When Will Disney World Get a Night Parade?
It has been several years since a night parade performed at Walt Disney World. In this post, we’ll address the rumors of a new night parade at Magic Kingdom or Disney’s Hollywood Studios, our thoughts on the loss of SpectroMagic (etc.), and more. (Updated April 15, 2023.)
More than any change at Walt Disney World in recent memory, I miss the night parade. In particular, I miss SpectroMagic, which is the parade at Magic Kingdom that I remember when I was growing up, and which was the parade that was running the first several years Sarah and I visited Walt Disney World together.
We watched SpectroMagic every single night we were at Magic Kingdom, and there was just something special about the anticipation that built when Jiminy Cricket’s voice started coming over the loudspeakers. Along with the fireworks, the night parade sets the nighttime mood in Magic Kingdom. While Main Street Electrical Parade did not have the same emotional resonance for us, we were also sad to see that go. In a way, when that parade left, we should have seen this coming.
If Main Street Electrical Parade is the only nighttime parade you’ve known and you weren’t particularly impressed by that, keep in mind that it was over 40 years old when it stopped running. While some people loved its quaintness and charm, we prefer the newer Paint the Night and Dreamlights.
The latter is our favorite nighttime parade anywhere, and we always make a point of watching Dreamlights. For years, I’ve held out hope that Walt Disney World would create SpectroMagic 2.0, weaving together that score with floats having the wow-factor of Dreamlights.
April 15, 2023 Update: This brings us to the rumors about a night parade coming to Walt Disney World, 2023 edition. When this was originally published a few years ago, it said “there are zero reliable rumors to our knowledge” regarding a nighttime parade coming for Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary.
That was in response to “rumors” swirling at the time that Main Street Electrical Parade or Paint the Night would make their way to Florida for the milestone celebration. At that time, we had also heard ‘rumblings’ about Walt Disney World having interest in the parades, but not to the point that it was credibly happening–just that the idea had been floated and hadn’t really gone anywhere.
And that wasn’t even the first time that there had been speculation or rumors that Walt Disney World would receive one of Disneyland’s two (2) night parades that are sitting in storage. This has come up again and again on an almost annual basis since Main Street Electrical Parade departed Walt Disney World in 2016. Speculation of its return are becoming as much of a tradition as those of Journey into Imagination being restored to its former glory. It’s almost equally heartbreaking that nothing has occurred on either front in the last several years.
When news broke that Main Street Electrical Parade was returning to Disneyland last year, we wrote: “Walt Disney World has been given the option of borrowing Paint the Night multiple times, and passed on it due to those aforementioned maintenance and operating expenses. After so many years of not having a night parade in Magic Kingdom, we think the only way Walt Disney World would rethink that decision is if attendance falls off a cliff…So, there’s no reason to hold out hope that Paint the Night coming to Magic Kingdom will be the next announcement.”
Only a few weeks after that, we started hearing very credible rumors that Paint the Night would return to Walt Disney World last year. Obviously, that did not happen. However, even as one who has developed a strong skepticism of these night parade rumors in the past (after being burned several times), I was convinced it was going to happen.
There were still unanswered questions of “where?” and “how?” (at the time, Fantasmic still was a long way from returning, so DHS was a viable candidate) and specifics to be hashed out between Disneyland and Walt Disney World over storage and maintenance. Nevertheless, it seemed like a nearly done deal. But again, that did not occur and my skepticism was fully restored.
Fast-forward to 2023, and I’ve heard absolutely nothing about a night parade, new or borrowed from Disneyland, coming to Walt Disney World. In fairness, me not hearing about something is hardly conclusive of it not happening. With that said, Disney Entertainment is notorious for leaks, and usually many people know about this type of thing once the wheels are in motion. It becomes an open secret, even prior to being officially announced.
Given that and the radio silence from the company, I’m incredibly skeptical that Walt Disney World will get a night parade in time for Summer 2023. About the only possibility at this point is if bookings are soft (which I’ve heard is the case) and there’s a last-minute scramble to throw together a summer event that’ll bolster crowds. But that initiative would have to start pretty much today in order to debut by June 2023. It just all seems highly improbable, at best.
Even then, how much would a night parade move the needle? Happily Ever After just returned, and it’s drawing big crowds to Magic Kingdom each evening. (Logistically, I’m not even sure a night parade would be possible at Magic Kingdom right now given the popularity of Happily Ever After. Either demand needs to die down for that, Magic Kingdom needs to extend its closing time, or both.)
With Fantasmic now back, Disney’s Hollywood Studios no longer needs a nighttime parade. Animal Kingdom would be the most logical option in terms of need, but there are serious logistical hurdles and infrastructure work that would need to be undertaken. That makes it more of a longer-term and permanent project (but one that should absolutely happen).
At some point, a night parade will return to Walt Disney World and low crowds/bookings will be precisely the reason. While it’s probably too late for this summer, that doesn’t rule out Winter 2024 or next summer, especially if the United States tips into a recession in the second half of 2023, pent-up demand is finally and fully exhausted, or there’s otherwise a travel downturn. All of those are still unknowns at this point, and so too is the 2024 status of a night parade at Walt Disney World as a result.
A lot of things could happen, but the salient consideration is boosting bookings. Walt Disney World isn’t going to spend the money on Main Street Electrical Parade or Paint the Night if demand is still sky-high and the parks are packed. Even if there is a summer slowdown this year (which is still a big if), there are plenty of levers that Disney can pull to help boost demand. One of those we’re already seeing with the return of Annual Passes, but more aggressive discounts, removing friction points, added perks, etc. are all options.
In short, Walt Disney World has a lot of options before it “needs” to consider importing a night parade from California. I’d be downright shocked if it happens in 2023. Next year is an open question at this point, but it’s premature to predict one way or another, and depends on how things play out in the second half of this year. It’s too early for that decision to be made one way or the other.
