Disney World Fails to Announce Cinderella Castle Dream Lights for Christmas 2023

Cinderella Castle’s Dream Lights are not slated to return for Christmas 2023 at Walt Disney World. The dazzling display transformed Magic Kingdom’s icon into an ice palace suitable for Elsa prior to the pandemic, but have since been replaced on a temporary basis by projections. It would appear that trend will continue this holiday season, and likely beyond if guest feedback doesn’t cause the company to reassess the decision.

Walt Disney World announced the holiday lineup today, and the Cinderella Castle Dream Lights were a conspicuous omission. They were put on temporary hiatus back in 2020 along with Candlelight Processional and Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, as Walt Disney World indicated that “holiday experiences that draw big crowds” would not be presented. Colossal crowds congregated nightly for “A Frozen Holiday Wish” in the years prior, so that explanation made sense.

Then for the last two years, there’s been a bunch of junk on Cinderella Castle as part of Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary. As we noted last year, that excuse didn’t really pass muster. The World’s Most Magical Celebration was essentially the celebration that wasn’t, and no one would’ve cared if they stopped doing Beacons of Magic or did the Dream Lights. We thus feared that the Cinderella Castle Dream Lights were gone for good, and hoped that fans respectfully voicing their disappointment about the absence of the Christmas Castle could convince Walt Disney World to rethink the decision. Apparently, that did not work.

We say apparently because there had been rumblings for the last few months that the Cinderella Castle Dream Lights were returning for Christmas 2023. We expected the display to return, and shared that sentiment in our Halfway to the Holidays Predictions for Walt Disney World. Perhaps it was a matter of wishful thinking clouding my judgment, but I was pretty confident in that prognostication based on what I’d been hearing.

So frankly, this comes as a surprise and disappointment to me. Being the inveterate optimist, it also has me wondering whether it’s truly too late for the Cinderella Castle Dream Lights during the 2023 holiday season. If what I’ve heard is accurate, this was truly a last-minute scratch. Maybe I’m just giving too much credence to questionable intel and what I want to be true.

Instead, Walt Disney World has announced that Magic Kingdom will be home to something new for Christmas 2023. For the first time in forever, guests will be able to join Elsa, Anna, Olaf, Kristoff, and the Snowgies in front of Cinderella Castle at Magic Kingdom for “Frozen Holiday Surprise.”

This is a brand new Frozen-inspired entertainment experience that will illuminate the castle in a whole new way. (I assume “a whole new way” is code for “a way that’s cheaper than installing physical icicle lights” which itself is code for “projections.”) The new “Frozen Holiday Surprise” can be seen during regular park hours and during Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party.

As for why there’s a new Frozen show that will “illuminate the castle in a whole new way” instead of the tried and true Dream Lights, perhaps Walt Disney World was/is on the fence and has been unable to properly “quantify” the Dream Lights’ drawing power. (This wouldn’t be the least bit surprising given what we’ve heard of Disney’s internal machinations, in which case we’d direct the company’s attention to all of the fans who have essentially said, “I’d book a trip for Christmas 2023 just to see the Dream Lights again.” Thus far, we’ve seen that sentiment exactly zero times for the projections.)

Maybe the company is currently satisfied with Walt Disney World’s resort occupancy and attendance forecasts for November and December 2023 (that seems highly doubtful given the release of 4 different discounts today for the holiday season–the best special offers for that timeframe since 2019 during the Star Wars Slump!).

Normally, something on the scale of the Cinderella Castle Dream Lights would be planned out months ahead of time, with a decision made months in advance. However, it would not be the first time that Walt Disney World has made a gametime decision of consequence. Just this year, we’ve seen the company pull a lot of levers–and relatively quickly–in an attempt to reverse a summer slowdown in demand.

Something similar was observed a couple of years ago during the Christmas season. After the delta variant derailed plans, Walt Disney World scrambled to add more entertainment for the holiday season, resulting in Very Merriest After Hours getting a parade, stage show, and fireworks–none of which were present for Boo Bash at Halloween–as well as the Candlelight Processional and more. All of that worked, with Walt Disney World going from seeing extremely low crowds in August through October 2021 to doing huge numbers that November and December.

