Chicago’s Miniature Wonderland Express

Wonderland Express returns to the Chicago Botanic Garden this holiday season and transforms the 385-acre oasis into a winter wonderland of twinkling lights, garden-scale trains, miniature Chicago landmarks, exquisite horticulture displays, and indoor snowfall. This popular holiday exhibition runs from Nov. 25, 2011, through Jan. 1, 2012, and has proven to be a wonderful family tradition.

Held in the Regenstein Center, Wonderland Express features garden-scale trains winding their way over bridges, under trestles, past waterfalls and detailed landscapes with more than 80 miniature versions of Chicago’s favourite landmarks. Returning favourites include President Barack Obama’s Kenwood home, Michelle Obama’s childhood home, Soldier Field, Millennium Park, Navy Pier, and much more. Interpretive signs sprinkled throughout the exhibition give fun facts about Chicago’s history and architecture. Realistic snow falls throughout the exhibition.

The experience starts outdoors, where the Garden grounds have been transformed into a grand winter wonderland of trees and shrubs, dramatically lit with more than 750,000 energy-efficient LED lights. This year, the Garden is reusing more than fifty percent of the outdoor LED lights from last year, which cuts down on cost and refuse. The Esplanade features a 40-foot evergreen tree, lit with multi-coloured lights, surrounded by large lit spheres that appear to be ornaments fallen from the tree.

Indoors, the Regenstein Center is a magical wonderland of trains, plants, and architecture. The Greenhouses are specially lit, including the palm tree trunks in the South Greenhouse, and decorated with beautiful holiday plants. Gracing the walls of the Greenhouse Galleries are wreaths designed by area florists, shops, and the Garden’s own talented staff. These wreaths will be available to purchase, and can be picked up at the end of the exhibition. Decking the Joutras Gallery are holiday trees decorated by local designers, and a gingerbread train depot. The Bridge Gallery features behind-the-scenes photographs of the exhibition designers, Paul Busse and Applied Imagination, Alexandria, Ky., creating the landmarks in their workshop.

The Krehbiel Gallery features an English country train platform with an old-world feel, including more trains and landmarks found on Chicago’s North Shore. A slide show chronicling the construction of the exhibition is shown in the Alsdorf Auditorium for those who don’t want to end the journey just yet. Visitors can enjoy a light lunch, snack, or dinner at the Caboose Café in Burnstein Hall or in the Garden Café. The Garden Shop features an array of extraordinary gifts, including a book on Wonderland Express, amidst the exquisite holiday décor during exhibition hours.

Wonderland Express hours are from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. from Nov. 25 through Jan. 1, 2012. Admission to Wonderland Express on Tuesdays throughout the exhibition is free (limit 4 tickets per transaction).

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