I’ve been wanting to write about this for a while, but before I knew it, Christmas got a bit overwhelming. Since there are still several days to enjoy the light show, I will try to get this post out there before their last weekend so people can try to fit it into their New Year’s plans.
Bellingrath Gardens and Home is a 65-acre property just southwest of Mobile, Alabama. The holiday light show, called Magic Christmas in Lights, which started in 1995, has become very popular and draws visitors from throughout the Gulf Coast.
Dave asks me around Thanksgiving every year, “What do you want for Christmas?” And I usually come up with something unusual, such as “I would like you to arrange a family trip to Bellingrath Gardens in December.”
Of course, he had to go do all the research: What is it? Why does Patricia want to go to a botanical garden in December? How much do the tickets cost? Do I need to get the tickets ahead of time?
I’m usually the one who does the travel planning in the family: I make the airfare, hotel, rental car arrangements, I am the one who does the route planning ahead of time. I don’t mind, really. But for Dave to take the reigns on travel planning is a real treat.
Dave got us internet tickets for December 8th, a Saturday night. The hours for the event are 5-9pm, and I will explain in a minute why it’s important to arrive at 5pm. We took our time getting to the gardens, stopping at Lambert’s Cafe in Foley, as well as a brief trip to the Wales West Tourist Railroad to see the holiday decorations there also.
So our plan was to arrive at about 6pm. There was an accident on Bellingrath Road, which is the 8-mile two-lane county road that leads everyone to the gardens. So we sat in VERY slow moving traffic for over 90 minutes…and didn’t get into the gardens themselves into 7:30pm.
I was in a tizzy about it — I didn’t know how big the light display was, and I was panicking about only having 90 minutes to try to see everything! Yikes!
Well, it was all well, even with the crowds (and it’s VERY crowded on the weekends in December, be prepared to walk SLOWLY) it took the family about 75 minutes to slowly walk the pre-arranged route through the assorted light displays. We also found out that the accident delayed so many guests, the gardens would stay open past 9pm to accomodate everyone. Cars were till entering when we left right at 9pm.
The lights are certainly worth the cost and the distance traveled! With over 3 million lights in over a dozen different themes (such as aquatic, polar bears, flowers, toys, and woodland animals), your eyes will be in for quite a delight!
Before I show some pictures, here are some tips to make your visit more enjoyable.
- To save money and time, try to get your tickets somewhere OTHER THAN at the gate. Tickets can be purchased online, or if you’re local, Regions Bank branches sell them through December 28th or so. Not only will you enjoy a modest discount compared to the gate price, but you can also skip the LONG lines to pay at the gate — simply visit the “Will Call” gate to the right of the main entrance. We had no line.
- If you choose to order the tickets online, you will be asked to choose a date for your visit. That date is arbitrary and is related to the ticketing website. Pick any date, your tickets are good for the entire period.
- This is NOT a driving light tour. Wear comfortable walking shoes and dress for the weather. There is quite a bit of terrain (relatively speaking) so be prepared for some uphill and downhill walking.
- Be prepared to park your car off-pavement. We drove Dave’s Mustang and we’re glad we weren’t pointed towards parking near some magnolia trees that had bumpy roots over which we might have had to drive. If there was a recent rain, the fields and lots will get muddy.
- Try to arrive as close to 5pm as possible. It will not quite be dark, but you will have enough time to get parked and ticketed before dark, and you can also get to the locations where the choruses might be singing on many of the nights. Check the schedule for the choral performance times and locations.
- If you’re interested in photographing the lights, I suggest you read up on techniques to set up your camera for the best night pictures. Even small point-and-shoot cameras might have a means by which you can adjust your f-stops and exposure times. Bring a tripod and try out your night photography. I had a night-fireworks setting that worked really well on our new camera, and I had the best time trying my hand at assorted settings.
Speaking of photography, enjoy some pictures from our visit. I took nearly 300 pictures, but these are some of my favorites.