Until a new nighttime parade is announced by Disney, nothing is certain. I learned long ago not to count my chickens before they hatched, as many rumors never come to fruition. Even ones that are so close to announcement and coming to fruition. Personally, I’m not getting excited for a night parade returning to Walt Disney World. We have been burned by rumors in the past, and the circumstances are not (yet) materially in our favor.
For those who have never experienced Paint the Night at Disneyland Resort or Hong Kong Disneyland, think of it as Main Street Electrical Parade for the new generation. The core concept of the light parade is the same, but the execution has been technically modernized, as has the soundtrack and the Disney characters represented.
In its full form, Paint the Night parade has eight units: Tinker Bell Opening Unit, Monsters Inc. Unit, Cars Unit, The Little Mermaid Unit, Belle Candlelight Unit, Toy Story Unit, Incredibles Unit, Mickey & Friends Finale Unit. It features Owl City’s “When Can I See You Again?” as its theme song.
Previously, the Disneyland Resort version of the parade featured a “Frozen Fractals” float and performers. This float no longer exists, and was replaced by the Incredibles float for Pixar Fest a few of years ago at Disney California Adventure.
If Paint the Night were to come to Florida, it’s unclear which of these floats would make the move. There are a variety of factors at play–from float and costume maintenance to the physical toll some elements of Paint the Night takes on performers to turn radiuses in two of the Walt Disney World’s parks to available space in backstage storage facilities. (Speculation from me and not part of the rumor, but I would not expect to see Mack make the drive from California.) Of course, budget cuts are always a possibility, too.
Parades are labor-intensive, particularly as compared to something like projection shows. There are no doubt nightly costs incurred with running those, but they’re nowhere near what a night parade would cost.
Given that Paint the Night sat backstage at Disneyland for so many years instead of temporarily moving to Magic Kingdom suggests to me park management was already eyeing decreased operational costs.
Ultimately, Walt Disney World fans shouldn’t hold out hope that Main Street Electrical Parade or Paint the Night will come to Magic Kingdom in Summer 2023. Beyond that, it’s anyone’s guess–dependent upon forward-looking bookings that are premature to predict. It’s my strong belief that Walt Disney World fans “deserve” a night parade, and I’ve made it clear for a while that it’s a colossal shame that today’s generation of young guests doesn’t get to conclude their day with that awe-inspiring spectacle.
With that said, there’s another reason for bringing a night parade to Florida: it would provide a desperately needed goodwill win for Walt Disney World. After all of the price increases, nickel & diming, debut of Genie+ and Lightning Lanes, cuts to things like Disney’s Magical Express, Extra Magic Hours, on and on–fans could really use some positive news and a reason to feel less cynical. Bob Iger and Josh D’Amaro have already undertaken some initiatives to reverse fan disenchantment, but this would be a much bigger win!
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Has your Walt Disney World experience been negatively impacted by the lack of a night parade? Would you like to see Paint the Night come to Magic Kingdom or Disney’s Hollywood Studios? Which is your ‘preferred park’ for a night parade? Any other questions or comment? Hearing feedback about your experiences is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!
We loved Spectro Magic when we started going to WDW again in the early 2000’s, even though the Electric Parade was the version my husband and I saw growing up. When they kicked Spectro to the curb and brought back MSEP, we just said, “Meh”. Didn’t have the same appeal. But for us, the cool thing was just having a night parade – it was part of what made WDW magic for us. We have parades locally, but always during the day, and let’s face it – local parades can’t compare. I haven’t seen Paint the Night, but those photos look AWESOME and I’d love to see something like that at WDW. Given Tom’s valid reasoning above, I won’t hold my breath. It makes me sad that my grandson won’t get hat same thrill his father and grandparents had of seeing a night parade.
When I was growing up, a night time parade was synonymous with the Magic Kingdom much in the way fireworks are. While they may not “need” one, they should have one. My Magic Kingdom wish list for part of that 17 billion Iger said would be spent: Rebuild Spectro Magic, Bring back Wishes with projections, new final scene for Carousel, refurb and update for Pan and Pooh, and new monorail trains.
You have my vote for VP of Magic Kingdom! 😉
I’m surprised, given all the upcharges, festivals and after hours events, that Disney hasn’t figured out a way to monetize bringing back a nighttime parade – there is no way I’d pay for MNSSHP or MVMCCP if the parades weren’t as fantastic as they are. You’d think they could get away with charging even more for after hours events that feature a glowing parade. (I’m sorry to even suggest the idea, because I firmly believe fans deserve an excellent version included in their regular ticket!!!)
I have a post in drafts (tentatively) titled “Disney World Wish List: 90s Nostalgia Nite at Magic Kingdom” that discusses this at length. I swear I didn’t borrow the idea from you–it’s been in progress for months.
Tom, I await this post with joyful anticipation and 25 years of pent up commentary.
Paint the Night is absolutely the best parade I’ve ever seen at a Disney Park (slightly edging out the Electrical Parade at Disneyland Tokyo). I would fly to Orlando for this parade!
I’ve only seen MSEP once, and my kids don’t ever remember seeing it despite our many many trips to WDW. So Gen Z on the east coast essentially grew up without a night parade, which is sad. 🙁 It doesn’t seem like Disney cares enough to deal with the logistics and money to bring it back. I mean Festival of Fantasy is lacking floats and performers, that parade is a shell of its former self and we are 3 years post shutdown!!
Also I agree about the crowds at MK at night, whether HEA or any other show. You are about to get trampled as it is. It just seems like a logistical nightmare. I’m sure it made more sense when the parks were much lighter on the crowds ten years ago.