Review: Ethel M Holiday Cactus Garden

“Ethel M Holiday Cactus Garden” is the proper name for what around our house we call, “Hey, wanna go down to Ethel M and see all the Christmas lights?”

Here’s how it works: Ethel M Chocolates has a year-round cactus botanical garden adjacent  to its Henderson factory/store complex. Every year, from before Thanksgiving to just after New Year’s, the company turns the garden into a lighted desert winter wonderland, with Christmas lights hanging on the cacti, bushes, and trees. It looks much cooler in person Ethel Mthan I just described it.

In addition to walking around and admiring the lights, you can cajole your kids into sitting on a stranger’s lap and take pictures of it (if that’s your kind of thing) and you can enjoy the sounds of local school choirs singing holiday favorites. The latter starts at 6PM, the former at 5 PM (at least this year), and you can see the schedule here.

Lots of holiday light spectaculars charge admission, with some or all of the proceeds going to some kind of charity. This is wonderful, but it can lead to a little bit of stress for parents, since if you’ve shelled out $30 to see the lights, you’re kind of locked in to seeing them, even if your kid starts to have a meltdown. Ethel M’s Holiday Cactus Garden is absolutely free, which means that you can be a good deal more casual about the whole thing, particularly if you live in the southern half of the valley.

Parking…well, there’s plenty of it in the area, but see below for some tips.

Doing a complete circuit of the garden takes about 20 minutes, 30 if you’re being particularly leisurely. There are cul de sacs and loops, so there’s not one place to start and finish. I don’t view this as a negative at all, since it encourages just letting your feet take you where they want to go and discovering new things, but I overheard one mom complaining bitterly (truth to be told, more bitterly than I would think was appropriate for a free attraction) that “It’s a dead end up there. They should put up a sign!”

But if you view these “dead ends” as fun little places for your family to explore, you’ll have a fine time.

If you haven’t been to Ethel M’s, one of the neat things is getting to take the “factory tour,” which doesn’t involve putting on a hard hat and trooping through dangerous part of the chocolate construction zone, but instead means walking about 50 feet down a hallway with huge windows on parts of the factory. When we went, on Saturday night, the assembly lines weren’t running, but it was still kind of neat. As I told Prima, “Here’s where they would be making the chocolates…but they’re not making them right now.”

On another note, and maybe this is just me, it seems that the different chocolate stations have some pretty racy names. I don’t know exactly what mental image “cream beater” or “one-shot depositor” conjures up for you, but, and again maybe this is just me, for some reason it doesn’t sound exactly family-friendly. But be aware that there are kids around, so try to keep your lascivious wisecracks about the enrobing machine quiet.

Ethel MAt the end of the “tour,” you can have a free sample, and then you get deposited smack dab in the retail store, which has all manner of chocolate delights. I honestly don’t know if there’s a premium to buying them here as opposed to the store at the airport, but I’d wager that the selection is a lot bigger. And you’ve got a better story to tell whoever you’re buying it for than, “I picked this up between gates C4 and C5 at McCarran.”

All told, if you don’t wait in line to visit Santa, this is a solid 45-minute activity–again, depending on how long you linger in the garden. It goes pretty late–the lights are on until 10–but unless you’re impossibly jet-lagged and your kids will be manageable at that hour, I’d suggest (for younger kids) working this in before dinner. And here’s where the tip comes in:

  • Tip: When visiting early, get there around 4:45.

I suggest this because that’s around the time we got there, and we were able to get a parking spot pretty close in. Last year, we got in around 5:15 and had to park much farther out, which means more than just walking farther–you’re navigating a relatively dark area with your little kids as people in cars, who are distracted by their own kids, are trying desperately to find parking. The lights, which are billed to come on at 5:00, were already on, and the easier access and lower stress made it much more fun.

There’s a map to Ethel M Chocolates right here, and I’ll duplicate the directions here:

When using a navigating system, input the following address:

  • 1 Sunset Way
  • Henderson, NV 89014

From Las Vegas Blvd:

  • South on I-15
  • Exit onto Henderson I-215 going East
  • Take Airport Exit and exit onto Sunset Road
  • Turn Left onto Sunset Road
  • Stay in the middle lane as Sunset Road turns into Sunset Way at the intersection of Mountain Vista and Sunset Road.  
  • We are located on the corner of the Green Valley Business Park.

From Henderson Area:

  • North on Green Valley Parkway
  • Turn right on Sunset Road going east
  • Stay in the middle lane as Sunset Road turns into Sunset Way at the intersection of Mountain Vista and Sunset Road.  
  • We are located on the corner of the Green Valley Business Park.

From I-95 Freeway:

  • Head towards Henderson from your direction
  • Exit Sunset Road going West
  • Turn right onto Sunset Way
  • We are located on the corner of the Green Valley Business Park.
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One Response to Review: Ethel M Holiday Cactus Garden

  1. Schopenhauer says:

    Hm… no donning of hardhats, with the ensuing hijinks when you drop your cell phone into an open vat of chocolate under the tour catwalk? I’ll come for the cool yuletide cacti, but if they don’t let the public have a fair chance at ruining a whole batch of cherry cordials with their stupidity, I’ll skip the factory tour.

    Seriously though, it does sound fun. Next time I am in Vegas this time of year, I will make it a point to see the cactus show. Thanks for the tips.

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