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Osborne Lights Return

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Osborne Lights Return-For the Last Time?
northface Written by Kevin Yee. Posted in Disney Hollywood Studios , Kevin Yee , Walt Disney World
northface Tagged: Osborne Spectacle of Lights , panda express , theme park connection
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northface Published on November 19, 2013 at 3:00 am with 19 Comments
northface I was out of town last week when it opened, but the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights returned recently to Disney Hollywood Studios, and it’s as impressive as ever. There is speculation (based on an insider leak?) that this may be its last year, the idea being that one of the upcoming expansions (Monsters? Star Wars? Could it be Cars Land? None have yet been announced) will take the place of the entire cityscape. With nothing confirmed, we’re stuck hypothesizing. My bet is that, given the history of this display, it won’t “glow away forever” the way Epcot’s Lights of Winter did.
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We could start with the monstrous popularity of this display. Lights of Winter at Epcot (a series of arches with integrated Christmas lights that “danced”, arch by arch, to music in the area between Future World and World Showcase) was arguably a background decoration. Granted, it was a loud, impossible-to-miss, and in my opinion, impossible-to-not-love decoration, but a decoration nonetheless. Disney never marketed it as a must-see attraction, and it’s doubtful that many made a pilgrimage to see it. The Osborne Lights, on the other hand, HAVE been marketed heavily by Disney, and people DO make annual visits just for these. The place is always crazy crowded. Disney assuredly knows of the crowd’s fondness for this display, and wouldn’t dream of giving so many people a reason to stop annual visits. Besides, the excuse given for removing the Lights of Winter (“it’s obsolete technology”) just wouldn’t fly here. The Osborne Lights are anything but obsolete.

In fact, it’s worthwhile to pause for a second to reflect on ways the Lights have had upgrades over the years, coming with enough regularity that it almost seems like one innovation per year. And those innovations are ADDITIVE, meaning they keep the previous ones and the whole thing just gets more advanced and intricate each year.


Consider: when the display was first given to Disney and installed in Residential Street, it was essentially static. The static nature persisted in the Streets of America set at first, but then changes began almost yearly after that:
Dancing . Disney wasn’t the first in the world to make Christmas lights dance to music (several popular online videos showed home samples), but theirs is one of the biggest.
LED Upgrades . Light by light and string by string, the collection was painstakingly upgraded (I think over a two year period) to LEDs rather than traditional incandescent bulbs. This obviously saves electricity, but also made the lights brighter (and they can do more tricks too – see below).
Canopy Dance . Like the famous downtown area of Las Vegas, which sports an electronic canopy overhead between buildings, the canopy on San Francisco street was made to dance in a way different from the other dancing lights. Because these rows of lights are closely arranged in straight lines, it’s possible to use computer control to tell each bulb what to do individually in split-second increments, meaning you can create designs, patterns, and even pictures in the canopy.
Dimming . With greater technological control comes smaller advances, like the ability to dim the lights during the dancing sequence, rather than just blinking on and off. This adds greater visual depth to the dance. When the dancing first began, there was no dimming of the lights; they were just on and off.
Color Switching . Buildings were strung with one color light at first, and that’s how the building stayed during the entire season (I think they rotated what colors went where at first). One year we saw a building with red, blue, and purple strings all overlapping. It was obvious in the daylight that this one had more strings, but at night it looks like the building was able to change colors. I’m not positive on this, but it seems like they might accomplish this now with LEDs on single strings.
Snowing . I’ve seen Disney create artificial soap-bubble “snowfalls” since 2001 at Disneyland, but the effect didn’t make it to the Osborne Lights for several more years. It’s a really good fit here.
Santa Goofy . I think it was only a few years ago that a PhotoPass opportunity cropped up in the middle of the Lights, taken with Goofy dressed as Santa. This always has long lines.
Videoscreens . A few of the windows near the Chevy sign on New York Street became viewscreens showing cartoon animation of holiday topics (snowfall, snowmen, etc). This effect remains confined to one building on the street, so it functions more as a surprise discovery for most visitors than an effect which “takes over”.
Glow with the Show ears . What’s new in 2013 are the Glow ears, and they work pretty well as a kinesthetic addition to the dancing lights. The entire buildingscape (and most of your field of vision) is already dominated by lights flickering on and off to the beat of the music, and having that effect extended to the bottom part of your field of view – the people around you – works pretty well. The Glow ears fit in here better than most places at WDW, actually.
Looking at that list of investments and upgrades tells us a few things. First, Disney has thrown serious money at this thing (and gotten big attendance gains to match, we have to assume), so they are unlikely to ditch it entirely.

