(Nov. 15, 2019) Colorful displays will illuminate Northside Park on 125th Street when the 27th annual Winterfest of Lights opens next Thursday.
The opening ceremony will begin at 5:30 p.m. on Nov. 21 and include Ocean City Elementary School’s “OC Stars” performing holiday songs and dance in addition to an appearance by Santa Claus.
This will be the first time the school choir will perform the Winterfest opening without conductor Rick Chapman, who has retired.
As per tradition, Mayor Rick Meehan will “flip the switch” to illuminate the 50-foot Christmas tree and light displays and officially open the Winterfest of Lights.
“We wanted to create an event that people could come to, and they can have that holiday cheer, that wonderful feeling of warmth and giving that goes along with the holiday,” Ocean City Special Events Director Frank Miller said. “We want people to come here and feel the holiday season.”
New to the festival this year will be a special light display sponsored by Park Place Jewelers.
“It’s a beautifully cut piece,” Miller said. “It’s a new display that’s worth seeing. It’s going to be inside the Winterfest Pavilion in the far south end by the gift shop.”
The 12-minute tram ride provides guests with an “unforgettable experience” through 58 acres of over 400 displays from fairytale characters to the 12 Days of Christmas accompanied by holiday music, Miller said.
From Nov. 21 through Dec. 31, visitors will have the opportunity to see more than one million lights during their one-mile ride through the park.
Winterfest always opens the week before Thanksgiving, which is why the activities are beginning later this year.
Visitors can wait for their ride inside a heated pavilion, which includes the Winterfest Village and features the Winterfest Marlin Marketplace where ornaments, stocking stuffers, souvenirs and holiday gifts can be purchased.
Long lines should not discourage fans of the ride, as six trams will be in operation during the weekends. That means around 65-70 passengers can board a tram every four minutes.
Last year, despite wet and cold weather conditions, more than 104,000 passengers took a ride through Winterfest of Lights.
It ran 46 nights in 2018 and around $572,000 was generated. The only evening the attraction was closed due to poor weather conditions was opening night.
The largest recorded attendance in the event’s history was in 2015, when a total of 126,924 patrons rode through the park.
Miller hopes the weather will be better this year so more guests can enjoy the displays.
Returning this year will be five of what Miller calls, “Instaspots.”
Guests can take photos near a jeep from i.g. Burton, and displays by the Ocean City Life-Saving Station Museum, Candy Kitchen, Nick’s Mini Golf and Park Place Jewelers, as well as four poinsettia trees, including the large 12-foot one inside the pavilion.
“We try to change it up from year to year,” Miller said. “When you walk in there’s different displays, different opportunities for photo opportunities with family.”
Per tradition, Santa will reside in Kris Kringle’s Corner, surrounded by Christmas trees. The jolly old elf’s section has been decorated every year by Candy Kitchen.
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 this year with her Children Shop.
“This [area] is specifically meant for little kids to be able to go in and shop for mom and dad,” Miller said. “There’s trinkets and gifts in there that they can go in, they can pick out their own gift and then actually surprise mom and dad under the Christmas tree or with a gift for the holiday season.”
Winterfest of Lights has become a yearly tradition for local residents and families visiting during the holiday season.
The Ocean City Recreation and Parks Department began setup in early October to transform the park into a winter wonderland, using a different layout each year to keep excursions fresh for returning visitors.
The Jingle Bell Run 5K and New Year’s Eve fireworks show will also be returning this holiday season. The run will take place on Sunday, Dec. 8, and is sponsored by the Ocean City Recreation and Parks Department and OC Tri Running. The race will take runners through the light displays at Northside Park.
The New Year’s Eve celebration will include a midnight fireworks display, live entertainment, hot chocolate sold by the Recreation and Park’s Boosters and a ride through the Winterfest of Lights.
“If you’re excited about the holidays, even if you’re not yet excited about the holidays, it’s going to be quite an opportunity to capture that Christmas and holiday spirit for 2019,” Miller said. “That’s one of the things Winterfest does, between the holiday music and all the lights and all the beauty and splendor here … it builds that enthusiasm for the holiday season.”
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 are replaced. This year, new displays inside the courtyard have changed as well, and Miller is already planning ahead for next year’s Winterfest, because there will be entirely new displays.
The 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.
For more information, call the Ocean City Recreation and Parks Department at 410-250-0125.