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Coeur d’Alene Resort is all set to bring in holidays in style

The biggest and brightest holiday display around is back, bigger, brighter – and greener – than ever.

The Coeur d’Alene Resort Holiday Light Show begins Friday evening with a scream of fireworks and a flip of the switch on 1.5 million lights. About 250 displays will be illuminated nightly until Jan. 1.

The resort also will kick off its popular Santa lake cruises Saturday night. Around 40,000 passengers this year are expected to take the journey across Lake Coeur d’Alene to “the North Pole,” where Santa and his elf greet children by name.

Billed as the largest on-water holiday light show in America, it’s consuming less energy as it grows each year, thanks to greater use of light-emitting diode lights.

“We’re converting to LED lights as fast as we can for energy savings,” said Jerry Jaeger, president and co-owner of Hagadone Hospitality Co.

About three-quarters of the lights have been converted so far, he said.

One of the more recent additions to the North Pole layout – an animated Christmas tree flashing in time to holiday music – is decorated with nearly 40,000 LED lights, which use 90 percent less energy than conventional light bulbs. The tree uses the same power as 22 average household bulbs.

The 70-foot tree atop the Hagadone Corp. headquarters next to the resort also uses LED lights.

The savings are significant for an operation that costs hundreds of thousands of dollars each year.

About 15 resort employees spent the past eight weeks putting up the lights, which cover trees and buildings around the resort, animated displays on the floating boardwalk, and the North Pole setting at the Casco Bay estate of resort co-founder Duane Hagadone.

Using hydraulic lifts and boats, they string up more than five miles of lights – and somehow manage to avoid the types of tangles that frustrate the architects of home displays.

“The key is putting them away right,” Jaeger said, grinning.

The show had humble beginnings. In 1986, the resort’s first year, it consisted of a single city firetruck blowing its siren at the entrance to the hotel. Later the light displays and cruises were at the Coeur d’Alene Resort Golf Course.

The show expanded significantly in 1996 and has grown every year since. Visitors come from throughout the Inland Northwest, including adults who experienced it in their youth, Jaeger said.

“And now they’re coming back and bringing their kids,” he said. “So it’s really become a wonderful family tradition.”

The fantasy experience of the lake cruise continues to draw big crowds, and it’s one of Jaeger’s favorite features.

“I don’t know if you’ll ever get closer to the real North Pole,” he said. “It’s cold outside, you’re in a boat, you go across an ocean, if you will – the lake – and then you come upon this magical North Pole. … It’s just incredible.”

Planning for the 2013 holiday light show will begin in March, Jaeger said. New features may include European-style fireworks and a Santa ship across the lake.