Toronto’s holiday light spectacle receives lukewarm reception

Attend Canada’s first drive-through, physically distanced light show—for a price.
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Attend Canada’s first drive-through, physically distanced light show—for a price.

TORONTO — Last Friday, Polar Drive, a Christmas-themed drive-through light show run by The Concierge Club and Impact XM, opened its doors at Pearson International’s Value Park Lot. However, early reviews suggest that the show meant to dazzle attendees left many unimpressed, with its harshest critics feeling indignant that the experience did not reflect its admission fee.

“Sorry but definitely not worth what they charge. Very short. Repetitive,” an Instagram user commented on a Polar Drive post. “If you can’t get tickets for the ones in GTA with better reviews don’t waste your money. [Tickets] for half the price might have been justifiable.”

The “multi-level photo spectacular” event, scheduled to run until January 3, 2021, has decorated six levels of the airport parking lot in a holiday theme. Polar Drive’s major selling point is the physically-distanced experience, whereby attendees will not come into contact with anyone but fellow car passengers during the immersive light show. 

The fact the drive was held in a roofed space meant it would be impervious to any inclement weather conditions of the upcoming winter months. But the convenience, the novelty, and the spectacle of the Polar Drive comes at a premium: general admission starts at $55 per vehicle from Mon to Thurs and goes up to $65 Fri to Sun.

Polar Drive’s images and videos on its social media platforms boast the pomp and pageantry of the drive-through course, which is just under 1 km long and takes about 30 minutes to complete, according to Narcity

Early-bird visitors, however, have disputed this claim as several have said that the ride was much shorter in actuality, with conflicting times that range from 10 to 22 minutes. Though the official website mentions that the ride length would vary based on “traffic flow and peak times,” the shorter-than-expected duration is a major pitfall of the event, according to existing reviews.

“We were a bit disappointed at how short it was,” an Instagram user commented. “Not very interactive. It was quite overpriced.”

The brevity of the track was not lost on children either. One parent reflected that the entire ride was only 22 minutes, much to the disappointment of his children who were enjoying the light displays: “The kids’ comment was, ‘That’s it? That was too short.’”

Those pleased with the drive-through were indeed mostly young children, whose parents lauded the show for its ornamental grandeur. “The team did an outstanding job on the details,” an Instagram user wrote. “Thank you for bringing some joy this season. My little one appreciated it very much.”

Accompanied by its own holiday soundtrack by way of “Polar Radio” FM, the drive-through show begins with an all-encompassing light tunnel engulfing viewers with thousands of LED bulbs, reminiscent of the Winter Illuminations installation at the Nabana no Sato botanical garden in Japan. The light tunnel is followed by “a magical winter wonderland with larger-than-life holiday décor,” according to Polar Drive. 

“After that, be ready to have your breath taken away as you descend into the crystal cave inspired tunnel,” the Polar Drive website reads. “And what are the holidays without Santa? That’s right, here’s your chance to snap a picture as you drive past the real Santa.”

A distanced picture of, not with, the Man with the Bag is rather unorthodox and bathetic. Still, it complies with the provincial guidelines for holiday celebrations this year, which suggests “Visiting Santa Claus, Mrs. Claus or their elves outdoors and taking photos while keeping two metres apart.”

“I know there are many people looking forward to their traditional family celebrations at this time of year, but to keep your loved ones safe, traditions will have to be adjusted,” Premier Ford said in their Nov. 25 news release.

Driving through a holiday event typically experienced on foot is certainly one way of adjusting tradition. 

The COVID-induced cancellation of the beloved Cavalcade of Lights Festival — held annually since 1967 — meant no glittering light displays across the city, no musical performances, no fireworks shows, and, of course, no ritual lighting of the 15-metre tree at Nathan Phillips Square this Christmas. 

Although lacking the Cavalcade’s ceremony and communal energy, Polar Drive has postured itself as not only a replacement but also an upgrade to conventional holiday-light attractions, touting itself as the “first” of its kind in Canada. 

While the drive-through format reimagines the light-seeing tradition that has become integral to Yuletide festivities in Toronto, it is not as democratic or affordable as the city-run Cavalcade. In addition to the short-lived ride, Polar Drive’s admission fee has prompted visitors to criticize the event for its anticlimactic layout and design. 

“Whoever designed dropped the ball as the magic was lost because of the long dull drive out of the garage,” an Instagram user said. “I left feeling a little underwhelmed: for the $65 price tag it should have been more for longer.”

Wiki Production Code: A0424

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