Ocean City Today

OC’s Winterfest  of Lights begins Thursday, Nov. 17

By Kara Hallissey | Nov 10, 2016

(Nov. 11, 2016) Make memories to last a lifetime during the 24th annual Winterfest of Lights, which returns to illuminate Northside Park on Thursday, Nov. 17.

“Winterfest has become a family tradition for so many visitors and residents of the Eastern Shore,” said Frank Miller, special events superintendent for the Town of Ocean City. “It is going into its 24th year and children are old enough now to be bringing their own families. Our goal is to continue that for years to come and keep Winterfest an attraction families don’t want to miss during the holiday season.”

The opening ceremony kicks off at 5:30 p.m. on 125th Street, Thursday, Nov. 17, with Ocean City Elementary School’s “OC Stars” performing holiday songs and dance in addition to an appearance from Santa. Mayor Rick Meehan will “flip the switch” to illuminate the 50-foot Christmas tree, which officially opens the Winterfest of Lights and there will be free rides on the Winterfest Express after the celebration.

The 12-minute tram ride takes guests through 58 acres of more than 400 displays from fairytale characters to the 12 Days of Christmas accompanied with holiday music. From Nov. 17 through Jan. 1, 2017, visitors will have the opportunity to see almost one million lights during their ride through the park.

“Bring blankets on a cold night, cover up during the ride and enjoy the sights,” Miller said. “Make sure to grab a cup of hot chocolate when you get back to the pavilion.”

Winterfest of Lights has a different layout each year to keep excursions fresh for returning visitors. Riders have the challenge to find their favorite displays in new locations. The city’s crew began setup in early October to transform the park into a winter wonderland.

“My personal favorites are the Happy Birthday Jesus, Coca-Cola display, the Santa toy factory and snowman,” Miller said. “The candy cane display is the tallest and largest.”

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.

Visitors will wait for their ride in a heated tented pavilion, which includes the Winterfest Village. Yukon Cornelius Gift Shop is filled with ornaments, stocking stuffers, souvenirs and holiday gifts. Hot chocolate and coffee can be purchased from the Ocean City Recreation and Parks Booster Club.

“We always have something new inside the Winterfest pavilion,” Miller said. “This is a transitional year and a lot of the changes are supporting elements. We have additional heaters, updated propane gas lines and LED and florescent lighting to save electricity. We are updating the Winterfest pavilion experience in preparation for next year’s changes.”

Chesapeake Utilities has kept Winterfest both safe and warm for patrons. Gerone Hudson Electrical has helped with electrical needs every year and modifications have added more difficulty and time requirements to the job for 2016.

Trimper’s Amusements will have a three-part interactive display, which will replace the popular Winterfest Express tram car inside the pavilion.

The displays include a haunted house ride car, tidal wave roller coaster car and an original horse from its historic carousel.

“Visitors to Winterfest can get into and take photos with all three displays in addition to a Jeep from Berlin Automotive Group,” Miller said. “We are adding a unique element for 2016 with a third hotspot being sponsored by AM PM Marine.”

Attendees will have the opportunity to take pictures in a 25-foot boat and reminisce on warmer months.

“Patrons to Winterfest can expect the same Santa house, hot chocolate and gift shop,” Miller said. “It is the classic Winterfest experience except in one corner we will have a tropical holiday display.”

Winterfest of Lights has become a tradition for local residents and families visiting during the holiday season. Many check out the award-winning nighttime festival each year to take the guided open-air tour through the park accompanied by holiday tunes.

Last year, 126,924 passengers took a ride through illuminated Northside Park during the 46-night holiday spectacular, according to Miller. On an average night, 2,759 people came to view the displays.

Ridership was up from the previous year, with 15,882 more passengers checking out the holiday tradition.

The biggest night last year was Saturday, Dec. 12, when 9,087 people road the tram. During the warm Thanksgiving weekend, a new attendance record was posted. Altogether 22,423 people visited the event from Wednesday, Nov. 25 through Sunday, Nov. 29.

“We averaged 70.99 people per trip on Dec. 12,” Miller said. “There were 128 trips taken that night with six tram cars. Every 2.5 minutes, another tram would take off. I had never seen anything like it.”

The event generated about $650,000 in revenue for the city, he added.

The Jingle Bell Run and the New Year’s Eve fireworks show will be returning for the fifth year. The run will take place on Dec. 4, which 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 deejay, free giveaways, hot chocolate and a ride through the Winterfest of Lights.

“There will be a deejay and dancing in the pavilion with an interactive video wall,” Miller said. “Come dance and see yourself on the big screen as you count down to midnight before a fireworks display set to music.”

Coca Cola is a major sponsor of the event and Jamaica Avenue from Abbey Burger’s deck to the Winterfest tents will be one large viewing area.

“Winterfest is the culmination of effort by almost every Ocean City department,” Miller said. “It is the year-end showcase of quality the town strives for every day during the summer season and all year long for its residents.”

Special events, Recreation and Parks, public works, the police, accounting, the budget manager, the city council, tourism director and communications manager are all responsible for the success of Winterfest, he added.

“There are big changes coming for the 25th anniversary next year,” Miller said. “There will be a new 50-foot Christmas tree.”

The last several years, organizers have been focused on refurbishing the more than 400 existing displays, which are stripped down, rewired and the bulbs are replaced.

“These displays are not inexpensive to restore and we want to make sure this experience is maintained for years to come,” Miller said. “Abbey Burger and the Crabby Pig are sponsoring the event. They are two local restaurants that can be made a part of your Winterfest experience.”

Winterfest of Lights runs nightly through Jan. 1, 2017 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.

“If you’ve had a hard week at work, Winterfest will bring the holiday spirit back to life,” Miller said.

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

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