Walt Disney World has released dates & details for the new ‘Frozen Holiday Surprise’ show coming to Cinderella Castle for Christmas 2023 at Magic Kingdom. This post shares the new photos of the technical rehearsals, background info about what’s going into the new lighting, preliminary viewing tips & tricks, and our commentary about this replacement for the icicle Dream Lights.
As a whole, Walt Disney World will celebrate Christmas beginning on November 11, 2023. That’s the same date as last year, but a Saturday instead of a Friday, which I don’t recall ever happening. By and large, the holiday season will wrap up on December 31, 2023. That’s also par for the course.
The good news for those visiting earlier in November is that the holiday season will start early in a number of places, including Magic Kingdom. (It’ll also run long and some regards, with the decorations gradually coming down and music stopping in early January 2024–likely after Marathon Weekend.) One of the first things to start is ‘Frozen Holiday Surprise’ at Magic Kingdom…
For the new ‘Frozen Holiday Surprise’ lighting show of Cinderella Castle, Frozen friends from Arendelle are conjuring up something new and extra-special for the holidays. Join in the celebration of the brand-new ‘Frozen Holiday Surprise’ as Olaf and more than 100 of his Snowgie siblings decorate Cinderella Castle with festive touches.
Appearing live on the Cinderella Castle Forecourt Stage in new holiday looks will be Anna, Elsa, Olaf and Kristoff, each of whom bring something special to the gathering. ‘Frozen Holiday Surprise’ festivities culminate as Elsa adds sparkling finishing touches, transforming Cinderella Castle into a shimmering crystallized palace.
Once Elsa is finished, the shimmering crystallized palace look will remain on Cinderella Castle throughout the evening. (No word on whether this is a mostly-static appearance, or if colors and other visuals will rotate, as has been the case with past projections for Christmas on Cinderella Castle.)
Bringing this spectacle to life is no small feat, as lighting designers, video technicians, composers and even a full orchestra worked together to create the new ‘Frozen Holiday Surprise’ nighttime lighting show. Here are behind the scenes photos released by Walt Disney World:
‘Frozen Holiday Surprise’ will debut on November 7, 2023 and will occur nightly throughout the holiday season.
It will happen both on normal nights and Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party dates. For reference, its predecessor was performed twice nightly–at 6:15pm and 7:30pm on regular days, and 6:15pm and 8pm on Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party nights. Obviously, a lot has changed since then and showtimes are unconfirmed for Christmas 2023.
‘Frozen Holiday Surprise’ is the direct replacement for ‘A Frozen Holiday Wish,’ which debuted in 2014 and was last performed for the Christmas 2019 season. That show replaced ‘Cinderella’s Holiday Wish,’ which ran from 2008 until 2013. The original show made a lot more sense and featured Cinderella as well as classic characters, but it was no match for the Frozen Fever sweeping the nation.
Then something else swept the nation after Christmas 2019, and there hasn’t been a Cinderella Castle lighting show since. Nor has there needed to be, as there wasn’t anything to light–the icicle Cinderella Castle Dream Lights have also been on hiatus. Those aren’t returning for Christmas 2023, but Walt Disney World has opted to bring back the lighting show just the same.
We spent a lot of time in Magic Kingdom during the Christmas 2019 season and saw the Frozen lighting show several times. From those experiences, we’ll offer some preliminary viewing tips and info for ‘Frozen Holiday Surprise,’ which should be pretty similar to the show it’s replacing–minus the grand finale.
The first thing you should expect is ‘Frozen Holiday Surprise’ to be absolutely packed. In the final year of its predecessor’s run, we likened the crowds and excitement to the opening night of a new Star Wars or Marvel film. In its fifth year, that show was more popular than ever–probably due to a new strain of Frozen Fever thanks to the release of Frozen 2. We wouldn’t be surprised to see ‘Frozen Holiday Surprise’ draw somewhat smaller crowds for Christmas 2023, once the initial ‘new show smell’ wears off.
One thing we always cautioned with the previous castle lighting show was that it’s not that good. Since it’s unlikely to be materially different in duration or presentation–and lack the wow-moment culmination of its predecessor–we’ll offer that same sentiment with regard to ‘Frozen Holiday Surprise.’
In all likelihood, this will be a 5-minute or so presentation to light Cinderella Castle rather than a fully-fledged stage show. Not realizing this…or having a really bad case of Frozen Fever…or loving the Cinderella Castle Dream Lights, some guests started camping out for it up to an hour in advance. With all things at Walt Disney World, crowds beget more crowds. Around 30 minutes before showtime, there was often significant congestion in front of Cinderella Castle.
