After Thanksgiving Day, it’s time to celebrate the holiday season, and one way to do that is at Westchester’s Winter Wonderland Drive-thru Holiday Light Extravaganza at Kensico Dam Plaza in Valhalla.
This is the eighth year the festival has taken place but just the second time the county is hosting the 1.2-mile drive-thru route, which was devised last year as a way for residents to safely celebrate the season while observing COVID-19 precautions.
This year, the myriad displays feature dramatic lights, including the new Elf Discos and Expanded Snowstorm Central.
Joe Stout, executive director of the Westchester Parks Foundation, the organization dedicated to promoting and supporting Westchester County Parks, said 35,000 tickets were sold and at least 125,000 people visited last year.
The drive-thru is more affordable for families, Stout said. It is likely that the foundation will stay with the drive-through lights festival going forward, he said.
“The (drive-thru) festival is so inexpensive for families who are now charged by the car,” Stout said. “It used to cost $25 a person, now it costs $25 a car.”
The Winter Wonderland light show starts this Friday at 6 p.m. and runs for five consecutive weeks to Jan. 2. The event will be open seven nights a week starting at 6 p.m. on weekday evenings and 5 p.m. on weekends. End times vary per night and reservations, which are scheduled at 15-minute intervals, are required to avoid additional surcharges. Accompanying holiday classics will be broadcast on FM radio for visitors to listen to while completing the route.
Construction for the festival started in early October.
“It took seven weeks to get it all built, programmed and tested to make sure it all works,” said Stout. “I’m sure we will be running another test right before we open.”
Stout said hundreds of thousands of LED holiday lights are used for the elaborate and mesmerizing displays. Because room isn’t needed for parking, there is more space to accommodate additional displays, which also include a Peace on Earth LED display with animated trumpets and angels and two new 30-foot snowflakes to help illuminate the 40-foot Christmas tree, considered the largest in Westchester.
“We are using a lot less electricity than we used to,” said Stout, comparing the drive-through to the original festival that included rides, food, entertainment ice skating and more. “Ninety-five percent of the lights are LED bulbs. In previous years there was a big circus tent that was heated with electricity and an ice-skating rink that ran all day, which also used a lot of electricity.”
On opening night this Friday, a child who is a patient at Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital and her family will be joined by Santa in an open convertible as the ceremonial first ride to drop him off at his workshop, where he can be seen throughout the entire festival.
Stout said the 15-minute time slots are already being reserved. Cars arriving for the earliest time slots usually take 20 to 25 minutes to complete the loop. More cars usually arrive later, which means waiting longer to enter the festival, which can take up to 45 minutes from start to finish.
Tickets are $25 for Monday through Thursday and $35 on the weekend. It will be closed on Dec. 24 and 25.
The founding sponsor of the event is Westchester Medical Center Health Network. Con Edison is returning as a platinum sponsor.
Reservations can be made at https://www.showclix.com/event/wwinterwonderland.
Complete information is available at https://www.wwinterwonderland.com.
Kensico Dam Plaza is located at 1 Bronx River Parkway in Valhalla.
Abby is a local journalist who has reported on breaking news for more than 20 years. She currently covers community issues in The Examiner as a full-time reporter and has written for the paper since its inception in 2007. Read more from Abby’s editor-author bio here. Read Abbys’s archived work here: https://www.theexaminernews.com/author/ab-lub2019/