<b>FAMILY TIME | </b>By Melissa Slager For The Weekly Herald
For many families, The Lights of Christmas festival has become a holiday tradition.
More than a million lights twinkle over the grounds of Warm Beach Christian Camps and Conference Center in Stanwood each year in an ever-expanding holiday extravaganza.
Kids enjoy wandering the grounds, looking high and low in awe at electric displays of everything from candy canes to mountains.
Pony rides, a cruise on the small Polar Express train, photos with Santa, and a chat with Bruce the Talking Spruce (better experienced than explained) are among the kid-shaped highlights.
There also are several free entertainment stops, from Victorian carolers to a storyteller. The scents of freshly stirred pots of kettle corn and hot cocoa beckon.
“There’s a lot of things to see and do and kids get mesmerized by everything,” said Patrick Patterson, administration director at Warm Beach. “It can be kind of overwhelming.”
Some tips on how to take it from overwhelming to heartwarming:
• Build in time. It’s about a 50-minute drive from Mountlake Terrace to Warm Beach; then there’s the time it takes to traverse the grounds, participate in key activities and, yes, stand in line after line. The event’s busiest times are Saturdays, especially as Christmas nears.
• Bundle up. The main attraction – all those lights – is outdoors, and under darkness little and big hands alike will get downright chilly. Consider bringing hand warmers to slip inside boots and mittens. That said, there are several indoor areas to escape into warmth.
• Budget. Most attractions are covered under admission, but some cost extra, such as a dinner theater or crafting a toy in the Toy Shop. There are “pay what you can” nights for those who otherwise can’t afford tickets. Food prices are cash only; dinner items range from about $6 to $12. Snack huts scattered throughout the area likely will draw pint-sized pleadings.
• Bring the stroller. Pathways are wide and flat, and there’s a “parking” area for the jogger while you and the toddler wave to passersby from the Polar Express. New this year: a special caboose on the train for those in wheelchairs.
Last year’s Lights of Christmas saw record-breaking attendance of 56,000 under clear skies. Should nice weather prevail, Patterson said he expects to see nearly as many folks this year.
Warm Beach is known during the year as a retreat for church groups and the like.
There is a well-visited lighted nativity scene along the Lights of Christmas route and Christian themes to several activities. “We don’t neutralize the Christian element in the celebration of the (Christmas) event,” Patterson said.
Regardless, most families will feel welcome and aglow under all the lights of a shared holiday season.
“For us it’s a way of celebrating the Christmas season – the love and the faith and joy that’s part of that in a traditional, family-oriented way and in a way that also appeals to the general community,” Patterson said.
WHAT: A festival of over 1 million Christmas lights, children’s activities and entertainment.
WHEN: 5-10 p.m. Dec. 1-4, 8-11, 15-23, 26-28
WHERE: Warm Beach Christian Camps and Conference Center, 20800 Marine Drive, Stanwood
COST: General admission for adults (ages 13-59) is $15; seniors and military, $10; kids ages 4-12, $9; children age 3 and younger, free; “pay what you can” nights Dec. 1, 19, 28. Season passes, group rates and AAA discounts are available. Parking is free. Visa, MasterCard and Discover Card welcome. Food venues are cash only (ATM available). Purchase tickets at the gate or online at tickets.warmbeachlights.com.
• “Cirque de Noel: Christmas Can Be a Circus” musical variety show: 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. Dec. 4, 11, 18 and 26, Joyland Concert Hall
• Story teller: Hourly beginning at 6 p.m., Deer Mountain Lodge
• Victorian carolers: hourly beginning at 5:45 p.m., caroling stage
• Traditional Christmas music 5:45, 6:45, 7:45 and 8:45 p.m., Joyland Concert Hall
• Western and bluegrass music hourly beginning at 5:15 p.m., Tinhorn Town
• Acoustic and spoken word performances: hourly beginning at 5 p.m., Starry Night Coffeehouse
• “Winds in the Morning” dinner theater: Dec. 1-3, 8-10, 15-17, 22-23, Baylight Room, $39 (reservation required)
• “Winds in the Morning” dessert theater: Dec. 4, 11, 18, Baylight Room, $24 (reservation required)
OVERNIGHT LODGING: A variety of options available, from motel rooms to lodges, each including breakfast and admission. Cost: $108-$564 per unit. Reservations required.
• Polar Express train rides
• Petting farm
• Pony rides (kids under 4 feet tall)
• Bruce the Talking Spruce
• Santa (5-10 p.m. nightly through Dec. 23)
• Toy Shop (extra fee to make a toy)
• Bayside Ornament Shoppe (extra fee to make an ornament)
• Gift Shops (Joyland Emporium, The Camp Store, Victorian Gift Shoppe)
REFRESHMENTS: Indoor food venues offer a variety of hot drinks, snacks, desserts and dinner entrées. Entrée choices range from sourdough bread bowl with Ivar’s clam chowder to rib tips plate with salad and corn bread. Entree prices range from about $6-$12. For dessert, there are fresh mini-donuts, caramel apples and apple and pumpkin pie.
MORE INFO: www.warmbeach.com/lights-of-christmas.html