I should preface this post by stating that this is the first time in twenty-five years I haven’t spent at least a week at Walt Disney World before Christmas. So right off the bat, much of my idea of “magical holiday” is right out the window…but that being said, here’s a look around what’s happening in the Detroit area…
The Lights Before Christmas at the Toledo Zoo — always a highlight of the holiday season, the lights at the Toledo Zoo are ablaze nightly and they are as pretty as ever. There’s the giant tree, the dancing lights (two locations this year!), and the beautiful bent-metal moving animal tableaux lights. What there isn’t is anything Christmasy beyond that. Oh, they have some food stands near the old mammals building, but no interior food or dining. There are no special holiday menus, and there is no strolling and sipping on hot chocolate. The Pizza stand near the wolves is open and had a big line. There’s also no trainride, or quite frankly almost anything in the entire Africa area – though the carousel is open and some nights (it was closed on my night) there is a model train display you can look at through windows. But most surprisingly, what has always made the Lights Before Christmas at the Toledo Zoo so special has been that all the animal displays have been open and you could go see them while you were also checking out the lights. Not so this year. WIth the exception of a few displays almost all the animals were tucked away for safe keeping in their warm homes with empty displays — I’d estimate 85% of the animals are off limits this year. It’s the most unmagical experience I’ve had at this event. Masks are required everywhere at the event under all circumstances (not a requirement except indoors and where you can’t physically distance on normal zoo days). I found about 90% of the visitors were following the mask rules once they were actually inside the park.
The Detroit Zoo Lights makes no qualms about not having their animal displays open. In fact, the lights only fill the far east side of the park near the entrances and anything beyond there is off limits anyway. The same lack of Christmas spirit is apparent at the Detroit Zoo, but the lights are glorious. They have beautiful displays, artistically arranged, and the colors! The worst part about this experience is the parking. Unless you are in the earliest group (and you won’t be seeing any lights unless you can stand sitting around until at least 5:00) the parking will be as far away from the entrance as the actual scope of the zoo lights. Masks are required everywhere. Nobody wore masks until they were entering the queue lines but inside I found that almost all of the visitors were wearing their masks. The Detroit Zoo Lights has always been a beautiful event, and I didn’t expect to find much Christmas spirit here beyond that, and that is exactly what I did not find.
Holiday Nights at Greenfield Village. Outside of Walt Disney World, the Greenfield Village Christmas evenings have always been my favorite holiday event anywhere. With it’s clip-clopping of horse hooves as they give “sleigh rides” and the carolers, and the model-T Ford cars beep beeping their way around the village with guests, and chestnuts roasting on open fires, and the ice skating pond, and the shows and attractions, and the ability to go inside the houses and see the beautiful Americana historical Christmas displays, and of course, that amazing Christmas Dinner in the Eagle Tavern on a cold, snowy night. So — now imagine an event where there were a few masked-up carolers kind of keeping their distance from everyone, no skating rink, no horses or cars or sounds of the holidays except piped-in music here and there, no shows or attractions, no dinner at Eagle Tavern, and the only way to see the decorations in the houses was to look in the windows or doors – no entrance permitted. Santa did make his appearance atop the Robert Frost house, but it wasn’t the real Santa. This was one of the most miserable freezing cold evenings I’ve spent in the Village. Oh the people were amazing — from the ticket takers to the masked-up docents trying to explain what each house had inside! That you couldn’t go in! Small clumps of family visitors mostly wore their masks, but there were a lot of people not wearing their masks in between further spread-out things to see as they made their frozen way around the Village. I managed to make it an hour before I called it a day. There is food in the Taste of History building and some scattered booths. And as usual, there is a greenery shop for outlandishly overpriced wreaths. They were selling like hotcakes though. One plus: the gift shop is open for holiday shopping and there are some really unique lovely items there. I have to say that I have yet to find a mask or noseclip that works that keeps my eyeglasses from completely steaming over – so when I do an outdoor event I have my choice of taking my eyeglasses off every couple minutes to let them unsteam, or putting them in my pocket and going blind and getting a migraine after half an hour.
MIS Christmas lights — this is brilliant! I packed up the dog and we went for a ride to see the lights at the Michigan International Speedway. You enter from Michigan Avenue, and there are no reservations so the line to get in was longer than the actual drive through the attraction. As a single driver with dog, it was impossible to stop or slow the car to take a single photo, or the hillbilly in the F350 behind me would have probably rammed right into me. And as a single driver, my experience was basically drive and look at what is straight in front of you, sometimes blocked by the rear lights of the car ahead of me. But the lights are gorgeous, and this event makes no pretense that you are going to do anything but drive and look at lights. Its similar to the Wayne County light display, without the pretty park you drive through but with a lot more lights — in fact, you could probably see this from the space station it’s that big and there are that many lights. I kept thinking how much nicer it would have been if it wasn’t in a parking lot at Michigan International Speedway — but the lights are gorgeous and its well worth the drive out some evening. You can get your own hot chocolate or beverages at the McDonalds in Clinton on your way down Michigan Ave, and since you are in your own car, no worry about masks here — though the employees also didn’t seem to worry about masks. Most wore them around their necks to pull up in case they were spotted by authorities. But it doesn’t matter here, you are in your own closed window car. If you open your windows for some fresh air, you’ll get a great whiff of the exhaust from the 1998 mini-van in front of you.
As to Walt Disney World — I had made reservations to go for a weekend just before Thanksgiving. Delta cancelled my flight back on Sunday night and the next available seat was on Thursday. Yes — four days until they could find a seat to accomodate me and the 130 other passengers all looking for return seats on already sold-out flights. All I have to say is, good luck flyers when the winter weather cancellations start to roll in. I’m avoiding flying at all costs until the spring.
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