Will Cinderella Castle’s Dream Lights Return for Christmas 2023?
One stunning staple has been missing from Walt Disney’s World’s holiday lineup for the last three 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 in November 2023.
We’ll level with you. “Will the Cinderella Castle Dream Lights come back for Christmas 2023?” is NOT a common reader question. Other entries in our “guest inquiry series,” like those about the Disney Dining Plan and Annual Passes, were written so we didn’t have to constantly, individually address reader questions. Honestly, that’s not the case here…which is precisely the problem.
While we’re asked about the Disney Dining Plan on a daily basis, I can’t recall anyone asking about the Cinderella Castle Dream Lights this year. The last two Christmases, it was definitely a somewhat common question–but it’s dropped off precipitously as of this year’s holiday season.
Accordingly, this post is being written with ulterior motives. (In my defense, at least I’m being upfront about it and honest with you.) The Cinderella Castle Dream Lights was one of our favorite things about Christmas at Walt Disney World for the last 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.
March 19, 2023 Update: We’re returning to this topic well in advance of the holiday season for a couple of reasons. The first is because there has been a substantive update of sorts, with the official announcement that EPCOT will be home base for the Disney100 festivities in Florida, with that park playing host to the 100 Years of Wonder Celebration at Walt Disney World.
This is significant because there had been some speculation among fans that Cinderella Castle might not lose its current overlay, but instead, have it repurposed for Disney100. This would allow an easier switchover; not everything would need to be removed and Cinderella Castle wouldn’t need to be repaired or repainted where the adornments caused damage or fading.
Although the company has not yet announced anything official about the future of Magic Kingdom’s icon, it’s likely that the decor will be removed expeditiously once the calendar turns over into April 2023. (We do not expect Cinderella Castle to be repainted to restore its prior color scheme; the ‘royal makeover’ preceded Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary.)
In addition to that, the company has also announced that Disney100 will start in Fall 2023 at Walt Disney World. It’s thus unlikely that Magic Kingdom will receive an overlay for the 100th Anniversary several months before the park playing host to the celebration. Stranger things have happened, but we don’t expect it.
At the very least, this opens the door for the Cinderella Castle Dream Lights to return for Christmas 2023. There’s plenty of time between when the 50th decorations will go down and when the Dream Lights would start going up. If it doesn’t happen this year, it probably won’t ever happen again.
The second reason we’re revisiting this topic now is because fans recently successfully influenced Walt Disney World management to restore the showtimes schedule of Impressions de France at EPCOT. Convincing Disney to bring back the Cinderella Castle Dream Lights is much larger scale and thus is more of an uphill battle. Rather than simply showing a different movie, this requires months of planning among different teams, logistical hurdles, installation expenses, and much more. Nevertheless, it’s worth a shot!
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 congregate for “A Frozen Holiday Wish,” which features Anna, Elsa, and other characters in a show on the Castle Forecourt Stage. That twice-nightly show culminates in Queen 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.
While “A Frozen Holiday Wish” is the worst of it (we had advised for years that the show was too short to justify how long people camped out for prime spots), 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 point is that simply cancelling “A Frozen Holiday Wish” wouldn’t have side-stepped the problem. The Dream Lights themselves had significant crowd-drawing power, so the explanation proffered by Walt Disney World 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. (The infamous/iconic line is a joke. The crane’s arrival was always met with fanfare, and it became a staple of many family photos for fall visitors. However, Disney started putting it down during the day in more recent years.)
By that point in 2020, the parks were still finding their footing and most construction projects were paused. Disney’s decision making process is belabored, meaning it was likely too late to bring back the Cinderella Castle Dream Lights two years ago.
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.
Even at that time, we speculated that the Cinderella Castle Dream Lights also would not return in 2021 and perhaps not even this year. That was due to the Walt Disney World 50th Anniversary, an 18-month “celebration” (allegedly) that would encompass both last and this Christmas seasons and feature a “royal overlay” to Cinderella Castle.
You might also recall that Disney replaced Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party and Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party last year with seasonal After Hours events. As we (over) explained last year, this was due to the dynamics of the 50th Anniversary. Perhaps we did a good (?) job of emphasizing all of this, and that’s why no one has been asking about the Cinderella Castle Dream Lights–you’re simply assuming the overlay will return for Christmas 2023 with the 50th in the rearview mirror.