Second, there’s obviously been a commitment over the years by management – even rotating management – to keep this experience fresh and exciting. The almost-annual upgrades tell me that managers would react the same way the crowds would if told the Lights will not return.

Assuming we accept this logic, we can predict the Lights won’t be retired if/when Star Wars (or whatever?) moves into this area. Rather, they will be displaced. So the only question is where.
Animal Kingdom seems the least likely. It just wouldn’t fit anywhere thematically, and they have no buildings to attach it to.
Magic Kingdom could be one possibility – deck out Main Street with the Lights? This is the park with the most holiday decorations already. And it could make the Very Merry Christmas Party even more hard to pass up. But I’m thinking the Lights would pose a crowd control problem. Main Street is ALREADY a bottleneck; this would make it impassable.
Epcot somewhere? I guess they could maybe build metal structures to replace Lights of Winter. I would like this personally, and the walkways are wide enough to handle the crowds.
Elsewhere in DHS? You’ve got Hollywood Blvd and Sunset Blvd as obvious candidates. Hollywood would have the same problems as Main Street, but Sunset is an interesting possibility. They’ve got the backstage overflow walkway (you may have taken this from Fantasmic some nights) to give a way around the Lights. But it would ruin the period theming this street has. There was always something industrial about the Streets of America that made it OK in my book to add lights. That would be less true of Sunset.
Your thoughts are welcome. Where do YOU think they will land, if they do move for a DHS expansion?
Theme Park Connection’s New Home
The store for theme park collectors – Theme Park Connection – has recently moved and is about to have its official grand opening on Nov. 23 (they are in “soft opening” now). In case you don’t know it already, TPC is like a Disney Store outlet facility, but not for merch which hasn’t sold, but rather for stuff that was once used inside the parks and isn’t needed anymore. Some of it is scratched or slightly less ready for onstage than Disney’s usual standards, but much of it is just surplus stuff. The prices are not bad, especially for someone who would geek out over having a piece of the theme parks in their home (which, ahem, we do in my family!)

Now located at 2160 Premier Row, TPC is just east of International Drive in the Universal/Sea World area (about a ten minute drive). Their previous home was in Ocoee, almost an hourlong trip away from the theme parks. And they’ve upgrade from 6,000 square feet to 15,000 – a giant leap forward. There are over a million pieces for sale here: figurines and snowglobes, old Cast Member costumes and nametags, framed concept art and photos that were once on walls of Disney hotels and backstage offices, reams of books and magazines, and my favorite, decorations and props used in the park walkways, rides, shows, and parades.

They’ve also changed one business practice. Before, some items were earmarked for online sale and never brought to the sales floor. Now, all items start on the sales floor, and only become eligible for online listing (and thus removal from the sales floor) after a week. That means there is an incentive to visit the shop in person. And perhaps even to visit frequently, because they move so much merchandise (both in sales and in terms of new stuff coming in) that they bring out literally dozens of new items every day. They not only sell stuff to you, they will buy your Disney stuff too.

One caution for weekend visitors: the store closes earlier (3:00pm) on Saturday than most days, and is closed on Sunday.

