We Tried It: Holiday Lights Tour
Sing along to carols on a double-decker trolley bus, drink hot cocoa, play games and take pictures with Santa and the Grinch.
What: A double-decker trolley ride through historic Downtown to see the Honolulu City Lights
Who: A 6-year-old, 5-year-old and a 3-year-old and their parents
Where: Pickup is at Victoria Ward Park, 1020 Auahi St.
When: A Tuesday night at 6:30 p.m.
Our family loves everything about Christmas—singing carols, putting up the tree, seeing holiday lights and celebrating the birth of baby Jesus. But truth time: I get tiny bit Grinchy when I see our fridge calendar fill up with nonstop parties and potlucks for the month of December. It’s the introvert in me, I guess.
I was, however, truly looking forward to the Honolulu Lights Tour! We checked it out last year and our kids loved the experience of riding an open-air bus and singing carols together with fellow passengers while admiring the gorgeous lights. And all the parents had to do was sit on a bus! It was chill, cheerful and low-key—everything on my family adventure checklist.
This year, we were especially excited to hear about their expanded Winter Wonderland experience, which included keiki-friendly activities in the ticket price. We arrived early at 6 p.m. and easily found free parking at Whole Foods. We walked over to Ward Village on Auahi Street on the Ewa side of Ward Entertainment Center. The twinkling holiday lights, giant inflatables and large white tent were easy to spot.
After meeting our friends and checking in, we were given wristbands and the kids happily entered the tent. My youngest son Noah had passed out in the car so we carried him while my older child Anna and her friend James headed towards the back of the tent where Santa Claus and the Grinch were available for photos. There, an elf is there to take a picture for you with your phone. Santa asked Anna what she wanted for Christmas and the Grinch rolled his eyes and asked us to get the photos over with. The kids loved how in-character they were!
Afterwards, everyone played a bean bag toss game to earn free candy canes. A line began forming outside by the trolley at 6:15 p.m., so two adults in our group went ahead and lined up so that the kids could continue enjoying activities. Anna and James got free temporary sticker tattoos, and we enjoyed the piping hot cocoas topped with whipped cream, marshmallows and crushed peppermint that cost just 50 cents. Toys such as monster trucks, glow sticks and grabber sticks were available for sale $2, and jarred hot cocoa ingredients for $5.
Noah woke up just in time as we joined the line and headed to the top level of the trolley. He was thrilled to see Santa and the Grinch making their way next to the trolley and waving goodbye. Then, we were off!
Our driver played holiday music as we made our way towards Honolulu Hale and encouraged us to sing along. It was lovely. Our kids got into the spirit as they waved and shouted “Merry Christmas!” to people on the street and those in the cars next to us. They made a game of seeing who would shout “Merry Christmas!” in return.
Anna’s favorite decorated building was ‘Iolani Palace with its lantern lights, and the dramatic red illumination of Hamilton at Neal Blaisdell. After about 30 minutes, we reached Honolulu Hale and passed the iconic Shaka Santa, Tūtū Mele and other displays at the Honolulu City Lights.
At around 7 p.m., our driver informed us that we were free to explore the displays on foot and he would pick us up at 8 p.m. The other option is to stay on the trolley and head back. Since it was a school night, we decided to stay on the trolley. Several folks got off the bus, so Anna and James got to switch sides and sit somewhere else for a new view.
Upon our return, we tipped the bus driver and our kids ran around at Victoria Park for a while before we called it a night. It was the most stress-free, fun activity for our family and an awesome way to get into the holiday spirit. This was our second year in a row and we plan to make it a family tradition.
- Give yourself at least half an hour to enjoy the Winter Wonderland experience either before or after the trolley ride. The trolley ride is an hour roundtrip and if you want to explore the Hale, plan to be there for an extra hour.
- If you want good seats, arrive early to get in line for the trolley. Seating is on a first come, first serve basis. Try to get seats on the left side of the upper level for the best views.
- Bring a sweater or jacket. It can be breezy especially on the second level. The tour runs rain or shine, so if it’s predicted to rain, wear a rain jacket.
- Tickets are going fast, so don’t hesitate! You can purchase them online at holidaylightshi.com/tickets.
$25 for adults, $17 for keiki ages 3 to 11, and children 2 and under are free. The tour will take place every day through Dec. 26 and rides will be available on Christmas Day. holidaylightshi.com, @holidaylightshi