Seeing the twinkling and colorful lights as soon as they go up is a family tradition we do to get in the holiday spirit early. So this year, on the very first day of the Magic of Lights at the PNC Bank Arts Center, I packed the kids, snacks, and even the dog to take a ride to exit 116 on the Garden State Parkway in Holmdel. The drive-through holiday light experience has 2 million lights, LED technology, and a Toyota Holiday Village with everything from Santa to s’mores, and it is a magical way to kick off the holiday season (even the baby loved it). We all agreed there’s no better way to see holiday lights than in a warm car on a chilly night. Read on for our magical adventure, and for more light shows in NJ, check out our holiday guide. (featured photo credit: Magic of Lights, Family Entertainment Holdings, LLC)
Turn up the heat and the tunes
Once we drove towards the PNC Arts Center, we could see all the lights from a distance, but the excitement grew as we pulled up to the gate. Since we bought our tickets beforehand, scanning them through the phone at the entrance was easy. The kids were thrilled to get going, and as we started our ride, we saw signs about the special Magic of Lights radio station, so we turned off our headlights and turned up the tunes so that we wouldn’t miss a second of fun.
Watch bright lights and dazzling technology
We slowed down the car, and the kids sat back and relaxed as they watched LEDS, lights, and technology come to life. From a snowflake tunnel to a chugging train to Mattel’s Waving Christmas Barbie® (a whopping 32 ft. tall and several hundred feet long), there was truly something for everyone. The gigantic display of the legendary BIGFOOT® Monster Truck was eye-popping, along with a Winter Wonderland, 12 Days of Christmas, Toyland, and a Reindeer Road display. The best part? Everyone was cozy and comfy in the car, and the baby was happily hanging out in his car seat while the dog sat between my two other kids, taking in the display.
Stopping at the Holiday Village
Halfway through the Magic of Lights drive, we parked, ready to explore the Toyota Holiday Village. My son and daughter went out to find the activities and special treats that awaited. Though Santa hadn’t arrived from the North Pole yet while we were there, expect him to land after Thanksgiving and offer photo ops. In the meantime, the kids found a Barbie Photo Station for selfies, hot drinks and snacks, and letter writing to Santa. My kids didn’t want to miss their opportunity to write letters to Santa, so they started there.
Watch a movie, or decorate a cupcake
While at the Holiday Village, the kids noticed the food stand with yummy holiday-themed treats and snack foods. This cashless venue had everything from a “Decorate Your Own Cupcake Kit” to a “Holiday Cookie Treat Box,” along with food like hot dogs, soft pretzels, chicken tenders, and fries. The kids made a beeline for hot chocolate, particularly the s’mores hot chocolate, which they gave a thumbs up for the fantastic taste. For the 21+ non-drivers, there was spiked cider, spiked hot chocolate, and even mulled wine. Another unique part of the village was the outdoor movie screen set up with comfy couches. We stopped for a bit to watch “The Grinch” (there’s popcorn available if you want to stay for a while).
Skating and S’mores
As we continued through the Village, we walked past blinking snowflakes and singing trees. There were toasty fire pits and another snack stand selling a “Build Your Own S’mores Kit” to use as you warm up by the fire. We also walked by the charming ice skating rink just made for holiday photos. It was $9 for kids under 12 and $12 for teens and adults, including the ice skate rental. Though we were tempted, we were anxious to get back to the drive-through and decided that we’d make sure to do this next time.
Taking on tunnels and a T-Rex
Back in the car, we cruised through the Enchanting Tunnel of Lights, a 200-foot-long tunnel that sparkled and blinked in unison. It was truly amazing, and we thought the best part of the night. Afterward, we headed through a Prehistoric Christmas with life-sized dinosaurs in different colors and light patterns. We learned a few fun facts about the amount of work that goes into each show, including how the Magic of Lights staff sets up the event in 3,750 hours and uses 10 miles of steel and LED lighting to build the displays. As we drove out of the PNC ARTS Center, we all agreed the night was a wonderful way to usher in the holidays, and on the way home, we cranked up the Christmas music, sang along, and felt more than ready for the holiday season ahead.
What to know before you go
Before you go, purchase your ticket online to save money (tickets are $5 more at the gate). The advance ticket prices are $30 per carload Monday-Thursday and $35 per carload Friday-Sunday. On Mondays, they collect donations for Operation Sleigh Bell, and if you donate new coats, hats, gloves, and toys at the gate, you will receive $5 off. On Tuesdays, tickets are available for two drive-throughs for one price. A petting zoo will be in the holiday village every Tuesday until December 26, and during the week of the 26th, meet and greets with the Grinch. You can also pre-purchase a light-up dino wand so your littles can bring their own lights to the event and if you’re worried about crowds, purchase a Dash Pass for special lines that let you go through without waiting. Magic of Lights will be at PNC Arts Center in Holmdel from November 17-December 30, 2023. Bathrooms are available at the Holiday Village if needed. Pets are also allowed in your car, but not in the village. And it’s best to check ahead for any weather-related closings.
PNC Bank Arts Center
116 Garden State Pkwy
Holmdel, NJ 07733
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