The grand opening of TPC is November 23, and they are planning a big event with at least one Disney Legend and other surprises–including a Disney Cruise vacation giveaway!

 
Their new back offices area includes several cubicles for posting online sales, auctions, and arranging for shipping.

A Panda Express All-You-Can-Eat Buffet… for $11?
There are lots of places to get “all you can eat” in Orlando, some fancier than others. At the very inexpensive end, you can chow down on Cici’s Pizza for about $5/person, and that is truly all you can eat. I stumbled across an “all you can eat” Panda Express this weekend, and it’s exactly as advertised. You get the regular menu, all you can eat, for $11 (drinks not included). It’s $8 for kids 9 and under. No plate sharing is allowed.
I expected something like the All You Can Eat KFC experience (I found one of those on I-75 somewhere north of here, I think while traveling to Atlanta, but there are multiple locations), where the buffet food is set out on steam tables and is separate from the “regular food” served to those who don’t want the buffet. That means a limited menu.
At the Panda Express, there is no separate steam table; you just get a handstamp and go through the regular line again and again. You are not required to get rice/noodles at any point (even the first plate) – you just say which items you want, and how large/small to make each scoop, and they will put it on the plate for you. Even the items normally requiring an upcharge fee of $1 (honey walnut shrimp, sriracha shrimp, etc) are included at no additional cost for the buffet. It would hard not to get your money’s worth. For only a couple dollars more than the 3-item meal, you get unlimited refills and a chance to try out all the different dishes. I was very happy to pay $11 for this and will do so again!

I’m not necessarily the type of person who would relish the thought of having to face a worker every time I wanted more food. I’d hate to feel judged. But on this visit, we found the workers uniformly professional and courteous, always with the assumption that you want more food and they are delighted to help. They almost seemed sensitive to this very issue of wanting to appear non-judgmental, so *happy* were they to dish out yet another plate for you.
I soon learned why. This is apparently the ONLY Panda Express in the world to have a buffet (all you can eat) option. It’s a “test” that started a year ago and has continued ever since. The signage outside the Panda Express don’t point out how different this one is (they are not allowed to have custom signage on this part of International Drive), so it’s a little-known secret. In the middle of Saturday afternoon, we had the restaurant to ourselves!
If you want to visit the Panda Express buffet, it’s on International Drive just north of Sand Lake (there is a Chuck E. Cheese nearby). It’s probably only five minutes from Universal and ten minutes from SeaWorld by car.
I had a chance to interview the manager Jerry Weisser recently. Here’s our (edited) email interview:
1. Why did the company want to explore doing a buffet version?
A lot of people asked for the buffet since International Drive has several restaurants that offers buffet. In addition, this option will give customers a chance to try all the food that we have on the menu.
2. Why did they choose your Orlando location for the test?
International Drive is one of the top tourist spots.
3. How is the test going?
This testing is giving many customers the option to enjoy every dish that we have on the menu. Many regular customers enjoy this option.
4. Do you know of any plans to expand the test?
We’re not sure if the company will be planning to expand this option throughout the company, but what we know is as people find out that Panda Express has a location with a buffet option, they ask for more locations to offer the buffet!
IAAPA is this week
IAAPA is the theme park and amusement industry’s trade show, and it’s one of the few ones you can visit as a member of the general public (it costs a pretty penny, but is worth it if you’ve never been, to see what the industry values, and is salivating over for the next season). Find out more info at IAAPA’s website: http://www.iaapa.org/expos/iaapa-attractions-expo-2013/registration-hotel-travel
WDW Clicks
This week we bring you more pictures from Theme Park Connection, FP+ kiosks in DHS, Sid Cahuenga’s last day, new decorations in the MuppetVision queue, and some details from around the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights.

