Our very first RV Christmas, living, working, and traveling full time in Charlie-the-Unicorn RV…
Question: How do you get through the holidays without home, kids, decorations, traditions, extended family & friends?
Answer: You make it up as you go…
One of our favorite holiday traditions was piling the kids, the dog, and anyone else who would go with us, into the SUV, and “finding the lights.” Usually, that meant cruising neighborhoods, near and far, for hours. We’d load everyone up with fresh, decorated gingerbread boy & girl cookies (another favorite tradition) and coffee or hot chocolate for the adventure.
As full-time RVers, far from home, the holidays were a little different this year…
We still managed to find the lights, and the joy, and family & friends!
RV Christmas Review: Holiday Light Shows In The Southeast
1st Event: Greenville Pickens Speedway – South Carolina
Our RV Christmas adventure began in Spartanburg, SC at Pine Ridge Campground, which was a 5-star experience, in their Premium Site #50:
We enjoyed having a fabulous party deck, with holiday lights, a wooden porch swing, and a fancy gas fireplace with amber glass stones instead of wood. (We usually don’t go so upscale. It was totally worth it to have the extra space to hang out with our special guests.)
We were in South Carolina visiting our daughter & her boyfriend for two weeks, between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Daughter is a healthcare worker (Phlebotomist) at the hospital, working 12 – 14+ hour shifts, back-to-back-to-back, through the holidays. She definitely needed Mom & Dad and some Christmas fun. We definitely needed to see her, after four months on the road.
Review: Upstate Holiday Lights at Greenville Pickens Speedway
There was no campground option at the racetrack, so this review is solely based on the Christmas Light Show.
The centerfield display inside the racetrack and the changing light patterns illuminating the stands circling the track were exceptional.
The entrance and exit to the track display was a long series of old-school lighted characters and holiday/winter scenes (think penguins and dancing elves, animated snowmen, etc.). Some lights on, some burnt out, which led to some pretty interesting and sometimes grotesque displays (Southern Gothic, as we say in the literary community).
At this small track, you could drive around on the actual racetrack and enjoy that part of the light show as many times as you wanted. (Dear Daughter’s max around the track was two times, after a long day at the hospital, but we could have gone many more times!)
The music on the FM simulcast (choice of two different radio stations: Kids Show & Traditional) was an endless loop of… The Twelve Days of Christmas. Over and over and over. And over. On the kid’s channel.
VIDEO of the light tunnel w/ Twelve Days of Christmas (25 Seconds)
The “traditional” channel was Christmas with a capital C! and other more or less regional holiday favorites.
Note: As new empty-nesters, with no grandchildren on the horizon (no hurry!), we avoided the Santa’s Village portion of the event at all of our holiday outings. Sorry, Santa.🎅🏻
Outside of driving on the racetrack and the centerfield display, the Upstate Holiday Light Show was pretty… terrible, actually. Still, we had a great time together, and that was the point.
Rating: Greenville Pickens Speedway = ⭐️⭐️✩✩✩
Our Cost: $40 per car, minivan, truck, or SUV – *NO RVs* (We were in the Jeep 😉 )
Holiday adventure with Dear Daughter & Boyfriend: Priceless
2ND EVENT: Charlotte Motor Speedway – North Carolina
Review: Speedway Christmas at Charlotte Motor Speedway
Spoiler Alert: You’re going to be able to tell pretty quickly that THIS WAS OUR HANDS-DOWN FAVORITE Holiday Light Show of 2021. And I’ll tell you why –
First of all, the camping at Charlotte Motor Speedway was fantastic! $27 per night, with Good Sam. (That’s really inexpensive!)
We didn’t know what to expect, and our expectations were EXCEEDED in every way:
Sherri Caldwell 5/5
Such a fantastic surprise! On the way from Mocksville, NC to Atlanta, GA, we stopped for two nights. Easy off & on I-85. Clean, safe, well-organized and well-maintained campground. Easy access for big rigs (40’ Class A w/tow). Full hook-ups. Very large campsites. All gravel.
We arrived at 5:00 p.m. The manager and office staff stayed a few minutes to change our lot assignment to the main campground and helped us get to our back-in site after dark.
THE COOLEST THING about CWRR: It is, literally, right outside Charlotte Motor Speedway!!! Although there was no racing activity in December, we got to drive (in our Jeep, not the RV) thru the Speedway Christmas Light Show (also showing holiday movies on the mega screen) on the track ($45) — it was AMAZING!!! Happy Holidays!
Response from the owner
Thanks so much for the great review. Come back and see us!
As far as Speedway Christmas at Charlotte Motor Speedway… WOW!!!
…four million lights strewn across a remarkable four-mile course, with hundreds of creative displays and lights synchronized to Christmas-themed music.
It started with the traditional drive-thru lighted scenes on frames: fine, fine.
