The 29th annual Festival of Lights at Tanglewood Park will open this week and park officials are expecting a lot of visitors in the midst of COVID-19.
“We anticipate quite a bit of attendance this year,” said Brandi Chappell, marketing and events manager for Forsyth County Parks and Recreation. “It is an unfortunate situation, but Festival of Lights is well suited for this type of situation. Everybody is going to be in their cars, and they don’t really have to interact with anyone.”
The Festival of Lights usually attracts more than 250,000 visitors annually.
The show will run from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. Nov. 13 through Jan. 1. Lowes Foods is the title sponsor for the 2020-21 season.
Original compositions from the UNC School of the Arts Music Technology students will be showcased through the park’s interactive musical displays. Visitors can tune their radios to WMAG-99.5 FM through December 25th to hear holiday music as they drive through Festival of Lights.
For the most enjoyable experience, park officials recommend visiting the Festival of Lights early Monday through Thursday evenings because Friday through Sunday evenings and just before Christmas tend to be busy times when long waits are expected.
Changes and something new
Because of COVID-19, participants will see several changes this year.
The Gift Village and S'moresville will be closed and Santa will not be on site.
In addition, several special events (all fundraisers) that annually took place before the start of Festival of Lights will not happen this season in the park – Miles for Meals put on by the Hillsdale Church in Advance, the Toast Walk by the Rotary Club of Clemmons and Paws in the Park by the Davie County Humane Society.
“Because of the executive order with the mass gathering limit set to 50 people outdoors, we are unable to have these events this year,” Chappell said.
However, there is some good news.
Visitors will be treated to several new light displays.
“We had to rearrange some (displays) around, so that will be exciting to see folks looking to see what’s new out here,” Chappell said.
There is also a new special event roadway” in the steeplechase area aimed at helping to get more traffic inside the park.
Park staff call that section of the park “The Bottoms.”
Chappell said there are now two lanes instead of one in that area.
“It will alleviate traffic out on (U.S.) 158 and Harper Road and I-40,” she said.
Jeff Graska, park operations supervisor at Tanglewood, said that park employees who set up the lights are always surprised each year by the new displays and like to come up with their own special names for them.
“When there’s knew stuff, we’re always surprised by what it’s going to be and where it’s going to go and how that will affect the rest of the show,” Graska said. “Sometimes other stuff will shift around. This year, in particular, that’s the case because of this new road in ‘The Bottoms.’”
Facts, prices and discounts
For people with those burning questions about Festival of Lights, here are a few facts.
The setup begins mid- to-late August each year.
“We go right up until about the first week in November,” said Jeff Graska, park operations supervisor at Tanglewood.
Chappell said people always want to know how many days it takes to set up.
“It takes about 60 days to get all the displays and everything ready and over 6,500 man-hours,” she said.
There are more than 1 million LED lights throughout the show. At any given time, there are up to 20 employees working on the show.
“The route is just short of 5 miles,” Chappell said.
Festival of Lights ticket prices are $15 for family vehicles (cars, vans and trucks; $35 for commercial vehicles (vans, limos and minibuses) and $100 for motorcoaches and buses.
Discount-night prices will be $5 for family vehicles; $15 for commercial vehicles; and $65 for motorcoaches and buses on Nov. 16, 17, 23 and 24.
Guests who stay at Tanglewood’s RV campground or have other overnight accommodations at the Manor House receive free admission to Festival of Lights.
In addition, Tanglewood Farms is now taking reservations for horse-drawn carriage rides (up to four people) and tractor-pulled hayrides (a family group of no more than eight people). Reservations are required and can be made by calling 336-766-9540.
“To keep tradition going, we do have the Festival of Lights ornaments available for sale still,” Chappell said. “They (visitors) can purchase them anytime between 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Welcome Center. If people want to purchase them over the phone and ship them out, we can do that too for an additional cost.”
The number to the Welcome Center is 336-703-6485.
Chappell said this year will be different but still exciting.
“We’re just ready for the holiday around here, to brighten everyone’s holiday season,” she said.
Graska said it’s always nice to start the show.
“It’s a milestone in the year, to get it up and have it running,” he said.