Many of us of a – ahem – certain age who grew up in New Orleans fondly remember City Park’s “Celebration in the Oaks” driving tour. A winding path of lights that ended with the entrance to the park’s walking attractions, the driving tour was sadly one of the many things we lost after Hurricane Katrina. However, the ongoing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic will bring back the driving tour this holiday season. Coupled with a recent, major renovation to Storyland, City Park is no doubt going to be a major attraction during the now-socially distanced holiday season.
From November 26 to January 3 (closed Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve), revelers can drive 2.25 miles and see over 1 million lights across City Park’s grounds. Lighting displays will include Toyland and Victoria the Unicorn. The Who Dat tree will remind us that, like Kermit Ruffins, we too want Santa to put the Saints in the Super Bowl and you can ask for that very thing from a lighted, waving Santa wishing you a Merry Christmas as you leave the tour.
Ticketing will be very different than in years past, following a lot of event protocols in recent months. Patrons will purchase tickets online, choosing a date and time in an effort to avoid crowds, and showing their smartphone or QR code upon arrival. Visitors won’t be allowed to leave their vehicles for the duration of the tour. That said, there’s no reason families cannot create their own Christmas party in their car. Thermoses of hot chocolate, cookies and a few Christmas carols on the radio can help re-create the “Celebration in the Oaks” experience that has become a fixture of many New Orleans childhoods.
While “Celebration in the Oaks” will only host driving tours nightly, Storyland will be open during the day at 25 percent capacity with tickets also being available online to limit contact between workers and guests. Meanwhile, the facility recently underwent an $800,000 renovation, the first in nearly 35 years.
Visitors will see many of the familiar installations, only with new paint jobs and improved features. Eighteen older exhibits received upgrades, like the Gingerbread Man, which now has an interactive Candyland game. The goal of the renovation was to make it more ADA accessible as well as creating a focus on STEM activities.
The park boasts that 90 percent of the artists that collaborated in the renovation were local, and they added four completely new exhibits. There is a Humpty Dumpty site that includes large Lego-like blocks, which kids can use to help Humpty build his wall again. There is also Boudreaux the Zydeco gator, a Jack and Beanstalk installation and a Tortoise and the Hare site.
No trip to Storyland would be complete without a ride down the Puff the Magic Dragon slide, which has been lovingly restored. The announcement of the three-month renovation came on the heels of Forbes magazine naming Storyland among the best family travel activities in New Orleans.
If you choose to visit Storyland during the day, know that after you can order a picnic to be delivered on park grounds. Even in these distanced times, once again one of the city’s largest green spaces proves to be a key destination for daytime fun and nighttime holiday magic as we continue the march toward 2021.
➺ Just the Facts
“Celebration in the Oaks”
November 26-January 3 (closed December 24 & 31)
Sundays-Thursdays, 6-10 p.m.
Fridays-Saturdays, 5-11 p.m.
Christmas Night, 5-10 p.m.
Prices: Cars/SUVs, $18.99-$32.99 (limit 8 guests/vehicle)
Limos, $65-$99 (limit 10 guests/vehicle)
Mini Buses under 11 ft., $125-$175 (limit 20 guests/vehicle)
Wednesdays-Sundays, 10 a.m.-4:30 p.m. (last entry at 4 p.m.)
Fridays-Saturdays during Celebration in the Oaks, 10 a.m.- 4 p.m.
(last entry at 3:30 p.m.)
Children under 36 inches tall and Friends of City Park are free