Wednesday, November 4, 2015

A History of: The Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights

By Brittany Bell

Having delighted guests at Hollywood Studios since 1995, the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights is on its last season. Lighting up the Streets of America for the holiday season, this show truly is a spectacle that brings together families and friends. Each night a special guest flips the switch and brings light, magic and color to Disney’s Hollywood Studios. As the lights sparkle and music plays for one last time, let’s learn about how the Osborne family’s Christmas display made it to Walt Disney World all the way from Arkansas in today's new article…

Back in 1995 when the then named Disney-MGM Studios was the newest park on Walt Disney World property, park executives looked to bring a holiday event to the Studios. Much like today, Magic Kingdom has the Very Merry Christmas Party and EPCOT had the Candlelight Processional. Having been open for six years, a holiday spectacle was long overdue at MGM Studios. The park executives brainstormed for ideas, and eventually their sights were set on a family in Little Rock, Arkansas and the waves they were causing over their impressive holiday lights display.

Photo of the display at the Osborne home

It all began in Arkansas, business man Jennings Osborne wanted to give his six-year-old daughter something special for Christmas: a lights display at their home that would trump all the rest. Over the years, Osborne’s collection and display continued to grow, until finally the complaints from his neighbors escalated into a full-blown court case in 1995. When the Arkansas Supreme Court ordered that Osborne could not put up his holiday lights display that year, Bruce Laval, the acting Executive VP of Theme Parks at WDW, decided to give Jennings Osborne a call. Although Osborne wasn’t sure how to react at first, he ultimately decided to send his collection of nearly 3 million lights to Florida. Also in his collection that had accumulated over 9 years was a 70 foot-tall Christmas tree, 100 angels, a train conducted by Mickey Mouse and two working carousels.

The entire display didn’t reach Orlando until November 4th, 1995, with park executives still hoping to get the lights up and running for the holiday season. Once the lights arrived to MGM Studios, Imagineers and technicians were then tasked with setting up the display and adapting it to the Residential Street area of the park (the area that would later become Lights! Motors! Action!). In just 20 short days, on November 24th, 1995, the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights lit up Disney-MGM Studios for the first time. The reaction from park guests was overwhelmingly positive, and Disney knew they had a hit on their hands.

Each year, Disney added lights to the display, with the total now near an estimated 5 million bulbs. They’ve also added a significant number of hidden Mickeys, angels and even a snow machine. In 2011, the lights got a makeover, upgrading to 100% LED lighting, making the show an even more vibrant experience. Additionally, the Osborne family visits the park every year to view the spectacle first started by Jennings, even after his unfortunate passing in 2011.

Jennings Osborne and Mickey Mouse

Even as the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights nears its final performance, the hard work that goes into putting up the display is impressive to say the least. It is made up of over 10 miles of rope-lighting that has to be connected by over 30 extension cords. The manual labor that goes into putting up all of those lights adds up to over 21,000 hours, starting in August. Additionally, each night, the performance requires 800,000 watts of electricity. So if you are around Walt Disney World this holiday season, be sure to witness the final year of this truly spectacular display of holiday spirit… and be thankful you’re not paying the electricity bill.


Brittany Bell grew up in Lewiston, Maine, about 45 minutes away from Portland. She is currently studying Public Relations and Journalism at Boston University, and hopes to one day work for the Mouse himself. She grew up in a Disney-loving home, and would watch Sleeping Beauty on repeat as a little girl. Her first trip to Walt Disney World was in the summer of 2000, at four years old. Ever since then, Brittany and her family take annual trips to the World, and have no intention of vacationing anywhere else. Her favorite places in Walt Disney World are the Animal Kingdom Lodge, the Grand Floridian, and the Magic Kingdom. She can’t go without seeing Fantasmic! at least once each vacation, even though she chokes up a little at the final scene. Brittany is fascinated by how one man’s dream became an empire—one that makes dreams come true every day.

Before she became obsessed with Frozen and Queen Elsa, her favorite Disney characters were Princess Aurora and Mulan. She loves everything and anything Disney, from the parks, to the movies, to the Broadway musicals. In the near future she hopes to participate in the Disney College Program and work as a “friend of a princess”.

You can find all of Brittany's articles here

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