We heard the parking would be a nightmare. We heard the lines would be long. We heard it would be a crowded mob of people and strollers meandering down a dark path, lit only by 5000 carved pumpkins. We heard it would be totally worth it. As luck would have it, a friend of mine and her family went last week so she was able to give me the scoop on parking, tickets, food and ease of stroller use (gates don't open until 7. Even if everything went smoothly, that's still an hour before Blue's bedtime. He would stay awake for it but at some point, he would become horizontal. Better to do that in something with at least 3 wheels).
We arrived at Iroquois Park (off New Cut Road) around 7:15 PM. As I pulled up to the stoplight to turn in, I saw row after row of cars and thought "oh word. We are going to be parking in Scooby Doo Row R." The gates to the park don't open until 7 but you can arrive and secure a parking spot after 6 PM. We weren't the only ones undeterred by the rain all day. I imagine that on the weekends, the line of cars waiting to park stretches out of the gates and spills onto New Cut Road, which is then at the mercy of a traffic light. I was immediately grateful to live close enough for a quick trip up on a rainy Tuesday.
Parking attendants waved us in and although there was already quite a crowd, we found a spot a few rows down from the entrance (this actually put us closer to the end of the trail. Look for the funnel cake stand when you go...hard to miss...lit up like the county fair - that's where you will exit the trail and head to your car). Because we refused to pay the $7 convenience fee that's charged when you buy tickets online (c'mon, people. That's over 50% the cost of a ticket!), we waited until we arrived. Armed with cash and credit, we were prepared. Credit and debit cashiers await you in a mobile office building and cash is accepted around the corner, near the entrance to the trail. This is also where the restrooms (not port-a-potties...yay!) are. (If you are visiting with diapered ones, there are changing tables in the restrooms located in the tunnel under the amphitheater seats.) From there, you will see the gates to the amphitheater, which you must walk through to get to the trail on the other side.
There is ample signage guiding you through the amphitheater and around to the trail of jack-o-lanterns. There are some signs indicating how long your wait is once you reach that point. If you are at these gates, it's 90 minutes just to get to the start of the trail. We cruised right on through. There is also an opportunity to have photos taken in front of a green screen. When printed, your family is perched in front of 100's of glowing pumpkins. Those photos can then be purchased for $5+. I'm sure they have more takers on that when the line is long and people are looking for some way to distract the tired and cranky kids. We cruised on past that, too.
It's at this point that you can purchase chili, hotdogs, soft drinks, hot apple cider, Angry Orchard, Bud Light and mixed drinks. There is also kettle corn. Mmmm....kettle corn. Neal didn't break stride so I missed out on all of that. Note to self: sometimes a long line means you have to smell kettle corn until Neal decides he must have some. Sweet and salty silver lining.
Suddenly, you are entering the Jack-O-Lantern Spectacular...with a bajillion strangers and their cell phone cameras. Staff standing at the gate announces the rules: stay on the path, for the love of God don't touch the pumpkins (OK, they didn't exactly say it that way, but that's what I heard), don't walk on the hay bales, use only non-flash photography (which, I think, has more to do with not interrupting the experience for others than causing some kind of flash-related harm to the pumpkins), have fun. Got it. In we go.
It's a total log-jam at the entrance. Everyone wants to see (and photograph) every. single. pumpkin. Strollers, Granny trying to figure out how to turn the flash off, Joe-Bob trying to take a picture on manual mode without a tripod, kids anxious to see what's ahead but stuck behind all of this. It's a hot, hot mess. Be patient. It eventually thins out and you can move at a leisurely pace without getting Achilles tears from errant strollers or photobombing someone's perfect pumpkin pic.
This year's theme, A Walk in Time, is displayed by decades.
There is a brief interlude in the decades - just long enough to showcase hundreds of jack-o-lanterns - stacked upon one another, hanging from trees, dangling at least 20 feet off the ground. Seriously, I thought they were Halloween lights strung in a tree until we got closer. Nope, all real pumpkins. We had to sit for a second just to take it all in. This picture only represents maybe 1/8 of the total. For. Real.
