Want to know one weird trick to getting into Magical Nights of Lights for cheap? Show up this week with five canned goods or an unwrapped toy between 5 and 6 p.m.
Margaritaville at Lanier Islands, which has taken over management of the annual Christmas attraction in addition to the resort itself, is offering a deal this week to benefit Toys for Tots. If you come bearing gifts — in this case, five items of canned food or an in-the-box, unwrapped toy — you get a steep discount on the regular $49 per-vehicle rate.
The deal gets you in for $15 and even gets you 90 minutes of snow tubing on the new Parrot Mountain hillside, which usually costs extra.
Resort managers are offering the cut-rate option until Thursday, according to John Lush, chief operations officer, and Darby Campbell, owner of Safe Harbor Development, which operates the resort under Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville brand.
Along with the deal, there’s another reason you should think about heading down to the resort this month: Magical Nights of Lights has gone through a top-to-bottom upgrade.
The 7 miles of lights spaghetti-stringing their way around Lanier Islands are now LEDs — it took more than a month to replace the bulbs, Lush told The Times on Monday, Dec. 3 — and there are a few additions to the light show based on Buffett’s beach brand.
“As you come through the gates, we’ve actually wrapped the gates with brand-new garland. It’s a lot more festive,” Lush said.
Through the gates are all the parrots, beaches and other mainstays from Buffett tunes you expect, along with a few Magical Nights of Lights mainstays from previous years. Snowflake arches along the bridge give way to 7 miles of the 12 Days of Christmas and other longtime fixtures.
And at the heart of Lanier Islands are new carnival rides (there are now 13 total), an ice rink and Parrot Mountain, a new snow-tubing hill at the resort.
If your kids loved the s’mores stations in previous years, you’ll still find them at the resort — as well as a hot chocolate and hot toddy bar at the beachside Tiki bar along the Christmas trees on the beach at Landshark Cove (formerly Sunset Cove at Lanier Islands).
“We’re open right now during the week at 5 o’clock for Magical Nights of Lights as well as Parrot Mountain and the carnival rides. On weekends, we open at 11 a.m.,” Lush said. “When the kids get out of school, we’ll actually be open each day at 11.”
While Magical Nights of Lights will phase out after Christmas, Parrot Mountain, the carnival and the other winter attractions will stay open until late-February and even into March. Margaritaville and Safe Harbor are banking on the snowy attractions to fill the winter off-season until spring activity on the lake begins to pick up in April.
Magical Nights of Lights costs $43 per vehicle if tickets are ordered online, and it’s $49 at the gate. As Christmas gets closer, that price will increase $10.
And coming up for next boating season at the resort: A major expansion of the facility’s RV lots, boat storage and docking capacity.
“Today we have Shoal Creek, which is 60 campsites and 40 RV sites,” Lush said, “and we’re going to open 120 state-of-the-art, luxury RV sites, and we’re going to call that Camp Margaritaville.”
Meanwhile, Safe Harbor owner Campbell said on Monday that the company is going to pump $3 million into the islands’ marinas.
“We’re going to add year-round, covered slips and ultimately a dry-stack storage facility beginning in the spring of this year,” Campbell said.
In the first phase of the project, the resort will add 200 to 300 slips to its marina, and the other spaces will come through dry storage next year.
“As far as we know, we have the last 500 permits available on Lake Lanier,” Campbell said.