Attendees at McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park’s popular holiday lights event can expect smaller crowds and higher ticket prices this year due to health and safety precautions.
The event has become one of Scottsdale’s most popular holiday attractions since it began in the 1980s, and draws in thousands of spectators from all over the Valley to ride the model train and view the thousands of lights blanketing the park.
This year’s holiday lights will be on display 6-9:30 p.m. Nov. 27-Jan. 3. There will be no lights on Dec. 24, 25 or 31.
The park will allow a limited number of guests in one-hour increments at 6 p.m., 7:15 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. each night. Guests can purchase tickets ahead of time to reserve a time at therailroadpark.com/holidaylights.
Nick Molinari, the City of Scottsdale’s operations supervisor for the park, said only around 200 guests will be admitted per hour.
“However, we will continuously evaluate the event to determine whether that number should be adjusted,” he said. “We normally have thousands of people at the event nightly, so the 200 threshold is minimal for an outdoor park.”
The 200-person limit will likely drastically reduce the total number of people who can enjoy the park’s holiday lights.
In 2018, Molinari estimated 1,000 people visited the park on a slow night and 3,000 or 4,000 on busier nights during the five-week event.
Those visitors accounted for 49,000 rides on the park’s train and $313,000 in sales, according to ticket sale numbers tracked by the park.
This year, the park is also limiting its train and other rides to 50 percent capacity to allow for social distancing and will not have a Santa Claus on site.
Molinari said park staff did not consult with anyone outside the city to create rules for the modified event but relied on current best practices and event management trends for COVID-19.
“The Center for Disease Control places a lower risk on events that can be held outdoors with a smaller amount of people who can remain socially distanced,” Molinari said. “This was the foundational principle for the modified structure of the event.”
Once their hour is up, guests will be asked to leave.
Molinari said there will be a specific area blocked off for staff to check in guests with tickets for a specific time slot and separate entrance and exit points.
“Since the only people in the park during a specific hour will be those who have bought tickets, we will notify them at certain points how much time they have left in the hour,” he said. “We will then notify visitors when they need to exit the area.”
Ticket prices will also go up this year as a result of the new reservation model. The park will charge a flat $15 per person admission.
Last year, the park charged $5 per train ride and $3 per carousel ride with no admittance fee during the holiday lights event. The park also sold a limited number of fast passes for $15 that allowed riders to jump the line for one train ride.
Molinari said the price increase comes with an improved experience for customers due to the smaller-than-normal crowds.
“While that may seem like a significant jump from last year, visitors can ride the train and carousel more than once during their hour at the park,” he said. “With the limited amount of people in the park, the lines should be very short, equivalent to what our fast pass customers normally experience.”