This year, there was a 6-week stretch in late April through May that was the slowest Walt Disney World had been since…October 2021. Crowd levels have since bounced back a bit, but summer is still far below trend. From the outside looking in, it’s impossible to say what hotel occupancy and attendance forecasts look like for the holiday season, but the sudden release of a bunch of deals, AP appreciation, etc., aren’t exactly the moves of a company that is going blockbuster numbers. (In fairness, they aren’t exactly doing Blockbuster Video numbers, either.)

Point being, it’s still not too late for the Cinderella Castle Dream Lights at Christmas 2023. Yes, the odds are not on our side–there’s probably a 98% chance that Walt Disney World doesn’t bring them back–that the decision is final. But the odds of success on Cosmic Rewind are only .02%, and I’ve been on that ride a few dozen times and haven’t died once! So I feel like luck is on my side.

On a positive note, the moat is currently drained and there are still cranes stationed all around Cinderella Castle. Realistically, there’s probably a window of about 2 months for this decision to be reversed.

Again, this new is a huge disappointment to us and we were really hoping the Cinderella Castle Dream Lights would return. That Walt Disney World would do the sensible thing, notch another guest satisfaction win, and improve its goodwill among fans.

The Dream Lights were one of our favorite things about Christmas at Walt Disney World for the last decade-plus prior to them being cancelled in 2020. We spent many a late night on Main Street, simply gazing down at those resplendent lights, savoring the scene. I lost count of how many times we did this over the years–probably over 100. And yet, it still somehow feels that we took the Cinderella Castle Dream Lights for granted and didn’t enjoy them quite enough.

One thing we always recommend doing is respectfully expressing your disappointment and explaining how the company’s decisions and practices will impact your vacations and future business (or lack thereof) with Walt Disney World by emailing [email protected].

If you’re considering a visit this holiday season and are disappointed by the lack of Cinderella Castle Dream Lights in the announcement, consider addressing it proactively contact Guest Relations to politely let them know how you feel.

“Respectfully” and “politely” are the operative words here for a reason. While an irate rant might make you feel better, it’s not the route to take if your goal is effectuating change. We’ve seen and heard way too many guests offer snide or sarcastic feedback; venting can be cathartic, but that’s about it. “You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar” is a cliche, but it’s also one that a disturbing number of adults don’t seem to grasp.

Given all of the negative changes and guest unfriendly policies that Walt Disney World has enacted in the last few years, it might seem like the company no longer cares about guest satisfaction and feedback. It’s probably true that there are some at the highest levels of leadership who don’t, or focus more on objective KPIs, but there most certainly are leaders on the ground in Florida who care. In many cases, it’s simply a matter of them being able to show “support” when fighting for things, budgets, etc.

For those who have never had a chance to see the Cinderella Castle Dream Lights, they are nothing short of spectacular. Some of you cynics might think such a physical light display is quaint or antiquated, surpassed by the ease and flexibility of projections. That those of us who miss the Dream Lights are simply clouded by nostalgia and sentimentality, ignoring the daytime visual blight, installation, and simplicity of the physical icicle lights.

I wholeheartedly disagree. No projections can match the more than 200,000 tiny white lights that illuminate Cinderella Castle and transform it into a veritable ice palace. On paper or even in photos, it might seem simple and commonplace. In person, the display was anything but that. The Dream Lights would stop you in your tracks, with the resplendent physical display being an absolute jaw-dropper. Words, photos, and video absolutely cannot do it justice. I’m not normally one for the flowery language in Disney’s press releases, but even the company’s marketing teams undersold the Cinderella Castle Dream Lights. Whatever praise you’ve heard about the Dream Lights, it’s true. All of it.