Or visit the link directly: http://youtu.be/91-jAY7tyqc
About Kevin Yee

Kevin Yee is an author and blogger writing about travel, tourism, and theme parks in Central Florida. He spent more than a decade working at Disneyland and cultivating a never-ending fascination with that park’s rich traditions and history. Now relocated to Orlando, Kevin enjoys the Disney offerings on both sides of the country.
Kevin is the author of numerous independent Disney books , including the popular Walt Disney World Earbook series and Walt Disney World Hidden History . Readers are invited to connect with him online and face to face at the following locations:
UltimateOrlando.com – Kevin’s personal blog for daily WDW updates
Public Facebook page – or friend his personal Facebook account ,
Twitter feed (user UltOrlando),
Google+ account (user cafeorleans),
Email at [email protected] ,
Weekly Walt Disney World , a Facebook group of regulars who visit Disney World each weekend. Visitors from out of town are encouraged to come and say hello when in Orlando! Join the FB group to learn when/where the next meet is.
Kevin’s books on Amazon
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19 Comments
There are currently 19 Comments on Osborne Lights Return-For the Last Time? . Perhaps you would like to add one of your own?

SueinSac November 19, 2013 at 6:00 am

The Osborn Lights could become a major bottleneck at the Studios, too, once the rumored park upgrades are installed. It would be nice to have them at Epcot, except that the buildings there are so far apart and they’d have to be installing/fine-tuning the Osborn Lights in the middle of Food & Wine. To me, MK doesn’t need this and as you said, it doesn’t fit at AK.
But wouldn’t Downtown Disney be the perfect place for the Osborn Lights? They can design it into the new plans there, and make the retailers happy that they have something huge to be a big draw for the holidays at Downtown Disney. Many retailers make most of their profits at the holidays; this one change might keep Downtown Disney more vibrant year-round by keeping the retailers happy so we don’t have so many empty buildings and individual storefronts that Disney is compelled to creatively fill themselves. With the new plans for Downtown Disney, they can design the space to manage the crowds, instead of shoe-horning it into an existing area.
I would hope they’d also use this opportunity to upgrade the Osborn Lights significantly. I know they’ve made some nice upgrades over the years (nice summary, Kevin!), but there’s still a bit of cheesiness to the whole affair. The Osborn dad has passed on now; this would be the perfect time to “Disney-fy” the Lights to make them just a beautiful experience. They can retain all the parts that people love, while moving on from the essence of the 70’s that still lingers around the display.
The question is whether this would negatively impact park ticket sales. I’d venture that overall ticket sales would increase with the coming upgrades to Hollywood Studios, as people will want to spend more time there. Putting the Osborn Lights at Downtown Disney could become a win-win for the resort as a whole.
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ParkerMonroe November 19, 2013 at 6:11 am

I was going to offer the same opinion: Downtown Disney seems like the most logical spot to move the Osborne Lights.
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lionheartkc November 19, 2013 at 7:50 am

I’m going to third that. It would make Downtown Disney more of a destination over the holidays while letting the other parks do the holiday events they have already perfected. It would be a perfect fit for the new Disney Springs area.
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SueinSac November 19, 2013 at 8:03 am

It would make Disney look generous by providing it for free – no ticket required! In return, they’d probably sell more glow hats that way.

Dusty Sage November 19, 2013 at 12:54 pm

LOVE this idea. Once the new parking structures open at Downtown Disney, they should move the Osborne Lights here. They could even have some displays out on the water.
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OprylandUSA November 19, 2013 at 8:08 am

An alternative would be to close down one of the water parks for the season (Blizzard Beach) and put them there for a moderately priced attraction. It would relieve congestion at the parks and provide a new revenue stream. People would happily pay $18-$25 to walk through. Look at (a-hem) ICE! at Gaylord Palms.
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Malin November 19, 2013 at 8:36 am

