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Electrical parade marches into history

"Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, Walt Disney World proudly presents our spectacular festival pageant of nighttime magic and imagination in thousands of sparkling lights and electrosynthomagnetic musical sounds: the Main Street Electrical Parade!"

The ladies and gentlemen and boys and girls will soon be waving goodbye to the thousands of sparkling lights and electrosynthomagnetic musical sounds, because Walt Disney World's nighttime parade is riding off into Never Never Land. Disney is retiring the parade after more than 24 years of performances. Its last run will be March 30 at 7:30 p.m.

Watching the parade, which includes more than 575,000 lights in six colors, is the way Magic Kingdom visitors have long said goodnight, with the giant Blue Fairy from Pinocchio, who leads the parade down Main Street, to the scenes from some of Disney's most famous stories _ Dumbo, Snow White, Pete's Dragon, Cinderella, Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland _ to the everlasting (it seems) 114-foot-long patriotic float at the end.

The parade, which initially started at California's Disneyland in 1972 and ended there in 1996, features synthetic music that was created by Paul Beaver and was some of the first synthetic music of that time. The parade uses more than 27 tons of battery power, enough to light 32 homes.

Here are some questions and answers about the challenges of putting on the parade, from a recent behind-the-scenes tour of the parade operation.

Q. What happens if a light bulb burns out?

A. The lights are hooked up in parallel circuits; that way if one light, for some reason, goes off, then only seven go out.

Q. What if someone messes up in the parade?

A. They don't mess up! To make sure they get it right, cast members will go around the park after it closes as many times as they feel they need to.

Q. How do you make sure the right music is playing for the right float?

A. Hockey pucks! Well, "hockey pucks" is the name the technicians use to mean special sensors in the ground. When a float goes over a sensor in the ground, the sensor knows what float is where and sends a signal to Cinderella's Castle. Then the castle sends a radio wave signal to the float, and it is able to broadcast the right music to the right people in the right place! Cool, huh?

Q. How do the people dressed up as dancing dragonflies keep from getting electrocuted when they wear costumes with lights on them?

A. The costumes that have lights or lit panels on them are only 6 volts, so there is no chance of electrocuting the performers. Even the lights on all the floats are almost the same as the ones on a Christmas tree, so they really don't present any danger.

Q. Do the floats have batteries? Do they ever run out?

A. Unlike Disney cast members probably would like you to think, the floats do not run on Mickey's magic! They have batteries, and they do run down, but they are rechargeable. The floats have to charge 11 hours for two parades, eight hours for one parade.

Q. Do the floats ever break?

A. Only rarely. "If we can't (fix) it, nobody can do it," said Fran Ferrell, service manager for Magic Kingdom engineering services.

Q. What about the little puffy bugs that come up to parade visitors and make weird sounds? How do people drive them without running over toes or bumping into stuff because it's dark?

A. The whirlybirds, as the technicians call them, have a little seat on a motor, with two sticks that are used to drive. Push one forward, you spin in that direction, push the other one, you spin in the opposite direction. Pull back on both, you stop; push both, you go straight forward. The little contraptions aren't very pretty by themselves because they are just a bunch of greasy metal parts, but at night, with the outsides of the whirlybirds covered in lights and glitter, you can't tell the difference. It all glows!

Even if you're sad about the Main Street Electrical Parade ending, don't worry.

SpectroMagic is returning April 2 to light up the Magic Kingdom at night. The SpectroMagic parade made its debut in 1991 and ran through 1999. Its more than 600,000 lights in 11 colors use fiber optic technology and holographic images, clouds of liquid nitrogen smoke and twinkle lights. More than 100 miles of fiber optic cables are used to make everything from the hair on King Triton's beard to huge 4-foot hibiscus blooms and 3-foot daisy petals.

Laura Krantz, 13, is in the seventh grade in home school in Tampa.