The walk in time picks back up with 1776 and the creation of our government. The woman behind me kept pointing out George Washington to the child with her and saying "our first president." She did this about 5 times. But, um, I really thought this was Benjamin Franklin. Would anyone care to weigh in on this?
Y'know those people who enter a museum, walk up to a piece of art, look at it for about 4 seconds, take a cell phone picture, walk away and then repeat that process all the way down the line? That's sort of me. I try to be aware of this tendency but when Blue is with us, I always feel pressed for time. And since Alzheimer's runs thick in our family blood, my theory is "take a picture today in case you forget it tomorrow." So, I walk up, I look, I snap, I move on. I sometimes get in such a rhythm that I don't notice some rather obvious incongruencies....like someone placing an ATM in the Wild West. It took the guy behind me saying something like "huh, that's odd. An ATM on the frontier" for me to double-take. Yay for oblivion.
and the sinking of the Titanic.
There was also a jack-o-lantern depicting the moon walk. Try as I did (much to the dismay of everyone behind me), I could not get a decent picture. It is hanging from a tree and at a bit of a distance. No amount of messing with my iPhone settings would capture the beauty. You'll just have to go see it.
Somewhere during the 1950's, artists had set up a Christmas scene to represent The Saturday Evening Post. "Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer", "Jingle Bells" and other Christmas classics played overhead while trees twinkled and Santa watched. You better not pout, you better not cry...just sayin'.
As we came around the bend and the trail came to an end, the final carvings honored some of our favorite icons who have passed away. Although there were several, this one was my favorite. Perched at the gates of Heaven, a laughing Robin Williams is depicted exactly how I hope to always remember him.
If you go:
* Tickets are available for purchase on the website (with a $6.95 convenience fee charged by the ticketing venue used by Iroquois Park) or on-site. On busier nights (like this weekend), it may be worth it to pay the $7 just to avoid standing in a ticket line. Your call. I think you may be able to swing by the box office (which opens at 4 PM) and pick them up in advance, as well. Proceeds benefit the Louisville Metro Parks Foundation.
Seniors: $10 (62+)
Children: 9 (3-12...yep, Blue was free! Yipee!)
On Fridays and Saturdays, each ticket goes up by $3.
Parking is free.
*Gates are open 7 PM-11PM Sunday - Thursday; 7 PM - midnight Friday and Saturday and it is rain or shine (although it looks to be dreadfully dry through the rest of the weekend.)
*The route through the display is a 1/4 mile soft surface, woodland trail (similar to paving). We took the jogging stroller but it will easily accommodate anything from a carrier stroller, on up. There are a couple of steep inclines, but I would not consider it strenuous at all. There are docents (with flashlights) stationed along the path to provide assistance as needed. The amphitheater also provides staff, who are available to escort visitors through the entire trail, if requested. In short, this is accessible for everyone.
*There aren't any restrooms on the path. Plan accordingly.
*There is an ATM located near the food and drink vendors. Since we didn't purchase anything, I don't know what their preferred method of payment is, but I'm assuming it's cash.
*All of my pictures were taken using my iPhone 5 without the flash. I saw many people fiddling with point-and-shoots, but my cell phone did just fine. The event staff are correct...using the flash ruins the entire effect of a glowing pumpkin. Just don't even mess with it.
*For anyone visiting over the weekend, they are running shuttles from the local high school and golf course parking lots if the Iroquois Park lot reaches capacity. Check the website for information on shuttle locations and times.
*If you can, visit on an off-day...or after it has rained all day. I would stand in a 90-minute line for this, but, y'know....I would rather not.
I learned a few other interesting pieces of information from the lady keeping the guest book at the end of the trail (please sign the guest book. It's feedback for the artists and for the city park service). The creator of Jack-O-Lantern Spectacular hails from Oxford, MA, where his father has been designing drive-thru jack-0-lantern displays since 1988. The son moved to Louisville and signed a 5-year contract with the Louisville Metro Parks Foundation to offer this annual walk-through event. He employed 25 local artists to help him complete his vision. This is their 2nd year (last year's theme was Around the World) and in the next 3 years, the art show aims to become even more...well...spectacular.