Will Disney World Get a Dazzling Drone Display?

Disney has launched a dazzling drone spectacular that pays tribute to Main Street Electrical Parade. This shares a first look at the awe-inspiring nighttime light parade in the sky, along with our list of 6 reasons why something similar is likely on the horizon at Walt Disney World. (Updated February 22, 2024.)

Disney Symphony of Colours kicked off with Disney Electrical Sky Parade, giving guests at Disneyland Paris the chance to experience a nighttime drone parade in the sky! This feat has been made possible through an exceptional new nighttime sequence combining synchronized drones, lasers, video projections, lights and fountains across Le Château de la Belle au Bois Dormant or Sleeping Beauty Castle.

This drone display pays tribute to the Main Street Electrical Parade, the beloved light parade that has run at pretty much every Disney theme park around the world over the course of its five decade year history. The parade was last seen at Disneyland in California two years ago for its 50th Anniversary. Before that, it made previous stops (several) in California, along with Florida and Tokyo. Of course, Main Street Electrical Parade (MSEP) also had a decade-long run at Disneyland Paris from 1992 until 2003.

Disney Electrical Sky Parade gives nostalgic guests a chance to relive their childhood, and younger ones the opportunity to discover this iconic Disney Parks experience in a brand-new, never-seen-before format. More than 500 drones parade across the night sky in the form of illuminated floats, symbolizing the various icons of the Main Street Electrical Parade.

Drone imagery during Disney Electrical Sky Parade includes Mickey Mouse and the iconic MSEP train, Elliott the Dragon, Blue Fairy, and Cinderella’s Carriage. The unforgettable electro-syntho-magnetic music, which has been remixed for the occasion, is once again setting the tempo for this dazzling drone demonstration.

Here’s a video of Disney Electrical Sky Parade in action:

To develop Disney Electrical Sky Parade, the Disneyland Paris Entertainment teams have once again collaborated with Dronisos, official technology supplier of Disneyland Paris and European leader in drone shows. This new sequence is following in the footsteps of recent nighttime productions at Disneyland Paris, such as the award-winning and nominated shows Disney D-Light, Avengers: Power the Night and the incredible Bastille Day drone show.

If you’re thinking about planning a trip to Disneyland Paris, the Disney Electrical Sky Parade is currently scheduled to run until September 30, 2024. This isn’t the only offering for Disney Symphony of Colors in 2024, either. Starting February 10, guests will be able to enjoy A Million Splashes of Colour, a musical daytime show celebrating the animated films from Disney and Pixar, with a host of characters and 30 dancers. There will also be other stuff for Disney Symphony of Colors, but that isn’t really the point of this post.

We’re really looking forward to getting back to France (and would recommend our 2024 Disneyland Paris Planning Guide to anyone considering a trip, but we know most of you are probably reading this for the potential Walt Disney World implications. So without further ado, here are the 6 reasons why we think a drone-driven nighttime spectacular will come to Walt Disney World soon.

One is Being Tested – It’s been a little over a month since the Symphony of Colors drone show debuted and we first published this post, and we’re back with an update (and new 6th reason) as of February 22, 2024. It now seems like this prediction is going to come to fruition.

That’s because Walt Disney World has been doing drone testing during recent evenings at Disney Springs, with WDWMagic sharing photos and videos of the testing as visible from Saratoga Springs Resort. According to that reporting, the drone made several loops around the Disney Springs lake before returning to its launch pad in the parking lot behind Cirque du Soleil. The drone was illuminated with a bright purple show light and carried out several take-offs and landings as part of the test.

If you’re wondering why Walt Disney World would do the testing at Disney Springs, it’s probably a matter of convenience–avoiding areas in the parks with people or having to test during the overnight hours to avoid guests. That’ll undoubtedly come later, once development of drone-driven entertainment is further along. Regardless, we would expect this to be for one of the parks and not Disney Springs. Although there’s been a drone show there before (see below), that was almost a different era. It’s highly unlikely the current-day Walt Disney World would put on an “ungated” drone show.

WDW Poached Paris’s People – This news flew under the radar, but late last summer, David Duffy was named to the role of Vice President, Live Entertainment at Walt Disney World. Duffy previously served in what’s essentially that same role at Disneyland Paris prior to this, so moving to the flagship vacation destination with 4 parks instead of 2 should be a promotion.

That is debatable. It really depends upon how serious Walt Disney World is about entertainment. The act of bringing Duffy aboard (“poaching” is really a strong word since it’s all the same company) suggests that they’re fairly serious, but the proof will be in the pudding. (Taking ~10 months to reimagine a Little Mermaid puppet show that’s been missing for 4 years isn’t gonna cut it.)

