10 Holiday Light Displays Around Atlanta

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‘Tis the season for sparkle and glitz, a time to pile into the car and tour the myriad light displays around Georgia. Below is a list of the 10 biggest and brightest displays in the Atlanta area. Fill the thermos with cocoa, and dig out the holiday tunes; let’s hit the road!

Garden Lights at Atlanta Botanical Garden (Nov. 16 – Jan. 4): This Garden Lights adventure ignites all of your senses! With more than 1 million lights, the garden is alive with seasonal spirit. Orchestral Orbs glow harmoniously with holiday tunes. S’mores on the Twinkling Terrace and treats from the Glow Bar taunt your taste buds. This year, colorful figures from Imaginary Worlds join the Ice Storm Trees and Poinsettia Tower. Listed in Forbes “10 Dazzling Light Displays Around the World,” you’ll want to buy your tickets early for this monumental event.

lake lanierMagical Nights of Lights at Lake Lanier (Nov. 15 – Dec. 31): Tune your MP3 player to Burl Ives, and drive six leisurely miles enjoying larger-than-life holiday light displays. Your adventure doesn’t end with the light show. Be sure to stop at the Holiday Village and enjoy ice skating, carnival rides, s’mores sticks and a few moments with Santa. Look for double coupon days in November, and fill the car with the entire family because tickets are by car and not by person.

Light Up the Holidays at Barnsley Resort (Nov. 30 – Dec. 30): Visitors (including those who are not staying overnight) are welcome to view more than 1 million lights and festive décor in the historic 1800s manor house ruins, surrounding gardens and English-style village. There is a small fee for the self-guided tour, but those with dinner reservations at one of the resort’s two onsite restaurants can tour the garden at no cost. For a truly special holiday experience, visitors can take advantage of the Light Up the Holidays promotion available for overnight stays from Nov. 30 – Dec. 30, 2013, with luxurious cottage accommodations and more.

Stone Mountain Christmas at Stone Mountain Park (Nov. 9 – Jan. 1): Two million lights, Christmas shows, Rudolph and Bumble create a night to remember. Don’t miss a five-mile excursion on the Singalong Christmas Train, featuring a satellite message from Santa’s elves and a track-side show, The Gift, about the very first Christmas. Be sure to grab a seat for the nightly Christmas Parade where you can see Santa and Mrs. Claus, and end your night with the magic of the Snow Angel flying high to create snow and fireworks.

rock cityEnchanted Garden of Lights at Rock City Gardens (Nov. 22 – Jan. 4): Although it is often associated with Chattanooga, did you know Rock City Gardens is actually in Georgia? Tour the gardens, aglow with more than 30 holiday scenes encompassing more than 1 million lights. Stop in the pavilion for nightly entertainment, gingerbread cookie decorating and warm fire pits. Special VIP tickets are available for Dinner with Santa and early garden entrance.

Global Winter Wonderland Atlanta at Turner Field (Nov. 21 – Jan. 5): Experience the transformation of Turner Field into a lantern festival and multicultural theme park. Debuting in Atlanta this year, illuminating lanterns as large as 50 feet tall and 100 feet wide depict landmarks from countries all over the globe. Families can delight in carnival rides and games, international dining options, live shows, and celebrations of holiday traditions and cultures from all over the globe. Single-entry or season passes are available, and prices include all rides and live entertainment.

Christmas at The Rock Ranch (Dec. 1 – Dec. 31): Guests to The Rock Ranch can cut their lights and slowly roll through the mile-long display of thousands of lights, all strung by volunteers and ranch hands of the property. Bring the family by Truett’s Barn for hot cocoa and apple cider, soups and other treats. Dec. 7 and 14, families can dine with Santa and pose for a keepsake.

Lights of Life at Life University (Nov. 29 – Dec. 31): Families are thrilled that the Light of Life show is back in Marietta after a brief hiatus. Priced by the carload, this light show is an affordable family excursion. Bring cash; no cards accepted. If you are looking for more than lights, visit on the weekend to ride a pony, take a turn on a mini Christmas train or pose with Santa. Concession wagons offer funnel cakes, s’mores platters, fried Snickers and more.

