Our first holiday season adventure was the NC Arboretum Winter Lights display. Nana flew into town for the weekend, so we sought out holiday activities that we could walk through as a group. A few quick searches brought up the Winter Lights show and we decided to make it a trip. You need to buy tickets ahead of time for the date you want to attend. We bought our tickets the day before and still made it. The only time we could go was a Friday night and we prepared for the worst by showing up at 5:45pm when gates opened at 6. As we pulled up the entrance road, a line had formed out on to the main street. After moving here from large cities, we got worried about how full the park would be once inside. The gates opened at 6 and the wagons rolled in. After the initial opening rush, I wouldn’t worry too much about the park being packed as buying tickets ahead of time limits the rush. The parking lot had room for more cars throughout the night.
It was a cold night, and the parking lot filled with families layering up. We weren’t sure if a stroller was needed, but looking around we saw many families pulling out strollers and decided to bring ours. We ended up not needing it, but all the locations and paths had easy access and elevators. Riley had a wonderful time running around to see the different lights, in many areas we set her down and let her lead us. We truly appreciate that the park takes the kids into consideration with so many light displays at the ground level. She spent a good ten minutes running between two gingerbread men and poking them with glee.
Back to the beginning, you enter through the main building and volunteers stamp your hands and ask if you have questions. Each volunteer we encountered on site was extremely friendly and welcoming. We headed up the elevator and had a nice surprise for a bug exhibit that was inside. The Arboretum has an awesome room with vehicle size animated bugs. Caterpillar, grasshopper and even a praying mantis with moving limbs and mouths. The kids rushed over and spent time looking at the bugs and reading the signs. I was too busy pointingthings out to the daughter that we forgot to take a picture. Next time i will get a good picture to include.
As you step outside, a lighted pathway guides your way into the park and you can’t help but notice the enormous tree display. Of course we drifted towards the display and made it our first stop. Even with the park just opening on a Friday night, the crowd spaced out so well that family picture opportunities are not a problem. While playing around the tree, we learned that the light show has another show hidden within it. For a donation, everyone receives paper framed glasses that catch the light and have hidden images on the displays. One of the older kids was happy to show us, and the area around the tree had hidden reindeer, Christmas trees and santa. The hidden aspect really got the older kids attentions as they went around the park showing each other and swapping glasses to look. The glasses are worth the donation and we will pick up a pair next year.
We wandered over the bridge and looked down at the model train display. A volunteer was in the area talking about the rich history of trains in the Asheville region and was very knowledgeable on the subject. It might have been random chance, but he was very helpful and was a nice touch. The next display area that attracted a crowd was the “light garden”. Many groups circled around feeling the display and talking about making their own at home. I know our household was one of them and plan to make a few next year.
By this point we were happy to see an indoor display and get a chance to warm up. Again, friendly volunteers greeted us and pointed out the different events taking place. Upstairs was a fine arts exhibit for wool and knitting. We briefly visited before realizing it was not the spot to have a squirmy toddler and went back downstairs. The intricate details on the tapestry and clothing is spectacular and is worth a stop for the artist in the family. Downstairs had live music and hot cocoa with snacks in one corner. A gift shop with very affordable holiday presents was open, and we picked up a few tree ornaments for the family. Another room is advertised as a craft room for families, and we stopped in. The volunteers had tables laid out with instructions and all of the materials to build firefly models. Riley is still a bit too young for the crafts, but the crayons and paper allowed her to take part. She enjoyed coloring the firefly wings and we made a her a model to attach the wings on. Many families stopped in to enjoy the crafts and a wide range of kids had a great time. The crafts room is a nice touch and a welcome addition to the festival.
The hidden gem of the night is an animatronic display of animals talking and singing about winter. Our first visit was at least 20 minutes and we ended up stopping in a second time before leaving. She was thrilled to watch the animals move their heads and talk. Deer, raccoons, squirrels, bears, foxes and other small animals are in the display. Some are hiding in the back, others hibernating below the ground. The small plexiglass fence let the kids get as close as possible while parents can step back to let them explore without worry. Adding to the exhibit, outside of the glass are a few benches that are modeled after black bears, giving the kids a chance to sit on a bear! The kids in the room enjoyed the benches.
On our way out of the park, we took the our time and looped through the entire set of exhibits again. Riley had so much fun that she stayed on her feet walking the entire time and we let her tire out before we left. By the end of the trip, we spent a solid two hours enjoying the trip and could have stayed longer. We did not sit down for the music or snacks and we skipped the concession bar. If you add those to your trip, the NC Arboretum Winter Lights display turns into a full evening of enjoyment for the family. We highly recommend visiting and plan on making our trip a yearly excursion.