Nothing brightens up the cold, dreary days of winter like a holiday light display, especially one on steroids. Here are five worth trekking to:
Magic Christmas in Lights, Bellingrath Gardens, Theodore, Ala.
Located on the outskirts of Mobile, historic Bellingrath Gardens and Mansion is transformed into a Christmas wonderland beginning the day after Thanksgiving and continuing through New Year’s Eve. More than 3 million lights and 902 displays fill the 65-acre estate. The 10,500-square-foot home, built in 1935, is decked out in holiday finery. Choral groups perform seasonal music and children can visit Santa Claus. Dinner is served nightly at the Magnolia Cafe beginning at 4 p.m.
Bright Spot: Bellingrath has added 70 new pieces to the wonderland, including an emerald forest with more than 40 trees and snowflakes and an underwater garden inspired by the plant and animal life in the Gulf of Mexico.
Southern Lights, Kentucky Horse Park, Lexington, Ky.
Listed as a Top 20 event by the Southeast Tourism Society, Southern Lights is a driving tour that combines traditional Christmas light displays with unique displays that showcase the area’s affinity for all things equine. Admission includes a petting zoo, model railway display, arts and crafts fair, a visit with Santa Claus, and admission to the International Museum of the Horse. Musical entertainment is provided. Holiday refreshments and pony rides for an additional fee.
Bright Spot: The 16th annual event is a fund-raiser for the Kentucky Horse Park Foundation, which supports the world-class equestrian facilities at the park.
Galaxy of Lights
Huntsville Botanical Garden, Huntsville, Ala.
The 13th annual Galaxy of Lights is another Top 20 event of the Southeast Tourism Society. Take a walking and driving tour past 1.5 miles of twinkling forests and 500 displays featuring animated snowmen, a holiday village and a water garden.
Bright Spot: The dramatic icicle garden is a crowd favorite, says Nicole Hogan, director of communications at the Huntsville Botanical Garden.
Rock City’s Enchanted Garden of Lights, Lookout Mountain
The Enchanted Garden of Lights is made up of nearly 1 million lights. The walk-through setting offers plenty of opportunity to enjoy more than 30 holiday scenes. Santa Claus is available for visits and pictures. There is gingerbread cookie decorating, hot cocoa, and fairy plum makeovers, where your daughter can have her face painted and dress up in a fairy costume. There is nightly entertainment on the pavilion.
Bright Spot: This year’s festivities feature “Ruby Red Christmas” on Friday and Saturday nights in December, when Mrs. Claus will read “ ’Twas the Night Before Christmas.” A portion of ticket sales go to the Ronald McDonald House Charities.
Tanglewood Festival of Lights, Clemmons, N.C.
The Festival of Lights includes more than 100 displays and more than 1 million lights. Drive through the park or enjoy the lights from a carriage. Reservations are required for the horse-drawn carriages, which can carry four people. Larger groups can arrange a tractor-pulled hay wagon. Reservations are required for the hay ride, which can accommodate up to 25 people. The Festival of Lights includes a holiday gift village and concession stand in a large red barn where nearly 100 area artisans display and sell their work. Concessions include marshmallows to use in the giant marshmallow roaster on the grounds. The Tanglewood Festival of Lights is listed as a Top 20 event by the Southeast Tourism Society.
Bright Spot: The 1,200-acre park will have a 110-foot computerized Christmas tree, says Mark Serosky, parks and recreation director for Forsythe County. “We’ve got some displays that we’re renovating to LED lights to make them more vibrant.”
If you go
Bellingrath Gardens and Home
Info: Lights: 5-9 p.m. daily; closed Christmas. Gardens/home open at 8 a.m. Magic Christmas in Lights only: $11 adults, $6 children 5-12, free for children younger than 5. Magic Christmas in Lights and home tour: $19 adults $19, $11.50 children, free for children younger than 5. 12401 Bellingrath Road, Theodore, Ala. 800-247-8420, www.bellingrath.org.
