Once upon a time, Williamsburg's Grand Illumination was the Peninsula's undisputed champion of holiday crowds, pyrotechnics and merry-making.
Move over, colonials. Make room for Hollydazzle.
The Newport News celebration, happening Nov. 30 at City Center, is now so popular that organizers with the city's recreation department have been scrambling to figure out how to handle the crowds and the traffic.
An estimated 30,000 folks turn out to revel in Hollydazzle's blend of holiday music and explosions in the sky.
"The most important thing we're doing this year is adding more parking and more buses," said Renee Popernack, senior promotions co-coordinator for Newport News Parks and Recreation. "The event is so popular and keeps growing. We try to plan ahead and keep getting surprised with bigger and bigger crowds."
This year, organizers have added a second satellite parking area, at Todd Stadium on Warwick Boulevard, to handle the overflow.
Popernack says Hollydazzle's unique setting and state-of-the-art visual effects has made it a regional favorite. "We get a lot of people from Southside and from out of town," she said. "There's no place you can go to see fireworks like the ones you see at Hollydazzle. It's on par to something you'd see at Disney World, it's different from an ordinary fireworks display. It's completely unique. People love it."
As with any big holiday gathering, it's a good idea to plan ahead and prepare for a crush of humanity. "We encourage people to come early, go shopping or eat at the restaurants," Popernack said. "We anticipate the parking garages at City Center to be full by 6:30 p.m. ... Last year, people started arriving at 2 in the afternoon just to stake out their spots."
The example of Hollydazzle shows it's not too soon to map out some of your Christmas fun and frolic. To give you a head start on your planning, we've rounded up details about many of the region's top festivities.
Here's a closer look at the holiday events.
McDonald's Holiday Lights at the Beach. Nov. 21-Jan. 1. On the Boardwalk from 2nd Street to 33rd Street, Virginia Beach Oceanfront.
The "Fanta-Sea" of lights includes Santa, elves, and a 40-foot tall Christmas tree erected on the beach and in the parks along the boardwalk. Hotels offer special packages that include free tickets to the light show.
Hours: 5:30-10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 5:30-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday.
Admission: Cars, $10 Monday-Thursday, $15 Friday-Sunday and holidays; limos and mini-buses, $25; motor coaches, $45. Combo Ticket, $20, includes one-time entry to Holiday Lights at the Beach and Norfolk Botanical Garden of Lights (limited number of these tickets available).
Celebration in Lights. Nov. 22-Jan. 1. Newport News Park.
Virginia's first drive-through holiday light event opens for its 20th season on Thanksgiving night. The park will be transformed by over 800,000 individual lights creating animated holiday and fanciful scenes. This year, the event will add a new 300-foot-long animated tunnel of lights, new "light tubes" that will create the effect of falling snow, new grapevine light balls, and a 22-foot tree near the main entrance. On each Friday night, the first 500 vehicles will receive a free gift, while supplies last.
Hours: 5:30-10 p.m. nightly. 757-926-1400.
Admission: Cars, $10; Buses, $60.
Star of Wonder: Mystery of the Christmas Star. Nov. 21-Dec. 31. Virginia Living Museum, 524 J. Clyde Morris Blvd., Newport News.
Experience the journey of the Magi around you in the museum's state-of-the-art digital planetarium theater. Over the years, the scientific thinking has changed, archaeology has revealed new clues, and our understanding of who the Magi might actually have been has grown. The show was completely revised in 2008 to examine the latest clues and seek to understand the appearance of the Star of Bethlehem.
Hours: Days and times vary. Detailed schedule at thevlm.org.
Tickets: $4 in addition to museum admission.
Laser Holidays. Nov. 21-Dec. 31. Virginia Living Museum, 524 J. Clyde Morris Blvd., Newport News.
Music of the season and dazzling laser effects will get you in the holiday season. Featuring classic holiday favorites like Burl Ives' "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," modern hits like Randy Travis' "Jingle Bell Rock," and unique reimaginings of timeless songs like Enya's beautiful "Oiche Chiun (Silent Night)," this delightful program is fun for the whole family. Recommended for ages 6 and above.
