The smell of gyros and fried potatoes greeted me as I stepped off the trolley at the Callaway Gardens Christmas Lights, and I was instantly transported to a weathered beach boardwalk along the Atlantic on a warm summer night.
The Christmas story over the speaker snapped me back to a brisk November evening along the shores of Callaway Resort Garden’s Robin Lake, which was transformed from a summer oasis into the Callaway Gardens Christmas festival. Callaway is located just south of Atlanta in Pine Mountain, Ga. The light display has been voted one of the top 10 places to see lights by National Geographic Traveler. Here are some things you need to know to skip the lines.
The Trick You Need To Get Through The Line
After a very tasty Georgia shrimp and baby spinach salad at Callaway Lodge & Spa’s Ironwood Lounge, I heeded the warning of my dinner companions at the bar and got another jacket and scarf …then headed for the Christmas Village and the Jolly Trolley that would take me through the light display.
The Jolly Trolley is the way to go. You can also drive through the million lights, 15 scenes in your own car, but the trolley is more festive. Plus, if you stay at one of Callaway’s onsite hotels (Lodge and Spa, Mountain Creek Inn, Cottages, and Villas), you can get a package including a fast pass line for the trolley. I walked right on, passing folks snaked around in a minimum 20-40 minute line.
Your carriage driver and his trusty horse Snowflake narrate the Jolly Trolley, giving a history and facts about the display, as well as explaining each group of lights. In between they get you singing Christmas carols. It creates a wonderful festive atmosphere.
Callaway Gardens has zero light pollution from other sources, so the Christmas lights shine even brighter. My favorite is the snowflake forest. The floor to sky lights form a crystal cave all around and it’s as if Ms. Frizzle from The Magic School Bus has taken the group on a ride through a snowflake.
As I watched the lights, I munched on fresh kettle corn from the festival area, downing most of the bag alone. I knew I’d hate myself later, but each sweet and salty bite invited me to take just one more and I couldn’t stop. I finished the bag for breakfast. At some point you have to do that, otherwise you have to admit you ate most of the bag, better to eat it all and not mention it.
Afterwards I visited the Christmas Village shops where you can buy ornaments and gifts, as well as visit with Santa. They even have paint your own pottery and kids crafts. You can also watch the Christmas story and Twas the Night Before Christmas on the banks of Robin Lake while children roll down the hill and families roast s’mores over the nearby fire pit.
Want to visit another USAToday Christmas Lights Award Winner on the East Coast? Check out Longwood Gardens Christmas!
More Tips for a Great Experience
Take the Jolly Trolley rather than your own car. The festive narration, Christmas carols and just being with a group really gets you into the holiday spirit.
Stay at one of the Callaway Gardens Hotels for fast pass access to the Jolly Trolley. It’s worth it.
Jolly Trolley tickets are timed for a specific hour. You can begin lining up for your scheduled time fifteen minutes before. So if your ticket is for 8 – 9 pm, you can board anytime between 7:45 and 9 pm. My guess is the closer you are to the beginning of this window, the shorter the lines.
Dress warm and bring a blanket. It was a balmy evening the night I went and the trolley ride was still a bit cold, probably because you are just sitting and since it’s an open air trolley, just driving creates some chilly wind. Bundle up like you would on a real sleigh ride and you’ll be fine.
Take care of business before you leave. Fantasy in Lights takes approximately one hour to go through, maybe a bit longer on really busy nights. Be sure to go to the bathroom, eat a snack or whatever you (or your little party members need) to be comfortable on the ride.
Fantasy In Lights Includes Callaway Gardens Admission. Plan to spend the day at Callaway Gardens. You can enjoy the Cecil B. Day Butterfly Gardens, as well as miles of biking and hiking trails. For an additional fee you can also schedule a TreeTop Adventure.
Holiday Happenings at Callaway Gardens Christmas
You could pretty much find a different event every day during the holidays at Callaway Gardens. Here are few we think are extra special.
Make a Gift for the Birds. On Saturdays at 11 a.m., create a natural bird feeder at the Callaway Discovery Center.
Go Shopping. No ticket is required to visit the Christmas Village which features photos with Santa, unique gifts shipped to us from the North Pole, and the Village Cafe.
Enjoy a Meal and a Show. For something a little different, come for Breakfast with Junie B. Jones or other holiday characters or dinner with the Grinch! The Junie B Jones breakfast show is every Saturday. The character breakfast (characters could include (but may change) Rudolph, Frosty, Gringerbread Man, and more) is on Sunday. And the Grinch show is every Saturday evening!
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