Tour companies serve up holiday light displays in leave-the-driving-to-us comfort.
With proms, graduations and weddings, you might guess that the high season for limousine companies is spring.
That would be off. By about six months.
It’s the colorful, bright lights of December that keep limos on the road, chauffeuring families and groups of friends to see the holiday lights.
“The rest of the year it’s more spread out,” said Carol Simnioniw, operations manager of City View and White Knight Limousine. “December is our busiest month of the year because we do tours consistently all week long.”
In the few frenzied weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas, at least a half-dozen companies offer tours ranging from as little as an hour to more than six.
Some boast Town Cars decorated with red bows or stretch limos outfitted with fireplaces — on a video screen, that is. Festive music is a given, but you also can make the trip into a movable party by bringing your own snacks, signing up for a wine tour, or requesting a driver who tells holiday tales. If you want the one amenity a limo can’t offer, you can rent a motor coach — with a bathroom.
No matter what kind of vehicle you board, all roads lead to the suburban cul-de-sacs, stately mansions and city parks that are lit up like Times Square on New Year’s Eve.
“It warms the heart when you see something that’s beautiful — or kitschy, as the case may be,” said Tracy DeJong of Metro Connections, based in Minneapolis “It doesn’t have to be about Christmas, just the holidays.”
As director of tour services, DeJong is in charge of determining the route. But because there’s no set directory of homes with spectacular holiday displays, she gets hers the hard way: “I have to invent it,” she said. “I just go out and drive around.”
She starts with the previous year’s addresses, then scouts out tips she’s gathered from local newspapers and TV stations.
Like DeJong, Scott Hebl, chief manager of Renee’s Royal Valet, based in Plymouth, starts with last year’s list, then builds from there. Hebl said he’s always on the lookout for displays that are timed to music as well as those that are designed to be walked through.
“Some homes you can get out and tour the property, which is fun for the kids,” he said.
For competitive reasons, neither company releases its routes, but DeJong wasn’t worried about giving away professional secrets when she said that one of the best spectacles is on Summit Avenue, where the governor’s mansion gets plenty of competition.
“The best tree, other than [in] Rice Park, is across the street from the governor’s mansion. It is absolutely stunning. The governor’s [tree] is nice, but his neighbor’s is better,” DeJong said.
Most tour companies also tend to favor the east side of town.
“Historically, the east metro has a better tour,” said Hebl. “You have Rice and Mears Park, Summit Avenue and several neighborhoods.”
In the west metro, most routes focus on homes in Plymouth, Maple Grove, Hopkins and Medina. Even so, “it’s not an area where you’re going to have cul-de-sacs lit up,” said Hebl. “It’s just kind of one here, one there,”
To get the most bang for your buck, Hebl recommends that people who live in the west metro arrange for a tour that picks them up from one of the restaurants in downtown St. Paul.
Even though he works long hours during the winter limo season, Hebl isn’t one to complain.
“I love this time of year.” he said. “It’s special because it’s the only time families get together — and love is in the air.”
Melissa Walker • 612-673-4461