Stay: The Kate Shepard House Bed and Breakfast. A restored 1897 Queen Anne home; all rooms have private baths, $145, 1552 Monterey Place, Mobile. 36604, 251-479-7048, www.kateshepardhouse.com/mobile-bay
Eat: The Pillars. The restored home dating back to the early 1900s serves seafood, steak and chicken. Entrees $16-$34. 1757 Government St. 251-471-3411, www.thepillarsmobile.com
Tourist Info: Mobile Bay Convention and Visitors Bureau. 1-800-5-MOBILE, www.mobile.org
Kentucky Horse Park
Info: 5:30-10 p.m. daily, to Dec. 31. $15 cars, $30 extended vans, $50 mini buses; $75 school buses; $125 motor coach. Indoor attractions are closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve through New Year’s Eve. 4089 Iron Works Parkway, Lexington, Ky. 859-255-5727, www.southernlightsky.org
Stay: The Lyndon House. bed and breakfast in the heart of Lexington, breakfast included. $159-$239. 507 N Broadway, 859-420-2683, www.lyndonhouse.com
Eat: Portofino. Italian offerings, steak and seafood, Entrees $19-$36, 249 E. Main St., 859-253-9300, www.portofinolexington. com
Tourist info: Lexington Convention and Visitors Bureau. 1-800-848-1224, www.visitlex.com
Huntsville Botanical Garden
Info: Walking tour 5-8 p.m. to Nov. 24; driving tour 5:30-9 p.m. Nov. 26-Jan. 2. Walkers $6 adults, $3 children 3-17; vehicles $15. 4747 Bob Wallace Ave., Huntsville, Ala. 256-830-4447, www.hsvgb.com
Stay: Dogwood Manor Bed & Breakfast. Afternoon tea available, $99-$119, 707 Chase Road, Huntsville. 256-859-3946, www.dogwoodmanorbandb.com
Eat: Cotton Row Restaurant. Locally produced and seasonal foods served in an historic building dating back to 1821. Entrees $13-$34, 100 Southside Square, Huntsville. 256-382-9500, www. cottonrowrestaurant.com
Tourist Info: Huntsville/Madison County Convention & Visitors Bureau. 1-800-843-0468, www.huntsville.org
Info: Runs to Jan. 2. Hours: 6-9 p.m. Closed Christmas Eve night. Admission is $16.95 for adults and $8.95 for children 3-12. Enjoy an all- day visit to the Enchanted Garden for only $5 more. Located about 6 miles from Chattanooga.
Stay: Chanticleer Inn, adjacent to Rock City Gardens. Private baths in all rooms, breakfast included, $125-$210 Sunday through Thursday and $150-$235 through Friday and Saturday, 1300 Mockingbird Lane, Lookout Mountain. 866-424-2684, www .stayatchanticleer.com/index.html
Eat: Mount Vernon Restaurant. Varied menu of Southern specialties and lighter options, $10.95- $23.95, 3535 Broad St. 423-266-6591, www.mymtvernon.com
Tourist info: Chattanooga Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. 800-322-3344, www.chattanoogafun.com
Tanglewood Festival of Lights
Info: The display runs to Jan. 3. Hours are 6 to 11 p.m. Admission Fridays-Sundays and all holidays: family vehicles, $14, commercial vehicles with fewer than $25 passengers, $25, and motor coaches and buses, $90. Monday through Thursday, family vehicles, $10, commercial vehicles with fewer than 25 people, $20, and motor coaches and buses, $90. www.tanglewoodpark.org
Stay: Historic Manor House. Stay on site at Tanglewood Park, $80-$150, 4061 Clemmons Road. 336-778-6300, www.manorhouse.tanglewoodpark.org
Eat: West End Cafe, serves chili year round and offers a varied dinner menu, including beef, pork, lamb and pasta, $10.95- $26.95, 926 W. Fourth St., Winston-Salem, N.C. 336-723-4774, www.westendcafe.com
Tourist info: Johnston County Visitors Bureau. 1-800-441-7829, www.johnstoncountync.org
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