So, the Main Street Electrical Parade is ending its run at Walt Disney World to be packed up and shipped to Disneyland in California. The final performance here in Orlando will be on October 9th. It will be the end of an era; and what a magical, electrifying era it has been.
I grew up in Florida – Orlando, specifically. Way back when the park was still young – before Epcot opened and before Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom were conceived – the Magic Kingdom ran TV ads about their nighttime spectacular, the Main Street Electrical Parade, probably to entice locals to visit the park during non-peak months.
The commercials were mesmerizing, especially to a preschooler. I mean, my God, the sheer number of lights on each of those floats – and the little insect floats that would spin around? Amazing! This was just before video games and other electronic devices invaded the home, so anything electrical with synthetic music was still futuristic and awe-inspiring.
I distinctly remember trying to figure out how they ran extension cords to those floats while they were moving. I mean, that’s how we ran power to the Christmas lights on the tree, so there had to be a couple dozen of the things being unspooled by technicians as the floats snaked their way down Main Street. Hey, I was four, give me a break.
The most important part of this memory is that it was my introduction to Walt Disney World. I didn’t know it existed until those commercials. The park had only been open a few years, and it wasn’t the ubiquitous presence in children’s lives as it is now. All I knew, was that I wanted to go see those lights.
Being the youngest of three boys, that was a wee bit hard for my parents to afford. Five people going to the parks? That would be expensive. Luckily, my grandparents had recently relocated to Florida from Ohio, and my brothers and I talked about those commercials so dang much, that they decided to spoil us. That’s what grandparents are for, right?
There are lots of things I remember about that first trip. I was too young to ride Space Mountain, and my mom and grandma were too chicken, so the rest of the “men” rode it while they took me on the PeopleMover. I was too busy being intensely jealous of my brothers to enjoy that ride much. I remember Frontierland and being able to play some of the carnival games. I remember the silly singing bears. Oddly, I remember the paper straw they gave me to drink my Root Beer with in Fantasyland, which got all soggy the more I drank.
And with all of that anticipation and television commercials drilled into my head, I remember anxiously anticipating the light parade.
I’m sure it was amazing. My brothers talked about it for days. I was four. I was asleep in my Dad’s arms before nightfall. I didn’t see it.
Years later, probably when I was in High School or so, I remember new commercials announcing its return from Disneyland in California. By then, after a decade or so of Atari, Nintendo and Spielberg visual effects extravaganzas, it looked quaint and dated to me. It didn’t grab my attention like it once did. Eh, teenagers. Am I right?
But that wasn’t the end of my relationship with the parade.
More recently, I took my daughter to the parks and she, unlike me, was able to stay awake for the Electrical Parade, despite being younger than I was during my first visit. I imagine, had I stayed awake (curse you Root Beer sugar crash!) I would have reacted about as giddily as she did. Even with its dated, synthesizer soundtrack it quickly captured her imagination and became her favorite part of visiting the parks.
We go to Disney quite often as Orlandoans are prone to do, and she always asks to stay for the Main Street Electrical Parade.
So it is with a bit of sadness that we will be making one final visit to the parks to say goodbye to it. I’m sure it will return eventually. Disney makes a habit of jockeying it back and forth across the country every few years. But I know that by the time of its return engagement to the Magic Kingdom, my daughter will be too old to have the same amount of pixie dust in her eyes that she does now.
But, then again, maybe at one point I can take my grandchildren to see it. It will be my prerogative to spoil them, after all. That’s what grandparents do, right?