Anakeesta creates enchanted night experience with Astra Lumina

AT: Tim Baldwin

GATLINBURG, Tenn. — The award-winning Anakeesta nature park has offered something new for its visitors. Already boasting a diverse array of activities for all age groups with botanic gardens, scenic towers, a Treetop Skywalk, children’s activity areas, a mountain coaster, zipline adventures and more, the unique park now captivates the night.

The park teases: “We’re always told to reach for the stars, but what if the stars could reach us?”

And so it begins. Once night falls, the transformation of a specific area of the park becomes Astra Lumina. Partnering with Moment Factory, a multimedia entertainment studio based in Canada, Anakeesta brings the first collaboration to the United States.

‘We had started our conversations with Moment Factory before we had even broken ground on Anakeesta,” said Karen Bentz, managing partner. “In late 2016, we had heard there was this enchanted night walk — a first of its kind in Canada. We flew to Canada and met with them. They took us to their first installation, Foresta Lumina. I could not believe what an unusual walk it was. To us, it was a perfect experience to have at Anakeesta.”

Following that meeting, the Moment Factory team came to Anakeesta to walk the site and explore options.

“It has been long in discussion and planning and design, so for us, this is a huge event,” said Bentz. “It’s a huge milestone.”

Once guests enter Astra Lumina, they experience eight distinct zones, some of which have names like Cosmic Choir, Celestial Trail and Astral Genesis.

Moment Factory was established in 2001, and since its inception, it has created more than 450 unique projects globally. Clients include an impressive list, such as Universal Studios and Disney, Microsoft, Boston Museum of Science … and Madonna (!), just to name a few. The fast-growing company now employs 375 people, some with roots at Cirque du Soleil, which brings an air of the theatrical to Moment Factory’s projects.

Over the years, Bentz, along with her husband Bob, traveled to experience subsequent installations.

“Over time, [Moment Factory] has evolved,” she told Amusement Today. “Each time they have an installation, it is an improvement on the last one. I feel like there is a value to us to have waited six years. Now, they have perfected their experiences and their storytelling is even better than it was in the beginning.”

As visitors stroll pathways, they are entranced with light and sound in various settings. It’s quite cosmic.

“The basic way to explain it is that it is a natural setting,” said Bentz. “It sets the tone for a nighttime adventure. It essentially marries the wonder and beauty of nature with high tech. It uses lighting, projections, creative sound and customized music. At the start of the journey, guests pass under a portal, the Astra Archway, and they enter a world where the stars descend from the sky in a symphony of light and sound.”

The experience takes approximately 45 minutes to an hour. Benches are placed along the way for people to pause and take in each area.

“It’s almost like chapters in a book,” said Bentz. “Each is more enchanting than the last. The information in one ‘chapter’ builds the story into the next zone.”

Many of the scenes are enshrouded in fog, adding to the mystique. The sound is crisp and ethereal. Whether it is beams of light in dramatic hues, hovering orbs that glow, projection mapping and video or lasers piercing the forest, Astra Lumina is designed to mesmerize.

“The Stardust Rays are my very favorite,” remarked Bentz. “The way we located this one is very unusual. The path comes to a boardwalk that leads to this special valley. The fog sits in that area and when you have these rays of light, you lose all your sense of dimension. You feel like you’re floating, like you would in space.”

Since Astra Lumina opened, management reports that each night is sold out. Guests are allowed to enter in pulsed segments so that no one feels rushed.

“Each zone is distinctly different and has its own immersion of sound and light and music. At the end of the hike, the travelers watch the regeneration of the stars return to the skies above,” said Bentz. “It’s been interesting to hear the comments from people.”

Astra Lumina is an add-on experience to a daily ticket to the park. The Astra Lumina area is not open during the daytime. A combination of admission and the special attraction is $49.99. A discounted ticket is available after 5 p.m.

Astra Lumina debuted on October 21 and is intended to be a permanent installation. When the park is open weekends only during the harsher winter months of January and February, the operation of Astra Lumina will be paused but will return in the spring.

“We are looking forward to [extending hours]. We immediately started discussing events that could happen at night — live bands and entertainment. With Anakeesta, the nice thing is you can come in the morning and return at night on the same ticket.”

This article appears in the  DECEMBER 2022 issue of Amusement Today.
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