See the holidays in a whole new light. Decorated with thousands of dazzling bulbs and filled with wintery surprises, these five twinkling locales are a surefire way to switch on seasonal cheer.
In The Carolinas
AIRLIE GARDENS, WILMINGTON, N.C.
Beginning the day after Thanksgiving, garlands of more than 750,000 glowing lights, incandescent starbursts and holiday music transform 67-acre Airlie Gardens into a winter wonderland.
Kids love the light-strung lifeguard booth that’s the centerpiece of the Coastal Christmas display (they’re welcome to climb inside for a photo-op) and mugging in silly elf face cutouts; adults marvel at the grove of tall, shimmering LED trees that comprise the magical Enchanted Forest. New for 2015 is a series of illuminated walkways that seem to float over mirror-like lakes that reflect the lightscapes. The crown jewel of the garden is the 470-year-old Airlie Oak, which spends the season bathed in the glow of spotlights.
SANTA’S TIP: Visits with Santa are free and guests may use their own camera.
THE DETAILS: Enchanted Airlie is open Nov. 27-28, Dec. 4-6, 10-13 and 16-22 from 5-7pm and 7-9pm. Tickets go on sale Oct. 23. Prices vary from $12 per person to $27 per carload.
AFTERGLOW: Warm up and refuel at East Oceanfront Dining in the Blockade Runner Beach Resort in nearby Wrightsville Beach. The resort offers overnight guests a free shuttle to and from Airlie Gardens.
TANGLEWOOD PARK, CLEMMONS, N.C.
FESTIVAL OF LIGHTS
For almost 25 years, families have been making holiday memories at Tanglewood Park’s Festival of Lights. In that time, the festival has grown to include more than 100 separate displays spread over a four-mile roadway that can be viewed via horse and carriage, from the back of a tractor-pulled, hay-filled trailer or in your own vehicle.
Set to a holiday soundtrack, the light show is a spectacle of color and motion as LED-reindeer leap through the sky and over awed visitors while animated gingerbread men do backflips and penguins hop over igloos. Two special displays–the dancing Christmas trees and a series of jingle bells–sway to original scores written by students at the University of North Carolina School of Arts School of Music Technology.
Don’t miss the Gift Village, which features art and handicrafts from more than 70 local artisans in a big red barn.
SANTA’S TIP: Weekends get busy, so plan your visit during the weekdays to avoid lines and delays.
THE DETAILS: The Festival of Lights is open Saturday, Nov. 21 through Sunday, Jan. 3 from 6 until 11pm; tickets are $15 per carload.
AFTERGLOW: Locals flock to nearby Villa Grill for everything from homemade flatbread pizza to paninis, burgers and salads. Take home a to-go bag of crunchy Greek cookies.
SALUDA SHOALS PARK, COLUMBIA, S.C.
HOLIDAY LIGHTS ON THE RIVER
Saluda Shoals Park comes alive with lights, lasers and even a thrill ride on Nov. 25th when Holiday Lights on the River kicks off the biggest and brightest holiday light show in the Midlands.
Wow factors abound. For starters, there’s a two-mile loop jam-packed with light sculptures of whimsical cottages, wrapped gifts and animals alongside animated displays like Santa gleefully tossing packages to a friend across the road. Guests can also take a path through woods lighted by an ongoing laser show to the park’s wetlands, where deer, jumping frogs, squirrels and birds constructed from lights all frolic in the dark. There’s also a child’s train ride through part of the light show, a tube slide ride that zooms down a steep ramp, crafts, a hayride, marshmallows to roast and a gift shop.
SANTA’S TIP: Visit on a weeknight before schools close for the season and you’ll encounter less crowds.
DETAILS: Holiday Lights on the River shines from 6pm until 10pm Nov. 25 through Dec. 31. Tickets are $15 per carload. Rides. Marshmallows and rides are $1 and $2.
AFTERGLOW: Stop by Kaminsky’s Baking Company in Columbia’s Vista for chill-chasing hot chocolate, specialty coffees, hot cider and extra-warming adult beverages.