In our house, the Main Street Electrical Parade has become known as “the parade that never ends”. This recent run is its 4th at Disneyland; it had a run at California Adventure and 3 runs at the Magic Kingdom. Park guests love the parade, and Disney just can’t leave it alone. So, lets take a look back in time and check out the history of the Electrical Parade and see how far it’s come.
The original idea for a light parade came from the Electrical Water Pageant in Walt Disney World. It consisted of fourteen screens that were decorated with electrical lights and floated across Seven Seas Lagoon. Card Walker, who was Disney’s CEO at the time, and the Disneyland executives were looking for a way to keep people at Disneyland later in the evening. They loved the idea of the lights and so a plan was made that put similar lighting elements on parade floats to give Disneyland a nighttime show. A Chicago-based company was hired to construct the floats using Italian-made miniature bulbs. The contractors fell behind schedule, so Disney finished the floats themselves in a backstage area at Disneyland. They hand-tinted and installed 500,000 bulbs.
The first rehearsal of the parade did not go well. The story goes that one of the floats crashed into a building on Main Street, U.S.A. and some of the costumes were sparking. Luckily, they got things figured out and the parade officially debuted on June 17, 1972.
This parade was only meant to last for one summer. The construction was rushed and most of the floats were more like 2D screens that were pushed down Main Street. But it was a hit and people loved it!!
It’s First Retirement … and Second
Because the parade was so popular, it was extended through 1974. To celebrate America’s 200th Birthday, America on Parade was presented at Disneyland and so the Electrical Parade was put on hold. It was popular enough, however, that many of the floats were rebuilt for its return in 1977. Continual updates, like the addition of the Elliott float, kept the parade going at Disneyland for 24 years. MSEP closed on November 25, 1996 to be replaced by the Light Magic Parade. Disney made a big deal out of saying goodbye to this beloved parade. There was a ton of farewell merchandise, huge crowds, and Disney even sold many of the light bulbs as collector items.
Surprisingly, just 2 ½ years later, the Main Street Electrical Parade debuted at Magic Kingdom. It was advertised as a farewell run as part of the Millennium Celebration. The parade ran from May 28, 1999 until April 1, 2001.
Back to California, Kind Of…
As the farewell run was coming to a close, executives in California were trying to figure out how to boost attendance at California Adventure. Since everyone loved the Electrical Parade so much, it seemed like a perfect fit. So, after it finished in Florida, it was shipped to California where it debuted July 3, 2001. It ran until 2010 when construction started on Buena Vista Street and the parade route was closed. Since it was still doing well, they shipped it back to the Magic Kingdom where it ran from 2010-2016.
After finishing in the Magic Kingdom, the parade returned for its “Final Run” in Disneyland. It was supposed to run from January 20th to June 18th, but was extended until August 20, 2017. They even had a special ticked premiere event advertising its last run before it would “Glow Away Forever.”
Galaxy’s Edge opened in May of 2019 to mixed reviews and low crowd levels. After the huge financial investment without the expected payout, park officials were desperate to bring more people into the park. So, they brought back the Electrical Parade!! It ran for only 2 months, but brought tons of crowds.
It Just Keeps Coming Back
By this point Disney knew that people love the Main Street Electrical Parade. If crowds are low or they just want a big promotion, people will come to see the parade. Disney used the parade to give them the attendance bump that Galaxy’s Edge couldn’t deliver. It’s strange to say, but bringing back a 40 year old parade was a bigger success than the opening of the most anticipated park expansion in Disney’s history.
So, as they were gearing up entertainment options following the COVID shutdown, they announced that MSEP would once again come back for a “limited return” to celebrate the parades 50th anniversary. This time around, the “To Honor America” float was redesigned with an “it’s a small world” float, filled with dolls from recent movies. Disney also released another heap of merchandise to celebrate the anniversary. Although Disney says this is a “limited return”, the money spent on a brand-new float tells me the parade isn’t glowing away any time soon.
What do you think? Is the Electrical Parade ever going to retire for good? Or is it a staple now that Disney will put out every couple years to boost attendance at whatever park is struggling? The Magic Kingdom may need something new following the 50th anniversary celebration, so maybe we’ll see it shipped back to Florida for a limited run there.