Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Christmas on the Island



Moody Gardens lights up its pyramids and more for Festival of Lights which shines through Jan. 8.

By Carol Rust
Updated: 11.30.09
Galveston Island will be the host of Christmas Past and Christmas Futuristic with twin annual attractions – the 36th annual Dickens on the Strand – back in full festive force after Hurricane Ike – and the Moody Gardens Festival of Lights, transforming the Gardens’ glass pyramids into spectacular, sparkling mountains of incandescence. Both offer an array of entertainment for all ages.

Christmas carols and cockney accents alike will fill the air in Galveston’s historic district this Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 5-6, when the 19th-century characters from the world of Charles Dickens come alive, sauntering along a 10-block area crowded with Victorian-era costumes, entertainment, wares, choirs and boutiques and featuring artifacts from London’s Charles Dickens Museum.

New this year is the Dickens Victorian Bed Races, in which costumed contestants pull and push their mattress-topped chariots, complete with pajama-clad passengers, along a two-block route toward the finish line. Halfway through, members of each team must switch places – and costumes – with members who have been riding in the beds, Chinese Fire Drill-style.

The fun-filled festivities will represent a boisterous comeback from last year, when event sponsor and attendees valiantly kept the spirit of Dickens on the Strand alive in half the usual festival area in the wake of Hurricane Ike, aka Scrooge, which flooded many buildings in the district with 8 to 13 feet of corrosive water, shuttering numerous shops whose owners typically participate in Galveston Island’s unique Christmas holiday. Some sold their merchandise from the second floors of their businesses and others erected outdoor booths.

“There is no better place in Texas to be than on the historic streets of Galveston during the first weekend in December,” said Dwayne Jones, executive director of Galveston Historical Foundation, which has turned its annual Dickens on the Strand into one of the premier holiday festivals in the nation. “This year’s festival is very special to Galveston. Hurricane Ike forced us to scale back last year’s Dickens on the Strand. This year, we have even added to all the wonderful features that have made attending the festival a tradition for thousands of Texas families over the years.”

The Dickens Emporium, another new feature this year, highlights the famous painting “Dickens’s Dream,” never before been seen in the United States. In the painting, the beloved author dozes in his office chair as images of the characters he made famous in his novels float in the air around his head. The exhibit also includes artifacts from the Charles Dickens Museum, including the author’s chair, where festival patrons may sit to pose for Victorian Christmas portraits. Retail items depicting the “Dickens’ Dream” image will be on sale.

Advance tickets may be purchased only at www.galvestonhistory.org. for $9 for adults and $4 for children ages seven to 12. At the gate, tickets will be $12 and $6 for children ages seven to 12. Attendees dressed in period costume get in free.

Across the island, holiday visitors get a different kind of treat with the Moody Gardens’ Festival of Lights, with more than 100 sound-enhanced light displays and nightly entertainment. Even on this Gulf Coast island, visitors can don a pair of ice skates and glide around the specially made outdoor skating rink — a first this year — along the scenic Offatts Bayou.

The multiple-week event, which attracts some 85,000 visitors each year and runs through Jan. 8, also features an array of holiday-themed films at the IMAX Theater. Movie-goers can experience “Disney’s A Christmas Carol,” starring Jim Carrey, in three-dimensional delight. Polar Express 4D offers special effects such as falling snow, the sensation of blowing wind and the smell of hot chocolate to appeal to all the senses.

Doors open at 6:30 p.m. daily. Admission to Festival of Lights is $5.95. Tickets for additional attractions, including the Aquarium Pyramid, the holiday IMAX film, holiday Ridefilm, the Discovery Museum and the Colonel Paddle Boat, are $5 each.

Moody Gardens also offers a savory alternative to the pressures of holiday meal preparation with its Holiday Dinner Buffet at the Garden Restaurant or at the “Gift of Christmas Live” Show and Dinner, combining a fine-dining experience with a lively performance of some of the state’s tall talents. Tickets to this event are $43

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