It’s like stepping inside a giant glistening snow globe on a landscape of giant snowflakes.
Most people go in with Christmas-card smiles and open arms, but every now and then the brilliant lights reveal someone with a face creased by nervousness or a jittery hand.
“We affectionately call (the attraction) ‘the proposal ball’ because so many people get engaged under it. Some poor guys spend their whole night’s walk stressing about getting down on one knee,” said a laughing Amy LaBelle, who with her husband, Cesar Arboleda, runs LaBelle Winery in Derry.
For a third year, the golf links on the property have been transformed into a winter wonderland. Last year featured 500,000 lights and attracted up to 40,000 visitors. This year, “LaBelle Lights” has upped the ante to 1.5 million lights, and hopes to bring in 50,000 guests.
There are new features, food and beverage options offered along the looping, family-friendly course.
The LaBelle Winery’s sneak peek last Tuesday drew employees and their families along as well as visitors.
It may look easy to pass through the new entrance quickly, but we all stop and take turns doing cellphone shots in front of an enormous, golden-wrapped present topped with a glittering, red bow.
After checking in at the tasting room inside a high-lofted, wooden building with the feel of a winter lodge, we head out to the patio with a sparkling vista that stretches across paths, wooden bridges and grassy expanses.
Frank Sinatra has set the mood, crooning through hidden speakers and sending out warm wishes for “a merry little Christmas.”
But there’s nothing little about the displays, from the willow branches that drip like tinsel to a 45-foot-tall tree that requires a rented crane for installation.
The course isn’t long, but you can go through it several times. Switch up directions and be sure to stop and do a slow spin now and then to give yourself various perspectives of features.
Selfies await around corners, through wooded sections, next to sand traps and greens free of golf balls and now decorated with everything from huge lighted squirrels to Santa’s sleigh.
There are whimsical touches everywhere, and it’s fun to hear echoes of reactions. Even from the other end of a stretch of walkway, it’s easy to see a boy silhouetted against a display of lights and hear his excited voice as he calls out to his mother, pointing at one of several 6-foot mushrooms that seem straight out of “Alice in Wonderland.”
There’s also a sense of nostalgia, oversized ornaments that look like vintage glass ornaments with tops ready for hanging hooks.
In response to feedback from visitors who wanted a spot about halfway around the course to linger and socialize, LaBelle has added the Santa Snack Shack — right about the point where most people have finished the hot cocoa they brought at the start.
“They wanted to hang out for a bit, spend some time just looking around and enjoying the views. They felt a snack would help them do that,” LaBelle said.
A sign hanging on the front of the wooden shack advertises the menu: Belgian waffle served with whipped cream, sprinkles and a choice of sauce — maple flavored or real maple syrup, strawberry, chocolate or peanut butter.
And, of course, there’s more hot chocolate. But grown-ups also can get spiked versions with Bailey’s chocolate and toasted marshmallows or opt for a Bulleit Old Fashioned with rye, sweet vermouth and bitters; Ketel One Espresso Martini; spiked mulled cider; beer; or Crown Royal Apple mixed with Sprite.
There’s also are grab-and-go items available at The LaBelle Market and The Tasting Room.
There are hundreds of six-foot snowflakes along the route. A new touch are willow trees that drip with vibrant LED lights like tinsel on the branches of a Christmas tree.
The holiday spirit is infectious, and even some of the homes in a neighborhood bordering the back of the property are decked in strings of light by mid-November.
LaBelle Lights hours are Tuesdays through Sundays from 4:30 to 9:30 p.m. until Jan. 7. The attraction is closed on Mondays, as well as Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day.
Anyone who loves the holiday flurry and the festive energy of a crowd should go on Saturday nights when the attraction is bustling. For those looking for a slower pace, Tuesdays through Thursdays.
Tickets for LaBelle Lights, at 14 Route 11, Derry, are $18 for adults; $12 for those 65 and older and $8 for ages 4 to 12. Children age 3 and under get in for free. New “Twinkle Tuesdays” are half price.
Keep in mind that there are theme nights when people are invited to show even more holiday spirit:
• Holiday Pajama Week, through Nov. 26.
• Santa Costume Week, Nov. 28 to Dec. 3.
• Crazy Holiday Hats Week, Dec. 5-10.
• Ugly Holiday Sweater Week, Dec. 12-17.
• Find the Hidden Elf Week, Dec. 19-23.
• Frozen Costume Week with icy attire, Dec. 26 to 31.
• ‘80s Ski Week, with retro winter gear, Jan. 2-7.
“Last year we had a Grinch running around the course,” LaBelle said. “There is nothing better than to sneak up on a kid and make them smile.
“In the past I have been known to participate in a little Mrs. Claus business, and Cesar has been Santa.”
LaBelle lights also collects presents for the United States Marine Corps Reserve’s Toys for Tots program and food for End 68 Hours of Hunger initiative.