The World (Disney World) is changing fast these days! It was only a couple of weeks ago that Disney received permission from the Federal Aviation Administration to fly drones over the property. (Not only are Disney skies normally a “no fly” zone for drones, but, FAA regulations forbid drones from flying at night.) And already the nighttime skies above Disney Springs are lighting up with the shopping and dining district’s very own nighttime show: “Starbright Holidays – an Intel Collaboration.” As well as adding excitement and holiday fun to time spent at Disney Springs, an added benefit of this show is that it helps fill the general void left by the departure of the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
The Starbright Holidays show is performed by 300 zooming Intel Shooting Star quadcopter drones loaded with multicolored lights. Disney’s name for the little drones is “Flixels.” (They even have cute faces with eyes – though no guest will get close enough to see!) The huge fleet of drones forms iconic holiday constellations accompanied by matching choral and instrumental music. As “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” intones, the drones trace a green Christmas tree (complete with red ornaments and a star) rotating majestically in the air above the Disney Springs Village Lake. Other holiday shapes are formed as if by stars in motion with visible depth and volume. The lights against the backdrop of the night sky change color and brightness as they move in their aerial ballet, and the variations in hue and intensity add a new dimension to holiday lights, especially as compared to static displays. The music includes both favorite Christmas carols and well-known orchestral pieces of the season. Starbright Holidays probably appears particularly effective on calm, breezeless evenings when the movements of the drones are most precise. Well choreographed uplighting of changing colors across the lake at Saratoga Springs adds to the magic.
The Flixels can safely fly as close as five feet apart. Each drone has four sets of tiny spinning blades – each securely encased in a plastic “cage.” They’re made of foam and soft plastics for guest safety, not that anyone wants to get up close and personal with a Flixel to put one to the test! The Flixels can stay in the air for as long as twenty minutes, but the fledgling show is just five minutes long.
After the show, the swarm of little points of light fly back to the mother ship – don’t walk away too quickly — their exit is beautiful! In fact the best moments of the extravaganza are those we guests won’t see — the exciting launch and descent that the operators get to enjoy! (Most of their flight paths is over water or areas that are restricted.)
The announcement at the beginning of Starbright Holidays advises that, to make your season brighter, you are about to receive a gift “you don’t have to wait for Christmas to open.” Guests are also “warned” that the show, created with cutting-edge technology, represents “a first steps in an all-new experience” If these are the first steps, they’re hitting the ground running. (And where will the finish line be — a drone-driven fireworks show over the Magic Kingdom’s Cinderella Castle – with little drones creating the effect of Merida’s wisps just over the heads of the crowd? Or a skyful of hundreds of Rapunzel’s lighted lanterns twirling, as in TANGLED? Over three billion color combinations can be brought to life by these little nine-ounce flying LEDs. So this could be the beginning of something really big. (We may see large teams of drones deployed outside theme park venues, too – can you imagine a search-and-rescue party led by 500 flying cameras?)
Starbright Holidays show appears nightly over the water at 7:00 and 8:30 PM from November 20 to January 8. (The walkway near Characters in Flight on the West Side of Disney Springs is a particularly good place from which to watch.)