Why Disney World Got Rid of the Osborne Dancing Lights

It seems the only constant in life is change.

More than 350 miles of sparkling lights dazzled guests at the former Disney/MGM Studios during the Osborne Family Spectacle of Lights in 2001. [The Walt Disney Studios]
Theme park progress marches to the beat of a relentless drum. We’ve seen so many attractions at Disney World come and go over the years. Maybe we’re feeling nostalgic, but we thought we’d take a trip down memory lane with you and rediscover a holiday tradition at Hollywood Studios that we miss dearly. 

Once upon a time, in Walt Disney World, a cherished holiday tradition called The Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights cast its enchanting glow for over two glorious decades… until it gracefully bid farewell, leaving a trail of wistful nostalgia in its wake. Nestled within the magical embrace of Disney’s Hollywood Studios, this dazzling display forever holds a special place in the hearts of its ardent admirers.

But wait, for the tale of the Osborne Lights unfolds with an intriguing twist, intertwining a fascinating web of lawsuits and even a Supreme Court case. Prepare to embark on a remarkable journey on how the Osborne Lights came and went from Disney World.

Osborne Dancing Lights

Let us take you back to the delightful year of 1986 when Jennings Osborne, a prosperous businessman from Arkansas, embarked on a whimsical adventure at the request of his young daughter Allison. The Osborne family transformed their Little Rock home into a Christmas wonderland, adorning it with over 1,000 festive illuminations. Over the years, the display grew in intricacy, captivating the hearts of all who beheld its radiant splendor. However, not everyone embraced the joyous spectacle crafted by Mr. Osborne.

The Osborne home in Little Rock as it appeared during the 1993 holiday season.

In the early 1990s, some of Jennings’ neighbors complained about the swarms of visitors and traffic congestion caused by the display. In 1993, six disgruntled neighbors filed a lawsuit to halt the twinkling extravaganza. Rather than complying, Osborne defiantly added another 1,000 lights in response. However, the wheels of justice turned swiftly, and a county court ruled that the display should only grace the skies for 15 days. Undeterred, Jennings appealed the decision to both the Arkansas Supreme Court and the United States Supreme Court, but his claims were ultimately extinguished.

Just when it seemed like the Osborne family’s Christmas spectacle would fade into obscurity, the Walt Disney Company stepped in. Walt Disney World Project Director John Phelan reached out to the Osbornes and proposed relocating the entire display to the resort. The family agreed, and the Osborne Family Festival of Lights made its debut at MGM Studios during the 1995 holiday season. The lights quickly became a beloved tradition, and Disney expanded and enhanced the display with over 5 million lights and enchanting scenes.

Osborne Dancing Lights

In 2004, the Osborne Lights found a new home on the park’s vibrant Streets of America, taking their captivating glow to even greater heights. The display underwent a transformation in 2006 and became The Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights, featuring 1,500 dimmer switches that allowed the lights to sway and groove in sync with festive melodies. The show continued to captivate audiences until 2011 when a technological upgrade replaced the traditional lights with energy-efficient LEDs.

While the Osborne Lights thrived at Walt Disney World, Jennings Osborne’s illuminated creations sparked controversy in his Arkansas neighborhood. In the early 2000s, he decorated his property with 100,000 lights forming an American flag and expressing support for George W. Bush. Despite facing acts of vandalism, the display persisted until 2008. Jennings Osborne later passed away in 2011, leaving behind a legacy of joy and wonder through his remarkable light displays.

Osborne Dancing Lights

For Osborne’s daughter, Breezy Osborne-Wingfield, the opportunity to share her childhood memories with millions of people around the world through Disney World has been truly special (via the Orlando Sentinel).

Breezy’s own childhood was enriched by the enduring glow of the lights, an experience that defies description unless one has walked beneath their mesmerizing brilliance. The family kept the tradition alive with their unwavering dedication, which reflects the lasting legacy it created for countless individuals.

But, when Disney announced that Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge would be coming to Hollywood Studios, that meant the end for the Osborne Lights. Disney would need room for this new land, and the Streets of America were the perfect spot.

Osborne Dancing Lights

Speculations and hopes swirled among fans of the Osborne Lights as rumors circulated about the future of this cherished tradition. Many held out hope that Disney would find an alternative location within its expanding property, with Disney Springs (called Downtown Disney at the time) being one of the suggested possibilities.

Devoted fans expressed disappointment when their pleas fell on deaf ears, and Disney made the decision to bid farewell to the beloved Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights altogether. This marked the end of an era, leaving a void in the hearts of countless families who held this enchanting holiday display as a cherished tradition.

On January 3rd, 2016, the Osborne Lights took their final bow, gracefully concluding their mesmerizing performance. As a fitting tribute, their last “dance” was accompanied by the nostalgic melody of the “Mickey Mouse Club Alma Mater” song. With their departure, the magical glow of the Osborne Lights dimmed, leaving behind a legacy of wonder and nostalgia that will forever hold a special place in the memories of those who were fortunate enough to experience its captivating brilliance.

This marked the end of an era for the Osborne lights. The beloved spectacle would bid farewell as the entire Streets of America section in Hollywood Studios faced removal, making way for the future development of the Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge land. While the event generated substantial revenue through sales of food and merchandise, Disney’s decision reflects their priorities for future attractions over the nostalgia of any kind.

While the Osborne Lights are no longer featured at Walt Disney World, they are arguably doing more good for the world in their current location. Following the end of their run, Disney donated the vast majority of the lights to the Give Kids the World Village charity complex. They’re currently used for the group’s ”Night of a Million Lights” event, and used to raise money for the village to continue its mission of hosting wishes and their guests. 

[Give Kids the World]
From a simple request by a young girl to her father to decorate for Christmas, the Osborne Family Spectacle of Lights transformed into a cherished institution at Walt Disney World. However, despite its popularity, this enchanting display ultimately became a casualty of the relentless march of theme park progress.

Osborne Dancing Lights

Though they’re gone from the parks, they live on in our hearts and memories. Let us know below about your memories about this or any other attractions that have come and gone and stay tuned for the latest Disney news and more.

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5 Replies to “Why Disney World Got Rid of the Osborne Dancing Lights”

  1. I’m a season pass holder and to me it’s not Hollywood studios anymore it’s Star Wars studios and I hate Star Wars. I haven’t been back to Hollywood studios since they took out the great movie ride. Seems they can find all the room they need for new hotels and restaurants but they can’t find space for new new rides without tearing down rides and attractions that so many love and are the reason people come back

  2. I loved the snowflakes that floated down making it feel more like winter (Xmas) time. Being from the south, we rarely get snow during the winter so this was an added feature with the lights I enjoyed

  3. I looked forward to the street of lights every year. Too bad they couldn’t move them to a different area. I still miss them.

  4. I recall the first year when you walked do the street with the tv home (front of the house) of the golden girls was all lit up as were all the backlot street areas. I also still have some of the 3d glass they gave us that made the lights appear to by angels when you put them. It was a very great thing to see at Christmas time and I do miss the light show.

  5. Osbourne lights and trail of trees were the only things that could get us to put up with the holiday crowds and go to WDW during Christmas.