Missing holiday lights this year? If you live near Norfolk, Virginia, you don’t have to! Amidst countless cancelations of winter festivities this year, the battleship Wisconsin is restoring a little light to the season- literally. Kicking off the massive ship’s first annual WinterFest, the entire boat is decked out with so many lights that they can probably be spotted from space.
Decorating the ship was quite the undertaking.
Just decorating an ordinary house takes hours. Try decorating a 50,000-ton battleship the size of three football fields!
According to the Nauticus Executive Director, Stephen Kirkland, the event took months to prepare for. They had to enlist the help of Blue Steel Lighting Design, led by lighting expert Jeremy Kilgore, to turn the cold, metallic ship into a winter wonderland. And transform it they did. Working up to 15 hours a day, a small crew installed over 250,000 lights and custom-built displays that can’t be seen anywhere else in the world.
The ship itself isn’t perfectly primed for decorating. It’s not very symmetrical, which makes it trickier to make aesthetically pleasing displays. To add to the challenge, every installation has to be done by hand. It’s really a labor of love, but as you can see, the effort paid off. The ship’s massive guns were even turned into candy canes!
While other battleships have been decorated before, including a series of annual decorating competitions in San Diego, nothing has ever been done to this scale.
Beneath the glittering lights, the Battleship Wisconsin has a storied history.
It’s one of the largest battleships in American history, and one of the last to be built by the US Navy. She was first launched on December 7th, 1943, and commissioned the following April commanded by Captain Earl E. Stone. She earned five battle stars during WWII, along with numerous other honors. Visitors can enjoy the lights and learn more about the incredible ship’s history at the same time!
What to know before you go
The WinterFest will continue every weekend through the end of December. Tickets are $10 for kids and $12.50 for adults, with discounts for members. When you get there, expect plenty of fun with plenty of precautions. Tickets are timed to avoid overcrowding, masks are mandated for visitors ages 5 and up, and social distancing is required.
Once you get there, a one-way path will take you through a glowing forest, with live entertainment, Santa sightings, holiday treats, and sailboat parades on Saturdays. A live tree can be spotted in the harbor, too! To save a spot, purchase tickets online.
Will WinterFest become a new tradition for the Wisconsin? The odds are looking good.
If you miss it this year, don’t sweat it. The event’s organizers hope to continue the tradition for years to come, as a “Hampton Roads’ version of the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree”. Alternatively, you can always enjoy footage of the lights without leaving your couch on the battleship’s Instagram page.
And who knows? Maybe the Wisconsin’s whimsical take on military Christmas will inspire other battleships to get lit, too!