Families bundled up in festive scarves, swirls of steam rising from the mugs of hot chocolate in their hands on a cold night – these images conjure the spirit of the holidays, but one vital element is missing. What would the holidays be without the sparkle of bright, twinkling lights?
There’s nothing quite like a spectacular holiday light display, and no one does it like the City of Gulfport. The magic came to life in 2015 when the City of Gulfport’s Department of Leisure Services and Council President, Rusty Walker, had a dream to create a coastal holiday winter festival.
“Harbor Lights is the brainchild of Council President, Rusty Walker,” says Gulfport Mayor Billy Hewes. “As a programming hobbyist, Rusty took the concept from an annual computerized holiday light display at his home and put it on steroids. Rick Carter, co-owner of Island View Casino loved the idea and provided sponsorship funding to help bring the show into reality.”
It started with just a few light displays, but grew quite rapidly. Since its inception, the show has expanded with over 2.5 million lights throughout 40 acres in Jones Park and has been recognized as Mississippi’s Largest Christmas Light Show.
“The result is the largest Christmas attraction in Mississippi, seven years in the making, says Mayor Hewes. “Gulfport is open for business and geared for a good time!”
Not only does Harbor Lights Winter Festival feature Christmas lights, there are also a variety of activities for the whole family to enjoy! Visitors can stroll through Santa’s Village, located under Barksdale Pavilion, to see working elves, Santa’s Headquarters, and visit Santa Claus. Speaking of Santa, he is present every night between 6 and 10 p.m., except Christmas Day, to deliver gifts! Be sure to bring your phone or camera to capture photos. While you’re there, swing by the Gift Shop for an assortment of Harbor Lights merchandise and the annual commemorative Harbor Lights Ornament.
Just north of Santa’s Village, you and your family can hop on a train at the Harbor Lights Train Station. This is an excellent alternative to walking through the park, as visitors can ride and view the magical lights and famous Dancing Trees, a choreographed light show created by tree-shaped fixtures! The train is handicap accessible.
Even when bundled up on a chilly night, you may need some additional warmth. Don’t worry, hot chocolate, s’mores, and warming stations are in abundance at the show! Purchase your hot chocolate and s’mores kit from local vendors, and use the warming stations to take a break from the chill and roast marshmallows.
If you think this is a serene picture, you’re not the only one. This idyllic scene has been featured prominently in the 2017 Lifetime film “Christmas in Mississippi,” starring Jana Kramer and Wes Brown. Be sure to watch the movie before attending the festival so you can recreate your favorite scenes when you visit!
The location of Gulfport Harbor Lights also makes it unique, as it is held on the beach with a view of the harbor.
“Enjoying millions of lights on the outskirts of the harbor under our beautiful oaks in Jones Park is memorable in itself,” says City of Gulfport Communications and Marketing Manager Jase Payne. “As you walk throughout the event, you will see nautical displays, including marina life, Santa’s sleigh with seahorses, and much more. Our team continues to elevate the experience yearly for our community and visitors.”
With the addition of the Gulfport Harbor Lights Winter Festival and other festivals, the City of Gulfport has expanded its tourism season to include year-round offerings.
“We are overjoyed with the success of Harbor Lights,” says Mayor Hewes. “With over 110,000 visitors attending last year, we see people from all over the country. It’s amazing to watch the families enjoying the holiday season in our city.”
Gulfport Harbor Lights Winter Festival runs daily from November 25 through December 31 from 5:30 to 10:30 p.m. Admission costs $15 for an adult, $5 for children aged 5-12, and is free for children age 4 and under.
November 25 – December 31
Gates open at 5:30 p.m.
Gates close at 10:30 p.m.
Closed Christmas Eve
Open Christmas Day
Admission: $15 for general admission, $5 for children ages 5-12, free for any child age 4 and under
Gift Shop • Santa’s Village • CTA Trolley • Warming Stations • Visit with Santa • Train Station • Dancing Trees • Train Ride • Carnival Rides • Singing Reindeer
Gulfport Harbor Lights Winter Festival
2269 Jones Park Dr., Gulfport