In any case, Duffy is responsible for the spectacular 30th Anniversary program at Disneyland Paris, along with a number of other shows, celebrations, and entertainment enhancements at Disneyland Paris. The two parks in France have managed to run circles around the flagship Florida resort when it comes to entertainment in recent years.

Optimistically, Duffy is being promoted to Walt Disney World precisely because of his success at Disneyland Paris, and there’s an internal desire to replicate those results in Florida. That management in Burbank sees the difference in quality, and is bringing Duffy aboard to ‘rebuild’ the live entertainment roster at Walt Disney World. That’s our hope and expectation–that Team Disney Orlando’s attitude towards entertainment will change with Duffy at the helm, and he’ll bring one of the massively successful drone shows from Paris to the skies above Walt Disney World.

WDW Got Paris’s Tech – Mentioned in the aforementioned release about Disney Electrical Sky Parade is Dronisos, the official technology supplier of Disneyland Paris and European leader in drone shows. Dronisos is also on the precipice of becoming the American leader of drone shows, too.

Here are relevant excerpts from a December 1, 2023 press release by Dronisos:

Ever since its creation in 2016, Dronisos has proudly called Bordeaux, France, home. Cherishing its roots, the company has fostered a vibrant local ecosystem through numerous partnerships in the region. However, recognizing the complexities of operating globally from France, Dronisos took a strategic leap in 2023, opening two extra offices: one in Orlando (Florida) and the other in Dubai.

Leveraging its expertise in permanent drone shows for amusement parks, Dronisos strategically chose Orlando for its first U.S. office. Already a provider for various amusement parks in the Southeastern United States and the proximity to existing clients, including Dollywood, made Florida an ideal choice.

Orlando, as the heartbeat of the amusement park industry, emerged as a strategic location for Dronisos’ American expansion. With an airbase near Orlando, the company can conduct tests and demonstrations, inviting both existing and potential clients. A longstanding member of IAAPA, Dronisos actively participates in industry events, including the IAAPA Expo in Orlando, and engages in numerous local events.

It should go without saying, but Dronisos wouldn’t have opened an Orlando office just for the sake of Dollywood, a theme park in Tennessee. The move to Central Florida is to serve one or two clients: Disney and/or Universal. It’s only a matter of time before one or both get drone shows–the better question is which will debut theirs first.

Given the established relationship with Disney (in Paris) and David Duffy, it stands to reason that Dronisos has the edge on working with Walt Disney World now. We’d bet they’re already in talks with Universal Creative, too.

WDW Already Did Drones – It’s easy to forget, but Walt Disney World already did a drone show! No, it wasn’t some random one-off media event (although the New Fantasyland dragon was way ahead of its time, and the X-Wings for Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance were really cool).

It’s now been almost a decade ago that Walt Disney World went to great lengths to get waivers on their no-fly zones. In November 2016, the Federal Aviation Administration granted Walt Disney Parks & Resorts a waiver to use “small unmanned aircraft system (sUAS) operations” within its restricted airspaces. These sUAS are drones, and Disney has dubbed the technology Flixels (per a 2014 patent filing), which it has planned to use in nighttime shows.

The no-fly zones above Walt Disney World and Disneyland were both obtained in 2003 at the request of Disney as the U.S. prepared to go to war with Iraq. Somewhat ironically, in order to fly the Flixels drones for nighttime shows as Disney wanted, it had to go back to the FAA to get a waiver on its own 2003 request.

Given that the no-fly zone was at Disney’s behest and since the use of small drones would “not interrupt national airspace activity” it seemed like a foregone conclusion that Disney would receive the waiver. They did. Based on the approval, the flight paths of drones must be 100 feet away from guest areas at all times, and that they would primarily fly over water and restricted areas, maxing out at 150 feet above the ground. The only question was how and where Disney would use this Flixels technology.

To the surprise of many of us, the first answer to that was: Disney Springs. Only a couple weeks after the waiver, Walt Disney World launched a free-to-view Christmas drone show over the water. It was short-lived, leading to the “obvious” conclusion that it was early testing for Rivers of Light at Animal Kingdom or Windows on the World, the working title for EPCOT’s Illuminations replacement.

Both of those assumptions were incorrect. They probably shouldn’t have been wrong, though, as both Rivers of Light and Harmonious would’ve benefitted immensely from drones, and might still be around today had they used drones instead of barges. We’ll never know the why behind that not happening, but it’s safe to assume a free 2-month drone show at Disney Springs was the starting point of testing and not the end game. Regardless, there hasn’t been a drone display at Walt Disney World since 2016.

