Thankfully the holiday staple Bentleyville is going on as planned, but as many of us heard things will be a little different than in years past due to COVID-19. We spoke with the Ambassador of Bentleyville, Nathan Bentley himself, and he made sure to cover all the bases on what is happening this year.

After 17 years of having a walk-through experience, they had to switch gears this year and set up a driving route for people to see Bentleyville as part of their holiday traditions while still keeping everyone safe during the pandemic.

Bentley is asking for everyone to try and be patient since this has never been done before, and they honestly are not sure how it will go until it gets underway. He suggested you have a family sing a long or play games inside the car while you are waiting in line. Since people will be in vehicles they are striving to make this course as interactive as possible with over 60 signs along the way filled with fun facts, plus more costumed characters than ever before.

What's New For 2020?

Admission won't be free this year.

For the first time ever, there will be an entry fee this year of $10 per vehicle to try and help cover the enormous cost of putting on this event every year. The reason admission is not free like it has been in years past is because traditionally many of these costs are covered by things like donation stations, parking fees, and Bentleyville merchandise and candy bar sales, all of which are being negatively impacted or eliminated by the more pandemic-safe version of Bentleyville this year. Bentley says he hopes to return to a free event supported by the traditional fundraising methods next year if it is safe to do so.

Cash and all major credit cards will be accepted at the gate. They won't be offering presale tickets.

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You'll need to arrive via a specific route.

Visitors to Bentleyville are asked to arrive from the west on Railroad Street (from the direction of Garfield Avenue). No traffic will be allowed to enter coming from the east (from Canal Park).

There will be vehicle restrictions.

It is worth noting that vehicles must be no longer than 20 feet in length, and must be under 8 feet in height. Most family vehicles will easily fit these dimensions. No buses, limos, dual-rear trucks, or other larger vehicles will be allowed to enter.

Here's what to expect once you're at Bayfront.

Once you've arrived from the west on Railroad Street, you will enter into the parking area at Bayfront, where there will be costumed characters and signs to greet you as you enter the experience. Bentley says drivers entering Bentleyville should expect to move through the park at no more than 2-3 mph, allowing yourselves and everyone else the opportunity to enjoy the entire experience.

There will be a low-frequency radio station you can tune your car radio to once on-site to hear the same music you'd hear while walking Bentleyville during any other year. While you could provide your own Bentleyville soundtrack, tuning in to the radio frequency will allow you to experience the light displays like the big tree that are synced up to the music. There will be signs at Bayfront with where to tune your radio.

You will navigate the park, and then exit near AMSOIL Arena, where you will be directed around the back of the DECC, into Canal Park. The entire drive, once in the park, is expected to take about 15 minutes. This time is heavily dependent on every vehicle involved and traffic exiting the park, however.

What about visiting Santa, Mrs. Claus, and getting the free food and drinks that are part of the annual event?

While there will be no marshmallow roasting, popcorn, or hot cocoa & cookie stations this year, you'll still be able to see Santa and Mrs. Claus and get some free goodies.

Santa and Mrs. Claus will be on-site in their brand new house, which is right after the very first tunnel on the route. Santa's Elves will be on standby handing out free winter hat and bag of cookies to all kids who are 10 and under.

The Bentleyville Gift Shop has moved this year.

The Bentleyville gift shop has been moved from Bayfront to Grandma's Sports Garden in Canal Park. This move provides a lot of extra space, allowing for social distancing and more shoppers at a time. Bentley says they will be monitoring how many people go in and out of the building to maintain safe levels of people to promote proper social distancing. The store opens at 3 pm, two whole hours before Bentleyville opens, so you can stock up on all your favorite Bentleyville items either before or after the tour.

Are food and toy donations still accepted?

Yes! Many families make it an annual tradition to make part of their Bentleyville visit a charitable cause by bringing food and toys to donate as part of the Bentleyville food and toy drives. Bentleyville will once again be an official Salvation Army drop-off location for non-perishable food items and new, unwrapped toys.

Bentleyville has a goal this year of 25,000 pounds of food and 15,000 new toys for those in need. Donations collected at Bentleyville go to help families in communities across Northern Minnesota and Northern Wisconsin.

What other COVID-19 safety measures are in place for visitors?

All attendees are required to remain in their vehicles throughout the tour. Masks are not required in your vehicle, but will be required if you get out of your vehicle to use the restroom. Masks will also be required in the Bentleyville Gift Shop.

When is Bentleyville open?

Bentleyville opens November 21 at 5 pm, and runs through December 27. Sundays-Thursdays, it is open from 5 pm to 9 pm, and Fridays and Saturdays it is open 5 pm to 10 pm.

UPDATE: Organizers have extended the season to December 31. The hours remain the same, except for Thursday, December 31. They will open at 5 pm and close at midnight on the 31st. More on that story here.

Locals are encouraged to go during the week, when it is expected there will be less visitors from out of town. Bentley stressed he is unsure if normal visitor patterns will be the same this year, with some families having children doing at-home schooling or working from home, this may change visitor patterns. Traditionally, Fridays and Saturdays have been the busiest days, with the week leading up to Christmas also generally being busy.

In all, Bentley just urges everyone to be patient and come with a positive, fun attitude as he hopes to still create a magical holiday experience and continue the tradition of Bentleyville during the pandemic.

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