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Astra Lumina is the star of Anakeesta
Captivating multimedia nighttime walk lights up the Smokies
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4.5 (out of 5)
Star light, star bright. Really bright.
Wandering along a path amid the Smoky Mountains’ crisp, fall air, I was bathed in intense, colorful rays of light that seemingly descended from the heavens. The tall trees intermittently sparkled in a curious dance with pinpoints of lights that swirled on the ground below, all of it perfectly synchronized to a stirring soundtrack. It was an ethereal, transportive experience.
It was Astra Lumina at Anakeesta, the mountaintop adventure park in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Part avant grade art installation, part nature walk, part trippy light show, and part nighttime spectacular, the new presentation is its own unique, wonderful thing. Developed by Montreal-based Moment Factory, it represents the 15th installment of the Lumina-branded night walks and the first in the US.
“We think it dovetails perfectly with who we are and what we do,” says Karen Bentz, Anakeesta’s co-founder and partner, about bringing Astra Lumina to the park. “We are based in nature.”
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The experience unfolds in a series of zones, which Bentz likens to chapters in a book. Set along a winding forest trail that is perhaps one half of a mile long, it takes about 45 minutes to complete. Backlit signposts along a path that lead to the head of the Astra Lumina trail help set the stage. The overarching theme, which celebrates the night sky, is summarized by the phrase, “We’re always told to reach for the stars; but what if the stars could reach for us?”
“It’s a journey,” Bentz explains. “It’s a dialogue between humans and the celestial bodies.”
The zones include Astra Archway, in which guests walk through illuminated, fog-enshrouded portals into a mysterious netherworld, and Falling Stars, where multicolored beams of light find their way to Earth through an apparent rift in the solar system. Perhaps the most alluring scene is Cosmic Choir, which features dozens of large overhead orbs that glow with a rainbow of hues and pulse on and off. The spheres appear to be untethered and defy gravity as they engage in a harmonic ballet.
Astra Lumina is a creative and technological triumph. It uses programmable LED lights, lasers, video, projection mapping, and other advances that have expanded the palette of attraction and show designers and empowered them to craft new kinds of experiences. I was especially intrigued by the sound design. Speakers, which are embedded throughout the walking path, are exceptionally crisp and immerse guests in a rich soundscape that alternates between nocturnal creatures such as crickets and an original score of ambient, symphonic music.
Walking through Anakeesta’s woods, with the sounds of animals reverberating and glowing lights casting eerie shadows on me and my fellow park mates, reminded me a bit of the nighttime vibe at Pandora – The World of Avatar in Disney’s Animal Kingdom. With its bioluminescent forest pathways and piped-in animal sounds, it, too, conjures an otherworldly landscape.
“We want to spark imagination and let people go on a walk with enchantment and wonder,” says Thomas Pintal, multimedia director for Moment Factory. “Sometimes it‘s a bit abstract,” he adds, noting that the aim isn’t necessarily to tell a coherent, linear story. “We want people to be in a dream state.”
Pintal says that Astra Lumina was in development for about four years. The first Lumina walk was staged in a small town in the province of Quebec ten years ago. The concept proved to be enormously popular, and Moment Factory created additional presentations throughout Canada and in other parts of the world, including France, Japan, and Singapore.
I wasn’t surprised to learn that many of the members of Moment Factory’s creative team came from Cirque du Soleil. Astra Lumina shares some of the theatrical troupe’s quirky, playful, and absurd sensibility.
“It’s unusual, unexpected, and really engages people,” Pintal says about the surprise-filled, post-dusk walks.
Astra Lumina represents the first phase of an ambitious $35 million expansion at the five-year-old park. Additional features, including a second mountain coaster, will debut over the next two years.
Anakeesta requires general admission, an additional charge, and a reservation to experience Astra Lumina. A package priced at $49.98 for adults is only $15 more than admission alone–a relative bargain. Anakeesta offers discounts on packages for arrivals after 5 p.m.
Have you experienced any nighttime walks similar to Astra Lumina? Does the concept intrigue you?