Annual Christmas light tour will look different, but city guarantees festive cheer
(Nov. 13, 2020) The 28th annual Winterfest of Lights, which opens Nov. 19, will look a bit different than it has in past years. But, guests should expect an equally festive and dazzling display of Christmas cheer, as the city’s Special Events Department reconfigured the holiday festival to accommodate pandemic conditions.
Visitors will walk through the annual light display at Northside Park on 125th Street this year rather than ride in a tram. The festival starts next Thursday from 5:30-9:30 p.m., and will be open Wednesday through Sunday until Jan. 2, 2021.
While entry is typically $5, the opening night is always free, and children 11 and younger may also enter free of charge.
Tickets may be purchased online at https://oceancitymd.gov/oc/winterfest-of-lights-a-walk-thru-holiday-event/ or at the festival’s entrance on 127th Street and Jamaica Avenue.
Masks are currently required only for indoor activities, such as meeting Santa Clause and the gift shop, however, this may change based on rising case rates of covid-19 throughout the state.
All patrons should bring a mask regardless in the event social distancing outdoors is not possible, as per Gov. Larry Hogan’s executive order.
The opening ceremony is likely to remain on schedule for Thursday night, but the Ocean City Elementary School’s “OC Stars” will not be performing.
The annual light tour came to life almost 30 years ago under the helm of Tom Perlozzo who served as the city’s Recreation and Parks Department director.
“Winterfest started down in the inlet parking lot many years ago,” Special Events Director Frank Miller said. “Tom Perlozzo … worked with the City Council to purchase a large assortment of light displays and they put the light displays, as well as hoops you would drive through, down in the inlet parking lot.”
Conditions at the inlet proved detrimental to the displays, as the saltwater, salty air and sand quickly caused its deterioration, Miller said.
The city eventually moved the event to Northside Park and transformed it from a driving tour to a tram ride.
Unfortunately, the novel coronavirus pandemic has halted the tram ride this year, so instead the festival will be a half-mile walking tour around the park’s lagoon.
“The one nice thing you’ll have when you come to Winterfest this year is you really can take your time and walk around and just take in the displays and the atmosphere,” Miller said. “We’ll have holiday music playing throughout the park so you’ll get the festive feeling just like you would riding the Winterfest express tram.”
To accommodate older and physically disabled guests, scooters and powered wheelchairs will be available for rent for $10. Additionally, Miller said seven rest stops have been placed for guests to take a break, sip some hot chocolate and enjoy the scenery.
The large, heated pavilion tent will also be missing this year, and the gift shop will be located inside the Recreation and Parks Department building’s community room, which will run at 75 percent capacity.
Santa will be in his stable inside of the building, but children will not get to sit on his lap for photos this year.
However, Miller said families would sit in Santa’s sleigh and take photos with him as he stands nearby.
“Santa wears white gloves and he will have a mask on for any direct conversation he has with guests,” Miller said.
Staff will disinfect the sleigh after each photo.
Children may also write a letter to Santa and drop it in his mailbox, but an on site letter-writing station will not be available this year.
Those seeking to visit Santa or the gift shop will be required to take their temperature and fill out a health screening.
Again, masks indoors are required.
Hot chocolate will be available for purchase, but only at the entrance of the park.
Miller said guests can bring their own hot chocolate, coffee or snacks to keep them warm and energized for the walking tour.
New this year will be lights on 200 live trees in the park, “Christmas gifts” for guests to snap photos with, and lights all around the park’s playground.
“It’s sort of like the Christmas tree,” Miller said about the Christmas gifts (colloquially known as Easter eggs). “You wake up on Christmas morning and you have gifts to unwrap. Coming to Winterfest, there are things that are revealed to you as you walk around the park.”
Pet owners should be excited, as every Wednesday will be “Furry Friends Day,” and everyone’s furry friends will be allowed to enjoy the displays, too.
As the event quickly approaches, Miller reminded all that changes to the festival were temporary, and its beloved traditions would return.
“Our goal as Ocean City is to continue to offer things that will give people a great experience, especially family friendly experiences, and this is one of the events that we really wanted to push,” Miller said. “No matter how much we had to transform it, we really wanted to make it happen and give something for people to come and enjoy as a family.”
For more information, visit https://ococean.com/events/winterfest-of-lights2020.
To rent a scooter or wheelchair in advance call 302-280-6203 or visit scooters-4-rent.com.