Kennywood turns on ‘Holiday Lights’
Published: Monday, December 5, 2011
Updated: Tuesday, September 24, 2013 10:09
When Adam Napotnik, 15, walked into Kennywood Park on Friday with his mother Tina, all he was expecting a few lights here and there, and maybe a few extra displays along the midway.
"I was very excited but really wasn't expecting anything special, but I was pleasantly surprised to see all the great light displays and the other great attractions," Napotnik said in a phone interview.
Friday, Dec. 2, marked the opening night of the first annual Kennywood's Holiday Lights event. The West Mifflin amusement park has been transformed from a local summer hot spot to a glittering winter wonderland with millions of lights scattered throughout the park as well as a collection of fun activities for people of all ages. These include but are not limited to various local groups serenading park-goers with carols, cookie decorating, miniature train models and photographs with Santa Claus on the station platform of the Racer rollercoaster.
Kennywood's director of public relations, Jeff Filicko, said that with the millions of lights strung throughout the park and trees, the event took several weeks of man power to have ready in time for opening night.
"We actually started setting up our lights during Phantom Fright Nights," Filicko said in an interview at the park on Friday. "As soon as the Fright Nights began we started hanging lights in the trees where they couldn't be seen during the Halloween events."
Filicko also said the holiday festivities have been many years in the planning stages, taking inspiration from other parks that host similar events
"This is actually something we've thought about for a very long time," Filicko said. "It's always something that we had joked about in the off season with the folks who work here and get to see the park in the winter, and it's only been in recent years that we've actually started to give it serious thought."
In addition to the holiday attractions at the park, a small handful of rides have been opened to the public, as well. They include the Carousel, the Kangaroo, the Paratrooper and the Auto Race. The Olde Kennywood Railroad has also been decked out with candy-themed lights and gingerbread decorations along its course and has been renamed the Gingerbread Express for the holidays. A selection of rides in the park's Kiddleland are also open.
"A lot of the rides we had to take into account the weather and mechanically how they work," Filicko said. "It depends how they'll run under what conditions. These rides … we're confident that they can run safely in the cold and even in rain or snow.
When walking from ride to ride, guests may notice the nativity scene glittering next to the Carousel, the menorah next to the dancing fountains as well as the traditional Christmas music playing throughout the park. Despite some talk about whether the park's holiday event would be deemed as "politically correct" by some people, Filicko insists that the purpose of the event is for fun and not political debates.
"When you come to Kennywood you need to set all that aside, have a good time and just enjoy the environment just as it is," Filicko said.
Filicko went on to say that the plan, pending this year's success, is for the event to grow and prosper into an annual tradition.
"We take it year by year," Filicko said. "Just as [Phantom] Fright Nights started very small and on a much different scale and it just grew to be huge after 10 seasons. So we'll see how Holiday Lights goes and just take it one year at a time."
Tim Cronin, 27, of Pittsburgh, agrees with Filicko. He has been attending the park's Halloween for the past several years, has watched them grow over time, and believes that the Christmas celebrations have the same potential.
"If they want to make [the event] bigger and expand it, they could open a few more rides and light up more of the park," said Cronin in a phone interview. "I could see them opening the bumper cars and stringing lights over them in the future if possible."
Kennywood's Holiday Lights is open on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays until Dec. 18 from 5 to 9 p.m. Discount tickets can be purchased at participating Giant Eagle stores. Season pass holders with a valid pass for 2012 are given free admission.