The views from high atop the Great Smoky Mountains in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, are spectacular on their own during the day, but when night falls, the glimmering stars come out and put on a breathtaking show of their own. One could easily find themselves lost gazing up into the twinkling sky.
We have been told since we were children that we need to keep reaching for the stars. But what if the stars could reach us? That is the story that unfolds nightly at Gatlinburg’s newest attraction, Astra Lumina at the Anakeesta theme park.
The incredible, breathtaking multimedia show is now open to the public and the stars are waiting for you.
I had a chance to visit Astra Lumina the day before the gates opened to the public, and I can tell you, it is truly an experience you won’t want to miss when in Gatlinburg. Let me take you on this journey through the stars.
What Is Astra Lumina?
Astra Lumina is a multimedia experience like no other that allows you to walk amongst the stars. The name, Astra Lumina, was chosen to capture the essence of the experience — to evoke the illuminating power of the stars and connect us to the infinite wonders of the cosmos.
Your journey begins with a magical starry walk down the pre-show path where you are introduced to the story and make your way down to the welcome area.
From the welcome area, you begin your trip to visit the stars by crossing through the Astra Archway, a mystical smoking portal signifying that you are entering an area of enchantment and that you are in for an amazing experience.
Before heading out to explore Astra Lumina, I was told — many times — that it is an immersive experience. And that is not hyperbole. It is much more than a light show. It is a multimedia experience where, after crossing through the portal, your senses are ignited with the sounds of an original celestial soundtrack, stunning light displays, projections, and eight zones that tell the story of the stars arriving on Earth before they return to the heavens.
Along the 0.75-mile journey, you will be enveloped by rays of cosmic stardust as you experience the stars descending to Earth, be serenaded by a Cosmic Choir, and witness the rise of the stars back into the Tennessee sky. And that’s only half of it.
The Story Behind Astra Lumina
Astra Lumina is a project of the Moment Factory, a Canadian-based entertainment studio, and Gatlinburg’s Anakeesta theme park. It’s Moment Factory’s 15th Lumina project but the first in the United States. The company has other night walks in France, Canada, Japan, and Singapore, all with different themes to fit the natural surroundings of the shows’ locations.
According to Anakeesta founder, Bob Bentz, the project began after visiting the Foresta Lumina experience in Canada and was actually in the works before the first shovel of dirt was tossed for the theme park.
“We’ve been working on Astra Lumina since 2016. Ground hadn’t been broken for Anakeesta [yet]. We hadn’t even closed on financing for the park when a friend invited my wife and me to tour Foresta Lumina in Canada, and we loved it. We began wondering how it would fit into Anakeesta. We immediately started discussions with Moment Factory and [in 2021], got into the serious work of design.”
In that time, a lot of work went into not only designing the show itself but the trail as well that weaves its way just below Anakeesta. “[We] needed to make sure it was at a particular grade,” Bob continued. “It couldn’t be too steep, didn’t require steps, and must be easily accessible from the mountain. It took us a long time to figure that out.”
Moment Factory’s Thomas Pintal elaborated on the initial design work: “We came in, looked at the land, and spent a lot of time with the team at Anakeesta. What we discovered were the trees, valleys, a fire from years ago that left marks on the landscape. Looking at all of this was very inspiring. Examining where we were, gave us a sense of the design of the experience.
“For Astra Lumina, we were looking for a very universal theme. The encounter with the stars, I think, is universal. Everybody looks at the stars. Everybody looks at the stars and is inspired at some point. The idea of the stars came first, then, What if the stars could reach us?”
Favorite Astra Lumina Moments
So, you might ask, what was my favorite Astra Lumina moment? That I can’t tell you. You have to experience it for yourself. Around every corner of the starry path, a new experience appeared, each one more enchanting than the first. You should visit Astra Lumina and experience each moment for yourself.
Visitors are allowed onto the path at 15-minute intervals, so you have plenty of time to take it all in without feeling rushed. When you catch up with others on the path, you will find that the magic of the show is contagious.
Where Is Astra Lumina?
Astra Lumina can be found perched atop a mountain ridge at the fun-filled Anakeesta Theme Park in beautiful Gatlinburg, Tennessee. The 70-acre park blends in naturally with the charm and beauty of the mountains and town. It offers thrilling rides for young and old including the Rail Runner Mountain Coaster that twists its way downhill over a 1,600-foot track at 25 mph and the Dueling Zipline Adventure.
For the less adventurous, take a walk high up in the treetops on the Treetop Skywalk, and enjoy fabulous dining ranging from Walking Tacos at the Tennessee Side Car food wagon to something more upscale at the Clifftop Restaurant, where you can dine with sweeping views of Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the 6,593-foot-tall Mount LeConte.
There are gardens to explore and seasonal events, and the centerpiece of a visit to Anakeesta: a walk to the top of the AnaVista Tower, where you will get a 360-degree view of the Smokies from the highest point in Gatlinburg.
The town of Gatlinburg is known as the Gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains. Within only a few short miles of town, you can experience the wonders of the mountains on hiking trails of various lengths and degrees of difficulty to visit stunning views and breathtaking waterfalls.
For those who want a wilderness experience without actually roughing it, the nearby Hike-Inn is a trailside destination with all of the amenities of a hotel. The catch is you have to hike 5 miles to get there, but it is well worth the effort.
Gatlinburg itself is packed with many family-friendly activities. There is the Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies with its 10 themed galleries and over 10,000 species of sea life and the Hollywood Stars Car Museum, where you can see some of the most famous cars in television and movie history including the Beverly Hillbillies jalopy and designer George Barris’ Batmobile from the 1960s television show. And that’s just for starters.
The town embraces its multicultural heritage, which dates back to the early Cherokee tribes and the region’s first European settlers from Ireland, Scotland, Britain, and Germany in the design of many of its houses and storefronts as well as its seasonal celebrations, especially in October, when the town cuts loose for Oktoberfest.
How To Visit Astra Lumina
Astra Lumina is open from spring through December. The hours of operation vary depending on the season.
Tickets are available either at the gate or online, but it is highly recommended that you purchase them online, and well in advance of your visit. Tickets have been selling out a week in advance and that wait will only increase over time.
Pro Tip: Your best value is to purchase a combination ticket that provides you with full-day admission to Anakeesta as well as Astra Lumina after sunset.
While Anakeesta does not have its own parking area, you have several nearby options. The first and most convenient is Parkway Parking located at the corner of Cherokee Orchard Rd. and US Highway 441. This paid parking lot is also where you catch a ride to the park on the Chondola (either the enclosed gondola or ski lift.)
There are two other parking options: the city parking lot behind Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies (one block north of the Chondola to the park) and McMahan’s Parking Garage one-tenth of a mile east of the Chondola.
Entry into Astra Lumina is scheduled at 15-minute intervals. You should arrive at the entrance at least 30 minutes prior to your scheduled time. This gives you time to enjoy the welcome area, where there is a snack bar, souvenir stand, and covered seating.
Expect to be among the stars for 45 to 90 minutes depending on how long you linger in each zone. Each one of the eight zones is on a loop of 2 to 4 minutes, so if you enter in the middle of one loop, stick around. It will begin again shortly.
Since this is an outdoor event, weather can put a damper on things. Astra Lumina operates with the same rules as Anakeesta. If lightning is present, the park will clear the trail and ask guests to wait in the covered seating area at the welcome area. When the storm has passed, you can resume your experience.
Note that food and beverages are not allowed in Astra Lumina and be sure to wear comfortable walking shoes.