ORLANDO — Three hundred drones took to the skies of Walt Disney World's shopping district on Wednesday in what organizers said was the first show-drone performance of this scale in the United States.
The theme park debuted "Starbright Holidays," a choreographed nighttime lit drone performance for members of the news media. Soon — though Disney hasn't set a date yet — the shows will debut to the public and run nightly through the holidays.
Disney World secured permission from the Federal Aviation Administration earlier this month to use drones on its properties. The Mouse House wasted no time in showing off its drone skills.
The brightly lit drones flew in formation over a restricted area of the park, in view of Disney Springs, the shopping and entertainment zone formerly known as Downtown Disney.
Technology giant Intel said it was the first public performance in the United States of 300 of the company's Shooting Star drones, used in a choreographed aerial performance set to holiday music.
The drones dance in formation, creating what appears to be a floating, rotating Christmas tree. A lone licensed drone pilot used a computer to control the drones, which Disney called "Flixels" in its FAA application.
Since access to Disney Springs is free, guests won't need a theme park ticket to see the show. The shopping area with free parking and celebrity chef restaurants has doubled in size since its renovation over the past three years.
There is now a faux bubbling spring modeled on the freshwater springs found in Old Florida backwater towns. But this one is next to dozens of new designer stores and restaurants.
Using the sky as the stage for an aerial ballet, the "Starbright Holidays" show ultimately will run nightly through Jan. 8.
The drones have plastic foam bodies and weigh about 10 ounces, about the same as an ultralight running shoe.
There should be no fear over drones falling out of the sky in the busy theme park, said professor Matt Waite, who founded the Drone Journalism Lab at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln.
"They are going to be flying them over the water and they will almost certainly have some kind of geo-fence built into the software," Waite said, describing it as similar to an invisible dog fence that won't let the drones operate beyond a certain point.
And even in the unlikely event a 10-ounce drone falls 150 feet from the sky, "It may not feel great," Waite said, "but it's not going to injure you very much."
Now that its multiyear makeover is complete, Disney Springs is unwrapping its first full-on holiday lineup of festivities.
There will be live entertainment nightly in each of the "neighborhoods" that grew up around the fictional springs. The architecture is inspired by the look of towns such as Coral Gables and St. Augustine.
Some of the holiday attractions include:
• Stitch's Holiday Gift scavenger hunt in search of a unique Stitch icon at each participating location.
• The Festival of Toys with a nightly tree-lighting ceremony, holiday dance party and pin trading.
• Christmas Tree Trail, a selfie-ready walk among 15 custom decorated holiday trees, each dedicated to a popular Disney theme. Custom music and a light snowfall completes the Christmas scene.
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