This is at least partially fair and remains our hope. The problem with this perspective is that it ignores how Walt Disney World has essentially abandoned the 50th Anniversary festivities. Okay, “abandoned” is a harsh word. Those little lamppost banners and statues paying tribute to random characters that may or may not talk to you when you flail your arms about while wearing a MagicBand+ are still up. Disney Enchantment continues to limp along, as does Harmonious. (Although replacements for both have already been announced, with fans counting down the days until our long national nightmare(s) are over.)
However, Walt Disney World already gave up on maintaining a normal operating schedule for Magic Kingdom, realizing guests would rather have the “real” Halloween and Christmas parties back than see Disney Enchantment on a nightly basis. In short, it appears that the company has recognized the shortcomings of the “celebration” and is picking and choosing where it makes sense to throw in the towel on the event.
To that point, it would’ve made perfect sense for the Royal Makeover of Cinderella Castle or Beacons of Magic to be two of those things that quietly faded away. I think it’s fair to say that no one would’ve shouted “VACATION RUINED” had they stepped foot on Main Street to discover that the jabots, swag, bunting, and other faux drapery was gone. Or the uninspired projection ‘moment’ at night.
Well, maybe like 16 of you, but there are also weirdos out there who lamented the closure of Innoventions’ Vision House. If there’s a thing at Walt Disney World, you can be assured it has a cult following out there. No matter how bad, some corner of the fandom will be distressed when it’s gone. (No offense. I love a lot of super-niche things.)
Regardless, the overall reaction to installing the Cinderella Castle Dream Lights would’ve been resoundingly positive. Heck, Walt Disney World could’ve removed all of the overlay exception the 50 medallion, strung some lights around it, and called the overlay an ‘exclusive’ or limited time 50th Anniversary offering. That medallion in photos is all anyone cares about–no one is out there geeking out over the rest of the overlay or the “was that it?” Beacons of Magic.
This is what gives me cause for concern. If bringing back the Cinderella Castle Dream Lights were high priority, Walt Disney World could’ve done it this year. While different from the parties, the same underlying rationale could’ve been used to restore the holiday overlay even amidst Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary “celebration.”
With that said, it’s entirely possible that the Cinderella Castle Dream Lights will return for Christmas 2023.
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.
Honestly, that’s sort of the point of this post. 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 2023 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. There’s a rotating “kaleidoscope of designs” including festive stripes and dots, a whimsical Christmas sweater look, a jeweled winter castle, and a regal overlay of red, green & gold ornamentation.
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.
A couple of these are fun. The holiday sweater scene is particularly good. The others mostly blur together or don’t strike me as particularly Christmasy.
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 2023.
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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 2023? 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!
We hadn’t been back for the holidays the past two years but we will be going this year. I’m so sad to hear the lights aren’t up!! I had no idea, that really does take away a lot of holiday magic to me from the evenings at MK. G hope they’ll be back and I will definitely mention them missing in surveys while there or after! So what does the castle look like now at nighttime?
Thank you for the article. I will remind you of the other article you wrote a couple of days ago – the one about how DisneyCorp is a master at public relations and spinning Bottom Line moves as “great guest experience”. Keeping that in mind, why would DisneyCorp be motivated to outlay extra $$$ on the lights when it can instead NOT do so under the aegis of continued branding for the 50th Anniversary Celebration? I am not a marketing genius, but that seems like a fairly straightforward win for DisneyCorp.
Maybe as spring/summer roll around and Disney gets a clearer picture of Christmas 2023 reservations it will decide it needs to invest in a splashy crowd builder like the lights – but if not, and Christmas 23 is packed like this year, then Disney will save the cost of the lights to go toward C-suite incentivization packages.
simply put , you just can’t stop looking at them.
Thanks for the suggestion on the email, Tom. Hopefully, we can be convincing for 2023. You’re absolutely right: even your gorgeous photos can’t do the Dream Lights justice. The lights are without a doubt the best holiday decoration Disneyworld has had. Plus, years ago my husband was having a radiation treatment and we weren’t allowed to be in the house with him after so I took our daughter to a Disneyworld Christmas party. I won’t ever forget the castle that night. There was something about those beautiful lights that was true Disney magic that night for both of us.
Excellent article! I totally agree with everything you said. Hubby and I went every year the week after Thanksgiving because we loved all the Christmas decorations everywhere in WDW. I will never forget the Grandkids, and their parents, faces when the Castle was lit up by the Fairy Godmother or Queen Elsa. I cried every time those lights came on.
