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Ocean City

Winterfest of Lights

One hundred colorful displays will illuminate Northside Park as part of Ocean City’s annual holiday festival

LISA CAPITELLI ¦ Assistant Editor

The 20th annual Winterfest of Lights winter wonderland at Northside Park on 125th Street will feature more than 100 glittering and animated displays. The 20th annual Winterfest of Lights winter wonderland at Northside Park on 125th Street will feature more than 100 glittering and animated displays.(Nov. 9, 2012) Hundreds of guests will join Ocean City Elementary School’s “OC Stars” and Mayor Rick Meehan as they kick off the 20th annual Winterfest of Lights on Thursday, Nov. 15, with an opening ceremony at Northside Park.

The celebration will begin at 5:30 p.m. with the OC Stars performing holiday songs at the 125th Street park. The children will then assist Meehan in “flipping” the switch to light the winter wonderland, which features a 50- foot tree with more than 50,000 lights.

The entire tree will be adorned with LED (Light Emitting Diodes) light bulbs, which are energy efficient, are more vibrant and last longer than other lights. The tree also has LED strobe lights this year.

“It will look even more spectacular,” said Tom Shuster, director of the Ocean City Recreation and Parks Department.

Doug and Aimee Rupple and their daughter, Lexi, visit with Santa last year at Northside Park. Doug and Aimee Rupple and their daughter, Lexi, visit with Santa last year at Northside Park.Nearly one million lights will be illuminated at the conclusion of the opening ceremony, brightening the uptown park. More than 100 glittering and animated displays will be lit as well, marking the official start to Winterfest of Lights.

Santa is scheduled to make a grand entrance to the ceremony by horse and carriage, before heading to his house inside a heated tent, where he will greet children and adults and listen as they share their Christmas wish lists. After Santa arrives, visitors will be able to take a free train ride through the illuminated village.

“A lot of local families come on opening night and come back throughout the season and bring friends and family,” Shuster said.

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 have been refurbished and upgraded this year, and many of the lights have been replaced with LED bulbs. New light displays have been added as well, including a tornado that will be incorporated into the Wizard of Oz Emerald City scene. A group of private donors also purchased a Happy Hanukkah display and Menorah.

In the downtown Ocean City area, a 14-foot wreath will hang on the Worcester Street water tower. Two wreaths will illuminate the Boardwalk arch on North Division Street and lights will also adorn the Sunset Park tower.

Crews began unpacking displays from trailers and setting up the winter wonderland in mid-September. There was no damage from Hurricane Sandy to displays set prior to the storm.

There is a different lay- out for the Winterfest of Lights displays each year in order to keep it new and fresh for riders. It also challenges riders to find their favorite display in a new location.

Some of the displays people will see at Northside Park this year include 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 and a huge poinsettia wreath of candy canes.

The heated tent at Winterfest will keep visitors warm as they listen to music and wait for the Boardwalk trams to take them through the enchanted park of lights. The tent will be home to the Winterfest Village, where visitors can find Yukon Cornelius’ Gift Shop filled with ornaments, stocking stuffers, souvenirs and holiday gifts.

Santa will be at his house nightly and available for pictures with children until Dec. 23. Children can also write a letter to Santa and slip it in his mailbox. A hot chocolate shop will offer cocoa and coffee.

Shuster describes Winterfest of Lights as a “complete holiday experience” that families can enjoy together.

“It’s like going on a ride at Disney World, but you’re seeing all Christmas lights at Northside Park,” he said.

The 125th Street displays were viewed by 107,405 people last year, which broke the previous attendance record of 93,937, set in 2001. The trains took guests through the park 46 nights during the 19th annual event last year. An average of 2,335 people rode the train each night. The overall total was an increase from the 84,230 passengers who took the 12- minute ride the year before when Winterfest of Lights was open for 44 days.

Attendance during the final weekend of the 19th annual event was strong, with 4,697 riders on Dec. 30, 4,251 on New Year’s Eve, and 1,925 passengers on the last night, New Year’s Day.

Annually, the highest attendance is generally Thanksgiving weekend. During the four-day holiday, Nov. 24-27, mild temperatures likely played a part in attracting 20,424 riders to the park. The biggest night overall was Saturday, Nov. 26, with 8,213 passengers. The evening before had the second-highest total, with 7,234 guests viewing the displays.

Not only was overall ridership up, but revenue also increased from the year before. Total revenue generated during the 2011-12 festival was $512,934, an increase from $367,069 garnered during the 2010- 11 event.

“I thought everything went smoothly and the response was outstanding from people who came,” Shuster said after last year’s Winterfest of Lights festival wrapped up.

Winterfest of Lights has received many accolades over the years. In 2011, it once again made the list as one of the Top 100 Events in North America by the American Bus Association. The list includes the best events for group travel in the United States and Canada. The festival has also been voted “Maryland’s Finest Holiday Tradition” by Maryland Life Magazine.

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. And 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, Fla. topped the list.

Winterfest of Lights runs nightly through Jan. 1. To celebrate Winterfest of Lights’ 20th anniversary, there will be a fireworks display at midnight on New Year’s Eve.

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 those 12 years of age and older. Children 11 and younger ride for free.

For more information, call the Ocean City Recreation and Parks Department at 410-250-0125 or visit www.ococean.com.

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