Ocean City Today

Annual Winterfest of Lights opening celebration, Thurs.

By Kara Hallissey | Nov 09, 2017
Santa and Mrs. Claus will greet visitors and listen to Christmas wish lists through Dec. 23 at Winterfest of Lights.

(Nov. 10, 2017) A favorite annual tradition in Ocean City, Winterfest of Lights, returns to Northside Park on 125th Street for its 25th year on Thursday, Nov. 16, featuring a new 50-foot Christmas tree as well as an updated indoor pavilion.

“It’s all about the holiday experience,” said Frank Miller, special events superintendent for the Town of Ocean City. “If you don’t have holiday spirit before you come, hopefully you will before you leave. This is our 25th year and we’ve made some major changes.”

The opening ceremony will begin at 5:30 p.m. on Nov. 16 and includes Ocean City Elementary School’s “OC Stars” performing holiday songs and dance in addition to an appearance from Santa and Mrs. Claus. Mayor Rick Meehan will “flip the switch” to illuminate the 50-foot Christmas tree and light displays and officially open the Winterfest of Lights. In addition, there will be free rides on the Winterfest Express after the celebration.

“The new 50-foot Christmas tree has a lot more white LED lights and dimension,” Miller said. “There is a brand new star on top and the lights are set up in a grid fashion with thousands of colors that go from dim to bright and change. The tree has ornaments, can scroll ‘Happy Holidays’ across the front, has different patterns and can look like a snow shower.”

The 12-minute tram ride provides guests with an unforgettable experience through 58 acres of more than 400 displays from fairytale characters to the 12 Days of Christmas accompanied with holiday music. From Nov. 16 through Dec. 31, visitors will have the opportunity to see more than one million lights during their one-mile ride through the park.

“We always change the locations of displays and music so it feels like a different ride experience each year,” Miller said. “There will be traditional and popular modern songs. The tram ride has a new/old display. We refurbished a lighthouse that hasn’t been a part of the Winterfest experience for over a decade and it will be located on the lagoon.”

Visitors will wait for their ride in a heated tented pavilion, which includes the Winterfest Village and features new structures such as an open Winterfest Marlin Marketplace where ornaments, stocking stuffers, souvenirs and holiday gifts can be purchased.

“The gift shop will be an exposed area of retail,” Miller said. “We wanted to optimize the experience and flow. More people can wait inside the tent and we got rid of all the old buildings. We have a larger glow hut, new hot chocolate stand and there is no longer a Santa house. Santa resides in a gazebo surrounded by Christmas trees. It now feels more like a village when you walk in.”

Santa will greet visitors and listen to Christmas wish lists through Dec. 23. Children also have the option to write a letter to Santa and put it in his mailbox.

Mrs. Claus will join Santa in spreading holiday cheer, with her focus on staying healthy and helping others.

“There is a new photo processing area to expedite the process,” Miller said. “You can’t get any more family friendly then the Winterfest of Lights.”

The new hot chocolate, coffee and baked goods booth benefits the Ocean City Recreation and Parks Booster Club.

Jolly Roger Amusements will have a miniature go-cart track with two cars for visitors to take photos near, in addition to an interactive Splash Mountain waterpark display.

Berlin Automotive Group is slated to have a vehicle on display, there will be a Coca-Cola photo opportunity and four poinsettia trees including the large 12-foot favorite will decorate the pavilion in a courtyard setting, Miller said.

Winterfest of Lights has become a yearly tradition for local residents and families visiting during the holiday season. The city’s crew begin setup in early October to transform the park into a winter wonderland with a different layout each year to keep excursions fresh for returning visitors.

“This has been proven to be a terrific family tradition year after year,” Miller said.

Last year, 111,052 passengers took a ride through illuminated Northside Park during the 46-night holiday spectacular, according to Miller. On an average night, 2,414 people came to view the displays.

Attendance during the final weekend of the 24th annual event was up from the past couple of years with 3,433 riders on Friday, Dec. 30, 5,651 passengers on Saturday, Dec. 31 and 2,202 on the last night, Sunday, Jan. 1. The biggest night overall was Friday, Nov. 25, when 7,183 people road the tram.

The Jingle Bell Run and New Year’s Eve fireworks show are always popular events returning to the resort this holiday season. The run will take place on Sunday, Dec. 3, and is sponsored by the Town of Ocean City’s Recreation and Parks Department and OC Tri Running. The race will take runners through the spectacular displays at Northside Park.

The New Year’s Eve celebration will include a midnight fireworks display, live entertainment, hot chocolate and a ride through the Winterfest of Lights.

For almost a decade, organizers have been focused on refurbishing the more than 400 existing displays, which are stripped down, rewired and the bulbs and sockets replaced.

“These displays are not inexpensive to restore and we are hoping by next year we can display a refurbished one each year,” Miller said. “We’ve been blessed the past several years and hope regardless of the weather people will still come out.”

The award-winning nighttime festival runs nightly through Dec. 31 at Northside Park. Hours of operation are 5:30-9:30 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and 5:30-10:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. The cost to ride the train is $5 for adults. Children 11 and younger ride for free.

“We recognize the value of coming to Ocean City over the holidays and want to give visitors lots of things to do with Winterfest of Lights being the anchoring event,” Miller said. “It is the catalyst for what is to become a much larger attraction. The Downtown Association of Ocean City has been adding light displays downtown and we are trying to increase the attractions here for the holidays.”

Call Ocean City’s Recreation and Parks Department at 410-250-0125 for more information.

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