Sunday, November 01, 2009

Coastal Christmas

Get in the holiday spirit with a trip to Virginia Beach

            What makes your holidays magical?

            If it’s the colorful, twinkling lights that awaken your spirit, plan a visit to Virginia Beach in December and cruise the boardwalk’s Holiday of Lights at the Beach. Particularly appealing for Smith Mountain Lake lovers is the fact that it’s a nautical-themed show stretching two miles along the oceanfront.

            This is the only time of the year cars are invited to drive on the boardwalk to enjoy the "Fanta- Sea." The elaborate and often animated displays, some 20 feet tall, include more than 450,000 lights outlining jumping dolphins, beach-clad Santas, decorated boats and colorful fish.

            "It’s just the most beautiful display of lights from one end of the boardwalk to the other," said Steve Proctor of Moneta. He and his wife, Mary Jane, honeymooned there over the holidays in 2001.

            "They give you a CD to play in the car describing the unique features of the displays with Christmas music playing in the background," Proctor added.

            The event is open daily in December from 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m.; admission is $12 per car.

            Although signs of Christmas begin appearing in late November, the official start of the season is the city’s Holiday Parade at the Beach on Dec. 5. Along with thousands of parade-watchers, there are dozens of marching bands, decorated floats, school children, dance troupes, organizations and numerous other groups that come together to share the excitement of the season. Of course, Santa makes an appearance.

            You can see more of Santa’s toy extravaganza nearby at Hunt Club Farm’s "Magical Forest Toyland." Just 10 minutes from the beach, the farm invites visitors to browse its Winter Wonderland Christmas Barn filled with hundreds of animated animals and elves preparing for the holidays. Children are challenged to wander a "light maze" while parents shop for country holiday items, handmade fresh wreaths, gift baskets and other treats.

            If you prefer a gentler, musical holiday celebration, schedule your visit to include one of the performances at the Sandler Center for the Performing Arts. Adjacent to the Westin Hotel in the center of downtown, the Sandler Center will feature the American Boychoir on Dec. 7 and Symphonicity, the Symphony Orchestra of Virginia Beach’s 27th Annual Sing Along, on Dec. 23.

            The Proctors also strongly recommended a trip to the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center. Housing the state’s largest aquarium, the center includes two buildings featuring marine habitats, 700,000 gallons of aquariums, "touch tanks" and 300 hands-on exhibits.

            For a truly memorable experience, reserve a spot on one of the center’s two-hour whale-watching boat trips. From late December through mid-March, humpback and fin whales migrate off the coast of Virginia Beach. Seeing these magnificent creatures – weighing up to 70 tons, reaching lengths of 85 feet and traveling at speeds up to 25 mph – is an awesome reminder of the magical mysteries in the ocean waters.

            If you’re looking for more holiday magic, head out for what’s known as Virginia’s 100 Miles of Lights. In addition to the events in Virginia Beach, the 100 Miles of Lights features drive-through light shows and holiday activities in Richmond, Williamsburg, Newport News, Hampton, Norfolk and Portsmouth.

            In Newport News, Virginia’s oldest drive-through light show, Celebration in Lights, features 700,000 lights in more than 200 displays. Richmond celebrates with its GardenFest of Lights in botanical themes throughout the Lewis Ginter Gardens. Williamsburg features a Colonial Christmas celebration while Portsmouth enjoys its traditional Olde Towne Scottish Walk Christmas festivities.


Closer to home
            Lake residents can enjoy the annual Christmas light display at the Elks National Home in Bedford,a tradition since 1953. A lighting ceremony will take place Dec. 11 at 5 p.m.The display, which features approximately 50,000 lights and is enjoyed by driving through the grounds, is open each evening through New Year’s Eve from 5:30 to 10.