And then… OMG! We’re going on the track! The actual NASCAR racetrack! Only one time around, but it was amazing!
And then… We drove down pit road (off the track), where all the race cars start and pull into their stalls during the race for fuel stops and repairs.
And then… Through the infield, on the road course, through incredible, animated laser light displays of towering, changing-color, light trees, sparkling fountains of light, dancing snow flakes above, surprise after surprise.
All coordinated to the FM simulcast of fun, holiday music. It was breathtaking!
And it went on and on and on…
And then… We had the option to turn into Santa’s Village, with concessions and holiday activities, mostly for children.
We were surprised to see a large parking area for a drive-in holiday movie showing on the mega-screens normally used to high-def broadcast the races to the stadium all around the track. That night, it was Christmas with the Kranks.
And then… We thought it was over. We expected to exit out the long road to the main street and that was it, but NO!
We drove out on the exit side of the ticket gate, as people were coming in the entrance on the other side.
Instead of proceeding down the exit road, we were directed off the street, onto the sidewalk outside the stadium… and then UP the wide ramps to the press area parking lot, which was transformed into the COOKOUT OVERLOOK.
We parked, got out of the car and stood in amazement to enjoy the incredible view of the entire light show and holiday presentation below.
And then… Proceed directly to Exit, Thank You, Good Night?
NO!!! We followed the route up through the exterior concourses of the speedway stadium seating, where race fans are usually visiting the concession areas, the t-shirt & souvenir stands, and the bathrooms.
The concourses were lit up for another mile, it seemed, with Christmas lights and arches and whimsical, animated displays, still coordinated with the simulcast.
To the very end, where we reached the checkered flags (in lights) at the exit tunnel.
And then we were back out on the main road.
Wow!!! Speedway Christmas at Charlotte Motor Speedway
And, you know what? With Charlie-the-RV safely parked at the campground right outside the racetrack, we were driving the Jeep. But, look 👀 what we saw on the track, driving through the light show, just like any other car, minivan, truck, or larger passenger vehicle:
Rating: Charlotte Motor Speedway =🥇⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Our Cost: $45 Vehicle Pass (apparently, RVs okay!)
Camping Cost: $27 per night
Total package: Great Camping + Holiday Light Show = Perfect!
3RD EVENT: Stone Mountain Park – Georgia
After Charlotte Motor Speedway, we were at National Indoor RV Center (NIRVC) outside of Atlanta, for two nights. There was no holiday light show, but check out our 5-Star Re-do Review of NIRVC Atlanta when you have a chance!
And then we went to Stone Mountain Park Campground for the rest of the week:
Best RV Camping Near Atlanta & NIRVC
And guess what?
THEY HAVE A CHRISTMAS LIGHT SHOW AND PROGRAM AT STONE MOUNTAIN!!!
Review: Stone Mountain Christmas
Stone Mountain Park is not a racetrack or speedway, obviously.
Spoiler Alert: Stone Mountain Christmas is not a drive-thru light show.
It’s actually much more than that:
Immersive holiday magic with evenings full of festive music, millions of dazzling lights, spectacular shows…
Catch favorite experiences including the NEW World’s Largest Christmas Light Show and the Snow Angel’s Christmas Parade!
Having lived in Atlanta for 25 years, we’ve been to Stone Mountain many times, including for Christmas events.
The Scenic Railroad used to rumble right on through the light show all around the mountain, which was spectacular.
But in order to ride the Scenic Railroad and enjoy the lights in 2021, you have to pay for everything else too.
This second year of pandemic, Stone Mountain Christmas is very people-y. Too people-y for us, beyond even the empty-nester aversion to events meant for the kids & young families.
Stone Mountain Christmas outside the gates 🤫
So we explored “behind the scenes” (but outside the gates), after dark, to check out the lights.
Without the people.
It was fantastic!
Rating: Stone Mountain Christmas = ⭐️⭐️⭐️✩✩
Cost: To be immersed: $40 per adult x 2 = $80 + $20 vehicle entrance fee to the park = $100 😳
Millions of lights, lots of activities and family fun. Not worth it this year for the empty-nesters.
Camping Cost: $70 per night. (Orange RV Sites) (Expensive end of the spectrum – worth it!)
*** Best camping anywhere close to metro Atlanta ***
4TH EVENT: ATLANTA MOTOR SPEEDWAY – GEORGIA
And then I saw an ad for World of Illumination – Arctic Adventure at Atlanta Motor Speedway (AMS).
Explore World of Illumination’s Arctic Adventure, meet Sunny, a 32-foot-tall snowman, and all of his tundra-bound friends. You’ll be delighted by your favorite holiday music and whimsical winter characters | 350+ Snow-Themed Displays | Millions of Animated Lights | Synchronized Musical Experience | One-Mile Journey
We’ve actually been to AMS more than a few times, for NASCAR races and events, back in the day:
Check out CONFESSION: OUT OF THE NASCAR CLOSET by The Rebel Housewife!
