One of my favorite events at the Studios is coming up next month and that’s the Osborne Family Spectacle of Lights. The lights will be up and running from November 13 through January 7, 2006 and it’s free with your admission to the Disney-MGM Studios. Although it’s possible to see the lights a few days before November 13th, rest assured they will be taken down promptly after January 7th (although it’s a good thing certain people I know aren’t running it or those lights would be up ‘till Easter). I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the history of the lights quickly. Basically, Jennings Osborne started putting up Christmas lights in his hometown of Little Rock, AR and in a bit of Clark Griswold-ishness, he started putting up a lot of lights and every year his display would get larger and larger (more is better, right?). Well as you might expect, the neighbors complained (Honestly, who doesn’t want a decadent display of incandescence next door to them?) and after a lengthy court battle, the Disney company offered Jennings a solution: we’ll put your lights up at Walt Disney World every year for you.
If you’ve never been to the Osborne Lights, it’s like walking down the main strip of Las Vegas if it mated with Times Square in New York (minus the sewer rats and gambling stuff). The lights are displayed in the Streets of America part of the Studios (formerly known as New York Street). The lights start at 6pm and guests can enter on Commissary lane. From Thanksgiving weekend ‘till the week before Christmas, if you can, try to avoid weekends and see the lights between Monday and Thursday nights, as they’ll be less crowded generally.
As you walk in you’ll see a lot of lights. However, it’s important to look at the individual displays on their own and see how intricate they are. When you first walk in, most of the displays are grand in scale and as you make your way down the streets, you’ll notice more interesting displays. At 6 there will be an initial mad rush in but if you let the first group (mob, whatever you want to call it) go through you’ll find things a little more manageable. If you’re going down during a busier time of the year (December 23 – January 2), well, I’m sure by then you’ll be well versed in crowds.
There are “oldies” to keep an eye out for such as Mickey shaking hands with Santa Claus, the angels above in the sky and the tons of Hidden Mickeys (43 of them to be exact) to be found around the lights. There are also some Jewish light displays for Hanukkah as well some general winter themes to it.
New this year is lights that will be choreographed to music, which will result in “dancing” lights. These lights will dance about every 15 minutes to holiday music. I’m sure you’ve seen a video or two from last Christmas of some guy tricking out his home’s light display (and if you haven’t, what kind of in-laws/coworkers/friends do you have that don’t forward you annoying videos to watch?) and this is along those lines. Like I said, this is new this year so it’ll be interesting to see how all those lights suddenly dancing to the music will appear (or where a good vantage point to see them will be).
Speaking of vantage points, a good strategy to use when seeing the lights is to get that main “drag” of the Streets of America done as soon as you can. This area is always the most congested. Once you get close to the entrance to Lights, Motors, Action! Extreme Stunt Show, you should notice crowds lightening up (unless you’re going during that week between Christmas and New Years I mentioned before in which case I’m sure you’ll be shoulder to shoulder with a lot of folks). At this point, I like to sit down on a bench and take in the lights, the music playing and the falling snow. Yes, there is falling snow in the form of soap sud bubbles and it’s a neat effect. After (or if you’re anti-sitting), proceed to tour the side streets, which are far less crowded and have some really interesting light displays. My favorite is the bar-be-que that uses lights to simulate fire…you need to see it to understand. There are other interesting things going on, and be sure to peer into the windows of the apartments to see what’s going on in there (Sorry, I won’t wreck the surprise).
If you’re interested in seeing the lights as well as Fantasmic! in the same night, you can do that. This year, Fantasmic! starts about an hour before the park closes. With Fantasmic! being about 25 minutes in length, that will leave the park open for another 35 minutes. First, don’t worry; you don’t have just 35 minutes to beat the mob out of the Hollywood Hills Amphitheater and see the lights. Once you’re in the lights area, Disney will keep them on past the posted closing time (mind you, you’ll likely have issues if you tried to come in after the closing time but even with a terrible crowd/mob from Fantasmic!, you should still be able to get to the lights with about 15-20 minutes to spare before closing. At this point you should be able to see the lights in all their glory. Truth be told, ideally you should spend one night seeing the lights and another night seeing Fantasmic!.
If you’re like most people you’re going to want to take photos of the lights (and maybe some pictures of people in your party?) and there are some good tips for photo taking here to keep in mind. If you’ve ever tried photographic lit things at night such as lights or fireworks, you’ll know that more than likely you’ll come back with really blurry and sometimes LSD-influenced looking photos. Professional photographers will tell you that your camera (digital or otherwise) should be in manual mode with some fancy-shmancy settings. In today’s world of digital cameras, likely there is a preset setting on your camera that will work well for the lights. My advice is try out these modes either before you get there or maybe at your resort at night and see what works best. Ideally for many of these settings, you don’t move. Even more ideal is a tripod but with the crowds in the area, your tripod would quickly become a carpet (and with the camera attached to it, a very expensive carpet) so find a forgiving setting that captures the lights and try to be as still as possible when snapping the photo. If you want to videotape or use film cameras, I’ve got some tips on the Osborne Lights page that you can take a gander at.
Unless you really study the displays or never stop walking, it should take you around 20-25 minutes to see the whole display. With the dancing lights this year, expect that to be a bit more, especially when they dance as I imagine everyone will simply stop in their tracks and watch.
Agree with what I said? Disagree? Have a story to share sparked by this column? Email me! Or share your own Osborne Lights story or tip by posting a comment below.