December 2002
WDW Bits and Bites

Feature Article

This article appeared in the December 3, 2002, Issue #167 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)

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A CHAT WITH JENNINGS OSBORNE,
OF THE OSBORNE FAMILY
SPECTACLE OF LIGHTS
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One of the most popular holiday attractions at Walt Disney World in recent years has been the Osborne Family Spectacle of Lights, featured at Disney-MGM Studios since 1995. The "Osborne Lights", as they have come to be known, are a collection of about 5 *million* lights in a variety of displays, strung along the Studios' Residential Street. ALL EARS® Senior Editor Debra Martin Koma had the opportunity to speak with Jennings Osborne, the creator of this fantastic display, just last week:

"I can't do anything in moderation," admits Jennings Osborne.

Even that seems to be an understatement for this Arkansas businessman, who is as well-known throughout the state for his philanthropic acts as he is for running a thriving business.

But what Osborne is referring to in this case is Christmas lights, which is not surprising when you learn that he is the man who started what is arguably one of the biggest holiday light displays in the world.

The road to holiday light excess began modestly enough in 1986, when Osborne's 6-year-old daughter, Breezy, asked her dad to put some Christmas lights on their Little Rock, Arkansas, home. Each year thereafter, though, Osborne added to the original 1,000 lights, until by 1993 the Osborne home was sporting approximately 3 million lights.

"I put lights on our tire swing, on the grill," Osborne recalls. "Anything that didn't move."

Although thousands of visitors enjoyed the spectacle, some neighbors complained and the Arkansas Supreme Court ordered the Osbornes to shut down their display. Osborne took his case before the US Supreme Court, yet was unable to win approval to re-open his light show.

"It was just about the worst day of my life when the Arkansas Supreme Court said I couldn't put up my lights," Osborne says. "But then I was contacted by a man who wanted to move us -- he said something about a 'residential street,' but I had no idea until I saw it in writing that it was Disney or the MGM studios!"

Osborne wasn't unfamiliar with the Orlando vacation spot. He says that he and his family had been going to Walt Disney World for the Christmas and New Year's holidays for several years, so he was excited at the prospect of relocating his displays there. In fact, he laughs, he often dreamed of lighting up the Magic Kingdom's Cinderella Castle, or even Epcot's Spaceship Earth. But, he adds, "Never in my wildest dreams did I really think I'd see our lights at Disney."

Today, the Osborne Family Spectacle of Lights is one of the most eagerly anticipated of the holiday festivities at Walt Disney World. Numbering approximately 5 million lights, the displays feature everything from reindeer and Santa, angels, Christmas trees, to a number of newer exhibits with Disney characters. Not to be missed are all of Osborne's originals, including one of his personal favorites, the prominent Peace on Earth display with the turning globe.

"They reproduced almost everything as we had it in our yard," he says. "That one big tree they have over a house -- that was over our kitchen."

Although he oversaw putting up the lights the first few years they were at Walt Disney World, Osborne notes that he now leaves most of the work to Disney. He and his family have continued their tradition of visiting WDW every holiday season, however, and Osborne says he's walked through the lights with Disney CEO Michael Eisner several times, the two of them marveling at how the displays touch people.

"We have three years left on our contract with Walt Disney World," he notes, dispelling the rumors that this year will be the Lights' last in Orlando. "And I'm sure we'll renew when the time comes. Disney is the perfect place for these lights to be, where millions of people can enjoy them and share in the magic. I still can't believe they're there sometimes."

He adds with a laugh, "Mickey's doing a great job."

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Watch NBC's Dateline on December 15, 7 p.m. Eastern, to see the Osborne Family Spectacle of Lights in a segment on the best holiday lights displays in the country!

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The Osborne Family Spectacle of Lights are on display nightly at the Disney-MGM Studios until early January. Want to learn more?

http://allears.net/tp/h_osb.htm

And be sure to visit our Osborne Lights photo gallery for some gorgeous images at:

http://allears.net/tp/h_osbr2.htm

For even more photos, as well as more information about Jennings Osborne and the history of the lights, visit his website at:

http://www.jenningsosbornefamily.com

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HOLIDAY TOURING TIPS
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ALL EARS® Editor-in-Chief Deb Wills shares some of her tips for touring WDW during the holidays:

*Ride the MK-Epcot monorail at night and enjoy the beautiful holiday decorations and lights from above. You even travel right through Epcot's Lights of Winter Archway!

*Each pavilion in World Showcase has its own holiday storyteller who appears several times a day and will pose for photographs. They are really entertaining for both kids and adults.

*The Voices of Liberty perform beautiful renditions of holiday classics at Epcot's American Adventure.

