Review of the Bull Run Festival of Lights

It's that time of year again — The Bull Run Festival of Lights in Centreville, Virginia. For over twelve years, Bull Run Regional Park has turned into a sparkling light display after dark. Visitors arrive by the carload to enjoy the 2.5 mile drive through the park which is lit up by over 80,000 animated LED in seasonal displays. The lights travel on arches over the road to create an interactive feel to the drive. With the headlights off and moving at less than 10 miles per hour, the effect can be magical. It is a wonderful way to get into the holiday spirit.

The displays are inspired by children's stories (Jack and the Beanstalk, Hansel and Gretel), winter symbols (Old Man Winter, skating penguins) and non-religious Christmas scenes (Santa, the Twelve Days of Christmas). The Our Kids Review Team burst into song as we passed under the Babes in Toyland arch, and past the Wizard of Oz series. The older members of the team commented on the complementary nature of the Toy Soldiers with popguns being displayed near the shooting range and the younger team members loved how the cannon ball from the soldier's toy cannon seemed to jump over our car. The adults appreciated the quiet beauty of the twinkling snowflake arches and the simple "covered bridge of lights"; the younger team members stayed focused on finding Rudolph. We were all a bit surprised, however, when there appeared to be one missing reindeer from the final Santa vignette â€" speculating on whether Santa and Mrs. Claus may be enjoying venison for Christmas dinner, but were happy to sing loudly in his honor.

At the end of the nearly 20 minute drive through the light display, there is the Holiday Village with rides, games and concessions. Our 9 and 12 year olds had a blast riding the carnival rides such as The Lollipop Swing and spinning on the Scrambler, while the 5 and the 3 year old had fun in Jungle Mania and "driving" stationary vehicles such as a purple Mustang convertible, a Fire truck and a pink Jeep on a rotating ride. The big draw for all ages was the Ferris Wheel which was off-putting at first because it looked like rotated faster than it actually did. The adult member of the review team who accompanied the 3 year old and 5 year old said it was surprisingly peaceful and relaxing and there were no complaints from the children.

The prices at the Holiday Village were considered by most of the adults on the review team to be too expensive. The holdout likened them to prices at a AAA baseball game: Funnel Cakes: $5.00; Pizza: $3.00/slice; Canned Soda: $1.50; Hot Dogs with Fries and Soda: $6.00; Hot Chocolate: $3.00 for a large; $2.00 for a small.

Ride tickets, called "Coupons," cost $1.25 each or could be bought in bulk for a discount, 50 coupons for $40.00 or 30 coupons for $27.00. There is also an All-You-Can-Ride wristband which can be purchased for $16.00 but given that there were only about 7 different rides (one of which was closed) we did not think this was the most cost-effective choice. (Click here for coupons for the Carnival.) The rides generally cost three or four coupons per person. The Ferris Wheel was five coupons per person for an approximate seven minute ride. If a child was too short for the height restriction (42" for the Ferris Wheel), they were allowed to ride with an accompanying adult who did not have to pay for the ride. The games themselves such as Lucky Duck and Balloon Pop generally cost $2.00 for one try and $5.00 for three tries; our 9 year old reported that the Shooting Gallery cost $3.00 for 100 bbs. The prizes awarded seemed of typical carnival quality.

Unfortunately for us, this year's new feature, Santa's Enchanted Lights was either closed or not well marked the opening Friday night that we visited. From the website, it appears this is a walking area near the Holiday Village with over 40,000 animated lights set to music. Santa's Holiday Village with souvenirs and the chance to take a photo with Santa were not open, although there was an area with beautiful lit-up evergreen trees. Head to Santa's Holiday Village Friday to Sunday, December 3 to 19, 2010 plus Monday, December 20th from 5:30 to 10pm.

A few suggestions

  • It is not clear if there are bathrooms available for emergency stops during the 20+ minute drive through the lights. There are perfectly adequate bathrooms in a semi-permanent trailer at the Holiday Village between the parking lot and the Carnival.
  • Even if you are not planning to go the Carnival area, make sure you bring hats, gloves and coats for the little ones. To get out of the park after the holiday lights, you have to drive by the Carnival area with the ever-beckoning Ferris Wheel â€" it may just be too compelling to miss.

In short â€" the Bull Run Festival of Lights is an enjoyable way to get into the holiday spirit. The Carnival is not necessary but it was a fun, though not inexpensive, way to top off a visit.

Trip Planner
The Bull Run Festival of Lights will continue daily through Sunday, January 9, 2011. The Holiday Village is open on weekends and holidays. Visit their website to find a coupon for $3 off admission, good Monday to Friday; excluding holidays. NVRPA recommends taking advantage of this weekday discount to avoid long backups on the busier weekends.
 

Days/Dates

Times

Admission

Holiday Village

Monday to Thursday

5:30 to 9:30pm

$15 cars/vans (1-14 people); $25 van (15-34 people); $50 bus (35+ people)

Closed with the exception of Monday, December 20, 2010

Friday to Sunday & Holidays

5:30 to 10pm

$20 cars/vans (1-14 people); $30 van (15-34 people); $55 bus (35+ people)