights that match the colors on Cinderella Castle.
These holiday designs rotate once every 15 minutes, meaning it takes an hour to cycle fully through the projection backdrops.
In terms of a review of the designs, we generally like them. (What you see is what you get with these, so you probably can form your own opinion based solely on the photos.)
We do think there’s a bit too much similarity between a couple of the designs. Maybe three of them.
I don’t know why, but I was under the impression there would be a gingerbread Cinderella Castle. This would have been (and still would be!) cool. I know that because I’ve already seen it and have photos of it.
Back in the infancy of projection mapping at Walt Disney World, there was a Christmas segment in the “Magic, Memories & You” that featured a gingerbread castle, candy cane castle, light-strung castle, and other varied designs. (Even a brief castle cake!) More recently, Tokyo Disneyland did an entire Christmas projection show on its Cinderella Castle with fun and festive designs. I’m surprised none of those were used.
The limited nature of the designs is a minor quibble; again, something is better than nothing here. Moreover, others will likely enjoy the designs of the projection effects as-is.
Our bigger issue is that these projections in no way accomplish Walt Disney World’s stated goal of avoiding big crowds.
This was far and away the busiest we’ve seen Main Street and the Central Plaza since Magic Kingdom reopened.
We never felt unsafe and there were still plenty of pleasant spots for viewing the projections away from the crowds, but there were also areas of congestion. This was especially true between the Partners statue and Cinderella Castle. While this was opening weekend and that always draws visitors eager to be among the first to see anything new, it was also a relatively low-crowds weekend as compared to what’s ahead with Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Our Christmas character cavalcade post was fairly understanding on the point of crowding. As we pointed out there, those are fairly low risk given that they’re fleeting, outdoors, and everyone is masked. Additionally, Walt Disney World is doing its best on enforcement, it’s just somewhat of a losing battle.
The same is generally true here–Cast Members were everywhere doing a great job reminding guests to wear masks while taking photos and encouraging physical distancing. Nevertheless, there is definitely much more room for improvement with the projections.
The first and easiest improvement would be to shorten the duration of each holiday backdrop. Drop it from 15 minutes to 2 minutes.
This is a pretty significant cut, but part of the problem we observed is guests standing around, waiting for the full cycle. A longer cycle means more guests congregating on Main Street for longer periods of time. Two minutes is sufficient time for most people to grab a photo. If not, they can catch it on a second cycle, which would still be significantly less of a time commitment than what many guests are doing right now.
Alternatively, abandon this idea entirely.
That probably seems harsh, but that might be the better route. We’re not trashing the concept–the projections are fun and give a festive flair to Cinderella Castle. And of course, hindsight is 20/20. With that said, we saw and overheard many guests who were “waiting for the show to start” or asking Cast Members what time “it” began.
This might seem preposterous to knowledgeable fans or anyone who reads a Walt Disney World-centric blog; it’s important to remember that most guests are not like us.
For years (literal years!) after Main Street Electrical Parade ended, people would still line the curb each night. It takes a while for word of mouth to spread and collective knowledge to evolve. Suffice to say, some guests are going to be camping out for “the show” once these projections begin through the entire holiday season.
We’re not advocating for doing away with projections completely, but instead transitioning to an actual show. Given that the holiday season has already started, this might be difficult, but it’s not as unreasonable as it might sound.
Again, there are already projected vignettes of Christmas that fit Cinderella Castle from both Magic Kingdom and Tokyo Disneyland. A quick 3-5 minute show could be cobbled together from those, and easily spun as a “magical enhancement” to the holiday season.
The benefit of such a change to a brief projection mapping show for Christmas is that it would give guests what they’re expecting and send them on their way more quickly, lowering prolonged congestion on Main Street.
That’s exactly what’s happening over at Animal Kingdom with the Tree of Life Holiday Awakenings, which are being shown as normal. Those haven’t had nearly the crowding issues, with guests stopping when the vignette begins and leaving when it ends.
In fairness, there are very obvious differences between crowd flow around Cinderella Castle and the Tree of Life. Guests will always congregate around the Magic Kingdom icon at night. There’s no way to totally eliminate that, just reduce it. What’s currently being done could be improved upon, particularly since crowds will only get worse during the holiday weeks.
Ultimately, the projections on Cinderella Castle at Magic Kingdom are fun and do make nice backdrops for photos. It’s an idea that seemed great in theory, especially if the alternative was nothing at all. (Next year, we hope the Cinderella Castle Dream Lights return–this doesn’t hold a candle to those.) However, seeing the guest response and operational realities necessitates further tweaking of this idea. Here’s hoping Walt Disney World does exactly that and improves upon these holiday special effects!