*Begin touring Disney-MGM Studios' Osborne Spectacle of Lights about 15 minutes before the finale of the final Fantasmic! show of the night to avoid the crowds. If by chance you are in WDW the first week in January, this is the BEST time to visit the Osborne Lights. They are lit through the first Saturday in January.

*Visit Camp Minnie-Mickey at Disney's Animal Kingdom to see your favorite characters dressed in holiday attire, including Santa Goofy!

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CHRISTMAS DAY DINING
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Priority Seatings are available for Christmas Day dining at these locations:

Beach Club's Cape May Cafe; Contemporary Resort's California Grill, Chef Mickey's, Concourse Steakhouse; Old Key West's Olivia's Cafe; Wilderness Lodge's Whispering Canyon Cafe; and the Garden Grill in Epcot's Land pavilion.

REMEMBER: All locations will be taking a credit card number as a guarantee for holiday dining. There will be a $10 per person cancellation fee for cancellations within 48 hours or no-shows.

Call 407-WDW-DINE for details.

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MAGICAL MOMENTS
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From time to time ALL EARS® readers share with us a special magical moment they had in the land of the Mouse. Beginning this month, we'll include one Magical Moment in every Bits and Bites issue of ALL EARS® (usually the first issue of each month). If your Magical Moment is chosen for publication, ALL EARS® will send you an extra sprinkling of magic in your snail mail!

This month, Dolly shares:

This happened at Disneyland, but there is not a website or newsletter for Disneyland that is comparable to yours.

I'm a first-generation Mickey Mouse Club member. My first trip to Disneyland was in 1957. We usually make an annual trip to both parks. My husband was out of town on business, so my 18-year-old son and I decided we needed a Disney fix.

One afternoon, while my son was swimming in the Disneyland Hotel pool, I happened to be crossing the lobby. There wasn't a single person there except for Goofy, who was pretending to be a statue. I laughed and asked him what he was doing all by himself. He opened his arms. I thought he wanted a hug, but we started dancing. Then I realized that the music playing was "Once Upon a Dream." We took several turns around the lobby, just the two of us.

Afterwards, the irony of it hit me. Doesn't every little girl grow up dreaming of herself as the beautiful princess at the ball? I may be a grandmother now, and the handsome prince may have been Goofy, but, trust me, it was every bit as magical!

Thank you, Sir Goofy!

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FANTASMIC PS TEST PACKAGE
LESS THAN FANTASTIC?
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ALL EARS® has been hearing mixed reviews about the latest trial program for the Fantasmic Dinner Package that's been testing for the last few weeks. The test package was supposed to offer a prepaid dinner along with the usual preferred seating for Disney-MGM Studios' Fantasmic! Here's just a sampling of the comments ALL EARS® NET readers have sent in:

Jim comments: We used the Fantasmic Dinner Package on Thursday, October 24. I made the reservations about two weeks earlier. They took my credit card number, told me the total cost (do not remember now). We were told to go the guest services at Wilderness Lodge to pick up our tickets/certificates for the dinner. All I can say, nothing from this point forward made any sense.

After our arrival at Wilderness Lodge, I go to guest services to pick up our tickets. They do not seem to know anything about them. They tell me to just show up at the restaurant (Brown Derby)... At our PS time we showed up and were seated in 5-10 minutes. Since we ordered the package, we made sure to order an appetizer, entree and dessert... At the end of the meal, we were handed a check. I was quite surprised, since I thought we had already paid at reservation time. I was assured my credit card was not charged, and that I needed to pay, which I did. The meal we paid for was less than the advertised price of the dinner package. (When I arrived back home I immediately checked for a double billing, but did not see any)... We were confused with all differences between reservations and the advertised package and what really happened. I am very interested if anyone else had this result.

Regina C. writes: My husband and I were recently in WDW for our honeymoon, and we purchased the Fantasmic Dinner Package over the phone, and picked up our tickets when we entered Disney-MGM Studios first thing in the morning... After dinner (at Mama Melrose), about 1 1/2 hours before Fantasmic, we went into the arena. At first we were kind of disappointed that we purchased these dinner package tickets, because the arena was pretty much empty. However, about 45 minutes before the show was to start, boy, were we singing a different tune. People just started pouring in like cattle! So in the end, it is recommended to purchase one of these packages -- this way you don't have to waste all that time on line!

Donna W. comments: We went to WDW last week and ate at Mama Melrose with the Fantasmic package. In the last report on this it stated there was not a charge for this, however, you now have a set menu and it was $60 for the two of us. The "package" consisted of one pizza, your choice from the menu, a "family-size" salad, your choice of entrees from the menu, and tiramisu for dessert... I just wanted to make readers aware of this apparent change in policy.


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Editor's Note: This story/information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all current rates, information and other details before planning your trip.