The end result is the Cinderella Castle lighting drawing massive nightly crowds, with some guests waiting around an hour to see it. Not only that, but tensions can rise.
We’ve never witnessed a full-blown fight anywhere at Walt Disney World, but there were a few times that final year when we worried that the ‘words being exchanged’ might escalate into something worse. Thankfully, that never happened–but the point stands. The Central Plaza/Hub before entertainment is one of the worst spots for congestion, and not exactly an exemplar of holiday cheer at Walt Disney World.
Regardless, ‘Frozen Holiday Surprise’ will likely be worth seeing and we wouldn’t recommend avoiding it unless you already know it isn’t for you. Just keep your expectations in check and remember that it won’t culminate with the Cinderella Castle Dream Lights.
Our early advice would be to check the area behind the Partners statue 15-20 minutes before ‘Frozen Holiday Surprise.’ That spot is farther back so it’s typically not quite as crowded, but it offers an elevated view. (By contrast, if you get too close to Cinderella, the pavement starts sloping uphill again.)
If that’s too crowded, consider heading over to the bridges by the Tomorrowland waterfall or Liberty Square. Those side vantages are too distant to see the performers, but you’ll be able to see the projections as they come on.
You really don’t want to be any farther back than the Central Plaza. This isn’t like fireworks–you won’t be able to see the characters from Casey’s Corner or anywhere else on Main Street proper, so you might as well go for a more tranquil side view.
In terms of commentary, it’s good to see Walt Disney World doing the Frozen stage show again. Regardless of how I feel about projections vs. physical lights on Cinderella Castle–and I feel very strongly about that–bringing back this piece of entertainment is mostly a separate issue. Disney could’ve kept the projections without adding this, or brought back the Dream Lights without this show.
The Frozen lighting show wasn’t my personal favorite thing, but we’ve lost a ton of tree lighting shows and other little pieces of Christmas entertainment over the years. I’m certainly not going to be the one to advocate for cutting even more entertainment. It adds so much to the Walt Disney World experience, and I’ll always be happy to see entertainment return or added, as the case may be.
With that said, I wonder what guest satisfaction will be like on ‘Frozen Holiday Surprise’ without the wow-moment of the Cinderella Castle Dream Lights lighting up. My assumption is that the prior show scored fairly well despite the crowds and long waits for something so small-scale because it culminated in something so stunning and chills-inducing.
Seeing the Cinderella Castle Dream Lights illuminated for the first time was the indelible memory for many guests who visited Walt Disney World at Christmastime. The amazement and enchantment those evoked probably helped to boost the satisfaction score of the show significantly.
No matter how long you waited, it was worth it for that feeling upon seeing the Cinderella Castle Dream Lights for the first time. The characters were just the icing on the cake. It’ll be interesting to see how guests react this year to ‘Frozen Holiday Surprise’ now that it’s mostly just icing.
As for the Cinderella Castle Dream Lights, we’ll never pass up the opportunity to sing their praises. Those icicle lights were one of our favorite things about Christmas at Walt Disney World for the 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.
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.
We’ll certainly give the ‘Frozen Holiday Surprise’ and accompanying shimmering crystallized palace projections on Cinderella Castle a chance. Maybe Walt Disney World installed impressive new projectors and these scenes will blow us away, somehow surpassing Dream Lights. We’re not so blinded by nostalgia to admit when something new is an improvement over its predecessor. But we are, to put it mildly, skeptical that that will be the case. Nevertheless, we’d also encourage you to give it a chance.
If the new shimmering crystallized palace projections disappoint, let Walt Disney World know. We always recommend 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].
You can also stop into Guest Relations at Magic Kingdom to politely let them know how you feel, as feedback from those on vacation carries a lot of weight. “Respectfully” and “politely” are the operative words. An irate rant might make you feel better, but 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.
It could feel like a lost cause at this point, but we still have a sliver of hope that the Cinderella Castle Dream Lights could return for Christmas 2024. The great thing about those being a ‘quaint or antiquated’ physical light display is that makes them easier to replace. If Walt Disney World hears enough guest feedback this holiday season, they might get to work on fabricating a new physical light display for next year.
Are you excited for ‘Frozen Holiday Surprise’ or still disappointed that they’re doing projections again instead of the icicle Dream Lights on Cinderella Castle? What do you think of Christmas arriving at Walt Disney World? Are you ready to embrace the joy of the holiday season? Agree or disagree with our assessment of the lighting show or advice for viewing it? 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!