Hours: Days and times vary. Detailed schedule at thevlm.org. The museum is closed Thanksgiving, Dec. 24 and 25.
Tickets: $4 in addition to museum admission.
Dominion Garden of Lights. Nov. 22. Norfolk Botanical Garden, 6700 Azalea Garden Road, Norfolk.
Annual light show extravaganza for a magical holiday experience.
Information: Call 757-441-5830, ext. 319; email firstname.lastname@example.org; or visit http://www.norfolkbotanicalgarden.org.
Foods & Feasts of Colonial Virginia (Nov. 22-24) and A Colonial Christmas (Dec. 1-31). Jamestown Settlement and Yorktown Victory Center.
The holiday season begins on Thanksgiving Day with "Foods & Feasts of Colonial Virginia," which explores foodways of 17th- and 18th-century Virginia. At Jamestown Settlement, historical interpreters demonstrate how food was gathered, preserved and prepared on land and at sea by Virginia's English colonists and Powhatan Indians. Programs at the Yorktown Victory Center examine typical soldiers' fare during the American Revolution and trace the bounty of a 1780s farm from field to kitchen.
Hours: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily (closed Christmas and New Year's days).
Information: Call 888-593-4682 toll-free or 757-253-4838; or visit online at http://www.historyisfun.org.
Christmas Town: A Busch Gardens Celebration. Open select days Nov. 23-Dec. 31. Busch Gardens, Williamsburg.
The park celebrates its fourth season of holiday magic. Christmas Town now features more than 6 million twinkling lights that adorn nearly every building and tree in the 100-acre park. The attraction features dazzling shows, a 50-foot-tall, animated Christmas tree, and Santa's workshop and gift ideas for holiday shopping. Rides and attractions are also open (weather permitting), including Verbolten, an indoor/outdoor, multi-launch roller coaster that debuted last spring. The park's tallest ride, Mäch Tower, will operate in observation mode.
Rainbow Puppets Presents "The Night Before Christmas." 2 and 3 p.m. Nov. 25. Children's Museum of Virginia, 221 High St., Portsmouth. Included in the admission price for the museum. 757-383-5258.
Polar Express. 5 and 5:30 p.m. beginning Nov. 26 and continuing every Monday through Thursday nights until Dec. 20. Norfolk Botanical Garden, 6700 Azalea Garden Road, Norfolk.
Yorktown Christmas Tree Lighting. 7-8:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 30. A tradition that began in 1945 continues with the Yorktown Christmas Tree Lighting. Highlights include a 7 p.m. performance by The Fifes and Drums of York Town at the Victory Monument, festive music at Riverwalk Landing, the procession of lights through the historic village, and the arrival of Santa and Mrs. Claus. Free. 757-890-3500.
Hollydazzle. 6-9 p.m. Friday, Nov. 30. City Center at Oyster Point, Newport News. This holiday event combines fireworks, special effects, and music in a spectacular show presented in the round on the Fountain Plaza. Free children's activities, holiday performances, and food vendors. Free admission, free parking. For updates, check online at http://www.nnparks.com/festivals.php or call 757-926-1400.
Holiday and Kwanzaa Marketplace. Beginning 10 a.m. Nov. 30-Dec. 1. Hampton University Museum. The gift shop specializes in African, African-American, and other multicultural items and artwork. At 5:30 p.m., enjoy special holiday music, sales, and planned activities. During the event, attendees are encouraged to contribute gently used clothing items for women that will be donated to TRANSITIONS. On Dec. 1, in addition to shopping from noon- 4 p.m., enjoy a holiday and Kwanzaa inspired workshop from 1–3 p.m. Though the event is free, there is a fee for the workshop to cover the cost of materials.
Yorktown Christmas Market on Main. 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 1. The market features arts and crafts, demonstrations, roasted chestnuts and hot cider, entertainment, and more. Historic Main Street. Free. 890.3500
The 24th annual Downtown Hampton Lighted Boat Parade. 7:15 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 1. The parade of illuminated power and sail boats will be visible from anywhere along the Hampton River. Spectators interested in the narration will want to find a spot near the Hampton Maritime Center. Those who don't have a vessel but want to join the action can board the Miss Hampton II tour boat. Attendees interested in riding on the Miss Hampton II are encouraged to make reservations by calling 757-722-9102. The admission is an unwrapped toy that will be donated to Toys for Tots. Captains who wish to enter their craft in the parade are encouraged to call 757-727-1276.
