Merry & bright: UCF hol­i­day glow

Orlando Sentinel (Sunday) - - FRONT PAGE - By Tess Sheets Or­lando Sen­tinel Tess Sheets can be reached at [email protected]­lan­dosen­tinel.com, 407-420-5020 or Twit­ter @sheet­s_t­ess

Light Up UCF, which opens this week­end, is big­ger than ever.

The lawn out­side CFE Arena at Univer­sity of Cen­tral Florida has warped into a spec­ta­cle of lights, mark­ing the be­gin­ning of hol­i­day fes­tiv­i­ties at the cam­pus with the open­ing of its an­nual Light Up UCF event this week­end.

More than 200,000 lights — the most ever fea­tured — and the oc­ca­sional blast of “snow” set the scene for hol­i­day ac­tiv­i­ties in­clud­ing ice skat­ing, rides, vis­its with Santa and en­ter­tain­ment by lo­cal per­form­ers.

“We started off as just a rink and a small light show, and we’ve turned it into a win­ter won­der­land,” said Ju­lian Bow­man, di­rec­tor of mar­ket­ing for the CFE Arena.

On most week­ends, at­ten­dees can also bring chairs and a blan­ket for out­door hol­i­day movie show­ings.

On Satur­day, the event closed early as the cam­pus buzz was dom­i­nated by foot­ball. UCF took on Cincin­nati on Satur­day night, and a live broad­cast of ESPN’s “Col­lege GameDay” from cam­pus was the fo­cus of the morn­ing. But a few fans trick­led into the hol­i­day event be­fore game time.

Eight-year-old Ju­lia Barry danced with her friend on the com­mu­nity stage out­side CFE Arena that over­looks the Light Up Ex­press, a set of train tracks that cir­cle a minia­ture Christ­mas tree field. Her par­ents, Rich and Sarah Barry, of Win­der­mere, said they were tail­gat­ing for the game Satur­day morn­ing.

“We just wan­dered over and it was open al­ready,” Sarah Barry said.

The fam­ily has been to Light Up UCF in pre­vi­ous years, mainly for Ju­lia to en­joy the fes­tiv­i­ties. Rich Barry said he thought Ju­lia’s fa­vorite ac­tiv­ity would be the Ice Slide, where kids on plas­tic sleds can glide down a hill of hard­packed ice, “be­cause, of course, they never get to do that,” he said.

But no— she said she most en­joyed show­ing off her moves on stage.

Win­ston Web­ster, of Oviedo, who was also tail­gat­ing with friends Satur­day morn­ing, said he saw the iceskat­ing rink while search­ing for a place to eat lunch, “and thought we’d pick up the skates, hit the blades and just get out there and shred some ice” be­fore they hoped to score tickets for the game, he said

Now in its 11th year at UCF, Bow­man credits Light Up UCF’s pop­u­lar­ity to its af­ford­abil­ity. Ad­mis­sion is free, and tickets for ac­tiv­i­ties start at $4.25.

“You can do ev­ery­thing for un­der $20, or you can come and walk around for no charge at all,” Bow­man said.

Along with more lights, event co­or­di­na­tors this year added a sec­ond hol­i­day mar­ket night, where lo­cal ven­dors and ar­ti­sans sell crafts and other prod­ucts. Last year, the mar­ket drew about 5,000 cus­tomers, Bow­man said.

“His­tor­i­cally, those night have been our busiest nights,” Bow­man said.

“We’re ex­pect­ing good crowds at both events be­cause the com­mu­nity has sup­ported it.”

JOE BUR­BANK/OR­LANDO SEN­TINEL

Palm trees are lit Fri­day at the Light Up UCF hol­i­day fes­ti­val at the UCF. The event fea­tures ice skat­ing, a hol­i­day light show, free hol­i­day movies, live en­ter­tain­ment, a Light Up Ex­press kids’ train and other rides. It runs through Jan. 1.

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