My understanding of the whole WDW corporate Management structure at WDW is that each park has a Vice President in charge of the day to day operations. No individual would want to lose the revenue, positive feedback or attendance numbers that the Osborne Christmas Lights bring to Hollywood Studios. So I think Management at that Park will do its best to move them either somewhere else or work the construction around the lights. If it can’t display the lights then I’m certain Disney would move them elsewhere. The Boardwalk would be my choice. The rumours for the Studios often contradict one another so I’m not to concern right now. What I don’t understand is that the Studio Backlot Tour is being closed from January – March for a refurbishment. If it isn’t cost saving related why would Disney close an attraction for such a long time if the intention is to close it for good soon afterwards. Can someone also explain to me why Cast Members on the Backstage Magic Tour were telling everyone that Mickey’s Jungle Jammin Parade would be finishing by January?
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StevenW November 19, 2013 at 9:14 am

Panda Express is horrific Chinese fast food. Just awful. Eat and get sick trying.
It doesn’t make sense to save Osborne Lights. I enjoyed it when I saw it a decade ago, but it’s merely Christmas lights and I just don’t see the allure. There’s enough time for them to temporarily relocate it to other parts of DHS. And please, no Star Wars Christmas lights in the future.
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danyoung November 19, 2013 at 3:20 pm

I couldn’t disagree with you more about Panda Express – excellent fast food, very fresh, always very tasty!
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rihard2000 November 19, 2013 at 11:15 am

The studios backstage overflow walkway was mentioned as a way around a Sunset Blvd bottleneck. What if the backstage walk was used for the display itself? I haven’t been back there in years, but wonder if this would be a good logical spot. They may even be able to leave the lighting up (but not lit) year round to save on the labor of uninstalling and re-installing. Thoughts anyone?
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FerretAfros November 19, 2013 at 12:49 pm

I wondered the same thing. They might need to put up some structures back there to hang the lights from (like they would need to do if they theoretically moved to Epcot), but it seems like a good spot. The only issue would be putting all the big draws (F!, TOT, RNRC, Lights) in the same corner of the park, which could mess with the crowd flow
They would likely take them down annually, since that area is used regularly after F! shows, but it would help reduce the ugliness of the current lights during daytime hours, as it could simply be closed to guests
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chesirecat November 19, 2013 at 11:48 am

Good article Kevin as it succinctly illustrates how TDO is invested in Osbourne Lights.
DHS is a relatively small theme park with little room to grow, yet it has done very well with special shows and offerings, such as Fantasmic!, Lights, Motors Action, the Indiana Jones Stunt Show, Beauty and the Beast, Jedi Training Academy, American Idol, Voyage of the Little Mermaid, Disney Junior Live on Stage, and the perennial holiday favorite Osbourne Lights.
DHS attracts about 10 million guests a year, not too shabby, and is popular with a range of guests including foreign visitors who also enjoy the shows. Give the relatively recent investments in Osbourne Lights and Lights, Motors, Action, it is not very likely that these attractions, and their infrastructure, will be removed in the next ten years.
DCA needed Carsland due to low attendance, and DLR has only two parks to choose from when it comes time to consider an expansion. Overzealous east coast Disney fans perhaps thought that DHS = DCA, hence a Carsland is in the work, or maybe something else. Given WDW’s size, and presence of four theme parks, Disney has decided to build James Cameron’s Avatarland in the Animal Kingdom (for better or worse), which is much easier to expand logistically.
DHS could get a new Pixar attraction to fill out Pixar Place, however, massive demolishment and construction removing several popular attractions at DHS is very unlikely given that this would torpedo some of DHS’s capacity and popularity for the duration of construction. DCA’s Carsland was basically built on a backstage area, and hence guest space was relatively undisturbed for Carsland’s construction in Anaheim.
Eastcoast fans seeing Carsland at DCA might have thought that the decision to build a east-coast Carsland is a no brainer, yet with Florida’s hot summer, Carsland lack of shade, and there not being any pressing financial reason to boost DHS’s attendance at the moment, it is hard to see why Disney would green light such a project, or any massive project at DHS, especially since Iger/Staggs have publicly stated that no big projects are in the pipeline for the domestic parks (outside of Avatarland and the completion of the New Fantasyland), and as stockholders have complained about recent Disney investments, and as construction in Shanghai moves forward.
Online bloggers and fans can speculate all they want with regards to demolishing sections of DHS, but that doesn’t mean it is going to happen as the tail doesn’t wag the dog!
Osbourne Lights brings in guests during the holidays to WDW, folks who are ready to spend $$$ on gifts, and spend more than they would during other times of the year, and DHS earns more in ticket sales during Osbourne Lights, enough to finance this yearly spectacle.
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Malin November 19, 2013 at 1:08 pm

