Now celebrating its 25th year, Ocean City's Winterfest of Lights, which will extend through December 31, officially kicked off the resort town's holiday season. Published by Reed Shelton
Mallory Metzner, 21, and her friends needed a picture with Santa.
Jaime Brown wondered if her daughter’s shoes would stay on as she watched her rise above the crowd in the free fall ride called the Super Shot.
Sarah Fernandez, 8, ate s’mores she cooked over an open fire and skated the ice rink for the second time in two days.
It was opening weekend of Winter WonderFest at the Lewes Ferry terminal and Cape Henlopen State Park, and reviews were all good.
“It’s a step up from last year,” said Metzner, of Lewes. Her friends all agreed.
What’s not to love, they wondered as they wandered through the child-sized Christmas village where a fake snow maker created a blizzard and children held impromptu snowball fights with plush and painless snowballs.
“They really went all out,” said Deon Taylor, of Bridgeville, an employee of the Ferry, who said he definitely had to bring his 7-year-old over for a visit.
Taylor was impressed with the level of detail, from the miniature movie theater that played the movie “Elf” on a loop, to Mr. Claus’ office complete with a red and silver globe and desk to check the naughty and nice list.
The village started as an idea to build a giant gingerbread house, said Alyssa Titus, marketing director of Schell Brothers. Chris Schell, CEO of the local construction company, wanted to do better and suggested they build a village of little cottages.
“The concept was to create a magical village where grown-ups and kids alike could make lasting holiday memories,” said Titus, as she walked through the 12-cottage village complete with Christmas trees and a cobblestone street.
The village is in keeping with the unofficial theme of this second year of WinterFest, make it bigger and better. At the ferry terminal, it has bigger rides, live music, a “winter lodge” food tent with specialty drinks made by The Crooked Hammock, tables of crafts and the village.
Down the road at Cape Henlopen State Park, the drive-thru display has nearly 2 miles of lights to enjoy.
Last year’s event brought in more than 47,000 visitors from 26 states and raised more than $100,000 for local charities. With that kind of success, the organizers — the nonprofit, Festival of Cheer — decided to make a larger investment in capital, said Peter Briccotto, the event’s executive producer.
“Year two of Winter WonderFest is bigger, brighter and cooler than year one,” he said, before zipping around on one of the highlights of this year’s event, the 80-by-75-foot ice skating rink.
It is three times larger than last year’s rink, has real ice and can hold 130 skaters at a time.
“We’re proud to sponsor a centerpiece of Winter WonderFest,” said Liz Keller, Delaware Tourism Director, whose office is a presenting sponsor of the event. “The rink is a very exciting addition to what is already a fun festival and a draw for out-of-state visitors.”
By Sunday on opening weekend, there had already been repeat customers for skating.
While rides, games and crafts are open for weekends only, the rink will have hours Tuesday through Sunday throughout the six week run of the festival. It is open for lessons and even parties.
“It’s a lot different this year compared to last year,” said Jessica Fernandez, who carried her 8-year-old daughter’s skates into the food tent where they ate pizza and drank sodas.
The Fernandez family bought a discount packet of tickets online since they anticipated spending quite a bit of time at the fest in the next month.
The organizers are hoping for a lot of new and repeat customers. The cost of putting on the fest this year was $600,000, up some $200,000 over last year, said Briccotto. The $300,000 rink was a large part of the budget.
With ticket sales and sponsorships, including a $100,000 grant, they believe they are on track to increase the charitable donations raised this year.
Jose Quinones wants to help with that. The owner of Linda Vista Real Estate in Seaford, he already contacted a bus company to bring people in from Georgetown and western Sussex in December.
He and other local business owners plan to buy packets of tickets to hand out to underprivileged families who wouldn’t be able to attend otherwise.
The festival is something that everyone should see, Quinones said.
If you go
Christmas Village will be open on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays until Dec. 23. Beginning Dec. 26, the festival is open daily through Dec. 31.
The Visit Delaware Ice Rink is open six days a week. Festival hours are 5-9 p.m. The Christmas Village will be closed on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
Specific times and dates may vary. For more information ticket prices and packages, visit the Winter WonderFEST website at www.wonderfestde.org.