Cincinnati Family Magazine

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December 10, 2022

Newfields' Winterlights

Mom Report: A Christmas in Indy

A visit to Downtown Indianapolis was the perfect way to kick off our holiday season.

We needed to escape the hustle and bustle of the holidays and our busy life. We needed a quick, family weekend getaway to enjoy each other and the beauty of the holiday season.

Downtown Indianapolis had it all – it was a quick two-hour drive from Cincinnati; Downtown Indy was full of glistening holiday lights including the world’s largest Christmas tree (Indy’s popular 242-foot tall Soldiers and Sailors Monument transforms into a glistening Christmas tree!); the Indianapolis Zoo was celebrating Christmas at the Zoo; we couldn’t wait to experience the Newfields’ Winterlights and see what was new at The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis! We loaded up our family of five and were off.

Crowne Plaza Hotel at Union Station

If you want to experience Indianapolis the right way, round up your train-lovers and book a room in real train car at the Crowne Plaza Indianapolis Downtown Union Station. That’s right – an actual 1920s Pullman train car! We surprised our 10 and 5 year old as we entered into the historic Union Station – America’s very first Union Station to be exact! The “ghost statues” located throughout the hotel added a nice touch to its history, and the kids loved exploring them, too! The train car rested on an old train track, and if that’s just not cool enough, you literally walk up into the train car as if you are about to board; open the door and vola! You’re inside of a train car that is transformed into a large, cozy hotel room! Peek out the window and “wave” to the guests walking by and “All Aboard!” You’re off on your train journey. We spent the first hour exploring around the hotel, checking out the heated pool and peaking into the hotel restaurant and snack bar we couldn’t wait to dig into. Read all out this historical hotel’s story here.

Christmas at the Zoo

We’ve never been to the Indianapolis Zoo so to top off our initial excitement of just visiting for the first time, Christmas at the Zoo recently kicked off which meant Santa, his reindeer and Mrs. Claus were awaiting our arrival – this year with more opportunities to see the Big Man in Red. Did you know that the Indianapolis Zoo was the first zoo in the nation to hold a holiday lights event? This zoo was so easy to navigate – immediately when you walk in, Santa’s Village catches your eye. The kids ran through snowflakes and right into the village where they encountered penguins, Santa’s reindeer, Mrs. Clause’s kitchen and tons of sweet treats. We sipped on our hot cocoa and chatted with a friendly elf while waiting patiently in the line to see The Jolly Old Man. The kids were happy to cozy up in Santa’s warm home and tell him everything on their Christmas list. With a twinkle in his eye, he handed the kids candy canes and sent them on their way. (You can take a photo yourself or purchase one on your way out). The rest of our journey around the zoo we gazed at glistening holiday lights, saw our favorite zoo animals, passed by Santa’s Vacation home, took a ride on the carousel and past Tinsel Tavern (where there are lots of delicious holiday treats for all). This year, Christmas at the Zoo added more opportunities with Santa, a Polar Pathway, special Penguin Encounters and more. The fun goes on through December 30. Learn more at indianapoliszoo.com/events/christmas-at-the-zoo.

The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis

The kids love this museum. Since the last time we visited, new exhibits have been added and we were very excited to visit during the holiday season for the first time. Jolly Days Winter Wonderland at the museum is now open through January 2, 2022 which makes this 5-story interactive museum that much more special. We were immediately drawn to the giant snow globe (where you can “make it snow”) and the lineup of holiday entertainment happening on the main floor. The music and festive holiday decor really put us in the Christmas spirit! We grabbed some Christmas treats before we navigated the first floor. We soared through interactive exhibits including Fireworks of Glass; Treasures of the Earth where the kids dug like real archeologists;  ScienceWorks where they got some hands-on science education; and their favorites Barbie You Can Be Anything: The Experience (open through July 2022!) and American POP! It was mind blowing at how many exhibits there were – no way did we get to fully experience each and every one. Taking a “break” in the Playscape was nice for all of us (including my 8 month old!). The kids ran and played to their hearts content! We ended our experience at the top floor’s Carousel Wishes and Dreams – my 5 year old turned in her magic golden token and was awed by the array of carousel animals to choose from. Writer’s Note: this is a one-of-a-kind museum and you don’t want to rush through it! Leave plenty of time for discovery and keep in mind their health and safety guidelines – ages 2 and older are required to be masked up. We did forget a couple of masks and luckily they have extras when you buy/pick up your tickets at the front. There are tons of holidays programs to take advantage of this month including Gingerbread Houses, Breakfast with Santa, Santa’s Workshop and a lot more where that came from. Check out their hours, special events and programs at childrensmuseum.org/exhibits/jolly-days.

Newfields’ Winterlights

Back in its fifth consecutive year, this walk-through synchronized light show was by far the coolest light display I have ever seen, hands down. With 30-minute ticketed times, it’s the simplest, and coolest experience you can do with the whole family. It was so easy to do, and there was so much to see; it’s a perfect activity to top off the night with or even fit in before dinner time. We parked in front of the gorgeous Indianapolis Museum of Art’s garden and were immediately greeted with hot cocoas and spiked cider to purchase as we walked the lights. The stroller-friendly windy path was perfect for us, and the kids were delighted to have a warm drink in their hands (and so were the adults! Order a double spiked cider and you get some clapping and cheers to go along with it, no joke!) The kids recognized some harmonized tunes from The Nutcracker, and if you stop at the front of the art museum, you can watch the lights blink along to familiar sounds. I don’t know which was my favorite – the glistening tunnels or the art displays wrapped in over 1.5 million glittering lights. This is an experience everyone must do at least once! New additions include a projection mapped rock show featuring Huckleberry Funk and a new contemporary sculpture, “The Greys in Between,” by artist Anila Agha. Plus, the kids eyes lit up when we walked passed the Landscape of Light, across the Snowflake Bridge, through the Ice Storm Walk and the Finale Tree. Newfields Winterlights goes on through January 2, 2022. Don’t forget to dig into the warm chocolate chip cookies and make-your-own s’mores station! Learn more and grab your tickets in advance (they sell out quick!) at discovernewfields.org/winterlights.

Soldiers and Sailors Monument is a 284 feet, 6-inch tall neoclassical monument built on Monument Circle.

More to See

Our weekend had to come to an end (although we were tempted to catch a Sunday afternoon Colts game at the Lucas Oil Stadium – there was a sky walk that connected right to it from our hotel). The whole weekend was such a relaxing delight for my whole family. There were restaurants and shopping right outside of our hotel in downtown Indy. It was so nice to be able to walk to dinner and be less than a 10-minute walk away from the 242-foot tall Soldiers and Sailors Monument which is now transformed into the world’s largest Christmas tree for the holidays. (I highly recommend putting this on your to-do list after getting your bellies full at one of Downtown Indy’s family-friendly restaurants (Buca De Beppo is right around the block from it!) A few more must-dos: take the free Holiday Trolley around town which stops in the Arts & Design District, Carmel City Center, the Indiana Design Center and Carter Green for the Christkindlmarkt and Ice at Carter Green; take advantage of holiday shopping; and go see Jingle Rails at the Eiteljorg museum – a model train wonderland with nine working model trains that wind through a stunning miniature landscape featuring some of Indy’s coolest landmarks!

Learn all about Downtown Indy and book your family’s holiday getaway at visitindy.com.

About the Author

Amanda Hayward

Amanda Hayward is editor of this publication. She is from Cincinnati, Ohio, a military wife and mom of three. If she's not writing for Cincinnati Family, you'll find her running, juggling kids, teaching group fitness classes and cooking up healthy recipes.