by Jonah Holland, PR & Marketing Coordinator, Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden
Children can visit with Santa during “Santa sightings” on Merry Mondays at Dominion GardenFest of Lights through December 22, 2014.
Dominion GardenFest of Lights is a wonderful family event. If you are a parent, you know any family event can be made even better with a few tips or tricks. So that’s why we’ve put together these 8 tips for visiting GardenFest with kids. If you have your own tips, be sure to add them in the comments for others!
1. A great way to prepare kids for a visit is to show them photos of some of the lights before they come so they know what to look forward to.
Gooey s’mores by the bonfire! photo by Scott Elmquist
Even older kids love Dominion GardenFest of Lights. Great place to take your big brother. Photo by Patricia Cancro
Also, this will give them a chance to get excited. You can see some great photos of past year’s GardenFest on our slideshow. For photos of this year’s show, you can follow along on our social media channels including Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and our blog. To see other visitor’s photos you can search the #GardenFest hashtag on Instagram or Twitter.
2. Did you know that your children can visit with Santa at the Garden? Why go to the mall when you can see Santa at the in the Conservatory? Merry Mondays means “Santa sightings” in the Conservatory (Mondays, 6 – 8 p.m. through Dec. 22). We welcome parents to take photos and kids can even take a moment to share their Christmas list with him. Plus, enjoy storytime fireside with Garden Keeper & visits from Butterfly Fairy in the Library Reading Room too. Also, don’t forget to see the doll house display.
If it’s a cold night be sure to take a break in the Library warm up by the fire in the reading room. There will be a doll house display and even one doll house kids can play with. Photo by Patricia Cancro.
Roasting marshmallows over the bonfire. Photo by Scott Elmquist
3. If you are bringing small children you may want to bring a stroller because there’s a bit of walking involved. We also have a limited number of Baby Jogger strollers available on a first-come, first-served basis.
The Children’s Garden is always fun! Photo by Patricia Cancro
4. Since much of the show is outdoors, it’s also a good idea to dress children according to the weather. Layers are always a good choice! If it’s cold, hats and mittens are great at keeping the heat in. If you forget yours, our Bling Shop in the Children’s Garden always has extra, and it’s a fun place to explore. The Bling Shop is open Nov. 28-29, 5-9:30 p.m. and December 1-3, 5-6, 12-23, 26-31 from 5-9:30 p.m. You’ll also find these same items in our Garden Shop, which is open nightly, ’til 10 p.m. If it’s snowing or icy out, be sure to check LewisGinter.org or Facebook for weather-related updates and cancellations.
5. Come early! You can come as early as 4:30 p.m., twilight is a magical time at the Garden and a great time to snap photos of the lights before the darkest part of the night. Train displays in the Conservatory and Kelly Education Center open at 4 p.m. Visitation tends to peak between 5:30 – 8:30 p.m., so by arriving early (4:30 p.m.) or later (after 8:30 p.m.), you’ll avoid the crowds and parking will be easier too. Please remember we are closed Dec. 24 & 25.) GardenFest of Lights runs til Jan. 12. Tip: The number of visitors increases as we get closer to Dec. 25, especially once local schools get out. As you’d imagine, visitation is usually greater on the weekends and is also highly weather dependent.
Gooey s’mores by the bonfire. Photo by Patricia Cancro
6. There is a kid-friendly menu in the Garden Cafe plus kids eat free on Monday nights (one free kid’s meal (under 12 years old) with a minimum adult purchase of $9.) Check out the other Garden Cafe’ specials too! The Robins Tea House has a great children’s menu (5-8 p.m.) plus light bites and desert . Both spaces are beautiful, newly renovated in 2014! What a great way to make this a memorable night for your children. Enjoy fresh-baked cookies and a vanilla milkshake, a flourless chocolate torte, cappuccino crème brulee, pumpkin beignets tossed in cinnamon sugar, or hazelnut butter cake topped with a sea salt caramel sauce. Sound tempting? You may want to check out the full dinner menu. Extra Tip: reservations are helpful, but not required. Call (804) 262-9887 x399)
Kids playing with the interactive train exhibit in the Kelly Education Center.
7. Children especially enjoy the train displays — we have two! — one in the Kelly Education Center and one in the Conservatory. The one in the Kelly Education Center is interactive (we see kids spend hours here). The one in the North Wing of the Conservatory is exquisitely handcrafted by our staff: a snow-dusted city in miniature
features historic Richmond landmarks—such as Old City Hall, c. 1894; The Jefferson hotel and Lakeside Wheel Club, c. 1895; and Main Street Station, c. 1901—while late-19th-century trolley cars and G gauge toy trains travel to and fro.
8. Don’t miss the Children’s Garden. Some of our most lively and crazy lights are located here. This is also where you’ll find the bonfire (think s’mores!) and the wheelchair-accessible Tree House your whole family can “climb”. The view from the top of the Tree House is one the kids will not forget! Sparkling lights for as far as the eye can see. Plus, hot drinks, cookies, s’mores and more are available for purchase from Espresso-A-Go-Go in the Children’s Garden. Extra tip: NEW this year, the “kid favorite” maze has moved to the Anderson Meadow across Lake Sydnor. It’s bigger than ever this year!
Conservatory during Dominion GardenFest of Lights. One of the most magical times is early – right before sunset.