PLANT CITY — One of East Hillsborough's most popular annual winter traditions took on a new look this year as Christmas Lane has moved from a 1.5-acre farm in Dover to the Florida Strawberry Festival's indoor Expo Hall.
But the face of the event, Lane Wetherington, who has hosted about 40,000 visitors annually for more than 30 years, likes the changes.
"It has been a fantastic move," said Wetherington, who continues to operate the event and stays on-site in a travel trailer. "The crowds have been good."
Two of the biggest changes: moving to an indoor arena and adding ticketing for an event that previously relied on donations. Wetherington said both have yielded positive results.
The roof cover prevents muddy parking lots and wet displays, like Christmas Lane experienced last year and in years past. Charging $5 for visitors 13 and older and $2 for children 4 to 12 actually increased attendance to date, though he didn't offer specific numbers.
Admission covers the costs of renting the property, transporting the display and staffing.
Other changes to Christmas Lane include lighted sculptures outside the Expo Hall leading to the entrance, a synchronized light show that beats to the accompanying music, a new scene procured from a Florida mall and a new 16-foot LED Christmas tree.
Visitors also can purchase extras from the new gift shop and an extended menu that includes fries, nachos and pulled pork sandwiches.
Christmas Lane is open from 6 to 10 p.m. nightly through Jan. 3. Children 3 and younger are free, as is parking. Santa and Mrs. Claus are on site daily.
One family can win free tickets and a $100 Publix gift card if they email their hardship story to Plant City Times & Observer managing editor Amber Jurgensen at [email protected] cityobserver.com by the end of today. Winners will be notified before Dec. 25.
Contact Eric Vician at [email protected]