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What do you think of the holiday special projection effects at Magic Kingdom? Prefer these to the Cinderella Castle Dream Lights, or hope those return next year? Thoughts on our recommendations of shortening the duration of each projection or switching over to an actual vignette show? Concerned about crowding and physically distancing breakdowns? Do you plan on visiting Walt Disney World this Christmas, or are you sitting this year out? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!
I think I agree with you, Tom, that the projections should cycle faster, but I will say that my family (me, wife, and two kids, 6 & 9) had the most magical end to a Disney trip I’ve ever had on Friday November 20. We just sat on one of the fake grass viewing areas in the Plaza for an hour after closing just watching the castle and listening to the music, and the crowds were low enough it really felt like we had our own peaceful island.
Great shots Tom. These look great, whereas the early projections a few years ago downright sucked and were nowhere near Disney quality but more like a junior high project. I like your idea of reducing the cycle time.
We went today, Veterans Day, to Magic Kingdom. It was a nightmare. Most walkways were very congested and impossible to social distance
Big-time let down because you can’t park hop, so this ended up being a waste of a ticket.
Great photos. Thanks for sharing what I sadly have to miss this year.
Just thought I would mention my experience last night. If you are worried about these crowds there are a few things you can do. I have an underlying health issue so I am being pretty careful. Especially since numbers are on the rise across the country and in Europe. My daughter and I still wanted to see everything so we made a plan. First-we went on a Tuesday, which seems to be the least crowded day of the week. Second-if something had a wait over 30-40 minutes we went somewhere else and came back. If you are willing to do a little extra walking this plan has worked well for us. Some areas are just hit and miss, 45 minutes and then less than an hour later 15minutes. Third-we hopped in line at 7:45 (15minutes before closing) for Jingle Cruise. It was still posted 40minutes and pretty much took about 45. When we got off we went to Starbucks and got a drink. By 8:45 the park was really emptying out. We were in the hub, sitting by the Walt statue with maybe 10 other people. Got really great pictures and enjoyed the castle projections with no crowds.
Thanks for sharing your experience–glad to hear the crowds were lower for you (at least for the Cinderella Castle projections).
Thanks for all the info! I have a question about rope drops, are the times posted? How do you know when to go. Thank you
The irony of the use of projections to limit people gathering compared to the castle dream lights that don’t really change while people are waiting for the projections to change is funny but not really. Too bad they did stick with the lights instead.
I agree- reducing the time to a quick 2 minute or even 5 minute turnaround will reduce folks standing and waiting to see them. Thinking of a faster version of the Hollywood Studios Tower of Terror projections from previous years.
We’ve been there a few times since re-open, and have felt they’ve done a good job with social distancing and keeping the crowds moving. While I applaud them for trying, this kind of “show” just seems like a really bad idea, and goes against the effort they’ve been putting in. Totally agree it should probably just go away. Besides the obvious crowd safety concerns, this also seems like one of those situations where they’re just asking too much of the cast members.
“…this also seems like one of those situations where they’re just asking too much of the cast members.”
100% agree. That was also our impression in seeing Cast Member interactions with guests.
What are your crowd projections for the week of Christmas?
REALLY? No lights on the Castle, No Parades, No Magic brought back that is canceled, Live Shows, Entertainment, on and on. Full price for this Diminished Experience?
Hard No Thank You.
While something is better than nothing, I really dislike the continued and growing reliance on projections. I’m not opposed to projections as enhancements to other things – but I would rather see a fireworks show or the gently glistening and swaying castle lights.
I have an OKW reservation for Dec. 2-6, but I’m waiting until the last minute to decide whether to keep it or not. That looks like a lot of people in those photos. Is there a strategy to see the lights but not be so crowded? Maybe those photos look crowded because everyone is leaving at the same time, so we could just straggle behind until it has thinned out some – Or am I kidding myself? Our MK day would be the first Thursday in December. Thanks!
These lights are hideous!
I was there on the “debut” last Friday.. and stayed at the same spot waiting for some show, maybe a Tinker Bell appearance.. but still the music and lights created a holiday spirit
“Prefer these to the Cinderella Castle Dream Lights?” Absolutely not. When my daughter was little, we booked a Christmas-season trip almost entirely upon seeing a picture of the dream lights. The projections are certainly fun and cute, no nowhere near as magical/special/whatever adjective is best.
We will be there next week, looking forward to seeing the castle projections. I am disappointed about the decision to not have the icicle lights as they are my favorite! We made the decision to not cancel our reservation since we heard Disney is doing well enforcing the social distancing and mask rules, but I am still concerned since it appears crowds have definitely increased. This will be a different Disney experience for sure! I just hope things are back to normal before our next trip!
I’m looking forward to seeing this week after next.