A few days before Thanksgiving, Rich and I went up to Callaway Gardens. Callaway Gardens is about an hour south of Atlanta, which is a seven hour drive from Orlando. Each year they decorate the gardens with wonderful Christmas lights and music, called their “Fantasy in Lights” celebration. It’s so much fun! This was our second year to visit the lights. We went before Thanksgiving to enjoy fewer crowds, and we lucked out and happened to visit during the March of Dimes walk, the one night a year when you can walk through the lights.
Let me try to describe these amazing lights. There are 8,000,000 of them in 12 lighted scenes that span over 5 miles of the woods. Each scene has a theme with coordinated music. It’s wonderful!
You start your trip through the lights with a walk down Christmas Tree lane. Trees of various colors line the road. On most nights, you either drive through the lights in your car, or you take a trolley–um, sleigh, driven by a reindeer called Snowflake.
The next scene is one of the original scenes from the first Fantasy in Lights in 1992. It’s called the March of the Toy Soldiers. The path is lined with toy soldiers, including 18-feet tall ones. Then you proceed through a series of toys, including rocking horses that actually rock back and forth.
Then you come across the Woodland Animals. The first is an owl that hoots at you as it flies across the path. Squirrels run up and down trees, raccoons peek out at you, a frog that jumps into the pond, and they saved the best for last – a group of turtles said hello to Rich! Last time we visited there was just one turtle. This year there were three! Happy Rich!!
The next scene is the newest, and one of my favorites. It deals with the change of seasons in the garden. You see the flowers of spring, pretty in pink and blue and yellow. Happy music sings. Then Jack Frost appears, the music turns cold, and icicles cover the garden. But not to worry, after a minute the springtime fairies come out, and they help the springtime flowers come back! The scene repeats as you move through the woods. It’s so pretty. One of the little girls in our “sleigh” yelled out “Tinkerbell!” every time she saw a fairy. How cute.
Snowflake then drives you through the gardens lit with butterflies and fireflies. There is so much detail in each exhibit, and each is more beautiful than the last.
My favorite scene is the Winter Wonderland. You enter a wood covered in large snowflakes. Lights hang from all the trees, stretching for as far as you can see. It’s beautiful!! It was so incredible to walk through it during the March of Dimes walk. I was the only one that I saw with a tripod, and most people thought I was crazy to carry a tripod for a five-mile hike. But I only had one camera body and a little ball head instead of my Beast and big gimbal head. It was light!! The tripod let me use slower shutter speeds to better capture the beauty of the lights.
From the wonderland you proceed into the Winter Garden, filled with poinsettias and holly and Christmas plants. This is the big archway that spans the pathway as you enter the scene.
One of the last scenes is Swan Lake, where a swan mother and her four babies swim across the pond. Their reflections are perfect in the lake.
If you go, here are some tips…
- Learn to use your camera before you go – if you put it in “auto” mode, it will try to use the flash. All that does is annoy the people around you!
- Try to schedule your visit for the March of Dimes walk. Wear comfortable shoes and enjoy the scenes. Try to drive through it the night before to scope out photo ops. Then start the walk in the latest time slot, to minimize the number of people in your shots.
- If you stay at the Mountain Creek Inn, there’s a shuttle that you can take so that you don’t have to park in the thousands of cars at the lights entrance. But double-check that it runs each night that you are staying. On our last night, we were told the shuttle would run, but it didn’t. We arrived late at the lights and ended up catching the very last trolley.
Want to learn more about nature photography at Callaway Gardens?
Check out my Callaway Gardens page with more information about the location, map, website, photography tips, etc. It is archived by date so you can see my images from previous visits. Maybe you'll be inspired for your own trip!
Planning a trip to Florida? Don't miss my Central Florida Bird Photography Locations reference guide!