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St. Augustine, Florida Family Fun - Holiday Lights, Elf Express, and a Beach Blast. The annual “Nights of Lights” celebration includes millions of white lights adorning buildings and draping from trees creating a magical holiday atmosphere. From carriage rides and caroling to ice skating, trolley rides, fireworks, and a chili cook off celebrating is the whole idea.

Any time of year St. Augustine has plenty to offer families but during the annual Nights of Lights (end of November until the last day of January) each year the city provides extra ways to have fun with an array of special events and activities. Storytellers in period clothing lead nighttime tours, festive trolley tours weave along narrow streets, kids can go sledding or ice skating, and there are plenty of holiday concerts, theatre performances plus an authentic Christmas parade. We have assembled the highlights for your review.

See snow at the beach – really! The St. Augustine Amphitheatre is the location for “Winter Wonderland” (November to January) complete with an outdoor ice skating rink, thrilling ice slide, nighttime horse-drawn carriage rides, s'mores by the fire pit, a magical elf village, "Elf Express" train, visits from Santa Claus, and snow made in Florida. In fact every night experience snow over the ice rink and the Elf Village in the Amphitheatre. Bonus Points: The Veddy Theatre Group will present "A Time for Everything" inspired by a Leo Tolstoy story, written by Kiki Tovey. (Winter Wonderland (904) 471-1965 or www.winterwonderlandflorida.com and for Veddy Theatre (904) 209-0367)
 
The British are coming! (December 4-5, 2009) Beginning Friday evening a free energizing Celtic music concert will be held at in the Colonial Spanish Quarter Museum on Stage behind the Tavern and De Mesa House. From 9 a.m. until dusk on Saturday a historic encampment will take place at the Spanish Quarter on St. George Street. Saturday night The Grande Illumination and British Night Watch Parade, a St. Augustine tradition with impressive pageantry, lights, costumes, and torchlight parade, will be held. It celebrates the British occupation of the city from 1763-1784. Everyone is invited to join in the caroling in the Plaza right after the conclusion of the Grande Illumination Parade and the firing of the Volley of Joy. Bonus Points: The public is cordially invited to participate in a country dance on Saturday. Instructors will demonstrate and assist at the Colonial St. Augustine Foundation Garden across from the Columbia Restaurant on St. George Street. (Grande Illumination and British Night Watch (904)829-5318 or www.britishnightwatch.org)

Ride the night trolley. Maybe not as magical as the “Night Bus” taken by Harry Potter, St. Augustine’s night trolley is definitely magical. Jump aboard and enjoy caroling, hot apple cider and homemade cookies. Plus, everyone receives complimentary magical viewing glasses handcrafted by Santa's elves to add extra dazzle to every light during the “Nights of Lights”. Holiday trolley tours depart continuously between 6 and 8 p.m. from the St. Augustine Visitors Information Center located at Castillo Drive and San Marco Avenue. During the day the Old Town Trolley Tours makes exclusive stops at the Old Jail, St. Augustine History Museum, Potter’s Wax Museum, the Spanish Military Hospital, and the Ximenez-Fatio House, Gonzalez-Alvarez House, the San Sebastian Winery, and Flagler College. (Trolley Tours (904) 829-3800 or www.trolleytours.com)

Board Santa’s Red Christmas Train. Any time of year riding one of the Red Trains is fun. The fully narrated historical route weaves throughout the city allowing passengers to step off and re-board at more than 20 spots including attractions, historic sites, restaurants, and shopping and the tickets remain valid for three consecutive days. During the holiday season (Nights of Lights) visitors may enjoy Santa's Big Red Christmas Train and festive tours featuring caroling along the streets of the Oldest City. Bonus Points: Red Train passengers also receive complimentary admission to Bayfront Mini Golf (stop#16), free parking, free on-request shuttle to and from your hotel or bed & breakfast, and free Island Shuttle to Alligator Farm and Lighthouse (Red Trains 170 San Marco Ave St. Augustine, FL 32084 Toll-free 1- 800-226-6545, (904)824-1606 or www.redtrains.com)
 
Embark on a night tour. In addition to an assortment of walking ghost tours which present a darker side if the city, Villa Zorayda (across the street from Flagler College) conducts a special evening tour during Night of Lights. The Villa will extend their hours to 7 p.m. to allow guests to experience this enchanting mansion and its fascinating collection of antiquities after sunset. Parking is free with paid admission. (Villa Zorayda 83 King Street across from Flagler College (904) 829-9887 or www.villazorayda.com)

Celebrate the New Year early. From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m on the last day of 2009 bring your kids for a day filled with fun and a chance to win great prizes in the New Year's Eve Balloon Drop at Noon at Adventure Landing. There will be "all you can play min-golf and Go Cart rides for kids for just $10. Bonus Points: Throughout the year here’s the deal, each Monday and Thursday receive 10 arcade tokens, unlimited mini-golf and tow go-kart rides before 6pm for only $10 per person. (Adventure Landing is located on SR 16 off I95 Exit 318. (904) 827-9400 or www.adventurelanding.com)

Have a beach blast. Admission is free so kick off 2010 with energy on St. Augustine Beach with the annual “Fire and Ice” celebration. Enjoy a blast of flavor, icy sculptures, and fireworks when several of St. Augustine's best restaurants serve up chili for tasting and judging at the Fire and Ice Chili Cook-off from 4 to 10 p.m. After the chili stay for the fireworks, enjoy a family friendly beach atmosphere with clowns, face painting, puppets, magicians and a Kids’ Zone of fun for tykes. Here’s the deal. At about 8:30 for 20 minutes fireworks will be shot off at the end of the St Augustine Beach Pier. Synchronized with music they will be visible for miles.  (The Beach Blast at St. Johns County Fishing Pier and Pavilion, 350 A1A Beach Boulevard, St. Augustine Beach (904) 982-2210 or www.beachblastoff.com)

Make it happen. St. Augustine’s “Night of Lights” runs from November through January. Our Family Vacation Ideas Directory offers several options for the perfect home away from home experience. As always confirm specific details with each website before making plans.

About the area. I admit that living on Anastasia Island for five years solidified my love of the area. It is not only a lovely place to raise a family but also a perfect place for a family vacation. St. Augustine, the nation's oldest city, sits across the bridge from Anastasia Island and the best beaches in all of Florida (a well kept secret). Centuries-old fort Castillo de San Marcos anchors the city, horse-drawn carriages weave through the historic district, and ghost tours feature the city’s secrets. Saint Augustine is located in northeast Florida and is convenient to Jacksonville, Orlando, and Daytona airport. Not-to-be-missed: The Lighthouse, Alligator Farm, Lightener Museum, and the original Ripley’s Believe It or Not.

Content researched and written by FTF staff; images by staff and Fire and Ice. Copyright 2013.
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