Staff Photo: John Bohn An automobile drives under the Snowflake tunnel while Christmas decorations are viewed by motorists during The Magical Nights of Lights at Lake Lanier Islands Resort.
BUFORD -- For almost two decades the annual Magical Nights of Lights at Lake Lanier Islands Resort has brightened the winter landscape and celebrated the holiday spirit. Mid-December to New Year's Day the resort features a seven-mile drive boasting millions of twinkling lights and carnivalesque attractions.
However, this year The Magical Nights of Lights offers new activities in addition to family favorites.
"This year we have taken a little different approach and we have created new promotions and interactive events for the guests," said Grier Todd, chief operating officer at Lake Lanier Islands Resort.
Among the new activities is the new Night Light Canopy Tours, a Big Screen Nativity Show and a Magical Nights of Lights Show Tent. Until Dec. 11 guests were also able to enjoy Coca-Cola's Holiday Caravan, which included 25,000 red and white sparkling lights.
For Jonathon Brownlee, a current Dacula resident, the Big Screen Nativity Show was the new addition that stood out.
"At the Nativity drive-in my family got out of the car and the kids sat in the back of the truck. We parked where they could see everything," Brownlee said. "We really enjoyed it and I liked that (Lake Lanier) incorporated that. To us that's what Christmas is -- it's all about Jesus."
The Night Light Canopy Tours, which are located adjacent to Holiday Village, allow guests to glide on one of four zip lines while pretending they are "a stealthy elf" making their way "from "Santa's sleigh to a series of rooftops." During the ride a scenic sky bridge provides a picturesque adventure.
For those guests who aren't bundled up enough for a treetop flight, one of the best additions is the Magical Nights of Lights Show Tent, according to Cheryl Baraban, a Gainesville resident and member of the Magical Nights of Lights entertainment crew.
"We have a new show 'I Can't Wait 'Til Christmas' that performs every other night between choirs and other groups coming in. It talks about Christmas traditions all over the world, as well as sings fun songs everyone can sing along to. It has characters people can laugh at," Baraban said.
Outside the Show Tent the Lake Lanier Islands' mascot "Bucky Beaver," Jingles the Christmas Elf or a strolling group of carolers greet newcomers. On special nights the big-band sounds of a local marching band welcome and entertain families.
These new activities are presented as a means of expanding the traditional favorites. As always, guests can continue to admire the seven-mile driving tour of twinkling light displays that represent holiday stories, including Santa's elves at work, the North Pole Express and "The Twelve Days of Christmas" song. Other sections of the drive illuminate The Wizard of Oz, Jack and the Beanstalk, Teddy Bear Land, the Animal Kingdom and Birds of Paradise.
Guests who stop at the Holiday Village will still encounter bonfires for roasting marshmallows, vendors selling hot cocoa, a petting zoo, carnival rides and games, holiday shopping and a chance to visit with Santa Claus. Hungry visitors can munch on boiled peanuts, roasted corn, turkey legs or bratwurst.
These traditions are what many families return for every year. As a child, Baraban remembers the "lights being huge." She reminiscences that she "couldn't even comprehend how big they were."
When Baraban reflects on her childhood The Magical Nights of Lights plays a part in many of her memories.
"My birthday is six days before Christmas and I always remember bringing my friends out. We would have a birthday party and get to ride all the carnival rides. It was a nice tradition for my family," Baraban said.
Brownlee, who recalls attending as a teen with his family, now similarly values the opportunity he gets to be with his wife and children at the Magical Nights of Lights.
"I find that this is where we can devote our time to each other and make it count for what it's really worth," Brownlee said.
As one of the Southeast's leading holiday destinations for families, The Magical Nights of Lights will offer it's array of festivities to the public until Jan. 1.