Yorktown Lighted Boat Parade. 6-8 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 1. Enjoy hot apple cider and caroling around the beach bonfire along the York River waterfront while awaiting the arrival of festively decorated motorboats, sailboats and Chesapeake deadrise working boats at 7 p.m. The parade of lights includes competition for Best of Show.
Colonial Williamsburg Grand Illumination. 4-8 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 2. Historic area, Colonial Williamsburg. In the 18th century, illuminations, which included the firing of guns and lighting of fireworks, were held to celebrate major events, such as great military victories, the anniversary of the reigning sovereign's birth, or the arrival of a new colonial governor. Join Colonial Williamsburg for this special day by strolling the Revolutionary City and viewing all the unique decorations. Listen to musical performances from multiple stages and watch the fireworks displays from three different locations.
Smithfield Christmas Tree Lighting. 5:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 7. Smithfield Center. Concert by the Smithfield High School Band. Message by Rev. Jeff Cannon, Special surprise tree lighting guest! Enjoy soup or chili. Free. For more information, call Judy Mason 757-344-5839.
First Light Celebration. 5-6 p.m. Dec. 8, Hampton History Museum, 120 Old Hampton Lane, Hampton. The museum kicks off the holidays in Downtown Hampton with the 5th Annual First Light Celebration featuring karaoke caroling, kids music with Bob Zentz, visits with Santa and Mrs. Claus, vintage trains, antique toys and dolls. The galleries will be open for visitors to explore Hampton's past. Refreshments will be served. 757-727-1610 or online at http://www.hampton1610.com.
Hampton Holly Days Parade presents 'Babes in Toyland.' 7 p.m. Dec. 8. Bring your "babe" to the Peninsula's largest illuminated holiday parade. Fun includes music from marching bands, spectacular floats, and the man of the hour, Santa. "Babes in Toyland" goes from Eaton Street and Settlers Landing Road to Darling Stadium.
Breakfast with Santa. 8-10 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 8. Virginia Air & Space Center, 600 Settlers Landing Road, Hampton. Special activities include making reindeer chow, playing snowball toss and photos with Santa presented by Walgreen's. Every child receives a complimentary 5x7 photo printed on photo-quality paper. Space is limited and advance tickets are required. Call 727-0900, ext. 703, to reserve tickets by Dec. 4 or register online at http://www.vasc.org.
Lighted Boat and Golf Cart Parade. 6-9 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 8. 105 Rens Road, Poquoson. First, second- and third-place trophies will be awarded for golf cart, powerboat and sailboat divisions. Santa will be on site for photo opportunities. Free dockage for registered boats. To register, contact dockmaster Craig Brown, 757-508-2602.
The End of the World Party! Dec. 21. Virginia Living Museum, 524 J. Clyde Morris Blvd., Newport News. Join the museum in the Abbitt Planetarium and Observatory as we await the end of the world…or not. Enjoy planetarium programs, laser shows, fun world-ending activities for kids and adults, prize raffles and more. Visit the Wild Side Café for your final dinner or snack. We'll stay up until midnight and count down the last moments of the world…or maybe not! Observing begins after sunset and continues throughout the evening. Observing and activities are free. Shows are $6 each, double feature $10. See "Star of Wonder" at 6 p.m., "Laser Holidays" at 7 p.m., "2012: The End of the World? NOT!" at 8 and 10 p.m., "Lasers at the End of the World" at 9 and 11 p.m.
Noon Year's Eve. Noon Dec. 31. Virginia Living Museum, 524 J. Clyde Morris Blvd., Newport News. The whole family can enjoy this daytime New Year's celebration. Meet special animal friends from the Teeny Tiny Farm. Meet Bubbles the Clown and enjoy games, crafts and other activities. Tickets $10 in advance, $12 at the door for all special activities. Non-members also pay museum admission.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun