WASHINGTON — Winterfest of Lights, a winter beach tradition in Ocean City, Maryland, turned 25 this year. And with the anniversary comes some changes, including a huge Christmas tree, a lighthouse display over a lagoon, and a larger heated area where you’ll find Santa, hot chocolate and gift options.
“It is hard to believe. We have over 400 displays. The displays alone are about 800,000 lights. Then you add into that the Winterfest Pavilion and this new tree, and you are definitely approaching 1 million lights here at Northside Park,” said Ocean City Special Events Director Frank Miller.
The Winterfest Village, where you meet Santa and wait for the Winterfest Express that takes you through the 58-acre park on an unforgettable 12-minute ride set to music, is different this year.
“Our Winterfest Village has expanded by 60 feet,” Miller said.
“This is where we find Santa. Santa used to be in a small Santa house. Now he has a larger conglomerate of three structures. And, he actually resides in a gazebo.”
The entire layout is new and includes a new gift shop area set up like a courtyard that’s called Winterfest Marlin Marketplace. That’s where you’ll find stocking stuffers, souvenirs and holiday gifts. You can also warm up there with some hot chocolate.
“It’s a very impactful layout, and hopefully people enjoy the warmth of it,” Miller said.
You have only until Dec. 23 to see Santa. He is a busy guy, of course.
“Santa is happy to come down. He does only reside here until the 23rd,” Miller said.
Outside of the pavilion, a 50-foot Christmas tree greets you before the tram from the boardwalk takes you through the display where you’ll see lighted fairy tale characters, the 12 Days of Christmas, sea animals and candy canes.
The tree with its LED and RGB lights that change patterns and scroll a “Happy Holidays” message might have you mesmerized.
“You could stand and view it for hours,” Miller said.
Miller said the annual event is one families remember, and that’s the goal.
“It is something that really becomes a family experience. We have many families who came here as children who now bring their children here as well,” he said. “It’s a wonderful holiday experience. If you don’t have the holiday spirit when you get here, hopefully, you’ll have it by the time you leave.”
If you’ve been before, don’t get all humbug that you’ll see the same thing as you have in the past. Miller said the lights are moved around from year-to-year so everything is not the same.
“We revitalized a display that hasn’t been seen in a decade,” he said. “It’s a lighthouse and it sits next to a lagoon. When you are on the tram ride and look across the lagoon at Northside Park, you’ll be able to see the lighthouse and the reflection of it. It’s a beautiful sight.”
Miller said that over the course of the 40-day event that ends Dec. 31, more than 100,000 people will go through the park display.
“Bring your blankets for those cold nights,” he said. “You don’t have to drive. You don’t have to watch the brake lights in front of you. You don’t have to be stuck in traffic. You can sit and enjoy everything like everybody else.”
Winterfest costs $5 for adults. Children 11 and younger ride for free. It’s open from 5:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays and 5:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.
More information can be found at ococean.com.