There is no Christmas tree in my house. In fact, over the last 13 years, there has only been one tree, from the year my husband’s family visited for Christmas. For a long time, I was the opposite of the little girl Jessica in the 1989 film “Prancer,” who loves Christmas so much she listens to holiday music all year round.
So why was I at Lumaze last weekend? Two words: my kid. She’s making this Grinch heart grow three sizes. Too young to really help with baking cookies, and thankfully too young to care about presents or elves on shelves or me having to concoct some ridiculous lie about a strange man invading our home with gifts, but just old enough for me to want to run around a convention center staring at pretty lights while she shrieks with delight.
What is Lumaze? According to the website, it is a “family-friendly indoor wonderland” with interactive lights and illuminated structures. Think of it like Enchant. Except indoors. Without a skating rink, or carolers. Also, less expensive! And with a large kids area! Plus, it’s wheelchair-friendly.
Did I ever go full Amy Wong and exclaim “I BLEEPING LOVE THIS!” at any point? Erm, no. But there were some highlights.
You can see for yourself through Jan. 4, 2020.
Lumaze is located at the Smith Cove Cruise Terminal at Pier 91. There is only one parking lot, charging $15, with two shuttles running continuously to and from the venue. The event recommends using ride-hailing apps or taking public transportation — there are a handful of bus lines that stop at Pier 91.
Tickets run $19.99 for adults, $14.99 for kids ages 4-12, and $14.99 for seniors 65 and older. There are special rates for military members and first responders ($14.99) and a family package that covers two adults and three children for $65.99.
The entire event is indoors. There is no coat check or place to drop a car seat or stroller, and it gets warm inside, so unless you want to haul around your coat, don’t bring it — a direct juxtaposition to the Lumaze ads showing three people bundled up in scarves, hats and jackets. There is absolutely no reason for this. Again, the event is entirely indoors and away from even the slightest hint of snow, sleet or rain. There are also tents at the shuttle pickups.
We arrived on a Saturday just before 5 p.m. We had to wait for a second shuttle, as the first was full, so I was expecting a huge crowd, but was pleasantly surprised to find the venue is large enough to feel roomy, even if there are hundreds in attendance. Right when you walk in, there is a train running on a small track to the left, just for kids. Adults are encouraged to sit on the sidelines instead of getting on the train — so keep that in mind when you think of the appropriate age for your child to ride alone. A massive tree of lights anchors the center, and on the right of the main floor is a stage, presumably for live music (we didn’t hear or see any while we were there) and a bar.
The main floor
Head in on the main floor through a tunnel of lights and you’ll reach the children’s play area, Santa, the vendor market and the concessions area. You can’t miss it, as the scent of fryer oil is so intense, you’ll smell of it after leaving.
The kid’s area has a large play structure, some lighted teeter-totters, a large Lite-Brite board and a corral of bouncy unicorns for kids to ride. There’s also a line of adult-sized lighted swings that are perfect Instagram bait. We saw a few Disney Princesses running around, too.
Like Enchant, Lumaze has a vendor market – although it’s not totally Christmas themed. You can buy everything from jerky and lightsabers to ornaments and Christmas pajamas for the entire family, while also getting a quote from Anderson Windows or signing up for an Imperfect Foods box or a dairy delivery from Smith Brothers Farms.
At the rear of the vendor market there is a Santa — and the great part is it’s free to take a picture with him because you’re using your own camera or phone. When we were there, the longest the line got was three kids.
Food and drinks
Given the sheer amount of poutine available in the concession area, I was convinced Lumaze originated in Canada. (It is, indeed, Canadian;this is the first year the festival has come to cities in the U.S.) Most of the food trucks resemble stands that are trucked in at county fairs: there’s poutine, fried chicken, mini doughnuts, acai bowls, panini and some Asian noodles.
If you’re looking for a sparkly, blinking lightbulb drink — don’t worry — they’ve got you covered. Of course we got one and of course it was as underwhelming as I figured it would be. It’s a punch? I think? Allegedly with vodka? All I know for sure is that it was $17.
The light garden
The largest attraction is the light garden, which is up the escalators on the second floor. However, there are two elevators to serve those with strollers, wheelchairs or walkers. The aisles in the garden are also wide enough to easily accommodate strollers or wheelchairs. The entire floor is covered in green AstroTurf. I’m sure there’s a reason behind it, but it doesn’t add to the precious little ambiance there is at Lumaze. The lights are bright and the displays are large, but there is absolutely no way to hide the fact that you’re inside a convention center. There is no open night sky — and did I mention it’s hot and a little stuffy?
There’s also a game where you find Santa’s gifts “hidden” throughout the garden and get a stamp for each one found. A prize candy cane awaits you at the end.
Highlights included an icicle cavern, featuring hundreds of strands of lights hanging from the ceiling, and a hopscotch area with lighted LED plastic pods that change colors when you hop on them. Watching your kids (or even your significant other) hopping on the pods is adorable, and the icicle cavern is just about the only magical thing in the entire maze.
Is there also a beleaguered Lumaze employee following people around the icicle cavern, untangling the bulbs while muttering “does no one have any regard for the lights?” I’m sad to report: Yes, there is.
Overall, there’s just no getting away from the fact that Lumaze is 100% manufactured. Did I love walking through the icicle cavern with my kid and watching her hop on those little hopscotch pods? Sure. But when it comes to making future holiday memories, I’ll probably opt for something that feels more organic to our family.
Lumaze: Smith Cove Cruise Terminal at Pier 91, 2001 W. Garfield Way; lumazelights.com