(Nov. 14, 2014) Make memories the children will remember forever and discover some holiday spirit during the 22nd annual Winterfest of Lights, which returns to illuminate Northside Park on Thursday, Nov. 20.
The opening ceremony will begin at 5:30 p.m. and includes Ocean City Elementary School’s “OC Stars” performing holiday songs and dance, 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.
A 12-minute tram ride will dazzle guests with holiday music, through 58 acres of more than 400 displays from fairytale characters to the 12 Days of Christmas. From Nov. 20 through Jan. 4, 2015, visitors will have the opportunity to see almost one million lights during their ride through the park.
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.
Santa will be back to 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.
For the first time, Mrs. Claus will join Santa to help spread the holiday spirit, with her focus on staying healthy and helping others.
“Mrs. Claus is a terrific addition to Winterfest of Lights. Meeting and interacting with Mrs. Claus will be wonderful for our visitors,” said Frank Miller, Special Events superintendent for the Town of Ocean City.
The tented pavilion, where visitors wait in line for their ride is heated and 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 thanks to the Ocean City Recreation and Parks Booster. This year marks 50 years of the Ocean City Boardwalk Tram, and to celebrate, visitors can take their photo with a classic Winterfest Express tram car.
Last year, the Coca Cola polar bears was the new display, and this year’s focus was on refurbishing the 12 Days of Christmas displays. They are large, costly and the renovations will continue into next year, Miller said.
“It is important to keep everything we have in proper condition,” he said.
Winterfest lovers can look forward to slightly different music this year, which is timed to the displays, he said.
Winterfest of Lights has become a tradition for local residents and families visiting during the holiday season. Many visit the award-winning nighttime festival each year to take the guided open-air tour through the park accompanied by holiday tunes.
Last year, 91,748 people came to view the displays on 127th Street during the 42-night holiday tradition, according to Miller. On an average night, 2,185 people rode the train through the illuminated park.
The total number of passengers was less than the 95,599 who took the 12-minute train ride in 2012, but 2013 had a higher average of visitors per night with 1,992. Last year, Winterfest of Lights operated six days less than 2012.
The biggest night last year was Saturday, Dec. 21, when 7,954 people rode the tram, with Saturday, Nov. 30 trailing with 7,232 people taking in the displays.
The fairly mild, consistent temperatures was a positive factor in attendance. Rain was a factor only on a few nights. The event generated $477,000 for the city last year, Miller said.
Existing displays have been upgraded and replaced with LED (Light Emitting Diodes) bulbs, which are energy efficient, brighter and last longer.
The Jingle Bell Run and the New Year’s Eve fireworks show will be returning for the third year. The run will take place on Dec. 7, 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 live entertainment, giveaways, hot chocolate and a ride through the Winterfest of Lights.
The Winterfest of Lights has won many awards and received an abundance of accolades throughout its 22 years. The American Bus Association named Winterfest of Lights one of the Top 100 Events in North America for 2014, an honor it also earned in 2013 and 2011. Maryland Life Magazine has voted it “Maryland’s Finest Holiday Tradition.”
The 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. Winterfest of Lights was No. 2 in the country on “America Online City Guide’s Top 11 Lighting Displays.” It followed Disney-MGM Studios display in Orlando.
Winterfest of Lights runs nightly through Jan. 4, 2015 at Northside Park on 127th Street. 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.
To see a preview video of what’s in store for Winterfest of Lights, visit www. http://oceancitymd.gov/Recreation_and_Parks/specialevents.html or call Ocean City’s Recreation and Parks Department at 410-250-0125 for more information.
The kickoff celebration for the 22nd annual Winterfest
of Lights will take place Thursday, Nov. 20 at 5:30 p.m.
at Northside Park on 125th Street.