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More than 95k visit illuminated holiday displays

(Jan. 11, 2013) On New Year’s Day, 506 passengers boarded the Winterfest Express for a trip through the illuminated Northside Park, wrapping up the 48-night holiday spectacular.

The 127th Street Winterfest of Lights displays, which contained as many as 1 million lights and more than 100 twinkling, shining, glittering and animated scenes, were viewed by 95,599 people, according to Tom Shuster, director of the Ocean City Recreation and Parks Department. An average of 1,991 people rode the train through the park each night.

The overall total was a bit less from the record 107,405 passengers who took the 12-minute train ride last year when Winterfest of Lights was open for 46 days. It broke the previous attendance record of 93,937, set in 2001. Revenue generated during the 2011-12 festival was nearly $513,000.

The 20th annual Winterfest of Light’s attendance marks the second highest total.

“We were really pleased with [Winterfest of Lights]. The turnout was very good and the crowd was consistent throughout the season,” Shuster said. “I brought someone to Winterfest of Lights for the first time and they were awed by it. It’s nice to see it through someone else’s eyes who hasn’t seen it before.”

Approximately $502,000 in revenue was generated during the 2012-13 festival.

Attendance during the final weekend of the 20th annual event was strong, with 3,557 riders on Friday, Dec. 28, 1,437 on Dec. 29, 2,325 on Dec. 30, 3,120 on New Year’s Eve, and 506 passengers on the last night, Jan. 1. The biggest night overall was the day after Thanksgiving, Friday, Nov. 23, when 7,538 people rode the train. The second largest attendance night was Saturday, Dec. 1, when 6,918 enjoyed the festivities. The fairly mild temperatures and good weather was a factor in the overall attendance, Shuster said. The weather only affected one night, Dec. 26, when Winterfest of Lights was closed early due to rain.

Winterfest of Lights has become a tradition for families. Many visit each year to take the guided open-air tour through the park accompanied by holiday music.

Some existing displays were refurbished and upgraded this year, and many of the lights were replaced with LED (Light Emitting Diodes) bulbs, which are energy efficient, have greater brilliance, are more vibrant and last longer than other lights. New light displays were added as well, including a tornado that was incorporated into the Wizard of Oz Emerald City scene. A group of private donors also purchased a “Happy Hanukkah” display and Menorah.

This year, to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Winterfest of Lights, there was a fireworks display at midnight on New Year’s Eve.

“It was awesome,” Shuster said of the 8-minute display presented by American Fireworks of Hudson, Ohio. “It was a great show and it was very well received.”

Shuster estimated that 700-1,000 people gathered in the parking lot at Northside Park to watch.

Because the fireworks display was so well received, Shuster said $10,000 has been included into the budget for a show during the 2013-14 Winterfest of Lights. It will have to be approved by the mayor and City Council.

Crews began unpacking displays from trailers and setting up the winter wonderland in mid-September. There is a different layout for the Winterfest of Lights displays each year in order to keep it new and fresh for riders. It also challenges them to find their favorite display in a new location. Some of the displays featured at Northside Park included the 12 Days of Christmas, Santa, his sleigh and eight flying reindeer, fairy tale characters, toy soldiers, crabs, marlins, “Jaws,” a penguin village and dinosaurs.

The heated tent at Winterfest kept visitors warm as they listen to music and wait for the Boardwalk trams to take them through the enchanted park of lights. The tent was home to the Winterfest Village and Yukon Cornelius’ Gift Shop filled with ornaments, stocking stuffers, souvenirs and holiday gifts. Visitors also had the opportunity to have their photo taken with Santa, grab a warm beverage or snack.

Winterfest of Lights has received many accolades over the years.

For several consecutive years, it has made the list as one of the Top 100 Events in North America by the American Bus Association this year. This list includes the best events for group travel in the United States and Canada.

The Ocean City attraction was ranked No. 1 in 2008 on the Professional Travel Guide Editor’s Top 10 of the nation’s largest and best holiday lights displays. In 2006, Winterfest of Lights was No. 2 in the country in the “America Online City Guide’s Top 11 Lighting Displays.” The Disney-MGM Studios display in Orlando topped the list.

The 127th Street Winterfest of Lights displays, which contained as many as 1 million lights and more than 100 twinkling, shining, glittering and animated scenes, were viewed by 95,599 people, during the 48-night run. The festival opened Nov. 15, and the final night was Jan. 1.


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