CAllawayFantasy in Lights at Callaway Gardens (Nov. 22 – Dec. 30): Bundle up and snuggle tight for a Jolly Trolley ride, or drive your own car through this award-winning display of more than 8 million lights. Each of the scenes are custom built for Callaway, taking more than 3,900 man-hours to complete. Inside the Christmas Village, visitors can purchase unique gifts from Georgia crafters or nibble on specialty treats. Make it a special time for the family with the Fantasy In Lights overnight packages, which include accommodations, entrance to the gardens, and a special loading area for the trolley.

Holiday in Lights at Centennial Olympic Park (Nov. 23 – Jan. 20): Each evening, visitors to downtown Atlanta can stroll in the 21-acre park, relishing thousands of lights that illuminate the cityscape. While you are there, take a spin on Atlanta’s only outdoor ice skating rink or enjoy a treat from Googie Burger. A tour of Centennial Park is the perfect nightcap to a day at Georgia Aquarium’s Festival of the SEAson.

lesliLesli Peterson is Georgia’s Destination Expert for Trekaroo and founder of 365 Atlanta Family. She is a homeschooling mom to 2 young boys and bonus mom to two teenagers. From her home base of Atlanta, Lesli spends her time life-learning with the kids one road-trip at a time, and sharing her experiences along the way. 

 

Athens’ Secret Hideaway: The Hill

A & D House

Tucked away on the outskirts of Athens, Georgia lies The Hill, an orphanage for antebellum and early twentieth century homes. A private residence owned by Lee Epting of Epting Events, the property’s historical charm and natural scenery make it one of the area’s most captivating event locations.

One of Athens’ most interesting pieces of land, The Hill is like a character from a story. Its rich and oftentimes winding history make it a perfect venue or rental location for people who want to soak up and celebrate Southern heritage. Stepping into the houses on The Hill, in particular the Armstrong-Dobbs House, the Donald-Epting House, the Quinn House, and the Rock House, is like stepping into the past as these houses were artfully preserved and are decorated to match the time period in which they were originally constructed. All four of these properties are available to rent for events, weekends or extended stays.

One of the oldest homes in Athens, the Armstrong-Dobbs house is believed to have been constructed sometime in the late eighteenth century, as it is referenced by Joshua Meigs, the University of Georgia’s first president, in 1801 and again in an early history of Athens that was written in 1820. In 2001, as the house lay in disrepair at its original location on Oconee Street near downtown Athens, the Epting’s took on the monumental task of moving the house to The Hill and restoring it to its original splendor.

hill houseThe cornerstone of The Hill is Lee Epting’s personal home, the Donald-Epting house, which was built in 1790 in Abbyville County, South Carolina. The Epting family acquired the house in 1979 and had it moved, brick by brick, from Donalds, South Carolina to Athens.  At the same time, the 1840 Finley Street house was moved from downtown Athens in order to add a library, master bedroom and kitchen to the Epting family home. In doing so, the house is now somewhat “original” to Athens. Lee Epting’s passion for historic preservation is evident in the way that the he and his crew painstakingly took apart the house, writing detailed descriptions of where each brick and piece of wood belonged. The building materials were then transported over miles of highway and reconstructed at The Hill with great attention to detail. From front door to back door, visitors can walk through more than 200 years of history as they explore the interior. It can be awe-inspiring to sit in the dining room, touch the walls, and think about the generations who have sat and dined in this communal space. In addition to hosting several weddings and parties a year, the Donald-Epting House was also the primary shooting location for the film Not Since You.

rock houseEnhancing the property are two houses that are original to the land and were built in 1920 and 1930. One of these homes, the Rock House, is a quaint two story stone house that was built by the grandson of a former slave who was deeded the property after the end of the Civil War. Interesting fact – the stones were all locally harvested!

