Published: November 23, 2018
From: The Press Enterprise
By: Alex Groves
Ashlynn Portillo, 16, of Fontana watched in awe as millions of lights came to life at the Mission Inn Hotel and Spa and a crescendo of crackling fireworks lit up the sky.
“I love the lights,” Portillo said. “When they light up it’s this whole other feeling; it’s not like you’re turning on your Christmas tree lights.” Portillo and her chaperone for the evening, family friend Maria Sandoval, 42, were among roughly 60,000 people who packed the space outside Mission Inn in downtown Riverside on Friday, Nov. 23, as it lit up, both with lights and a concert by R&B artist Robin Thicke for the annual switch on ceremony. The ceremony signaled the start of the 26th season of the Festival of Lights. Portillo said she was excited to see Thicke perform and that she thought his music was good. Sandoval was also excited. “He’s hot,” Sandoval said, with a laugh.
Hundreds of people were packed close to the concert area near the corner of Mission Inn Avenue and Orange Street, cell phones in hand, as Thicke performed several songs. Wearing a darkly-colored button down shirt and slacks, Thicke danced around the stage with his microphone in hand and played a series of songs that included “Give It 2 U,” “Lost Without U,” and a cover of the Frank Sinatra version of “Jingle Bells.” He ended with his most notable hit, “Blurred Lines.”
For some the slightly more adult-themed entertainment was not worth sticking around for. Such was the case for Vince Tannahill, 41, and his wife Jina, 37, of Wildomar, who decided to head out with their two young daughters before the concert began. “We’re mostly just here to see the lights for the kids,” Vince Tannahill said.
The display included hundreds of animatronic figures including carolers, elves and angels as well as millions of lights. This year, there were even more lights, with displays across Mission Inn Avenue and even on some of the kiddie rides.
The first night of the festival not only offered guests the opportunity to revel in a light display and concert, but also the chance to enjoy shopping, rides and entertainment at the Main Street Pedestrian Mall. Guests could take rides on a carousel, Ferris wheel or trackless miniature train.
On the food front, guests could visit long-time festival concession The Gingerbread Shop, or enjoy one of the other popular offerings such as churros, caramel apples and kettle corn.
Victor Ortiz, 32, and his wife Erica, 33, came to the festival from Anaheim for the third time in a row this year. However, this was their first time visiting with their 14-month-old son, Victor Jr. Ortiz said his family spent most of the day shopping and eating. They had visited a multi-floor antique shop before grabbing Chinese food and then some funnel cake. Ortiz said he was excited to have his son with him this time around, “just to know how wonderful it is to be out here during this time of year.”
Though thousands of people packed the space outside the hotel, at times making it difficult to move around, Ortiz said the crowds didn’t bother him at all. In fact, he said, he enjoyed it. “It should be like this every day,” he said.
Officer Ryan Railsback said there had been a couple of medical aid calls during the ceremony, but there had not been any serious incidents as of 7:30 p.m.
The Festival of Lights will continue daily through Jan. 6, offering guests a chance to see the lights and explore the shopping and dining of the downtown area.
Festival of Lights
When: Daily through Jan. 6. Opening times vary.
Where: Mission Inn Hotel & Spa, 3649 Mission Inn Ave., and adjoining pedestrian mall, Riverside.