We had toured Charlotte before, too, (and Daytona, and Talladega), but haven’t been to the races anywhere else but AMS.
The Charlotte Motor Speedway holiday show was generically marketed on signs and advertising as Speedway Christmas.
Many of the big NASCAR tracks are owned by the same person/corporation — the legendary Bruton Smith/Speedway Motorsports, Inc.
We assumed the Speedway Christmas show would be the same at the different tracks, but nooooo….
Review: Arctic Adventure at Atlanta Motor Speedway
So we detoured to Atlanta Motor Speedway (AMS) Saturday night, for the Arctic Adventure Light Show.
It rained heavily, all the way from Stone Mountain to AMS, about two hours in the RV on I-85 South. We were happy to be stopping for the night, escaping the rain and traffic.
Atlanta, GA vs. Charlotte, NC:
AMS camping and Christmas light show were the complete opposite of the camping and Christmas light show at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
We arrived at AMS about 2pm on Saturday (in the rain). We found the campground, which we had reserved and paid for by phone on Thursday. We did not receive email confirmation, but we had been assigned a site and paid with credit card.
The Legends Premiere Campground is, basically, a row of wide back-in parking spaces, on a one-way road, backed up to the entrance road to AMS.
They do have full hook-ups available, including 50amp power, water and sewer. No other services. The barrel garbage cans were overflowing with trash piled up on all sides.
There was no one anywhere around the campground or the entire racetrack complex when we arrived at 2pm on Saturday:
- There was no campground office
- No check-in procedure
- No one around to check in with…
- No answer on the main phone line (M – F 9am – 5pm – call back during business hours)
- No answer on the 24-hour security phone number
There was an RV already parked and established (long-term) in the space we had been assigned.
We parked in another of several open spaces – the one we could find where the sewer connection wasn’t flooded under several inches of standing rainwater at the back of the space.
It was an adventure!
Note: In desperation of the moment (in the rain), and because of the connection between AMS and Charlotte Motor Speedway, I reached out to Matt Mancini, the Camping Operations Manager at Charlotte Motor Speedway / Camping World Racing Resort. Matt had been super helpful when we checked in at Charlotte, and had given us his business card. I called to see if he had a contact or info for camping operations at AMS. He called back, and was very reassuring and, again, super helpful. He offered to make some calls, but by then, we were pretty much settled. We had talked to the one random roving night security guard. We didn’t want to disrupt Matt’s weekend.
This is, again, our THANK YOU, MATT for superior customer service, above and beyond.
The Christmas Light Show…
We rallied as we set up Charlie-the-RV for the night.
Two of our very best friends in the world were driving down from Atlanta for dinner in the RV and to join us for the highly-anticipated World of Illuminations Arctic Adventure!
We had tickets for 7:30pm.
From our camping space, we could SEE at least a part of the light show, and all the cars streaming in, on the half-hour.
We assumed it was just a part of the show…
Turns out, Arctic Adventure at Atlanta Motor Speedway wasn’t inside the speedway at all.
The entire thing (one mile), was outside the racetrack, in a parking lot.
One flat parking lot. We could see the entire thing from the RV:
- NO driving on the track (December 2021: AMS off-season re-surfacing)
- NO driving down pit road
- NO meandering through the infield
- NO driving up through the concourses or overlook
Outside the racetrack. In a parking lot. Very short.
Many of the lights, and whole sections of some displays, were out.
Sunny, the 32-foot-tall snowman, didn’t even have a face, or any kind of persona.
–> It could have been the rain, but we were at Charlotte Motor Speedway in the rain, too.
The holiday music on simulcast was staticky and we couldn’t get clear reception.
Fortunately, we were with our dear friends. We had enjoyed a fantastic dinner. We had their amazing Christmas Cake and ice cream dessert waiting for us back at the RV.
We listened to our own Christmas music. We made up our own horrible and hysterically funny narrative.
Rating: Atlanta Motor Speedway Arctic Adventure = ⭐️✩✩✩✩
Our Cost: $60 Per Vehicle 😳 (Friday – Saturday & Holidays)
Camping Cost: $35 per night
Enjoyed with friends and a good sense of humor: Priceless
RV Christmas Summary: Holiday Light Shows In The Southeast
Rating: Greenville Pickens Speedway = ⭐️⭐️✩✩✩
Rating: Charlotte Motor Speedway🥇⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Rating: Stone Mountain Christmas = ⭐️⭐️⭐️✩✩
Rating: Atlanta Motor Speedway = ⭐️✩✩✩✩
This article was about our very first RV Christmas: creating new traditions and finding the lights, and the joy, and family & friends on the road!
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