Bob Iger stated in an interview last week that Disney was working on Star Wars themed attractions for its domestic Parks.
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chesirecat November 19, 2013 at 3:12 pm

Well . . . not exactly. Iger said:
“there is a fair amount of development going on at Disney Imagineering right now to expand the Star Wars presence in Disneyland AND Walt Disney World nd eventually in others Disney theme parks around the world”.
So . . . every park gets a Star Wars land? Iger might well be talking about a Star Wars parade, meet and greets, and other special offerings, though a StarWarsland is in development, where it ultimately goes is unknown.
And Iger said:
“We do have Star Wars in others theme parks, in Paris and in Tokyo, we haven’t made any specific announcements about what will be in Shanghaî or what we’re heading to Hong Kong after we build an Iron Man attraction but i think it’s probably likely that Star Wars will be in more than just our two domestic parks.”
So there’s a Star Wars land in Paris and Tokyo Bob? I think you can see that more Star Wars doesn’t necessarily mean a StarWarsland in every theme park.

Club22 November 19, 2013 at 1:57 pm

The only time I’ve seen the Osborne Lights in person was during my last trip to WDW, which was December 2001-January 2002. At that time, they had the soap-bubble “snowfall” on the Streets of America. I remember it distinctly, along with the hot chocolate.
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MikeBlakesley November 19, 2013 at 4:34 pm

I have a love-hate relationship with the Osborne Lights. I love the way they look at night and the show is spectacular (since we usually go in Sept/Oct., I’ve only seen the Lights once, during a December trip in 2012) but I hate what they do to the park during the day. It just makes that whole area look junky and it ruins the looks of the meticulously-designed buildings.
I like the idea of moving the lights to Downtown Disney but I also agree with the poster who said it would probably never fly, due to the management of DHS not wanting to lose those holiday crowds (unless they came up with something NEW to draw people to DHS during the holidays….hmmmm)
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Kidgenie November 19, 2013 at 5:29 pm

Regarding Iger’s comments, WDI typically would not design a meet and greet or parade. The fact that he mention its WDI adds validity to the speculation that who Bob is referring to is attractions based, not entertainment based. Also remember Iger’s is responding to the question about Disneyland’s Tomorrowland becoming Starwarsland. He does not deny that or evade it, only states the above, which kept is the context of the question is pretty strong indicator that he is not talking about parades and meet and greets.
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Kevin Yee November 19, 2013 at 5:31 pm

Some friends and I would like to see Flamingo Crossing, currently languishing in non-development, become the new nightclub place (don’t have to call it Pleasure Island, but that’s the idea) *and* also make it Christmastown, with more than just the lights. Christmas all year! Shops, Christkindlmarkt, Gluehwein, Santa… all year long.
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Amy VandenBoogert November 19, 2013 at 6:33 pm

I’ve been to that Panda Express but it wasn’t an all you can eat buffet when I visited (at least that I can remember) in 2010. That being said, I need to get my butt back up there because I am addicted to their sweet fire chicken. Can’t get enough of it sometimes. I might end up like in that John Pinette comedy bit: “YOU GO NOW! YOU BEEN HERE FOUR HOUR! THERE NO FOOD LEFT!” LOL!!!
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