Animal Kingdom Needs Something – Each year when ticket prices increase, Walt Disney World highlights how 1-day admission still starts at only $109 and has since the introduction of the date-based system back in October 2018. You might also notice that Animal Kingdom always has the lowest Genie+ price of any of the parks. For good reason, as there’s the least guest demand for DAK.

Regular readers of this site know this, as we’ve hammered home time and time again that crowds and long lines are the easiest to “beat” at Animal Kingdom (outside of one week per year–between Christmas and New Year’s Eve when it’s a literal and figurative zoo), so you don’t need to pay extra to skip the lines. This is discussed in countless posts, including in our Best Time-Saving Strategies for Walt Disney World, which says all you need to know for DAK is “don’t go during the middle of the day.”

The reason for this is also pretty straightforward, which is that attendance is significantly lower at Animal Kingdom than any other park at Walt Disney World. Lower attendance reinforces the reality that Animal Kingdom is the park with the most urgent need for additions. The post-Pandora bump ended a while ago, Animal Kingdom is the park furthest removed from the last development cycle, and badly needs more ASAP. In the meantime, there’s a good chance that the other parks start cannibalizing Animal Kingdom attendance.

This is precisely why Tropical Americas was officially announced for Animal Kingdom. That’s a quick fix that’ll give DAK a shot in the arm, and help revitalize the flailing park. The problem is that “quick fix” is a relative term–it’s by Walt Disney World standards. From what we understand, DINOSAUR might be “safe” for around another full year. That puts the opening of the new area into 2026.

Animal Kingdom needs something in the meantime–and that’s doubly true now that Park Hopping rules have been relaxed and many guests will be in and out of DAK before noon, opting to do that park and EPCOT in the same-day.

A drone show at Animal Kingdom would solve a lot of problems. It wouldn’t require infrastructure in the notoriously difficult Discovery River lagoon. It would make use of the excellent amphitheater built for Rivers of Light that now sits unused. A drone show would be mesmerizing without loud pyro that’s a nonstarter due to it disturbing the wildlife.

Equally as important, it would be an eye-catching entertainment offering, more likely to keep people in the park past sundown. Finally, it would make the decision not to use drones in Luminous at EPCOT make more sense–the ace up Disney’s sleeve that’s more valuable when played at DAK.

2025 Needs Something – We’ve been over this before, but there’s currently nothing on the official timeline for Walt Disney World in 2025. Tropical Americas almost certainly won’t be ready by then and there are no yet-unannounced brand-new additions that could conceivably be ready by then. C’mon. You’ve seen the pace at which Walt Disney World builds. You really think it’s plausible that something that hasn’t even broken ground will be done by 2025?!

WDW diehards hate when we say this, but it appears increasingly likely that Walt Disney World is going to “sit out” 2025 and not try to compete with Universal’s Epic Universe. At least, not in the traditional sense of the term. Walt Disney World will undoubtedly do something, it just won’t be on the same level as brand-new theme park. And honestly, that makes sense–no major brand-new addition is going to measure up to a new park, so why try and inevitably fall short?

However, that doesn’t mean that Walt Disney World will do nothing at all. They’ll want something to market, to capture some of the guests drawn down by Epic Universe. I remain of the belief that a reimagined Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster will be the tentpole addition of 2025. Test Track 3.0 has already been announced, so it stands to reason that could be ready by 2025. Add to that maybe a couple more redone things in EPCOT, and you have the marketable ride roster.

Equally as likely is that Walt Disney World leans on entertainment or other additions that don’t require infrastructure and lengthy construction timeframes. Once again, this is where a drone show is the ace up Walt Disney World’s sleeve. Although they’re becoming increasingly common, drone shows still have a certain wow-factor not found in fireworks or fountain shows on a lagoon. A Walt Disney World drone show could be the secret sauce to somehow competing with Universal for eyeballs in 2025–the kind of thing that manages to resonate on social media as much as Mario.

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!

YOUR THOUGHTS

Do you think a drone display is on the horizon at Walt Disney World? Do you agree or disagree with our reasons as to why one is unlikely–or desirable–in the foreseeable future? Think this will be the ace up Disney’s sleeve to “compete” (air quotes) with Epic Universe? If a drone show comes to Walt Disney World, at which park would you like to see it? Any other thoughts or commentary to add? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback–even when you disagree with us–is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!

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