More interesting facts about The Hill:

  • The historic homes on The Hill are all numbered by their address according to the year they were built.
  • The brick columns in the back yard of the Donald-Epting House were salvaged from UGA’s Phi Delta Theta House on Lumpkin Street in the 1970’s.
  • The boxwoods planted in front of the Donald-Epting House are from seedlings from colonial Williamsburg.
  • Lee’s backyard contains a rare three-seated “luxury” out house that was used by Sherman at a stop on his march to the sea during the Civil War.

jamie - headshotBorn and raised in Powder Springs, Georgia, Jamie Lewis is a UGA graduate. After graduation, Jamie quickly realized that nowhere compared to Athens and she searched for a job that would lead her back to the Classic City. Her dream came true and she is now the public relations and social media assistant at Epting Events.

8 Holiday Train Adventures Around Georgia

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Remember a train encircling your Christmas tree when you were growing up? My boys spend hours enjoying our steam engine that comes out each year with the mistletoe and stockings. Holiday train adventures around Georgia will help you relive those childhood memories. Hold on to your seat, we’re going for a ride!

Blue Ridge Scenic Railway – A visit with Santa is magical, especially when you’re headed through the mountains alongside the winding Toccoa River. A daytime ride is best for young children, lasting only an hour. It includes storytelling, caroling and a visit from Santa. Older kids (and adults) will enjoy the four-hour nighttime adventure to Santa’s Pavilion. Santa visits each of the vintage train cars, and guests stop in the border town of McCaysville/Copperhill for dining and shopping.

ABGAtlanta Botanical GardenGarden Lights, Holiday Nights is one of my favorite nighttime holiday treats, with millions of lights illuminating the downtown gardenscape. Holiday cheer continues during the day when visitors can enjoy a G-scale train and trolley winding through a mountain village town. The miniature metropolis is not the only train show; kids can enjoy a turn on The Botanical Express.

Stone Mountain ParkStone Mountain Christmas is an event for all your senses. See multiple live plays amidst 2 million sparkling holiday lights. Visit the Snow Angel in her palace or see Polar Express in 4D. End the evening with a parade featuring Santa, the Snow Angel and a fireworks extravaganza. If you ask me, though, the highlight is a ride on the Singalong Train. Carol with the other passengers along this five-mile route around the mountain. There is no extra charge; it’s included with admission!

pink pigMacy’s Pink Pig – This vintage train is enjoying more than 50 years in Atlanta. Once with Rich’s, then at Egleston’s Festival of Trees, it now sits rooftop at Lenox Mall. If you grew up in Atlanta, you probably rode this train as a child. Bring your kiddos to meet Priscilla and carry on this Atlanta tradition benefitting Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.

The Southern Museum – Follow the City of Kennesaw’s Christmas celebrations with an evening at The Southern Museum’s Polar Express Adventure. A train conductor and hobo greet families as they enter the museum. Kids can make crafts, write letters to Santa and meet the Big Guy himself. Warm up with hot chocolate and take in the holiday-themed model train layout.

Southeastern Railway Museum – When Santa’s reindeer are taking a breather, you’ll find him at the Southeastern Railway Museum where he can pick from more than 90 pieces of railway equipment, all perfect for delivering presents. Mingle with Santa and his elves, make holiday crafts and take a ride with Santa at the museum. On select days in December, families can dine with Santa for breakfast or lunch and watch a unique showing of Polar Express.

SRMGeorgia State Railway Museum in Savannah – Don your jammies and head to the museum for a special evening with Santa. Ride the city’s steam engine, which is decked for Christmas, and meet a very special conductor. After the 30-minute ride, visit Santa, create holiday crafts and listen to a reading of The Polar Express. Leopold’s Ice Cream is there with hot chocolate and hot cocoa ice cream for sale.

SAM Shortline Excursion Train- Head to southwest Georgia for multiple holiday adventures on the 1949 vintage cars that are part of the Heart of Georgia Railroad. Rudolph’s Favorite is a relaxing ride into Cordele for a short layover. There, kids can play games, listen to music, hear the Polar Express story or hunt for Christmas gifts. The Bells Over Plains ride is longer and includes options for a special Santa lunch or a visit from one of Santa’s elves, complete with hot cocoa to warm your spirits.

lesliLesli Peterson is Georgia’s Destination Expert for Trekaroo and founder of 365 Atlanta Family. She is a homeschooling mom to 2 young boys and bonus mom to two teenagers. From her home base of Atlanta, Lesli spends her time life-learning with the kids one road-trip at a time, and sharing her experiences along the way. 

