Folks who enjoy the sights and sounds of the holiday season can experience a real treat.
Sponsored by the Savannah Harbor Foundation and the Savannah Morning News, the 2013 Savannah Harbor Foundation Festival of Lights is a drive-through light experience with entertainment and activities for all ages. This is the second year the holiday extravaganza will take place.
"We had more than 30,000 people attend last year's event," says Mark Spadoni, general manager of the Westin Harbor Savannah and founder of the Savannah Harbor Foundation. "We're looking forward to increasing that by at least a third.
"We've added significant new light displays with some surprises," he says. "We've further expanded the festival area, as well, and added a 4,000-square-foot tent for entertainment purposes.
"We'll have enhanced concessions to add funnel cakes and hot food items," Spadoni says. "We also will have a couple of interactive activities within the fairgrounds to include a small children's trackless train, and later on during the festival, we'll be adding a tubing slide."
There truly is something for everyone.
"This is my first experience with the Festival of Lights, and I'm amazed at the types of entertainment that are available for the local community," says David Moses, public relations manager for the Westin Savannah Harbor and a board member of the Savannah Harbor Foundation.
The Staples Safari Zoo with Brian Staples and his Zoo Crew will return with exotic animals from around the world. Staples will provide a petting zoo, a live nativity scene and Las Vegas-style magic shows.
"Brian's got monkeys, lemurs, tigers, leopards and wild birds," Moses says. "He's got a wonderful magic act that he does.
"The last I heard, he's bringing reindeer to put in Santa's Village. There will be a live nativity with camels, and he's got a water buffalo, as well."
One of the changes made for 2013 is improved lighting displays.
"We've changed out about 50 percent of them and added 40 for a total of more than 80 lighting displays," Moses says.
The Festival of Lights Entertainment Pavilion is a new addition to the Winter Village at the Pit and Paddock area.
"When touring the road course, people are encouraged to come into the Winter Village, where organizations from the local community will be performing, like the Garrison Wind Ensemble, the Savannah Arts Academy Jazz Band, a hand-bell choir," Moses says.
Performers and dates they will be listed on the event's website.
"We've got concessions and tables inside the concessions," Moses says.
"Last year, it got chilly, so we have some enclosed areas for people to enjoy. The fire pits are coming back. People can get s'mores and roast them by the fire.
"There'll be some inflatable fun, as well," he says. "We'll have bounce houses and an inflatable slide."
The cost of admission is $25 per car. That includes a $5 concessions voucher that can be used for food and drink.
"People can come in their own cars or go on many different trolley tours," Moses says. "They can also ride bikes through or walk or take a horse-drawn carriage."
"We've got more lights, more animals, more shows," Moses says. "It's just going to be bigger and better and we're hoping to continue that theme every year."
Singers, dancers and actors will perform throughout the festival.
"This year we've spent a lot of time focusing on programming for entertainment," Spadoni says. "We've got a number of acts from out of town, including bell ringers from Charleston and singers for holiday concerts.
"And it's all for a good cause," he says. "The proceeds from the event go to a number of children's organizations, as well as helping support the Empty Stocking Fund."
Last year, the festival raised more than $23,000 for charities including Bethesda Academy, Interfaith Hospitality Network, Greenbriar Children's Center and Lowcountry Down Syndrome Society. This year's festival will benefit the World Ocean School and the Empty Stocking Fund, among other charitable causes.
"The Savannah Harbor Foundation has contributed about $500,000 to local charities," Moses says. "The original impetus is to contribute to local community engagement events and provide funding for local charities within the Savannah region.
"I feel so fortunate to see such passion in the eyes of the board members when we talk about this event," he says. "It is something integral for this holiday season.
"We provide a place for families to go and explore the holidays together," Moses says. "In this day and age, that's hard to find."
The festival draws visitors from throughout the region.
"Since its inception almost 13 years ago, the goal of the Savannah Harbor Foundation was to create family-oriented events," Spandoni says. "What better time for families to spend together and reflect on the positive things that we all share than during the holidays? We believe that good, wholesome fun that can be done collectively as a group is one of the best gifts we can give each other during the holidays."