Speaking of which, since no one leverages lofty language quite like Walt Disney World, here’s how the company described the Cinderella Castle Dream Lights when they first launched back in 2007:

As if suddenly dusted in a million ice crystals, Cinderella Castle shines like the galaxies, adding to the wintertime wonderment of the holidays at Florida’s Vacation Kingdom. And what a spectacle.

“We are thrilled to be adding this brilliant new castle spectacle to the holiday festivities at Walt Disney World this season and for seasons to come,” said Francois Leroux, vice president of Walt Disney World Entertainment. “This glistening holiday enchantment creates perfect fairytale magic for this festive time of year.”

“For a park aglow in holiday magic, this becomes the new and eye-filling superstar,” added Disney Entertainment show producer Rob Hamberg who supervised the weeks-long rigging of the turrets and towers for the light show. “Nothing will rival ‘Cinderella’s Holiday Wish’ for sheer visual spectacle.”

With a wave of Fairy Godmother’s wand — and guests joining in to make the wish come true — Cinderella Castle magically morphs into a glorious wintry confection, twinkling in the sky. “The castle suddenly shines like a glistening blanket of ice,” explained Disney show writer/director Alan Bruun. “Guests won’t believe their eyes at the spectacle as Cinderella’s holiday wish comes true.”

Projections have replaced the Cinderella Castle Dream Lights for the last few years, and will again in 2023 barring a Christmas miracle. For the last several years, they’ve been a rotating “kaleidoscope of designs” including festive stripes and dots, a whimsical Christmas sweater look, a jeweled winter castle, and a regal overlay of red, green & gold ornamentation.

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 change throughout the evening, and are each displayed for several minutes before changing.

These are fine, I guess, but projections are played out and nothing special at this point. Walt Disney World has way overdone it with projection-mapping, so it should be no surprise there’s a bit of fatigue with it. There are projections in the fireworks shows, on the other park icons (Tree of Life, Tower of Terror, Grauman’s Chinese Theater), and more.

Simply put, projection-mapping has lost its awe and novelty thanks to overuse. This is part of why the Beacons of Magic at EPCOT are beloved fan favorites, whereas no one cares about the rest of them. The Spaceship Earth display features physical lights and has a special, unique quality that projection mapping cannot match. Just like the Cinderella Castle Dream Lights!!!

Ultimately, the projections for Christmas on Cinderella Castle at Magic Kingdom are…fine, I guess. Better than nothing. Worth seeing once, I suppose. They exceed guest expectations when starting from a baseline of zero. That’s really about it, though.

By contrast, the Cinderella Castle Dream Lights were something special–truly a magical sight to behold, and that’s not a term we use lightly. Seeing the lighting ceremony and the transformation to a bona-fide icicle castle at dusk was mesmerizing. Turning the corner when entering the park and seeing Cinderella Castle aglow in 200,000+ glistening lights took your breath away. The Dream Lights were literally wow-inducing, and the projections cannot hold a candle to that.

The “problem” with magic is that it’s not quantifiable, even if it leaves an indelible impact on guests. Nevertheless, Walt Disney World should do the right thing, deliver an experience that exceeds expectations, and bring back the Cinderella Castle Dream Lights for Christmas 2023. It’s the smart decision for guest goodwill and satisfaction, even if it doesn’t quite pencil out in a spreadsheet.

Planning a Walt Disney World trip? Learn about hotels on our Walt Disney World Hotels Reviews page. For where to eat, read our Walt Disney World Restaurant Reviews. To save money on tickets or determine which type to buy, read our Tips for Saving Money on Walt Disney World Tickets post. Our What to Pack for Disney Trips post takes a unique look at clever items to take. For what to do and when to do it, our Walt Disney World Ride Guides will help. For comprehensive advice, the best place to start is our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide for everything you need to know!


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 for Christmas 2023? Planning on voicing your thoughts about the Dream Lights–or anything else–to Guest Relations? Do you plan on visiting Walt Disney World this holiday season, 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!

27 Responses to “Disney World Fails to Announce Cinderella Castle Dream Lights for Christmas 2023”
  1. Debra Artt December 25, 2023

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