There are so many fun things to do in the area, especially at the holidays. We’ve compiled a comprehensive list of family-friendly holiday events in and around New Orleans. And just a short drive away, we highly recommend adding the Gulfport Harbor Lights Winter Festival to your family’s holiday calendar this year.
Worth The Drive Holiday Edition :: Gulfport Harbor Lights Winter Festival
Have you heard of the Gulfport Harbor Lights Winter Festival? Have you been? No?
We need to change that! This is by far my favorite holiday activity to do with my young children. From too little to walk to running full-speed ahead, no matter their ages, it has been a hit with our family each year!
Think Celebration in the Oaks, but way bigger, less crowded, more spread out, and cheaper. Tickets are $15.00 per person for general admission, $5.00 per person for ages 5-12, and children 4 and under are free! Tickets can be purchased in advance online at www.gulfportharborlights.com, or on-site. Tickets may be used ANY NIGHT of the festival, which runs from November 25th to December 31st.
This is a self-guided walking tour, and while there isn’t a driving tour option, a trolley ride is included in the price of admission (perfect for super cold nights), or opt for a festive ride on the train for $6.00 per person instead (this is open-air seating, great for those warmer evenings). Parking and — you’re not going to believe this — pictures with Santa Claus are FREE!
Waiting in line for pictures with Santa can be lengthy (opening night was thirty minutes), but pictures take place indoors in Santa’s Village, where there are tons of free activities for the littles, and plenty of coffee and snacks available to purchase for the grown-ups. There are also small local shop setups in case you have some holiday shopping to do!
But, let’s get to the best part: THE LIGHTS. You and your kiddos get to have an up close and personal view of the absolutely gigantic displays spread throughout the entire park. Dragons, mermaids, fish, beautifully crafted arches and tunnels you can walk through…the magic never ends. However, I think it goes without saying what really steals the show are the towering, “dancing” Christmas trees!
While the park is full of wide sidewalks (no mud! handicap access! stroller friendly!) where you can admire the lights, if your children (or…ahem…you) are the dancing type, then feel free to march right up to barricade in the center of the grassy field and sing your heart out to holiday classics like “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” “White Christmas,” “Jingle Bell Rock,” and the like. The trees’ lights constantly change color and design with the beat of every song, which is mesmerizing for both kids and adults alike. Everyone will get into the holiday spirit (and wear themselves out) dancing with the trees!
If you need more than lights and Santa to convince you to make the less-than-an-hour-and-a-half-drive, I got you. Just beyond the lights, you’ll find a mini-carnival, complete with a Ferris wheel, spinning strawberries, and similar rides, for $3.00 to $6.00 per ticket (cash or card accepted). The smell of funnel cakes, gourmet popcorn, and hot chocolate is guaranteed to make you want to eat a snack at one of the many picnic tables and enjoy the “snow” drifting through the air. And of course, wine and beer are also available for those who prefer something slightly warmer to drink!
There are two parking options: park for free at the event itself, which requires walking a good distance through grassy/muddy areas, or park for free across the street at the CTA parking garage, where a shuttle transports guests to the festival every 15 to 30 minutes.
I suggest wearing boots for wet, muddy days, but if you plan on staying on the sidewalk or taking the trolley or train, then this really isn’t necessary. While there are portable restroom trailers available on-site, going to the bathroom before you arrive is advised, as it is quite the walk depending on where you are on your tour. If you have a wagon or a stroller, bring it! Little legs will get tired easily on this trip. There are plenty of warming stations, tables, benches, and covered areas to stop and take breaks, or to just sit and admire the light show!
The entire walking tour, including a stop at Santa’s Village and a walk-through of the carnival, took about an hour and a half for my family. However, we opted out of the carnival rides and waiting in line for Santa pictures this trip, and instead spent most of our time dancing with the lights! Next trip though (and there will be a next trip), we are devoting time to Santa and the Ferris wheel!
If there’s only one holiday activity you do this Christmas season, let it be the Gulfport Harbor Lights Winter Festival. You’ll be back, I promise!
Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas!