Illuminated tunnels, archway add spark to Butch Bando's Fantasy of Lights in Delaware
It's a 3-mile wonderland, featuring twinkling holiday displays and dazzling tunnels, and it doesn't require a trek to Wheeling, West Virginia.
Butch Bando’s Fantasy of Lights, 3311 S. Old State Road in Delaware, will begin Friday, Nov. 20, and continue through Jan. 3.
Kelley Chaffin, vice president of operations, said this marks the 21st season for the show that always has been a drive-thru experience and has featured all LEDs the past four years.
“We say we were COVID-19-(precautions)-friendly before it was popular,” she said.
Chaffin said the attraction has too many lightbulbs to estimate, but it has 150-plus displays and a new RGB (red, green and blue light bulbs) tunnel that’s programmed to change color.
“At our ticket gate, we will have a new arch, as well,” she said. “We have three tunnels this year. People love our tunnels.”
Another addition to this year’s show will be Mrs. Claus, who will be on hand to take children' letters to Santa from Nov. 27 through Dec. 23.
The Fantasy of Lights elves will scan and email the letter to an email address provided on the letter to ensure wish lists are known this holiday season, Chaffin said.
She said guests should expect the drive-thru experience to take about 30 minutes, with visits closer to Christmas Day usually having a longer wait before entry.
“We provide holiday music for everyone to listen to on 88.3 (FM),” she said.
Dante Bando, co-owner of the show with his sister, Theresa Bando Borders, said the display is naturally socially distanced and attainable for those with disabilities who might not be able to walk to see other holiday destinations.
He said the show is family-owned and family- and friend-operated and makes memories for other families.
Bando said Fantasy of Lights was started by Steve Cross 21 years ago.
“He started it as a way to keep his seasonal employees busy throughout the year for his boat and RV business,” Bando said. “He approached me about taking over the light show a few times. I was pretty reluctant.”
But he eventually was convinced.
“One of my stipulations was to rename it to Butch Bando's Fantasy of Lights in honor of our late father, who passed away 16 years ago," Bando said. "It has been a fun way to honor him.”
Bando said he and Borders, who have lived in the Galena, Sunbury and Lewis Center areas their entire lives, took over the operation about five years ago.
He said his father would have loved it.
“He was extremely generous,” Bando said. “He always wanted to make sure he did his part to make the holidays special. He was charitable and thoughtful. I think it would be up his alley.”
The show benefits local charities, including Recreation Unlimited, a nonprofit organization in Delaware County that provides recreational opportunities for people with physical and developmental disabilities and people with health concerns; A Kid Again, a local charity that supports children living with life-threatening illnesses; 3rd & Goal Foundation, which supports veterans; and Steps for Sarcoma, a fundraiser to bring awareness to sarcoma, a cancerous tumor found in the bone or connective tissue.
The show also has a partnership with the Delaware Area Career Center, with digital-design students producing an informational podcast this year that will be available on Spotify, YouTube and other platforms.
Over the past 21 years and especially in the past five, Bando said, the show has been modernized to bring it to the digital age.
“It’s really fun to see people and hear them talk about it,” he said. “People want to go through again. One person will see something the other didn’t.”
He said the display that shows a tree picking up a star used to be his favorite.
“We have so many new, beautiful ones,” Bando said. “I’m partial to the patriotic ones. The tunnels are great. I don’t have just one (favorite) anymore.”
He said Westerville Parks & Recreation recently featured one of the Fantasy of Lights tunnels at the entrance to the Great Westerville Pumpkin Glow.
“They were impressed with the July 4 show, so we brought in our RGB tunnel for the pumpkin show,” Bando said.
Presented by the city of Westerville and the Rotary Club of Westerville, in partnership with Butch Bando’s Fantasy of Lights, the Lights of Liberty show debuted in July at the Westerville Sports Complex as a drive-thru patriotic light show synchronized to music.
“The reception was great,” he said.
Bando said he intends to continue to offer the shows until people decide they don’t want to come.
Cost is $20 Mondays through Thursdays per car, minivan or SUV and $30 Fridays through Sundays.