Pittsburgh’s 2nd Annual Kennywood Holiday Lights a Merry Family Event

Pittsburgh’s Kennywood Park is a marvelous regional amusement park that embraces its history as a National Historic Landmark.  The park dates back to the turn of the 20th century, founded in 1898 as a “trolley park” enticing residents to ride to the end of the line.  When a 114 year old amusement park adds a new experience, it’s worth noting, and, in 2011, Kennywood launched a Christmastime event called Holiday Lights.  The second annual Kennywood Holiday Lights opened Friday, November 23, and we were on hand for the festivities.  Continue reading for our impressions of Kennywood Holiday Lights.

Kennywood Holiday Lights

I grew up in Pittsburgh, have many fond memories of visiting Kennywood, but had not yet taken my kids. Until now… Hey kids, Kennywood’s open!  No… seriously… stop snickering… Kennywood’s open from 5-9pm on weekends throughout the end of the year for Kennywood Holiday Lights.

Kennywood Holiday Lights

My daughters have been to Disney theme parks numerous times, and they scoffed at Kennywood’s access tunnel into the park.  “Well, this is a glamorous entrance,” they said.  However, upon passing through the tunnel, a world of lights, music, and festivities greeted us – including another tunnel formed of dancing Christmas lights draped overhead strung from the Penny Arcade.  Kennywood team members spent hours upon hours covering the park with over 1 million lights wrapped around trees, draped over shrubs, hung from the rafters, and every other imaginable surface.  There were also animated standing light displays and decorated Christmas trees galore.

Kennywood Holiday Lights

The Kennywood lagoon was transformed into a spectacular light display that flashed and danced in time with the holiday music.  Every half hour the Kennywood Holiday Lights show took place with twinkling lights blinking to Christmas carols.  The show lasted for 10 minutes, with two different versions.

Kennywood Holiday LightsKennywood Holiday Lights

Kennywood Holiday Lights was not just about the Christmas lights – there were rides open too.  Rides dressed in their holiday finest with wreaths, greenery, and red and green lights replacing the vibrant neon colors.

Kennywood Holiday Lights

The open rides included the Merry-Go-Round, Paratrooper, Kangaroo, Turtle, Auto Race, Olde Kennywood Railroad (now called the Gingerbread Express for the season), and most of Kiddieland.

Kennywood Holiday Lights

Ghostwood Estate was also open, a new addition since I last visited the park.  The ride reminded our family of Disney’s Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin mashed up with The Haunted Mansion.  Kennywood spiced up Ghostwood Estate with a holiday theme, added Christmas decorations and Elfs in the pre-show room, and many of the skeletons and ghouls (or Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future) donned Santa caps.

Kennywood Holiday Lights

There was also seasonal entertainment that included local choirs and youth groups singing and dancing, ice carving, story reading with Mrs. Claus, a dance party, an Elf band, and nightly readings of “Twas the Night Before Christmas.”  The night we visited, YouTube sensation Pittsburgh Dad gave a Pittsburgh-ese laden rendition of the tale.  Yinz better watch aht… yinz better not cry… Santa Claus knows who’s nebby n’at…

Kennywood Holiday Lights

Anyone who’s grown up in Pittsburgh, knows the city’s love of holiday train displays.  I certainly remember crowding into the basement of Buhl Planetarium to catch a glimpse of their model setup, and there was a sizeable model train display to enjoy at Kennywood Holiday Lights too.  The trains were inside the Parkside Cafe, and gave us all a perfect place to warm up from the winter chill.

Kennywood Holiday Lights

We grabbed cubs of hot chocolate, and warmed our insides as we explored the details of the miniature trains.  Tip: purchase a refillable mug for hot drinks at $6.99.  You can then get free refills on hot chocolate and hot apple cider (priced at $2.89 each) at multiple locations at the park.  Fill it up twice, and you’ve already nearly paid for the mug.

Kennywood Holiday Lights

Speaking of food, a visit to Kennywood would not be complete without an order of fries from the Potato Patch.  Yes, the Potato Patch was open (as noted in all the advertising for Kennywood Holiday Lights), and my girls experienced their first order of Potato Patch Fries.  By the way, they loved the fries – the cheese sauce not so much, but the fries were a huge hit.

Kennywood Holiday Lights

In addition to our Potato Patch Fries, we indulged in Snowman shaped soft pretzels and Gingerbread flavored ice cream.  All were yummy and delicious!  [There were also funnel cakes available and other goodies, but we couldn’t sample everything…]

Kennywood Holiday Lights

Characters walked around Kennywood and added to the holiday spirit.  You could pose for photos with a Gingerbread Man (who had the most adorable light up hat), a Snow Man, or Kenny Kangaroo.  Of course, it wouldn’t be a Christmas party without the big guy himself.  Santa Claus occupied the loading station for the Racer Roller Coaster, with one of the most unique Santa photo-ops I’d ever seen.  I won’t spoil the surprise, but make sure you get in line to see Santa by 8:30pm before the park closes at 9pm.

Kennywood Holiday Lights

Kennywood Holiday Lights was a big holiday hit with our family.  I loved walking around looking at the lights; the kids loved eating junk food, riding Kennywood’s rides, and general silliness.

Kennywood Holiday LightsKennywood Holiday Lights

There was one final treat for us on Kennywood Holiday Lights opening night.  As snow flurries fell, our evening ended with a spectacular fireworks show over the Kennywood lagoon.

Kennywood Holiday Lights

And with our ears still ringing from the fireworks grand finale, it was time to say goodnight.  I loved to finally share a little of the Kennywood Park of my youth with my own kids, and I’ll have to bring the family back during the summer season for the full Kennywood experience (and more Potato Patch Fries).

Kennywood Holiday Lights

Kennywood Holiday Lights runs from 5-9pm on Friday, Saturday and Sunday Nights through December 30, 2012 plus December 26th and 27th.  Admission costs $14.99 for all ages (plus $1 amusement tax), and you can save $2 by purchasing tickets in advance from participating Giant Eagle locations.  For more family travel news, reviews, and trip reports, be sure to follow Adventures by Daddy on twitter and “like” our facebook page too.

About Dave Parfitt

Married, father of two girls, and living in the heart of the Finger Lakes. I'm a runner with a PhD in neuroscience and a passion for travel.