Despite headaches from last holiday season after overwhelming attendance created traffic jams and long wait times, Raleigh’s festive drive-thru show Nights of Lights is returning to Dix Park. 

The unexpected popularity of the COVID-friendly holiday event drew a huge influx of cars last year, forcing organizers to turn away hundreds families in the first few days. Some people waited up to four hours for their chance to see the dazzling light display. Many others eventually gave up, turning their cars away from standstill traffic on Western Boulevard and Centennial Parkway. 

The problems didn’t last forever, but it was only by refunding some 12,000 tickets that city officials were able to cut down the number of attendees to a manageable level. This year, things will be different, says WRAL Brand Director Heather Gray. 

In addition to selling fewer tickets—half the number sold last year—WRAL and Raleigh organizers are hiring an event manager specifically to deal with any issues that arise the nights of the light show, Gray says. 

The 1.3-mile route through Dix Park has been modified so cars enter the show further into the park and farther from main roads, she said. There is also a separate entrance for VIP ticket-holders.

One of the big traffic jams last year was on a night when the event was open to cars and bikes, so this year, there will be bike-only nights, Gray adds.  

“It was very important for us to keep the event manageable,” she says. 

Some of the problems last year were also caused by people showing up to the park early. Tickets for the event are timed so a new cohort of attendees arrives every half-hour. This year, WRAL will be put out the word that people should arrive to the park at the time listed on their ticket, Gray says. 

The show starts November 20 and ends December 24 on Christmas Eve, a shorter and earlier run than last year. Gray says the display will be “bigger and better” than ever, with new local art installations, theme nights, and special guests in addition to holiday light show. 

“We want to make sure it will become a new holiday tradition,” Gray says. “Last year, it was a gift to the community because it was, ‘What can we do to get people out of their houses?’ This year, it’s, ‘What can we do to build on a new Raleigh tradition?’”

Tickets go on sale starting September 30.

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