Cruising neighborhoods looking at Christmas lights is a tradition for many families, but sometimes the logistics do not work out.
Kids complain because of the lack of lights and/or parents miss the views because they have to watch the road.
Jarrod Riddle says this was the case for his family when he was a kid, and it inspired him to offer his own tour through Spirit of Arizona Tours.
“I thought, ‘What if I find a really good route where friends and family don’t have to worry about the route or driving, they can just hop on a tour and enjoy the lights how they were meant to be enjoyed?’ So, that’s where the idea came from, and it’s been a pretty successful one,” Riddle says. “We get a lot of families that show up in ugly sweaters or dressed up or some bring Christmas cookies and it gets turned into a nice little family event.”
The tours run at 6 p.m., 7:45 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. through Friday, December 31, except for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Each tour starts in Tempe near the 101 and Warner and goes through Tempe and Chandler. The 90-minute tours pass dozens of homes and stop twice for close-up looks.
A longtime Valley resident and certified historian, Riddle has been a tour guide for 10 years. Using his insider information, Riddle plans a perfect route that is guaranteed to have great decorations and even avoids traffic delays for an entertaining ride from start to finish.
“If I’m going to offer a Christmas light tour, it’s going to be above and beyond,” Riddle says. “It’s not just going to be random neighborhoods. I made sure to scout out several locations where each street keeps getting better.”
Riddle says the tour hits every decoration imaginable, like music-synchronized light shows, Santa Claus, nativity scenes and, in true Arizona fashion, illuminated cactus. The tour not only goes through some of the best displays in the state but also the country.
“Two of the streets on the tour compete for best Christmas light displays in America, and one of those streets is basically like a street festival,” Riddle says.
“They have food trucks and Santa Claus who the kids come and talk to. They do horse carriage rides. So, for that street, I actually let my guests get out and walk it if they want. I give them about 20 to 30 minutes to get out and actually walk the streets themselves. It’s a good, fun experience.”
There is more to see than the classics, too. One of the unique displays on the tour is a giant, 25-foot-tall Christmas koala who takes up an entire front yard. Riddle says he spoke to the owner and found out the bear was originally from a storefront in Australia. Apparently, the family brought it with them when they moved to the States and it was passed down to Phoenix residents. Riddle says that it is always a bit of a showstopper and has a “Godzilla effect” on kids and adults.
Families and friends are transported to each sight on a luxury bus, which is even decorated inside with garland and lights. The bus has 14 captain’s chairs that have armrests and recline for a truly cozy and homey atmosphere.
“They can bring whatever they want on the bus as far as drinks are concerned,” Riddle says. “Since I’m doing the driving, people like to bring hot cocoa for the kids and maybe some canned drinks for the grown-ups, which is totally fine by me. I’ve had people bring little Christmas cookies and stuff like that, so basically they can make it like their own little holiday party.”
This is the Spirit of Arizona’s third year offering the Christmas Lights Tour. Riddle estimates he has about 900 guests on average per year. He says the proof is in the pudding when it comes to his tours, as he has a five-star rating on Google, TripAdvisor and Yelp. The company earned those stars because, he says, he cares about the customer experience.
“Don’t worry about the route; don’t worry about the driving,” Riddle says. “All you need to do is show up, sit back, relax and enjoy the lights.”
Spirit of Arizona Tours