Note: Before your visit to New Orleans and New Orleans City Park, check the current COVID restrictions and guidelines at the NOLA Ready website.
After the clock struck midnight this year, I wanted to do something different.
It was time to venture out into a new year.
Travel was definitely not in the books for me, and with schools and universities still closed for the holidays, everyone was at home and our options for entertainment within our 4 walls had started to repeat themselves.
In my state, COVID-19 cases were still on the rise at the start of the year, and health and safety was also paramount in choosing something to do that was outside of my family bubble.
When I started a search for safe, family-friendly activities, an event in New Orleans City Park peaked my interest.
It was something that I read about before and was curious about, but I never planned or took any steps to attend.
The event that peaked my interest is called Celebration in the Oaks.
Celebration in the Oaks is one of the largest holiday light displays in the United States. It is one of the largest fundraisers that benefits the maintenance, care, and beautification of New Orleans City Park.
The amazing experience that I enjoyed this year at the New Orleans Botanical Garden (which is a part of New Orleans City Park) was evidence that fundraisers are an integral part of continuing to provide the exceptional beauty found within the Botanical Garden and throughout City Park.
In previous years, the route was available for visitors to walk through New Orleans City Park and enjoy the lights.
Charities, businesses, and foundations around the world have had to pivot and think outside of the box to provide their services during the pandemic, and New Orleans City Park was no different.
It is said, “The show must go on,” and New Orleans City Park pivoted and made Celebration in the Oaks a driving tour.
This made me so happy! I could still see the beautiful lights with my family within the safe space of my vehicle.
There are over 1 million twinkling lights included for visitors to enjoy during the 2.25 mile driving tour.
Tickets are available online at the New Orleans City Park website, and booking a time slot was very easy.
Time slots are available in a 1 hour arrival window in which visitors are able to start a driving tour.
Prices are based on vehicle size and the categories available are:
- Sedans/SUVs (limit 8 guests/vehicle)
- Limos (limit 15 guests/vehicle)
- Sprinter Vans (limit 20 guests/vehicle)
There’s even pricing available for those who want to take the driving tour on a bike. One night a week during Celebration in the Oaks is reserved for Bike Nights.
After I completed the purchase of my ticket, email confirmation quickly followed. The email contained a QR code that can be added to Apple Pay or Google Pay.
It was exciting to begin 2021 with this new experience, and my mind was filled with thoughts of how much I was going to enjoy the evening with my family.
The email confirmation I received included the GPS address to use to access the entrance of the Celebration in the Oaks, and it was easy to find.
Two hours before the arrival window I chose at registration, I received a text message that contained my QR code that would be presented at the entrance. The message also included a link to my reservation.
Fifteen minutes before my arrival window, I received another text message that invited me to tune my car radio to an FM station playing holiday tunes during my driving tour.
I was impressed with the organization behind this event!
The entrance is clearly marked and after the QR code that I saved to my phone was scanned, I was given a credit card sized plastic card to keep on the driver’s side dashboard. The attendant at the entrance told us that the card needed to remain there until our vehicle exited the park.
A canopy of red and green lights welcomed us to the driving tour, and from that moment on, it was all about the lights.
Familiar iconic sights such as St. Louis Cathedral and the streetcars that travel up and down the streets of New Orleans delighted everyone in my family.
The whimsical displays are built on a grand scale and the colors are bold and bright.
While we drove through Celebration in the Oaks, my car radio was tuned to the Christmas music station that was recommended in the text message that I received prior to our arrival. The festive music in the background only added to the magical feeling of the holidays.
Santa waved goodbye to us as we neared the end of our driving tour.
Remember the plastic card that the attendant told us to keep on our car dashboard?
After you drive past the Santa Claus that appears to be 20 feet tall, you and your family won’t be disappointed that you followed those instructions.
I won’t spoil the surprise here. You’ll see it when you finish your tour.
As my car drew near to the exit of Celebration in the Oaks, there was one more surprise (that I can disclose) waiting for me and my family. A brightly lit Cafe Du Monde sign beckoned guests to stop for coffee and beignets before leaving New Orleans City Park, and we answered that call.
This location is very busy during Celebration in the Oaks, so be prepared to keep an eye out for taillights that signal that someone is leaving a parking space. We found a space close to the building and my kids hopped out of the car with our orders (and their phones, just in case our orders changed).
Seating is limited inside and outside of Cafe Du Monde, but there is an order window outside. Within a few minutes, the signature white Cafe Du Monde bags with the smell of freshly made beignets was inside my vehicle. It was a cold night, and I didn’t mind eating this treat in a warm car instead of inside the restaurant.
This was the perfect ending to a night of lights and holiday joy.
If your travels take you to New Orleans this holiday season, take the time to make Celebration in the Oaks a part of your visit. But hurry, the 2021 season will end on January 2, 2022.
Is there a spectacular holiday light display that you have seen in your town or during your travels that you’d recommend to others?
Tell me about it in the comments and spread the holiday cheer!