Dreamlights: Disney’s Best Night Parade

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Tokyo Disneyland Electrical Parade Dreamlights is far and away my favorite night parade in any worldwide Disney Park. This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to readers of this blog, given that I’ve gushed about it repeatedly on the blog. It’s better than the new Paint the Night parade and my sentimental favorite, SpectroMagic. It makes Main Street Electrical Parade look like even more of a hobbled dinosaur than it is. In this post, I’ll share why I love Dreamlights, along with my anecdote of trying to see the “Renewed” Dreamlights.

Upon first seeing Dreamlights a few years ago, my mind was blown. I remarked in our Tokyo Disney Resort Trip Report that it takes the light parade concept to the next level. By combining a great soundtrack with some plussed versions of the standard floats stateside guests are used to, and then throwing some truly astonishing floats into the mix, Dreamlights had surpassed every other night parade for me.

After seeing it for the first time, Dreamlights helped ease the pain of the news that SpectroMagic floats had been destroyed. The wow-factor of Dreamlights confirmed to me that SpectroMagic should have been peacefully retired years ago, and also what a next-generation nighttime parade really could be. Some of this was realized stateside with Paint the Night, which has flashes of greatness, but doesn’t hit the same emotional high notes for me due to the films represented (totally a personal thing) and its shorter duration. (Here’s hoping Walt Disney World receives its own new nighttime parade soon.)

When I learned that Dreamlights was being renewed towards the end of my visit to Tokyo Disneyland last summer, I knew I had to see it. A friend in Japan tipped me off that the parade would have an unannounced preview day on July 8 to coincide with the grand opening of Stitch Encounter. Made sense that they’d want to wash away the awful taste of Stitch Encounter with some awesome Dreamlights action.

Since Tokyo Disneyland Electrical Parade Dreamlights wasn’t on Times Guides because it was technically “dark” for a few days, it would also be a great opportunity to photograph the parade with minimal crowds…

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Unfortunately, it was really raining hard in the afternoon and early evening. After waiting and hoping on the curb in my favorite spot, I finally decided to give up. There’s no way the parade would run in that much rain, so I started heading towards Westernland. Much to my surprise, an announcement played that “Nightflaw Glow” would be shown (the rainy day alternative). I say this was a surprise because nothing was scheduled to run, so I figured Dreamlights getting cancelled meant there wouldn’t be a parade at all.

Nightfall Glow is a nice parade with a beautiful aesthetic, and even though it’s short in duration, even it is arguably better than Main Street Electrical Parade. I wasn’t too worried at this point, though, as I still had 2 nights of the trip to see Dreamlights (and the last two days of my ticket had Park Hopper).

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The next day, the weather outlook was much better, with the only precipitation early in the day coming from the water cannons of Natsu Matsuri at Tokyo Disneyland and Summer Festival at Tokyo DisneySea. Unfortunately, as I arrived back at Tokyo Disneyland in late afternoon, the weather forecast wasn’t looking as good, and rain again cancelled the parade.

On my final day, everything was looking great all day, and the forecast for rain was extremely low. It was also the first Friday the renewed Dreamlights was scheduled to perform, so I knew it would draw huge crowds of locals. I left DisneySea for Tokyo Disneyland several hours before the parade was scheduled to start, and grabbed the last spot on a bench over 3 hours before the parade was to start.

I wouldn’t have to wait this entire time, as Tokyo Disneyland rules allow you to reserve your spot 3 hours in advance. At the 2 hour mark, an announcement played, and everyone else around me who had been sitting around pulled out mats and left their stuff. I didn’t have a mat, so I just left my stuff to stake my claim, and decided to wander around and grab dinner. I normally would not leave my belongings unattended in a theme park, but this is Japan. I would be perfectly comfortable leaving a stack of $100 bills unattended and in plain sight. (I’m not even kidding…although I probably wouldn’t be carrying “stacks” of US currency in a Japanese theme park in the first place.)

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I returned a little less than an hour before the parade, and started developing a plan of attack. [Skip to the next paragraph to avoid photo-geek talk.] I brought both my Nikon D750 and D810 to the parks because I knew I’d want to be dual wielding for the parade. Since I’d only have one shot at the parade, the safe bets were using my Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 and Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8. I considered the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 instead of the 24-70, but I felt its compositional margin of error was too slim given that I’d be using 2 cameras. I also wanted to use my Rokinon 12mm f/2.8 fisheye lens at certain parts of the parade, so I carefully set that on top of my camera bag so I’d be ready for a quick change. I probably looked like a geeky version of the Terminator (the Tominator…dun dun dun) armed with my cameras and lenses.

The Dreamlights renewal hadn’t been highly publicized, so I wasn’t sure of what to expect. If anything, I was a little apprehensive, because there’s always risk in messing with a good thing. Right from the beginning my fears were allayed and my mind was re-blown with floats in the style of their predecessors that utilized new technology to up the wow-factor.

