Are We There Yet? Christmas in Huntsville
By Linda Holloway – Photography by www.larryhollowayphotography.com
Galaxy of Lights - Courtesy of Huntsville Botanical Garden
Huntsville, Alabama is the place to visit for all things-fun during the Christmas season. First, visitors come from all over the Southeast to the star attaction where a light extravaganza bedazzles all ages. There is a special place where Santa enjoys hanging out, and don't forget hundreds of shopping opportunities. One of my favorites is a historic mill where art and kids' imagination blend to make the perfect holiday gifts. When the day is done, enjoy a "heavenly" night of rest.
Galaxy of Lights – Huntsville Botanical Garden
Let the magic begin! Galaxy of Lights is a 2.5-mile-long holiday light extravaganza that features larger-than-life animated light displays. Special exhibits include a holiday village, dinosaurs, wild animals, a magical twinkling icicle forest (a crowd favorite) and garden scenes. Little wonder Galaxy of Lights was voted “Best Place to see Twinkling ‘Stars’ in the Country” by the American Bus Association.
The animated snowmen are popular as well as the 12 days of Christmas. Retired engineers, physicists (and literally, rocket scientists) design, build, set up, operate, and maintain the displays. About half of these people work year around to make the show fabulous. It takes 8 weeks, from mid-September to early November, to set up and power the light show. It takes only four weeks to take it down; then, the rebuilding of existing displays and fabrication of new displays begins.
Over 30,000 people walk through the Galaxy of Lights during the nine nights of Walking Nights, and over 22,000 cars, with over 115,000 people, drive through the holiday light show on driving nights. There are even two “Dog Nights” of Walking Nights where over 1,400 dogs enjoy the lights!
This is the 22nd year of operation and the event has grown from 25 scenes in 1996 to currently over 177 scenes. You will find more than 2,000 luminaries to guide your family through the light show. Over 1,200 volunteers collect admissions, manage traffic, and guide visitors during the 40 nights of operation. It is every child’s dream.
Driving Nights: Friday, November 24 – Sunday, December 31, from 5:30 – 9:00 p.m. (Closed Thanksgiving and Nov 27 & 28 for Galaxy Runs.)
Tickets: Can be purchased online, in advance, after 11/4/2017 or at the Admission desk in the Guest Center Atrium lobby at the Botanical Garden. Passenger Car – Driving Nights, $25/car (up to 10 people.) Vans & Tour Buses – Driving Nights, $25 for up to 10 people/$3 for each additional person.
Walking Nights: Friday, Nov 10 – Tuesday, Nov 13, 5:30-8:00 p.m., Thursday, Nov 16 – Tuesday, Nov 21, 5:30-8:00 p.m. Tickets: Can be purchased in the Guest Center in advance or at the door. Adults: $7, Children: $4, Dogs $1. Check out the website for discounted nights and Dog Nights. Visit hsvbg.org/galaxy-of-lights/ or call 256.837.4447.
Located downtown at Alabama Constitution Village, the younger set will need to bring their wish list. Here you will find Santa, the reindeer, and elves working in the toy shop. Make sure you visit Mrs. Claus’s kitchen for a delicious gingerbread cookie. Enjoy the snow shows, craft projects and holiday entertainment as well. When: Nov. 24 -Dec. 23, 2017 from 5 pm to 9 pm nightly. Order your tickets by visiting, www.earlyworks.com/santavillage.com.
Lowe Mill ARTS & Entertainment
Lowe Mill ARTS and Entertainment is the largest independent arts facility in America with more than 200 working artists, makers, and creative entrepreneurs in this historic three-story space. From the moment I entered this building, I was amazed at the creative buzz. Located in downtown Huntsville, this massive former textile mill has been rescued from neglect to be restored to include an expansive collection of visual, performance, and culinary arts.
Denise of Denise Onwere Gallery instructing a student www.larryhollowayphotography.com
Kids Crafts: We visited numerous studios, and met artists of every medium. The best part was experiencing the creative process. This is the perfect place for that unique, one-of-a-kind Christmas gift. Kids are also invited to get in on the action. Denise Onwere Gallery Studio: (Studio 203) offers kids’ art classes, and drop-in classes. We watched as a budding artist painted old St Nick. For dates and times, visit www.deniseonweregallery.com/ Terri Hartmann of Design by Hart, www.designbyhartpottery.com (2009) offers an opportunity to bring your kids to make hand prints on clay ornaments. Check the website for more fun classes.
Big Glass Art Studio (201) offers glass making classes for kids and adults. Make your own ornament for the holidays. Visit, www.bigglassart.com. Sparkle Studio (103) has a “Christmas Workshop for Kids” offering a fiber and glass Christmas ornament class where kids can design their own Christmas ball ornament by stuffing it full of assorted fibers, yarn and sparkle, and embellishing the outside with glitter. Children 8 and up can participate in “Mixed Media Christmas Sheep” where a canvas, paint, sparkle and wool fiber becomes a masterpiece. Visit, www.thatsparklestudio.com. Be sure to reserve a spot now for the kid’s art classes. For more Lowe Mill A&E listings visit, www.lowemill.net. Extended holiday hours will begin on November 23, through Christmas. Holiday Hours are Tuesday-Friday, 11:00 a.m. – 8 p.m. and Saturday 10:00 a.m. – 8:00-p.m.
The Westin Huntsville and Element Huntsville
Just mentioning Westin Hotels conjures up memories of their famous brand of mattresses and bedding named, Heavenly Bed. While a great mattress and bedding is foremost for us, the kids will rave about the outdoor/indoor heated pool where splashing in November and December is just as much fun as in the summer. The Westin Huntsville is the area’s only AAA Four Diamond rated hotel, and boasts a reasonable price point. Be sure and ask about adjoining rooms for the entire family.
The hotel’s Sage Grille is a previous winner of the Taste of Huntsville. Over the past 3 years, Sage Grille has won numerous local awards for their culinary delights. For eating healthy, the hotel serves delicious SuperFoods—known for being health-enhancing and rich in antioxidants and phytonutrients. The in-room dining team has been named “Best in Class” ranking #1 of 117 Westin Hotels in North America. Enjoy dining in your pajamas! Also, try Sage Grille’s Breakfast Buffet—the best we have experienced. Can you say “made-to-order omelets?”
Shopping: Ask about the “Westin Family Package.” Plus, the “Shop and Stay” package (visit the hotel’s website and key in your dates for all packages) is perfect for shopping for your holiday gifts at Huntsville’s premier shopping destination—Bridge Street Town Centre. Here, you will find world-class shopping and dining with more than 70 shops, a 14-screen Monaco Pictures movie theater, carousel, train ride, watercraft rentals and fountains. Distinctively European and breathtakingly beautiful, Bridge Street is a few steps from the Westin. Visit www.westinhuntsville.com
The new Element at Westin is now open—sharing a hotel complex with the Westin Huntsville, and is perfect for families as well. Amenities include modified kitchens, microwaves, refrigerators, dishwashers and complimentary breakfast bar. Ask about the Studio Guest Room with 2 queen beds and a queen size sofa. Visit www.elementhuntsville.com
For Huntsville-Madison County Tourist Information, call 256-551-2230 or visit www.huntsville.org.