The lights are on in the inaugural Winter in Wilmington Light Show, and sponsors hope they brighten a holiday season bleakened by the specter of COVID-19.
Merry skating bears, gingerbread families and toy-making elves greet guests making the trek to the Wilmington Riverfront to drive the 15-minute circuit in the parking lot of Frawley Stadium.
“The light show has allowed The Grand to continue serving the community, but in a different, a very different way,” said Mark Fields, executive director of The Grand, one of the show’s sponsors. “It also gives us an opportunity to provide a little joy and ‘lightness’ for local families when there isn’t going to be much else to do together to celebrate the holidays.”
The tour is broken into three areas: a Victorian Christmas, Gingerbread Land and Santa’s North Pole toy shop. It ends at a glittering version of The Grand, with Santa himself ready to take any letters from kids back to the North Pole with him.
The show came together fast, but interest has been high: More than 1,000 cars have bought tickets already at $25 per vehicle, up to a 12-person van.
“This experience has been both a whirlwind and highly rewarding,” Fields said. “Normally, we would want six to eight months to undertake such a major project, but we put this together in less than three months.
“We have a tireless, creative team at The Grand, but we couldn’t have done that without the incredible effort of our partners: Riverfront Development Corp., Light Action and the City of Wilmington. Each one stepped up to share the challenge of producing this event, and we are all proud of the result.”
The light show, which runs through Jan. 3, is clearly visible from I-95 north through Wilmington. It almost looks like a carnival spread out below. From the ground, it’s a forest of lights with soaring lanes of I-95 as an urban backdrop.
Winter in Wilmington features 40 displays and a soundtrack of music from musicians who have performed at The Grand. They include “All I Want for Christmas” by Idina Menzel (March 2009 show), “Happy Christmas, War is Over” by Jake Shimabukuro (April 2013), “Let It Snow” by Chris Botti (October 2016). “Tin Soldiers” by the Paragon Ragtime Orchestra (January 2009) and more.
The light show also provides a family alternative to the Riverfront’s popular ice rink, which the RDC decided to cancel this year because of fears of spreading the virus that causes COVID-19.
“We priced the event at $25 a car so that families of almost any size could enjoy the light show together,” Fields said. “That’s less than a cost of a movie or pizza night for a family of four. We wanted to make this event as accessible as possible knowing that families have fewer entertainment options available this holiday season.”
The Light Show is encouraging people to buy timed tickets before arriving, but tickets also will be for sale in booths at the start of the show.
Tickets are available at www.TheGrandWilmington.org or by calling The Grand’s box office at 302-652-5577. Gates will be open from 5:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Winter in Wilmington will not run on Christmas Eve or Christmas, or on New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day.