One of the safest and most fun Christmas activities in Metro Vancouver in 2020 was the PNE WinterLights drive-thru event in December.
The winter holiday adventure took place on December 12th to 13th, December 15th to 23rd, and December 26th to January 3rd at the Pacific National Exhibition. It was a drive-thru event where families could tour around the venue in their cars, see beautiful Christmas displays, explore magical lands, look out for Santa and enjoy tasty festival foods.
NEWS UPDATE: On December 13th the PNE added new time slots for 4:00 pm visits. The new ticket times sold out fast. On December 15th the PNE then announced that it was adding even more new dates. Tickets for December 16th and December 31st to January 3rd went on sale in the morning of Wednesday, December 16th. They also extended the times by another hour on some days to run until 11 o’clock.
If you want one of these new tickets, get them while you can! They will sell out fast!
For tickets and full details see the PNE WinterLights website.
PNE WinterLights: A Magical Journey to Santa
For each of the last few years the Pacific National Exhibition has hosted a special event during the Christmas holidays. In 2020 they had a wonderful new event that was designed especially for families and with COVID-19 safety measures in mind.
At PNE WinterLights, to protect everyone from COVID-19, people got to tour around the attraction in the comfort and safety of their cars. It was a warm and dry experience too! The event was extremely popular!
Where and When is PNE WinterLights?
The event happened at the PNE grounds between 4:00 and 10:00 or 11:00 pm on the weekend of December 11th to 13th and the nine days of December 15th to 23rd. Before the event even started, due to high demand and all nights selling out, six additional dates were added on December 15th and between December 26th and the 30th. Five more dates were then added after that, on December 16th and from December 31st, 2020, to January 3rd, 2021.
Playland is located at 2901 East Hastings Street. Access to PNE WinterLights, however, was via Gate 9 which is near the northeastern corner of the park, off Bridgeway Street. It was the same entrance used for the PNE Fair’s drive-thru event in August of 2020. For a map of the venue click PNE Site and Gates Map.
Admission Details and Ticket Prices
PNE WinterLights was open each night from 4:00 until 10:00 pm. Tickets were sold in 30-minute intervals with the last entry time being between 9:30 and 10:00. You had to book your visit online for a specific time.
Admission to the winter holiday attraction cost $39 for a carload of 4 or fewer people. For vehicles packed with 5 or more folk, the cost was $49. Taxes were included. There was, however, a $3.75 online service charge.
For tickets and full details see the PNE WinterLights website.
What to Expect at the PNE at Christmas?
When you visited PNE WinterLights you could expect to see beautiful illuminations, hear merry holiday tunes, be thoroughly entertained, and to leave in a wonderful Christmas-y mood.
The event started with people piling into their cars (with folk from within their “bubble”) and then heading to the PNE grounds (via gate #9). Arriving within their half-hour time slot, attendees joined a procession of other vehicles and drove along a 2 km route full of holiday magic.
The main part of the journey was about 1.6 km long. It took around 15 or so minutes to go through, driving non-stop, plus another 15 or so minutes to pick up food. From start to finish, depending on the lineup to get in and how much food and drinks you wanted to buy, the entire experience took between about 25 and 40 minutes. It was a fun time!
Things to See
PNE WinterLights featured nine different lands to explore including Winter Creatures, Dreamland, Santa Rocks, Candy Cane Lane, Dreamland, the Merry & Bright Forest and Polar North, among others. Along the way visitors saw dancing elves, mouse Nutcracker soldiers, live entertainers and beautiful illuminations and light displays. They also heard Christmas songs which they could sing along to.
Sights people saw along the route included an iceberg cave, polar bear and penguin light displays, a Teddy Bear Brigade, a magical unicorn, Pegasus, dancing elves and a giant purple Christmas tree. An objective for everyone, while admiring all the decorations, was to find Santa Claus.
In addition to the Christmas lights and magical scenes, visitors could also buy holiday food. A number of vendors were on site, drive-thru-style, for people wanting tasty treats. Food options included macaroni & cheese, fries, Asian noodles, chicken wings, mini donuts, cotton candy, hot drinks and other PNE favourites. There was a really good selection!
PNE WinterLights Video
To give you even more of an idea of what to expect, check out the following video. As you’ll see when you watch, the event was full of beautiful light displays, illuminations and magical Christmas-y scenes. If you’ve attended Christmas events at the PNE before, you’ll recognize a few of the scenes. There was a lot that was new too. It all made for a wonderful activity for families during the holidays.
The video starts at the initial food-ordering area. If you didn’t want mini-donuts, a hot drink or a souvenir toy at the start, you could just drive past this first area. When we went we picked up donuts to share and some hot chocolates.
The video just shows a small number of scenes at the event. Included are a sample of the many animal light sculptures, a light tunnel you drive through and a station where attendants in masks gave us some chocolates. You’ll also see the giant purple Christmas tree (that you’ll drive past twice at the event), and a really cool area with live dancers. You’ll also see Santa Claus dancing on his sleigh.
Both the video and the actual event finish with a second (and larger) food truck drive-thru area where you can pick up more drinks and snacks. Options when we went included Asian noodles, chicken wings, twisted potatoes, fries, perogies, donuts, candy floss, and a number of other popular PNE Fair-style food items.
What Else do You Need to Know?
Below are some additional pieces of information that are good to have.
- Attendees were encouraged to decorate their vehicles and share photos of their experiences (including of themselves singing carol-oke Christmas tunes) on social media using the hashtag #pnewinterlights.
- This event was designed with COVID-related safety in mind and for families within the same household.
- Stay safe and be responsible. Keep your distance from people outside your household, wear a mask when appropriate and stay home if you’re not feeling well.
- There was a station along the way where you could make donations to the Vancouver Food Bank. You could drop off non-perishable food products or give a cash donation. All contributions were greatly appreciated!
To learn more about the above event see the official PNE Winter Lights website.
The Pacific National Exhibition is owned and operated by the City of Vancouver. Other Christmas events hosted by the city include miniature train rides at Bright Nights at Stanley Park and the Festival of Lights at VanDusen Garden. All three of these city-run events are family-friendly and highly recommended.
To learn more about the venue and its various other events check out the following:
- The PNE Fair (at the end of the summer)
- Events at the PNE
- Fright Nights (in October)
- Playland (Vancouver’s Amusement Park)
Other articles that might be of interest include the following:
- Best Christmas Activities
- Vancouver’s December Calendar
- What’s Open in COVID-19 Vancouver
- What’s Happening This Weekend
- Vancouver Festivals & Events
- Activities for Children