If local parades and tree-lighting events don’t offer a big enough helping of holiday spirit, there are two area events that offer winter festivities on a grand scale: Winterfest of Lights in Ocean City, Md., and the new Winter WonderFEST in Lewes.
Now in its 23rd year in Ocean City, the Winterfest of Lights utilizes much of the Town’s Northside Park at 125th street, bayside, for a mile-long ride-through light display with music, running all the way through Jan. 1, 2017.
The award-winning holiday display features more than a million holiday lights in hundreds of animated, lighted displays, along with the heated Winterfest Village pavilion, where visitors can partake in hot chocolate from the O.C. Recreation Boosters Café and browse Yukon Cornelius’ gift shop. Through Dec. 23, they can also have a photo taken with Santa or, for just the second year, visit with Mrs. Claus. (The jolly couple are a little busy Dec. 24 and 25.)
The Town’s boardwalk trams are repurposed for the chillier season, becoming the Winterfest Express that allows festival-goers to tour the lights, including the themed exhibits of favorite fairy tales and “The 12 Days of Christmas,” among others.
Winterfest Express rides cost $5 for those 12 or older and are free for those 11 or younger. Winterfest is open seven days a week, from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 5:30 to 10:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.
During the festival, the traditional boardwalk tram, which has run for more than 50 years in the town, will also be on display for guests to take their very own Winterfest Instagram photo, with a classic Winterfest Express tram car photo-spot.
The Jingle Bell Run and the New Year’s Eve fireworks show will both be returning to Ocean City for a fourth year.
The Winterfest of Lights Jingle Bell Run, which will take place on Sunday, Dec. 6, is sponsored by the Town of Ocean City’s Recreation & Parks Department and OC TriRunning. The race takes runners through an animated course of lights and displays at Northside Park.
The New Year’s Eve celebration, which also takes place at Northside Park, will celebrate the beginning of 2016 with live entertainment, free giveaways, warm hot chocolate and the opportunity to ride through the Winterfest of Lights.
For more information on Winterfest, visit http://oceancitymd.gov/oc/departments/special-events/winterfest/ or call 1-800-626-2326 or (410) 250-0125.
Dual locations for lights and fun
In Lewes, a new festival, produced by the nonprofit group Festival of Cheer, features a Christmas Village at the Lewes Ferry Terminal of the Cape May-Lewes Ferry, and a Light Spectacular throughout neighboring Cape Henlopen State Park on select weekend and holiday dates.
“Winter WonderFEST is such a fantastic concept that we immediately agreed to be part of it,” said Heath Gehrke, director of Ferry Operations. “This community event will not only create some lasting family memories, it helps spread good cheer and reasons to get outdoors during the dark winter months.
Organizers of Winter WonderFEST said they are aiming to bring together residents, visitors and non-profit organizations to build a holiday tradition, create an opportunity for people to create lasting memories for their family and friends, and raise resources to benefit Sussex County non-profits that focus on health, education, culture and the environment.
The newly established nonprofit organization, Festival of Cheer Inc., plans to produce events throughout the Delaware beaches area with the intention that they become institutions in the community and throughout the Mid-Atlantic region, beginning with Winter WonderFEST.
During the festival, the Lewes Ferry Terminal is home to the Christmas Village, which includes carnival rides with a full-size Ferris wheel, a synthetic skating rink, music from local groups and warm-up treats including hot chocolate and a s’mores fire pit.
Santa’s workshop — complete with crafts and activities, including create-your-own gingerbread houses, snow globes, ornaments and more — will take place inside the terminal.
St. Nick will also be available for photos with the young and young-at-heart (bring a camera or camera-phone). In addition, the ferry’s On the Rocks full pub menu and bar service will be available inside the terminal.
There is no parking or gate fee for the Christmas Village. Visitors can just pull into the parking lot and enjoy the atmosphere for free. The attractions inside and out are accessed with tickets, ranging from two to 10 tickets per activity per person. Tickets cost $10 for 10, or $40 for 60 or $60 for 100. Packs of 60 or 100 tickets can be purchased online, and the tickets can be used at any time that the Christmas Village is open, so people can return on another night and continue the fun.
The Christmas Village will be open on Fridays and Saturdays through Dec. 17 and on Thursday, Dec. 22, and Friday, Dec. 23. (The Christmas Village will not be open on Dec. 2-3.) Beginning Dec. 26, the festival will be open daily through Jan. 1, 2017. Festival hours are 5 to 9 p.m.
Inside Cape Henlopen State Park, Winter WonderFEST also includes 60 light displays, a two-mile drive-through Light Spectacular, in-car scavenger hunt and a 3D experience. The Light Spectacular inside the park begins at the park’s fee booth and runs 15 to 20 minutes.
Tickets can be pre-paid online, which will allow ticket-holders to access an express lane to enter the show, as well as offering a discount. They are priced according to the number of passengers in the vehicle, with cars (one to seven passengers) paying $15 in advance or $20 at the gate; van or “party bus” passes (eight to 20 passengers) costing $30 in advance or $35 at the gate. And if it’s the whole family and then some attending, a school bus or charter bus pass (for 21 to 55 passengers) costs $50 in advance or $60 at the gate.