WHO: Laura (Mom), Ian (Dad), Everett (age 8) and Ames (age 4)
WHAT: Holiday LIGHTS
WHERE: Cheekwood (1200 Forrest Park Drive, Nashville)
WHEN: Thru Sunday, Jan. 5; 5 - 10 p.m. nightly (closed Thanksgiving and Christmas)
ADMISSION: $22 adults, $17 ages 3 - 17 (tickets are $15 adults, $10 youth after 8:30 p.m; $5 discount for members); a variety of specialty packages are available on the website. Parking is free.
INFO: 615-356-8000 | cheekwood.org

Cheekwood Estate and Gardens is a Nashville must-see for both native Nashvillians and visitors to our town. Our family has always enjoyed walking through the gardens, and we have especially loved visiting the tree house exhibits and the outdoor model trains exhibit. This year we ventured out in the cold to experience Holiday LIGHTS at Cheekwood for the first time.

We chose to attend Saturday evening for Holiday LIGHTS opening weekend. Upon arrival we were directed to a parking spot by Cheekwood parking attendants and then headed to the gate. Ames, our 4-year-old, was especially excited at the sight of the lights welcoming us to the estate. The helpful staff members shared that this spectacular event boasts the use of more than 1 million lights, including vibrant LED lights, along a one-mile path. The lights are beautiful and bright; the placement, detail and creativity on display was impressive to Ian and me, and magical to our boys.

As if the lights are not magical enough, there are two live reindeer present! If you are looking for the perfect holiday photo op with littles, beginning Saturday, Nov. 30, Santa Claus will also be available to take photos with visitors.

For families with older children and appreciators of history and art, the Cheekwood Mansion is open during Holiday LIGHTS. Inside, guests are welcome to walk through selections from Cheekwood’s private art collection, which was surprisingly our 8-year-old’s favorite part of the visit. Always a sight to see, the mansion sparks the imagination as it is decked out in holiday glory and carolers sing near a large poinsettia “tree” to set the tone. There are many photo opportunities inside the well-lit mansion, just remember no flash photography is allowed inside.

There are also lovely spots for family photos outside the mansion and along the garden paths. “Icicle Landing” was one of our favorites, where light tubes hang from wisteria vines overhead. The “Glowing Gazebo” was a popular photo spot, where families took turns taking photos for one another. Ian and I even managed to embarrass our kids by taking a photo under the giant mistletoe ball outside the mansion!

During our visits to Cheekwood, the boys are always drawn to the outdoor train exhibit. Despite the wintry weather, this visit was no different. The trains and tracks are covered with tiny lights that change before your eyes. Ames was filled with glee and followed Thomas the Train around the tracks and through the tunnel. Needless to say, it was difficult to pry him away from this wonderland, and it was without a doubt the highlight of our visit.

As you walk along the path of lights, there are several opportunities to purchase food and drink. Everett indulged in a hot cocoa as he explored the gardens. Hot cocoa, hot apple cider and hot coffee were all good choices during our chilly visit. These drinks are available for $3. If you’re feeling jolly, alcoholic beverages are also available, ranging from $7 - $10, with several specialty holiday cocktail options. Pretzels and cookies can be purchased from the various charming holiday food stands. For heavier fare, Cheekwood’s restaurant, Café 29, remains open late during Holiday LIGHTS. Three food trucks were positioned throughout the property offering enticing eats like tacos, crepes, and soul food. One fun snack option is the s’more kit, which can be purchased for $5 and taken to the s’more pits for roasting.

If you visit Cheekwood Holiday LIGHTS, there are a few things to keep in mind. We recommend you purchase tickets in advance to save a little on cost and to ensure you don’t end up with disappointed kiddos. Parking may also be limited, but a complimentary shuttle service is available with pre-purchased ticket. Also, be sure to dress for the weather. Our visit was early in the season and we were still chilly, even in our winter coats. If your kids are like mine, they will not want to wear winter gear, but trust me, they will thank you later (well, probably not).

Holiday LIGHTS is a rain or shine event, so you may consider umbrellas as well. Spacing out visits to the mansion, fire pits and heaters near the reindeer will help to keep your crew warm, too. Based on the amount of walking, I would also encourage the use of strollers for little ones who will invariably be tired so close to bedtime. Our visit lasted about an hour and a half and we were walking the majority of this time, so it’s no wonder our little one fell asleep on the way home.

Holiday LIGHTS is yet another great experience offered by Cheekwood to our community. Bundle up, grab your camera and your kids, and get into the holiday spirit at Cheekwood this year.