Have Jozi to yourself

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Festive: see the Christmas lights at Emperors Palace.

Johannesburg - People think I’m crazy for choosing to stay in Joburg over the holidays, versus making the great trek to the seaside for the annual break.

I see it differently. Why follow the crowds to those frenzied coastal towns for a rushed Christmas, when you can just about have Jozi to yourself over December? No traffic, quiet restaurants, prices not inflated for the silly season – sounds like a win to me.

And before you start thinking that there’s nothing to do up here on the Reef, think again. A simple online search will reveal that just about every mall and venue has some type of entertainment programme running. One of the best, though, has to be the offering from Emperors Palace.

I remember the days as a kid, riding in my dad’s car down the main roads in central Joburg, and marvelling at the many lighting displays hung between the street poles across the roads. Not to mention the warm evenings spent at Wemmerpan’s musical fountains, where the water danced to Christmas carols as we stuffed our little mouths with as many sugary delights as we could find.

Neither of those spectacles runs today, but what Emperors has done with its Garden of Lights fills the gap quite nicely.

It’s a huge bonus, especially for larger families, that entry into the expansive garden is free, and that the display is probably the best on the continent. With over 5km of fairy lights used, visitors can look forward to more than 200 light displays spread across the manicured gardens of the resort’s five-star D’oreale Grande hotel.

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The park itself has three main elements to it; there are the fun fair rides, the waterpark, and the entertainment and eating area.

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The Garden opens for three hours nightly, between 7pm and 10pm (weather permitting), and runs until January 5 – and some of the displays really are world-class.

The huge Christmas tree, with globes which change colours and dance to various themes, is quite extraordinary, while the Christmas jingles which echo throughout the park will get you and the family into that festive spirit.

Santa is obviously on hand for a picture or two, and there are a few refreshment and novelty toy spots to relieve you of your hard-earned cash. There’s a donation box at the entrance too, for the Reach for a Dream foundation.

The idea, though, is to make a whole day of it, by pairing the Garden of Lights in the evening with Santa’s Playground earlier in the day. The playground runs from 10am to 10pm, is situated on the Emperors Palace grounds, and is open until January 15.

It’s also not as expensive as you’d imagine, with the R60 per person entry fee getting you R50 back in vouchers for the mechanical rides – while parents who are only minding children pay R10 per person (Winners Circle members pay R50 per person, with R50 back in Fun Park rides).

Pensioners and toddlers under a metre high enter free, and there are combo deals on offer too – for R200 per adult and R120 per child you get a free Coca-Cola, hotdog and R50 voucher for the mechanical rides. And make sure you enter the competition at the entrance to win a trip to Disneyland for four… you never know..

The park itself has three main elements to it; there are the fun fair rides, the waterpark, and the entertainment and eating area.

Having been last year I can tell you that Emperors has dropped some serious dosh on improving the venue, which is officially called @thePark.

The inflatable water slides (which close at 7pm) all now feature permanent swimming pools; there’s a huge building and stage structure for concerts; and an expansive eating hall with a New York-themed restaurant. The down-side is that a lot of trees, which provided much needed shade, were sacrificed in the renovation – I would highly recommend taking a picnic umbrella along with your camper chairs.

There are more than enough staff keeping an eye on the children all over the park, meaning you can chill with a good book while the bigger kids terrify themselves on the four seriously majestic slides, or the smaller kids frolic in the new and supervised kiddies pool. There’s a DJ, making sure of good music pumping in the background, which keeps the mood flowing.

The funfair, which closes at 10pm and offers 18 rides, can get a little expensive if, like my kids, yours appreciate adrenalin running through their little veins (the included vouchers help, a little). The more-thrilling rides, like the Rotor (which you have to try), will set you back R30 a pop.

Take note though that the funfair opens at 10am on weekends and public holidays, but later at 2pm on weekdays – which is fine I guess as the waterpark opens earlier with the park.

Lunch costs weren’t unreasonable, with a chicken burger and chips costing around R50 and being quite tasty.

And if you want some added value (and don’t mind crowds) diarise New Year’s Day, which is when the African Music Festival will take place with talent like Mi Casa, DJ Fresh, Zahara and Dr Victor on offer. - Sunday Independent

For more information visit www.eventpark.co.za or www.emperorspalace.com, or call 011 928 1000.

n Bhagaloo was a guest of Emperors Palace.

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