Lighting in Walt Disney World

By Ryan Reed

When the sun sets in Walt Disney World you find yourself in the middle of a complete transformation. The way Disney makes use of lighting is another example of how they pay attention to the details. Just like anything else, Disney carefully thought out how to light everything on property. They do it in a way to compliment each and every attraction within their parks and hotels. This, like so many things in Disney, is something a lot of guests may overlook and not inherently notice but it makes all the difference. So for this post I want to look at some shining examples of how Disney has perfected the use lighting to make the already amazing, incredible. Continue after the page break and let’s have a look…

 
 
Being in Magic Kingdom during Extra Magic Hours is one of the best times to enjoy the park. On our last trip, the day we arrived the Magic Kingdom was opened to guests staying on property until 3:00 AM. This turned out to be our favorite part of the trip. The park was dead; giving you a sense of relaxation while being able to hit any ride you want. The thing is though, you end up enjoying walking around and taking in as much as you can that you don’t take advantage of the short queue lines. Meandering the Magic Kingdom during these circumstances is amazing no matter where you are in the park but I have a few places that seem even more special.
 
 
Time it right and you’ll catch Wishes as you make you decent into the Br’er Patch
 
 
Seeing Splash Mountain off in the distance when you’re walking through Liberty Square will always blow you away. Again, the way they use lighting extenuates everything about the attraction. It’s not just that they’re using it; they use it in the correct way. They think about the type of light, the angle of the light, the color and which would compliment each piece they’re illuminating best. Here we see they emphasized the drop and rockwork of Splash Mountain using neutral lighting. This accentuates the highlights of the exterior and avoids taking away from it with oddly colored lights.
 

 
 
Incredible shot of Main Street

The way Main Street looks at night is incredible. What’s best about this area of the park at night is what it accomplishes. Walt wanted Main Street to capture the feel of small American towns; while successfully done anytime of day, it’s pulled off even better at night. Small details, like lamps in the second floor windows and correct time period street lamps add a whole other dimension.
 
 
 
 
The TTA offers some great views of the Magic Kingdom
 
This attraction, along with the next, is a no brainer. The TTA is a must do for guests and for great reason. It is a classic ride that allows you to escape from the, sometimes, madness of the Magic Kingdom. It allows you to see parts of the park in a completely different way. At night, though, is when you can really appreciate how Disney uses lighting. Seeing Cinderella’s castle and surrounding moat lit up as you whiz by are perfect examples of lighting done well.



Another view of Tomorrowland
The views the TTA offers of Tomorrowland are phenomenal. Tomorrowland is a sight to behold, with so much going on yet it isn’t overwhelming. Using differing bright colors create a much bigger picture when taking it all in. The greens, blues, purples, and reds all combine to bring the section of park to life at night.



Haunted Mansion with great use of lighting

My last, but not least, highlight at night in Magic Kingdom is, of course, the Haunted Mansion. One of the best themed attractions in all of Disney World gets even better once night has fallen. Once it is dark, you are just drawn to this attraction. They use perfect lighting fixtures to give it an even spookier feel. The ominous blues and greens casted on the mansion play perfectly into the theming of the attraction. Sure, it’s a dark ride no matter what time of day, but when you know it’s dark outside and you walk out to the night, it adds to the experience.
 
 
 
 
Hollywood Boulevard comes alive at night
 
Hollywood Boulevard sets the stage perfectly for what guests can expect from the park; attention to detail allows this to be done so well. With the Sorcerer Mickey Hat in the background (love it or hate it), the “Main Street” of Hollywood Studios truly benefits from the strong lighting against the dark backgrounds that the night has to offer. This gives the park more of the 1940’s noir Disney Imagineer’s were going for. With the palms lit from their trunks, neon lights on each storefront along the street and the Sorcerer Hat anchoring it all, it creates a wonderful sight.
 



A beautifully lit street with a spooky Tower looming in the background

Just like Hollywood Boulevard, Sunset Boulevard evokes 1940’s Hollywood in a wonderful way due to the great detail put into every inch along the street. The palm trees are lit up along the street, the store fronts are flashing as you make your way to the most impressive use of lighting in the park: the Tower of Terror. Like I mentioned in a previous post, the Tower is the icon of Hollywood Studios. Sure you have the Sorcerer Mickey Hat but what is the first thing anyone thinks of when talking about the Studios? They take its icon status to a new level at night with the use of purple and green lighting; it’s a beacon that draws everyone to it whether you plan on riding or not. The lighting evokes exactly what the ride is set out to: an eerie image combined with its mammoth stature. Just as intended, at night the ride pulls people towards it while instilling fear into everyone as they wait in line.
 
