Will Cinderella Castle’s Dream Lights Return for Christmas 2024?

One stunning staple has been missing from Walt Disney’s World’s holiday lineup for the last 4 years: Cinderella Castle’s Dream Lights, which transforms the icon into a shimmering ice palace. This post addresses whether Magic Kingdom might bring back the dazzling display this November.

The Cinderella Castle Dream Lights was 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. And yet, it still somehow feels that we took the Cinderella Castle Dream Lights for granted and didn’t enjoy them quite enough.

Last year, Walt Disney World debuted ‘Frozen Holiday Surprise.’ After seeing this underwhelming castle lighting show, I’m even more convinced that they need to bring back the Cinderella Castle Dream Lights. I’m not much for conspiracy theories, but I’d love to believe that someone made ‘Frozen Holiday Surprise’ so bad on purpose, making it easier to justify cutting the show and bringing back the Cinderella Castle Dream Lights. Here’s hoping!

On a positive note, the debut of ‘Frozen Holiday Surprise’ does not close the door on the return of the Cinderella Castle Dream Lights. It’s not a replacement for them, and both could be presented in tandem. In fact, that’s precisely what used to happen with the predecessor castle lighting show: ‘A Frozen Holiday Wish.’

There are some differences between the two Frozen shows, but the material one is that the old version culminated in the lighting of the Cinderella Castle Dream Lights. The new one ends with minimally-animated projections on Cinderella Castle. It is very underwhelming, and evoked a “that’s it?” response instead of the awe of the former Frozen show.

This opens the door for the Cinderella Castle Dream Lights to return for Christmas 2024.

With the latest update out of the way, let’s circle back and cover why the Dream Lights disappeared in the first place. When Walt Disney World began its phased reopening in the second half of 2020, a lot was missing for that first holiday season. While disappointing, it was also understandable–capacity was capped at a low level and things were a long way from normal.

In explaining the decision to suspend certain offerings for the year, such as Candlelight Processional and Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, Walt Disney World indicated that “holiday experiences that draw big crowds will be on hiatus this year.”

To my knowledge, Walt Disney World never drew an express connection between the need for physical distancing or avoiding crowds and the Cinderella Castle Dream Lights. However, it was relatively obvious to anyone who had visited the parks during the holiday season that they caused exactly that.

Colossal crowds congregated for “A Frozen Holiday Wish,” which features Anna, Elsa, and other characters in a show on the Castle Forecourt Stage. That twice-nightly show ended with Elsa using her incredible powers to present a gift to everyone in the kingdom, transforming Cinderella Castle into a glistening ice palace for the holidays.

It wasn’t just that. Throughout the evening, the hub or Central Plaza in front of Cinderella Castle was often packed with people taking photos. And for good reason, as the Cinderella Castle Dream Lights were nothing short of stunning. The Dream Lights themselves had significant crowd-drawing power, so the explanation proffered by Walt Disney World in 2020 passed the smell test.

Even beyond that, it was fairly obvious the Cinderella Castle Dream Lights wouldn’t happen for other reasons. In a normal year, the infamous/iconic crane would appear in late August or early September to begin installation of the physical lights on the castle. However, most construction projects were paused at that point and Disney likely didn’t have the workers to even put up the lights.

Speaking of the crane, it persists as an excuse for not putting up the Cinderella Castle Dream Lights. That too many guests complained about it ruining their photos, so the lights were cut. That first part is actually true–many guests did complain about the crane ruining photos.

That’s precisely why Walt Disney World started lowering it during the morning hours and not doing installation work until afternoon in 2018-2019. The crane was then lowered again in the evening. So that issue was addressed before 2020, anyway. It was a non-factor in the decision to cancel the Dream Lights.

Finally, there were cost-cutting or ‘fiscal austerity measures’ in place due to the attendance caps and other constraints that were causing the parks division to hemorrhage money.  While it’s (possibly) true that the Cinderella Castle Dream Lights recoup their costs in PhotoPass and other sales in a normal year, that was most definitely not the calculus back in 2020.

Since then, the 50th Anniversary started (and ended) bringing decorations with it to Cinderella Castle that, at least in theory, precluded the Cinderella Castle Dream Lights. From a more practical–and probably meaningful–perspective, there was also pent-up demand and revenge travel, meaning that Walt Disney World didn’t have to do nearly as much to entice people to visit. The parks were able to cut corners and reduce offerings, while also raising prices–and people kept coming. Now that revenge travel has burned out, the circumstances are very different.

As a result, it’s possible that the Cinderella Castle Dream Lights will return for Christmas 2024.

However, we truly do not have any inclination as to whether that will happen. We’ve heard second-hand rumblings that Walt Disney World prefers the projections, finding them to be more economical and efficient since there are no installation costs. Although this info is indirect, it tracks with the type of sentiment we’ve come to expect from management.

Conversely, the Cinderella Castle Dream Lights supposedly had significant drawing power. Over the years, there were anecdotes about bookings, PhotoPass sales, etc. that supported the notion that the Dream Lights paid for themselves. Perhaps that’s still the prevailing sentiment, and they’ll be back. Or maybe Disney feels the projections are “performing” well enough. In our view from the outside looking in, it certainly seems like the decision could go either way.

Given the passage of time, it’s also probably likely that Walt Disney World would have to completely replace the Cinderella Castle Dream Lights. We’ve also heard that the old lights have been discarded because they were no longer in usable condition after sitting in storage for so long. This also tracks.

We’ve heard similar stories about a lot of things at Walt Disney World and Disneyland having to be replaced due to non-use, improper storage, etc. Thankfully, it’s not like these lights are some kind of proprietary technology that would be costly to replace. This isn’t like a fancy Audio Animatronic or something. You have access to this tech if you live within the vicinity of a Home Depot.

If there’s a will, there’s a way to bring back the Cinderella Castle Dream Lights. The issue is the former, not the latter.

Honestly, the point of this post is not to offer a prediction…but to “raise awareness” about the Cinderella Castle Dream Lights and their uncertain future. When it comes to this type of thing, it’s better to offer feedback before a definitive decision to retire an offering has been made. If Walt Disney World announces details of the Christmas 2024 slate and the Dream Lights are absent, it’ll already be too late for outrage, petitions, or guest feedback.

My hope is that it doesn’t come to that. In the last ~15 years, Walt Disney World has already lost so much that made the holiday season special. Gone is the Country Bear Christmas attraction overlay. Ditto the Lights of Winter at EPCOT. Don’t get us started on the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights.

This is to say nothing of the many seasonal shows, parade overlays, displays, tree lightings, and more that have quietly faded away over the years. Our hope is that the Cinderella Castle Dream Lights do not similarly make the list of beloved-but-extinct Christmas offerings at Walt Disney World.

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 visit this holiday season and are disappointed by the lack of Cinderella Castle Dream Lights, address it when participating in guest satisfaction surveys, bring it up if you speak with managers or others in park leadership, or even 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 couple of 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 Christmases. 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.

Back in the infancy of projection mapping at Walt Disney World, there was a Christmas segment in the “Magic, Memories & You” that featured a gingerbread castle, candy cane castle, light-strung castle, and other varied designs. More recently, Tokyo Disneyland did an entire Christmas projection show on its Cinderella Castle with fun and festive designs. I’m surprised none of those were used.

My bigger issue with the Cinderella Castle Christmas projections is that they’re played out. 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. They’re 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. Walt Disney World should do the right thing, deliver an experience that exceeds expectations, and bring back the Cinderella Castle Dream Lights for Christmas 2024.

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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 2024? 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!

52 Responses to “Will Cinderella Castle’s Dream Lights Return for Christmas 2024?”
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