Kennywood Holiday Lights 2013: Pittsburgh Tradition in a Chestnut-shell

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania loves its traditions.  Possibly due to the old world immigrant families who held them tight when settling in the area.  Well, Pittsburgh has a new seasonal tradition to add to the list – Kennywood Holiday Lights in its third year and certainly here to stay.  We were on hand for opening night Friday, November 29, 2013, and Kennywood Holiday Lights features a microcosm of Pittsburgh traditions in one place.  More lights (all LED now), sparkle, and glitter were added for this year’s event, and the 115 year old Kennywood Amusement Park has never looked better.  Continue reading for our recap and photos of this year’s event.

Kennywood Holiday Lights 2013

After passing through Kennywood’s classic entrance tunnel into the park, a second tunnel of lights ushers visitors to Kennywood’s Lagoon.

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Lights strung from tree limbs, animated displays, and a light tree on the Lagoon stage are the focal point of the action.  The Kennywood Holiday Lights show takes place every half hour and can be seen (and heard) all around the Lagoon.  Note: there are two different versions of the 10 minute show, so be sure to catch both.  Each show ends with the rock-orchestral anthem from Trans-Siberian Orchestra.

In addition to the holiday light show, families can visit (and take photos) with not only Santa, but Kenny Kangaroo too.  Santa and a Christmas Kenny set up shop to greet guests in the Racer roller coaster esplanade.

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Of course there are rides open at Kennywood for the evening including the Paratrooper, Merry-Go-Round, Turtle, Kangaroo, and Ghostwood Estate.

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However, the rides are not the real focus of Kennywood Holiday Lights, with one exception – the Olde Kennywood Railroad transforms into The Gingerbread Express taking passengers through a series of whimsical light displays into the unseen world of the gingerbread man… and woman… and child.

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As I mentioned in the opening, Pittsburgh loves its traditions, and perhaps there’s nothing more iconic at Kennywood than its Potato Patch french fries.  And, yes, the Potato Patch is open, and, at least on the evening we attended, had a longer line than even Santa Claus.

Kennywood Holiday Lights 2013

Pittsburgh tradition #2… model train displays.  Raise your hand if you remember stuffing yourself into the basement of Buhl Planetarium to gaze with wonder at the holiday model train setup.  The Parkside Cafe is a great place to warm up on a chilly December evening, and contains an incredibly detailed display created by Pittsburgh’s model railroad clubs.  Grab a refillable mug of hot cocoa, and check out what movie’s playing on the miniature drive-in movie theater as the train passes by.

Kennywood Holiday Lights 2013

While you’re warming up inside the Parkside Cafe, kids (or adults) can decorate (or just eat) holiday cookies ($2.75 ea), and there’s a small display of memorabilia from the classic Jimmy Stewart Christmas film It’s a Wonderful Life (the Jimmy Stewart Museum is located in his hometown of Indiana, PA just north of Pittsburgh).

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And the final Pittsburgh tradition… Fireworks!  Each year on opening night Kennywood Holiday Lights closes out with a fireworks display with the holiday lights blinking and twinkling over the Lagoon.

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However, the best thing about Kennywood Holiday Lights is strolling through an uncrowded park, and enjoying all the displays themselves.  Kennywood does a fantastic job creating a winter wonderland of over 1 million lights.

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Plus, you never know what new Pittsburgh friends you’ll make along the way.

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Kennywood Holiday Lights runs from 5-9pm on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights through December 22, 2013.  Admission costs $15.99 for ages 3 and older (plus $1 amusement tax).  You can save $2 by purchasing tickets in advance from participating Giant Eagle locations.

DISCLOSURE: Dave and Evie Parfitt were hosted by Kennywood Park for the purposes of experiencing Holiday Lights and writing this recap and review.  However, all opinions expressed are those of the author.  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.