It wasn’t dark yet but we could see that some of the light displays behind our coach had been turned on. How exciting! Perhaps more of the displays were aglow so we decided that we needed to take a quick bike ride to check it out.
Yep, everything was totally lit throughout the park including all 700 displays and 2 million lights supplied by 132 power and sequencing stations. Despite the fact that it was fairly light, it was still pretty neat. As we rode along the bike path, Rob took a video of our ride.
Not only did we ride the path, but once it got dark we decided to walk the path again. We didn’t think it could be any better than what we saw on our bike ride but believe me it was!
Seeing the lights before dark was pretty nice but oh, my, once the sun set and darkness enshrouded the park, we were surrounded by a sea of twinkling lights and greeted by brightly lit displays of all sorts of woodland creatures as we walked along, some animated, some not. Everything sparkled against the dark backdrop of palm trees, live oaks and palmettos. Several arches marked the entrance to a path or illuminated a bridge over the water – one decorated with hanging icicle lights, the others with rows of either blue or white lights shimmering overhead. So very pretty!
And the best part of our adventure was that we were all by ourselves except for a few other lucky revelers. Being able to enjoy the lights without fighting crowds was totally awesome. But on the down side we didn’t get to enjoy any of the other fun activities at Winter Wonderland and Santa’s Village that have been scheduled during the Festival (November 14th through January 1st), including a hand crafted sculpture made out of 50 tons of sand. Wonder what kind of sculpture that will be! If you view this document which contains a lot of fun facts about the Festival, in 2013, they had 215,700 visitors and 56,700 vehicles. Yikes, that’s a lot of people and cars!
In one area, they had a display of giant, very creative, 4-by-8 holiday cards designed by students from local schools as part of an annual art competition. Monetary awards are given to the winner’s schools – the money will be used to enhance their visual arts program.
Near one of the sports fields, we stopped to watch a light show with lights choreographed to dance in time to various scores of holiday music. We were there quite a while – it was pretty mesmerizing!
After we finished our walk, we went back to the coach and Rob started a campfire, thinking that it was now time to relax. Wrong again! We sat still for about a half hour or so but then decided that we should drive around the park to see the rest of the light displays lining the roadways.
Oh, my! Oh, wow! That’s what we kept saying as we wound our way along the 3 mile drive passing through Toyland, Candyland, Sealand, Space with orbiting rockets, stars and planets and lots more. It was totally spectacular! So we could get the full affect, Rob mostly drove with our headlights off, but occasionally he had to turn them on to see where he was going or because there were pedestrians in the roadway. Luckily we didn’t hit anyone! The video certainly doesn’t do the lights justice but at least it will give you a sense of how many lights and displays there were. Alert! – despite some pretty heavy editing, the video is about 11 minutes long!
Finally we returned to the coach, thinking we were done with all our activities, but still not quite! As we sat down in our chairs outside, we could hear voices along the road behind our campsite. Ah, ha we quickly found the cause of the noise when we cut through the brush using the path behind our coach – there was a crew of volunteers working to complete the SeaLand display (each area had a theme and was named accordingly) by laying down multiple strands of blue lights, creating the effect of water and waves underneath all of the SeaLand creatures – the mermaid, the octopus, the turtle, flamingos, etc. They must have laid down hundreds of feet of blue lights in those few hours.
We started talking with one of the volunteers. He was telling us that they expected to be out there until around 10:00 p.m. or as long as it took to finish the job. A lot of work, he commented. When we asked how they managed to untangle the strands and check for bad bulbs each year, he said they didn’t – they recycle the light strands, buying new ones each year. Whew, must save a lot of time, I know how frustrated Rob used to get with just our tree, can’t image what it would be like dealing with thousands of finicky light bulbs.
Finally we did eventually get back to our site to enjoy the campfire. Wow, what a wonderful finish to our stay here! I read in the Festival brochure that their goal was to “not have one dark spot”! Mission accomplished! Maybe not quite as awesome as the Osborne Lights at Disney World but pretty darn close! If you read our first post, we were a little disappointed with the campground when we first arrived, but boy did our opinion change. Although the campground had it’s shortcomings, we have to rate the entire park as a “10+”. If you can’t make reservations during the actual dates for the Festival of Lights, at least stay here the week before so you can witness all the work that goes into the event and you can experience the lights during their “dress rehearsal”.
BTW, you don’t have to camp here to see the Festival of Lights, you can visit in your car – the rates are per vehicle based on the number of passengers: 1-15 guests is $15, 16-30 guests is $40 and 31+ guests is $100.
Here are some more photos of the displays, some before it got dark, then others after.