Sponsored by Callaway Gardens.
Fantasy in Lights at Callaway Gardens
By Charlotte Bowman
It’s Christmas at Callaway Gardens! Celebrate the season with a visit to Fantasy in Lights — one of National Geographic’s Top 10 Light Displays in the world. That’s right… Top TEN! And it’s located only 45 minutes north of Columbus. This family-friendly holiday attraction is a wonderful excuse to get out of town for an evening.
For Muscogee Moms followers who are new to the area, Fantasy in Lights is a holiday light show through which families can drive their own vehicles, ride a tram known as the Jolly Trolley, or even walk or bike during the Specialty Nights in early November.
Fantasy In Lights opened in 1992 with five dazzling displays set to music and animation. Today the annual show comprises 15 festive scenes and more than 8 million lights. That’s enough to illuminate more than 26,000 six-foot tall Christmas trees!
In early December I had the opportunity to visit and share the experience with a friend and our two boys, ages 12 and 13. It’s been four years since Muscogee Moms last reviewed Fantasy in Lights, and we were curious to see how things may have changed.
Callaway Gardens is located just an hour from the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and 45 minutes from Columbus, Ga. and 90 minutes from Montgomery, Ala. I was warned to get there an hour early, because it gets a lot of traffic.
As it happened, we were late leaving Columbus and arrived within 15 minutes of our ticket time. Ack!
Fortunately, the time slot listed on your ticket is not the time you actually see the lights. You are allowed to enter the line anytime within the hour displayed on your ticket, or 15 minutes prior (e.g. our 7 p.m. tickets meant we could get in line as early as 6:45 p.m. and as late as 8 p.m.).
We were doubly fortunate it was a Monday night, so the crowds weren’t too thick. We had plenty of time to settle in before taking our places in line for the Jolly Trolley.
As we arrived at the Robin Lake Beach entrance located on US Highway 27, it was immediately clear that this event was well thought out. Prominent signage smartly sorted traffic at the entrance. Drive-thru ticket holders are sent right to park in orderly rows in a large grass field. Trolley riders are sent left to the Beach Pavillion parking lot.
After parking, we collected our coats, gloves, and blankets and schlepped across the parking lot in search of hot cocoa and the nearest restrooms.
Jacob Marley’s Bar & Robin Lake Beach
Our first stop was Jacob Marley’s bar where I ordered a hot Cratchit Cider (for me) and hot cocoa and bottled water for the boys. There is something about hot apple cider that warms the heart. I just love the smell of the cinnamon, oranges, cloves, and apples simmering away on the stove. It was a chilly 45 degrees out, and the heat from the cup warmed my fingers. The bar served other Christmas spirits, including Ebenezer Eggnog and Dicken’s Winter Cocoa.
There was plenty of seating at the outdoor bar to pause and catch our breath. We took a moment to enjoy our drinks while watching the Nativity show playing on the beach.
The Nativity show is a reverent and inspiring 10-minute telling of Jesus’ birth. It’s accompanied by inspirational music and an orchestrated lights presentation. A second 10-minute show features the story ’Twas The Night Before Christmas. The boys thought it was pretty cool.
Our next priority was to locate the nearest restrooms.
I used the opportunity to scope out the food trucks and snack shacks at the Beach Pavillion. Sure, we ate before we left home, but growing tweens are astoundingly hungry. I knew we would be back later for a snack. They had plenty of giant pretzels, giant donuts, gyros, and funnel cakes. Delicious!
Scenes throughout the Gardens
Fantasy in lights actually winds for 5 miles through the Gardens. It takes about an hour from start to finish. The show opened in 1992 with five scenes. It grew quickly, adding new scenes each year.
This was our first year riding the Trolley. The trolley is a fun way for young children to see the lights. An added bonus to riding the Jolly Trolly is belting out Christmas Carols with your fellow riders along the way. Still, the boys were glad for the blanket because it got really cold as the trolley wound its way between light displays.
Here are our 6 favorite scenes.
The Christmas Village & Children’s Village
A trip to Fantasy in Lights is more than just seeing the lights. You can also visit Santa in the Christmas Village, shop, listen to organ concerts, and enjoy live-action breakfast and dinner shows. After our tour ended, we headed back to the Beach Pavilion to check it out.
The addition of the North Pole Village for Tots was a welcome sight. The boys promptly chucked their shoes and vanished inside for a 30-minute game of hide-and-seek. Meanwhile, the adults tag-teamed watching our gear and browsing. When the boys finally surfaced, we got in line to take a souvenir picture with Santa.
All in all, it was a lovely night out.
Make a weekend of it and stay overnight. Purchase your tickets, book a room and make it a weekend – you won’t be disappointed! In addition to seeing the lights, you can take in a live-action breakfast show while enjoying a Southern Breakfast Buffet. Visit with beloved characters such as Junie B. Jones, Rudolph, Frosty, Gingerbread Man, and more! Or, make plans to see what the Grinch is up to during a live-action dinner show.
We didn’t have time, but I would love to go back next year for the “Behind-the-Scenes” Trolley Tour. It takes a team of dedicated workers and a lot of time and effort to make Fantasy in Lights a reality for thousands of guests each year. This rare, one-hour tour takes place earlier in the day. You get to see how the magic really happens and ask questions.
For frequently asked questions or to purchase tickets, click here.