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Lights and landmarks make Wonderland Express a holiday destination

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Wonderland Express at Chicago Botanic Garden

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With more than 750,000 LED sparkling lights outside and more than 80 Chicago landmarks tucked into cedar and evergreen landscapes inside, Chicago Botanic Garden’s Wonderland Express impresses visitors who have made it a family holiday tradition and those who have come for the first time.

Add in numerous trains whistling and chugging among the landmarks and in a recreated gingerbread village in the Regenstein Center and other trains in the café and gift shop for a holiday outing that is fun for youngsters and adults.

Jillian Getter, a Deerfield 12-year-old who comes with her family every year, says she hasn't gotten too old for it.“I still like it,” Getter said. Mom Sheri added, "I'm older and I still like it."

Oohs and aahs start at the entrance where trees are covered in tiny lights.

A stop at the Café for hot chocolate and to watch a train circle overhead warms the insides after the walk from the parking lot and before heading over to the Regenstein Center.

Once there, take advantage of the Greenhouses for a winter bonus. There are gorgeous poinsettia arrangements and animal topiaries.

Then, check out the Gingerbread Village and train in the Joutras Gallery. An engineer changes the engines during the day. One of the engines says Hogwarts.

Next, step into the main room where “snow,” a harmless combination of water and oils, gently falls on hats and shoulders.

Look down. There’s the gate to China Town. Look up. A sleek train speeds overhead.

Look around to spot Chicago museums, neighborhoods and more trains. A favorite is the ladybug car. Another “fav” is the Chicago skyline of Wrigley Building, Navy Pier and the John Hancock Center.

There is the Chicago Stadium but don’t walk too fast. There is so much to see, it is easy to miss the Blackhawk Bus approaching the Stadium or wreaths on homes and the Art Institute Lions and menorahs in some residential windows.

Next, go into the Krehbiel Gallery. It is a long hallway stretching from the main room to the glass doors looking out on 40 foot, brightly lit fir tree. Look for the Baha’i Temple, train depots and another train.

Tip: Tickets are timed to avoid huge crowds but the best time to come to avoid lines is at dusk. Even if it is light out upon arrival, when through exploring this Wonderland, the garden will be glowing. The Botanic Garden usually closes at sundown but stays open for Wonderland Express until 6 p.m. except for early closing dates: Dec. 10, 12, 13 and 24. It is closed Dec. 25.

Details: Wonderland Express is at the Chicago Botanic Garden now through Jan. 5, 2014. For Wonderland Express tickets and more Botanic Garden information visit Chicago Botanic Garden or call 835-5440. The Chicago Botanic Garden is at 1000 Lake Cook Rd., Glencoe, IL 60022.

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