Love love love the dream lights. I just saw photos of this year’s first Christmas party and was so sad to see that dark Halloween looking castle at the end of Main Street. We were visiting as often as we could afford for the last ten years. We had our trip cancelled 2020 and then when things were not coming back we decided to wait until the normal Christmas feel and events would be back. Still waiting. Not a good value if we don’t get the full Christmas experience. Prices on everything going up and experiences going down. Just so sad.
Dear Disney World, please bring the Castle Dream lights back they were Beautiful.
I was reading this article with my 4 yo next to me and she saw one of the pictures of the lights and said in awe “ohhhhhhhh can we go see that!?!” She’s never seen them in person and was still struck by just the photo. I hope these return.
Counting my blessings that we still have Sleeping Beauty’s Winter Castle (the Disneyland equivalent of the Dream Lights) here in California. I really hope they come back to Magic Kingdom.
We have a blown up photo of the dream lights hanging in our living room (nowhere near as awesome as your photography), so we are huge fans and will be very disappointed if they don’t come back. In addition to your many valid points, the projection mapping isn’t just in the other parks, but Christmas projections are part of the Christmas fireworks. I get that those are behind a paywall for all but the two holiday weeks, but they make a bigger impact when they’re just part of the fireworks instead of a continuous display. Plus it’s another selling point for the party that you get access to two different castle looks.
We are dreaming of our first Christmas time visit in 2024 and will be so disappointed if the dreamlights haven’t returned. I have the free wallpaper photo you shared a few years ago as my email photo at work and can’t think of anything more magical.
Sent in our email. Yes the difference between the actual Christmas lights and projection is not even close to being as magical. I look at it like a couple of my neighbors who do not put up Christmas lights but instead use those green and red dots projected onto their house. RME With the news that WDW is cutting more staff, I would not be surprised if it’s another thing that doesn’t come back.
We loved the dream lights when we were there for Christmas in 2016. They were absolutely stunning. We are finally making it back again this year and I’m really sad that we won’t be seeing the dream lights. I will definitely be politely letting Guest Relations know how disappointing this is for us (it’s going to be our son’s first trip too and he would have loved the lights) and hopefully they’ll be bringing it back in the future!
The Dream lights were the best by far. What there doing now is soooo disappointing. You just don’t get the same wonderful feeling you get when you look at the castle dripping in those beautiful lights. Hopefully they will be brought back and then will be back for a Disney Christmas .
We were there in 2007 when the lights debuted. We didn’t know it then but they became an important part of our trips which became an annual holiday tradition. So much of what we loved about the holidays in Disney has been chipped away that we are skipping this year. We can’t find the magic without the Peace on Earth finale at Epcot or the castle lights. Thanks for the post and the email address.
I was just looking at old photos from Christmas’s past – I miss Osborne’s Christmas lights all the buildings draped In so many lights. But it is more than disappointing the lights on the castle are not there. This projection is annoying and does not add to the fireworks. The castle all decked out in the blue shimmering lights were awe inspiring. Disney!! Please please bring them back!!
Tom, you made some great points. Thank you for pointing out the value of completing surveys. How else will they know how many of us miss the castle dream lights which could never be replaced by the projection overlays. I’m holding out hope though since the did bring back the traditional parties and I’m very much looking forward to the return of Happily Ever After. Headed back in December, on my birthday weekend (7th visit of 2022) and can’t wait to see the return of Candlelight Processional and Fantasmic! We’re getting there!
I am so glad you wrote this article! I’v been looking for anything regarding the castle dream lights because I have missed them so much the past few years. The projections on the castle are great although i usually don’t join the throng on Main Street just to see them again one day.
The castle lights are still my screen saver on my phone to look at many times a day. The year the Osborn lights went away was the beginning of the end of my magical belief in Disney. I have been several times since and always vow to give Disney one more chance, but the crowds and Disney’s love of money over the loyal customers have ended my enchantment of Disney World. I sincerely dislike the projections, they lack magic. I may as well be watching TV. Some day I may return for a Disney Christmas, but never without the lights!
I agree 100% with Tom on this one. You cannot describe in words, pictures or video how jaw-dropping this sight is. I’ve sent my email in. Hope enough people do the same to bring these back for good. Hey Tom, how many emails to you think it would take to get the Osborne Family Christmas Lights back?