Let’s start by looking at the renewed floats…

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There are 8 renewed floats in total, with the first being the Blue Fairy.

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It’s hard to tell here, but her wings are stunning, with a screen-like visual effect. This float now feels like it’s a properly elaborate introduction to the awesomeness that is Dreamlights.

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The knights come next, and these received a dramatic update. The previous horses they rode looked a bit tired, whereas the new horses look modern and sleek.

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The Pirate Galleon is the same in the sense that it’s still fundamentally a pirate ship, but otherwise it’s totally different. The basic sails were replaced with a display screen. I’d probably have to see this a couple more times to judge properly, but during my initial viewing, the sails definitely drew my attention away from the performers on the ship.

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All of the other renewed floats are in the Small World units, which are Dreamlights’ finale.

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Seeing how these 4 floats looked was the moment of truth for me. I was pleased to see all of the new floats here retain their character and charm, while having a fresher visual style. Nothing was radically different, there were just some slight design changes and more pop to the colors and lights.

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These floats have slowly become my favorite part of the parade. From their visual style to characters to the float design to the crescendo of the music, it feels like the whole of the parade builds to this. The payoff Dreamlights delivers with the Small World finale is really satisfying.

I’m not entirely sure why it works so well–there’s nothing that wows on the scale of the Genie float (besides maybe the color changing?) but it feels like the perfect conclusion. That’s only amplified with the crisp new look of the floats. Watching a gorgeous night parade with Cinderella Castle in the background while sitting halfway around the globe…it really is a small world!

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The renewal wasn’t just about new versions of prior floats. It also added a brand new Tangled float to the mix.

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The Tangled float is pretty and has a float of gorgeous details. It would’ve been cool if the floating lanterns moved or if Rapunzel’s golden locks had some stunning effect. That might be asking for a lot–I guess the Genie float has set a high bar for this parade.

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Exciting for Tangled fans, no doubt, but Pooh-san lost his place in the parade (Pooh’s was the weakest float of the parade, so no huge loss).

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Now for some of the other floats that weren’t impacted by the renewal…

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As mentioned above, the float that typically draws the most accolades is “Chameleon” Genie, who rotates through several looks, including that of a tourist (pictured here), Tigger, Mr. Incredible, Cheshire Cat, and other characters. He’s the product of an update to the parade a few years back, and remains Dreamlights’ biggest ‘wow’ moment.

When I win the lottery, you better believe I’m ‘pimping my ride’ to look like this Genie float!

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The Casey Jr. and opening drum float look quaint after Paint the Night’s title float, but this feels like a nice homage to the original Main Street Electrical Parade. An update to this float is an inevitably, and when that occurs, I hope they’re able to retain this same charm.

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About the only way I think Paint the Night really trumps Dreamlights is in terms of costume design. There are some stunning and elaborate costumes in Paint the Night, and Dreamlights could certainly take notes in this regard. A bit surprising, since costume design is a strong suit of Tokyo’s daytime parades.

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One of my other favorites is the Aladdin float, which is a good blend of modern visuals and classic lights. Plus, any floats based on 1990s animated classics earn bonus points in my book as a child of the 90s!

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This probably hits the crux of why I loveTokyo Disneyland Electrical Parade Dreamlights so much: it melds modern technology with old, new animated films with classics, and a fresh soundtrack with classic synthesizer goodness. It looks forward while also honoring its heritage. It’s long, but it doesn’t drag. Every float is engaging, there are wow-moments, and there’s a satisfying conclusion.

All of this makes it my favorite night parade, hitting the sweet spot between the tired Main Street Electrical Parade and modern Paint the Night parade. The latter is also great, and it feels like a night parade for a new generation. I’m not part of that new generation, though. I could see others making a strong case for Paint the Night being superior, but even objectively, I think Dreamlights gets the nod as best Disney night parade. If I’m being subjective, there’s no question:Tokyo Disneyland Electrical Parade Dreamlights is my favorite by a very, very wide margin.

If you’re thinking of visiting Japan for the first time and are overwhelmed with planning, definitely check out our Tokyo Disney Resort Planning Guide. It covers much more than the parks, from getting there to WiFi to currency and much, much more. For more photos and an idea of what we did day-by-day during our first visit, read our Tokyo Disney Resort Trip Report.

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Your Thoughts

Do you agree or disagree with my take on Dreamlights versus other night parades? Have you seen Dreamlights since the renewal? Which night parade is your favorite? Share any questions, tips, or additional thoughts you have in the comments!


9 Responses to “Dreamlights: Disney’s Best Night Parade”
  1. Sam G April 21, 2016
  2. Erik March 25, 2016
  3. Matt March 24, 2016
    • Matt March 24, 2016
    • Tom Bricker March 25, 2016
  4. Katie March 24, 2016
    • Tom Bricker March 25, 2016
  5. Tim March 24, 2016
    • Tom Bricker March 25, 2016

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