About this series: With COVID-19 restrictions having eased over the last few months, Wheels wants to inspire you to get ready to explore — but only when it is safe to do so. This series of daytrips and longer drives highlight great experiences you can have in the province and across Canada, ands show you why this country is “Ours to Discover.”
Love looking at holiday light displays, but don’t love the tingling sensation of frozen ears or numb toes? You can still enjoy some holiday magic, all from the warmth and comfort of your vehicle. And rather than checking out the lights in your neighbourhood, brighten your holiday experience by driving through light tunnels, exploring enchanted forests or searching out 3D animals along the highway. Here are five picks for drive-thru holiday experiences in and around the Toronto area.
Ontario Place in Toronto
Described as a winter wonderland of “epic creatures, caverns, sights and lights,” you’ll drive through three “realms” along a 1.7-kilometre route that winds around Ontario Place: Celestial, Terra Firma and Oceanic. You’ll fly among the stars, visit castles and caves, and dive into a gleaming grotto—all while sitting in your vehicle, of course. The experience features 18 artworks, like Aurora Borealis, where you’re surrounded by a brilliant band of lights, the Icicle Cave, with acrylic clusters of icicles, and the Enchanted Forest, a massive playground of tree sculptures. Plus, $1 from every ticket sold will be donated to SickKids Foundation. The experience runs through Jan. 16 and costs $45 to $65 per vehicle. (drivethrufunco.com)
1000 Murray Ross Pkwy. in North York
The multi-sensory Christmas Trail from Canadian Tire is back again this year with a 1.5-kilometre drive-thru experience illuminated by thousands of twinkling lights. You’ll drive past elves playing in the snow and a larger-than-life advent calendar — and at the end of the trail, kids can get their photo taken with Santa (while maintaining their physical distance, of course). Keep in mind that the trail runs through conservation land (adjacent to Black Creek Pioneer Village); pets can attract wild animals, so entry will be denied if your pooch is in the car with you. Tickets sell out fast, so new blocks of tickets go on sale every Monday at 10:30 a.m. Proceeds go toward Jumpstart Charities. It runs through Dec. 23 and the cost is $25 per vehicle. (ctchristmastickets.com)
Mount Joy GO Station in Markham and Meadowvale GO Station in Mississauga
This over-the-top drive-thru holiday experience will be even bigger and brighter this year. Last year’s event sold out fast, so this year’s Journey into Enchantment is being offered in two locations: Markham and Mississauga. You’ll cruise along a two-kilometre route illuminated with two million light decorations, 3D interactive displays and musical lights, while listening to your favourite holiday hits on a dedicated radio station. But the pièce de resistance? A drive-thru tunnel of glittering lights. Ticket sales support SickKids, Toronto Animal Services and Ontario Parents Advocating for Children with Cancer. Both experiences take place through Jan. 9, with prices ranging between $29.95 to $39.95 per vehicle. (journeyintoenchantment.ca)
OPG Winter Festival of Lights
Niagara Parkway, Dufferin Islands and Niagara Falls
If you can’t score a ticket to a drive-thru experience (or are looking for some free options), the 39th annual Ontario Power Generation Winter Festival of Lights is one of Canada’s largest free outdoor light displays, with more than three million lights illuminating the Niagara Parkway, Dufferin Islands and Niagara Falls. The “illumination route” is more than eight kilometres long, running for 101 nights in two parts (so you can do it twice). Its Holiday experience runs through Jan. 9, with 3D holiday-themed displays (including 20-feet-tall, illuminated moose), while Winter Wonderland runs Jan. 10 through Feb. 21, with new displays and a slightly different route. (niagarafallstourism.com)
Gift of Lights
425 Bingemans Centre Dr. in Kitchener
If you love the sensation of travelling through light tunnels, this drive-thru holiday experience has two of them — each more than 150 feet long — over the course of a 2.5-kilometre route. Tune into the Gift of Lights Radio at 100.1 FM and sing along to familiar carols as you cruise past more than 300 animated and static light displays. Now in its sixth year, this drive-thru experience at Bingemans, a recreational centre about two hours from Toronto in Kitchener, features one million lights. All tickets are timed entry, so reserve your time slot in advance. There are also three “walk-only” nights, when 50 per cent of ticket proceeds go to a local charity. Gift of Lights runs through Jan. 9 and costs $25 per vehicle. (bingemans.com)
COVID-19 need to know
Note that the government-mandated proof of vaccination rule is in effect. Check provincial guidelines before you head out on your road trip (ontario.ca).
For the drive
Get into the holiday spirit with “Tis the Podcast” that sees its hosts debate and discussing different Christmas movies, music and TV specials. More information on the podcast is available at tisthepodcast.com and it is also available for download on Spotify.