11 Must-Dos in Albany, Georgia

Ray Charles Plaza

Ray Charles Plaza

We didn’t know what we were in for when we packed our bags and headed down I-75 to Albany, Ga., but we were pretty sure that adventure loomed ahead. From paddling the waterways of the Flint River to donning a zookeeper’s hat at Chehaw Wild Animal and Adventure Park, our expectations were exceeded during an autumn visit to Ray Charles’ hometown. Don’t miss these Albany, Ga., must-sees!

  1. Go wild at Chehaw. Get up close with a baby wildebeest; say “hi” to Charlotte and Chloe, the zoo’s two new pygmy goats; and spend the day roaming Chehaw’s 700 acres of pristine, conservation land. Stay overnight at one of 44 RV sites.
  2. At the Thronateeska Heritage Center with Wetherbee Planetarium, walk through Albany’s historic Union Station complete with a steam locomotive and model railroad exhibit. Then, watch a live presentation beneath the brilliant stars of the Wetherbee Planetarium.
  3. Flint RiverQuariumGo down to the depths at the Flint RiverQuarium and Imagination Theatre, featuring a unique blue hole spring with more than 120 mysterious creatures. Don’t miss Moonshine the Albino alligator!
  4. Radium Springs Gardens, one of Georgia’s seven natural wonders, pours 70,000 gallons of water a minute into the nearby Flint River and wows with clear waters and a breathtaking landscape.
  5. At the newly renovated Albany Museum of Art, the AMAzing Space Gallery provides interactive learning through hands-on experiences for children of all ages, while the galleries showcase more than 2,100 original works of African, European and American art.
  6. Get a hands-on history lesson at the Albany Civil Rights Institute, which provides an interactive window into Albany, Ga.’s history of leadership in the fight for equality. Tip: Hear the Freedom Singers perform the second Saturday of every month.
  7. Walk the Greenways system and then picnic at Riverfront Park, featuring Turtle Grove Play Park and its Dino Dig, Tot Lot and fountain.
  8. Settle a bet on the 18-hole disc golf course at Albany’s Legacy Park.
  9. Bikers on RiverFront WalkStop by the Historic Bridge House/Albany Welcome Center and rent bikes to explore the area on two wheels.
  10. Hear Ray Charles play in the Plaza.
  11. Spend hours at the All American Fun Park with arcade, go-carts, bumper boats, miniature golf and cosmic bowling.

Albany satisfies with Southern dining at its best. Feast on local barbecue, have dinner and listen to music in one of Albany’s trendy downtown restaurants, dine elegantly in town or at a traditional quail hunting plantation. The icing on the cake: Albany has more than two dozen hotels, and many include complimentary breakfast and have the all-important swimming pool, among other amenities. www.VisitAlbanyGA.com

katieMom-on-the-go and Laurie Rowe Communications PR pro Katie Reeder graduated at the top of her class from the Calhoun Honors College at Clemson University with a degree in Communication Studies. Katie resides in Cumming, Georgia – between the beautiful mountains of North Georgia and the lights and action of nearby Atlanta.

Fan Photo Friday

Submit your Georgia photos for the chance to be featured:

Fort Mountain State Park in Chatsworth. Photo by Md Boles. Submitted via Facebook.

Fort Mountain State Park in Chatsworth. Photo by Md Boles. Submitted via Facebook.

Vogel State Park in Blairsville, Georgia. Photo by Sussman Imaging. Submitted via Flickr.

Vogel State Park in Blairsville, Georgia. Photo by Sussman Imaging. Submitted via Flickr.

Sunset at Chastain Park in Atlanta. Photo by @atl_organics. Submitted via Instagram.

Sunset at Chastain Park in Atlanta. Photo by @atl_organics. Submitted via Instagram.