 



One of my favorite locations and time in Disney World

Like every other park I want to say all of EPCOT benefits from the use of lighting; this is true but I want to be more specific. World Showcase looks incredible at night, details immerge that you may have never noticed during the day and makes you appreciate the park more. My vote for the best section of this park at night goes to the International Gateway. Leading you to a bridge right between the UK and France Pavilions, it offers incredible views. With the UK Pavilion on your left, France on your right and World Showcase Lagoon right in front of you the view is spectacular. Being able to see practically every pavilion lit up with each shining off the Lagoon allows you to see one the best views you can get in all of Walt Disney World. Hang around long enough and you’ll be treated to arguably the best lighting extravaganza in Disney World: Illuminations.
 
 
 
 
Arguably the most impressive attraction aesthetically looks even better lit up
 

The second mountain on our list, Expedition Everest, looks epic in the dark. Whenever you see this attraction, day or night, it’s unreal; but the way it’s illuminated at night takes the mountain to a whole other level. A theme of purple seems to be evident when Disney wants to make an attraction become more grand or even intimidating at night; this is no different here. Instead of lights pointing up towards the mountain, spotlights hit the peaks with a purplish hue to show off its large stature and intricate detail.
 



Nothing beats a couple of beers and a stroll down Boardwalk

Outside of the parks Disney still delivers on correct lighting to add to the experience. Disney’s Boardwalk comes to life at night and gives you the experience of something you might find at Coney Island. A few drinks and a stroll down the Boardwalk is a perfect way to unwind after an evening in EPCOT. With rope lights, nearby resorts brightly lit, and carnival games lighting up the area, Boardwalk gives a unique experience to guests.
 



You’d be hard pressed to find a more beautiful resort than Riverside

This list wouldn’t be complete without at least one hotel. Selfishly, I want to talk about Port Orleans Riverside, as it has been a family favorite ever since I was a child. As you can see in the picture above, the main building transforms into something beautiful at night. From there you’ll find the paths lit with just enough light, the Sassagoula reflecting each light along the way, and each pool area brilliantly lit. The key part to the lighting at this resort is not having too much. The dark paths give the resort a different feel, almost as if you were in the backwoods of Louisiana.

The lighting in Walt Disney World is a perfect example of little details they take very seriously. As you can see, it plays a large part in the experience and storytelling for every guest. These were just a few of my favorite examples with hundreds more to choose from. Are there any I didn’t list that you would’ve? Let me know in the comment section below.

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Ryan Reed is from Upstate New York and grew up in a suburb just west of Rochester.  He graduated from the College at Brockport with a Bachelors of Science in Philosophy; he also plans to go back to school to acquire his MBA within the next couple of years.  For hobbies, Ryan spends his time staying active and just recently ran the 2014 Boiler Maker 15K for the first time.  Also, he is a die-hard Buffalo Bills fan who thinks every year is “our year”.  Basketball is, without a doubt, his favorite sport and shares the same interest with his father.  They both bond over being Boston Celtics fans and regularly make trips to the New England area to watch them play.  Ryan’s interest in craft beer is shared amongst his friends and girlfriend; they enjoy touring, learning, and experiencing everything brewers have to offer.  His ties to Walt Disney World started before he even was a year old.  As a child, his family took him back year after year and has continued to go back almost yearly.  At first, his love for Disney World was due to the attractions that he had never experienced elsewhere.  Then he began to be intrigued with how the parks, rides, and restaurants came to be – the sheer size of what they were able to build fascinated him.  In his sophomore year of college Ryan took part in the Disney College Program.  He worked at Disney’s Hollywood Studios on Fantasmic! as well as Rock N’ Roller Coaster.  This experience allowed him to see a whole new side of Disney and gained an appreciation for what they do more than ever before.  Now Ryan looks for any information he can to understand the history of Disney World and how it came to be.  He has witnessed Disney go through a lot of changes but his interests and appreciation for the parks evolved along with it.  His favorite ride is the Haunted Mansion but a close second is Tower of Terror.  Epcot has become his favorite park; there are so many different things to experience – each visit seems like a new adventure.  His favorite time at Disney is dusk; each park transforms into something completely different once the sun sets.  His favorite Disney movie is Toy Story and favorite Disney character is Tigger.  Ryan’s articles will discuss tips about Disney World, some “best of” pieces, as well as history of both the parks and resorts.

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2 thoughts on “Lighting in Walt Disney World

  1. Ryan, such a cool topic and well written article. I really enjoy this kind of stuff and appreciate the effort in looking beyond the obvious and pointing out subtle things like lighting. Lighting really does put a bow on the magic that the park(s) offer. How very lucky you must have been to have been able to roam the park at 3 am! Keep up the good work.

    Mark

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  2. Thank you for the kind words, Mark. I agree completely, Disney puts a ton of effort by paying attention to the littlest of details. I think that, more than anything, makes the experience so special. It was amazing being there until 3 am! Definitely a unique way to experience the Magic Kingdom.

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