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"Dream Castle Lights" dazzle at night, disappear during the day

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"Dream Castle Lights" dazzle at night, disappear during the day

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Now that Thanksgiving is over, it's time to break out all of those Christmas lights and start decorating the exterior of your home.

Mind you, Rob Hamberg got kind of a headstart on the rest of us. This Walt Disney World Entertainment show producer didn't wait 'til turkey time to start his holiday decorating project. He and his WDW team actually began stringing up lights back in August.

Which -- I'll admit -- sounds a tad premature. But then again, how many of us have ever been tasked with decorating one of the most photographed structures in the world? A 185-foot tall castle which sits right in the middle of the world's busiest theme park?

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"We got an early start this year because we had to work around 'Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party,' " Hamberg explained. "The Dream Lights crew only worked in the Kingdom on those nights when we could get in a full eight hours and then safely bring in our cranes."

It took over 5 weeks to hang the 200,000 LEDS that are used to transform Cinderella Castle into an ice-covered wonder. Rob and his crew of 65 draped 32,000 square feet of light-covered fishing net over this 18-story building. And each of these nets had been carefully dyed so that it then blended in perfectly with the part of the Castle that it had been draped over.

"That's the part of 'Castle Dream Lights' that I'm proudest of," Hamberg said. "That all of these lights and their rigging are virtually invisible during the day."

"And what's so impressive about that?," you ask. Well, how many of you remember 1996? When the Walt Disney World Resort -- in honor of its 25th anniversary -- transformed Cinderella Castle into an enormous birthday cake. Magic Kingdom managers still recall all the complaints they received from Guests about the Castle Cake. Not to mention the dozens of brides who cancelled ceremonies at Disney's Wedding Pavilion just because they didn't want that Pepto-Bismol pink monstrosity looming large in the background of all their wedding photographs.

So -- as anxious as Magic Kingdom managers may have been add a brand-new nighttime spectacle to that theme park's holiday lineup -- they were equally determined that "Castle Dream Lights" not be Castle Cake revisited. Which is why word went out to the Disney Entertainment team that these lights had to be virtually invisible during the day.

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Which is kind of a challenge when you're dealing with 200,000 LEDS and 500 strobes. But Rob and his crew rose to this challenge during the Summer of 2006. First by using CAD to determine which lighting pattern would look best on Cinderella Castle. Then by draping a full-sized mock-up of one of the Castle's turrets with a dyed net covered with LEDS to see if "Castle Dream Lights" would look as good in real life as it did on the computer.

Satisfied with this test, Hamberg and his team then sought out a vendor that could dye all of those fish nets -- not to mention the 15 miles of cables that are used to actually light up "Dream Lights" -- the proper color. So that -- when this seasonal overlay is draped over Cinderella Castle -- those tons of equipment really do almost disappear during the day. Indeed, most daytime visitors to the Magic Kingdom aren't even aware of the "Castle Dream Lights" lighting rig until they get within 10 feet of this WDW icon.

Of course, that's not the case once night falls. When Cinderella's Fairy Godmother -- with the help of Mickey and his friends -- covers the Castle into this glimmering, shimmering "magical ice." A moment that Rob admits he really loves.

"It's so much fun to be down there in the crowd when that transformation takes place," Hamberg continued. "To hear that collective 'Aaah' that comes up as the lights come on all over the Castle."

That said, Rob understands that it wasn't just Disney magic that made "Castle Dream Lights" happen. Which is why he's quick to credit the hard working members of his Disney Entertainment team, particularly show director Alan Bruun and lightning designer Bill Ferrara.

"These guys really came through," Hamberg said. "Especially during 'Dream Lights' first year, when we only had nine days to rehearse the stage show as well as finish programming the lights before we opened to the public."

Photo by Jeff Lange

And given how strongly WDW visitors responded to this new seasonal show at the Magic Kingdom back in 2007, Rob didn't feel that he needed to make any significant changes to the 2008 version of "Castle Dream Lights."

"We filled things a little with the lights on the Castle," Hamberg admitted. "Tweaked the programming a little. But overall it's the same show from last year. The Guests were so quick to embrace 'Castle Dream Lights,' make part of their WDW holiday tradition that we didn't see a need to make any huge changes to the show."

But given how popular "Castle Dream Lights" is with WDW visitors, is it possible that this seasonal show will someday travel to other Disney theme parks? Rob (Who readily admits that this lit castle effect originated at Disneyland Paris in 2005. More to the point, that the concept for this new WDW holiday actually came to the Resort via Francois Leroux, who is now vice president of Walt Disney World Entertainment) certainly hopes so.

"We've had discussions with the folks at Tokyo Disneyland," Hamberg concluded. "Given that their Cinderella Castle is almost identical to ours, it wouldn't be all that hard for them to do 'Castle Dream Lights' there. So we've shared our information with Tokyo. But the final decision is up to them."

So someday there may be two "Castle Dream Lights" in the world. But -- for now -- the one and only can be found at WDW's Magic Kingdom. Where it disappears during the day and then dazzles the Guests at night.

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  • Well, it may be the only Cinderella Castle in the world to have "Dream Lights", but All versions of Sleeping Beauty Castle have winter lights to varying degrees.  Tokyo Disneyland also does something with lights, but not quite to the extent that the others do.  Still, it's a nice holiday treat, and it looks like Disneyland actually expanded their version this year to travel from the castle all the way down Main Street to the town Christmas tree!

  • Meh, although the net-lights on Cinderella Castle aren't that noticeable from Main Street, it looks bizarre by the time you get near the north end of the Hub -- ''What in the world are all these stringy things?''

    At least Disneyland's castle snow overlay still looks snowy during the day, so they are able to get something out of their design whether it's day or night.

  • Hmm. I can see why they didn't want netting to be seen, but DAMN did I love the Castle Cake - it was so original!

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